Jan 2, 2012

A Colorful Journey Part three

Colorful Journey Part 3
By Linda Lover

Through the 1990’s I’d been working from home, submitting designs to magazines and having a fair amount of success. I’d accumulated almost three hundred published projects and authored over 20 sole and combined artists painting books by now. Occasional requests came in from various companies and editors for specific projects as well. I began to feel like I’d reached a plateau and this might be where I’d reside indefinitely as a designer. It was a comfortable place and one to be grateful for. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder at times if there was more to be found.

You’d probably have to be an “I Love Lucy” fan to relate to this. In an episode where she was given a movie part with no lines, she sees it as her moment to be discovered. Someone will see her, and in her Lucy Ricardo quest for fame she’d hear “that face, that face, get me that face!” And her long, awaited career in show biz would finally materialize. After all the published projects I’d done, there was always that eternal hope that one day someone might say “that painter, get me that painter!” So far it hadn’t happened. Having experienced situations in the past, like the company that commercialized from my ideas with their in house designers receiving recognition, I wondered if it would ever be a possibility. Besides the flaw in ethics, I couldn’t understand how a designer’s work could be so appealing, yet there was no interest in the designer. It didn’t make sense, but usually it comes down to profits or royalties.

Though there have been moments since when I’ve wondered if things might have turned out differently had I stood up for my work and myself. But it’s water under the bridge, and when designing remains what you want to do, you take the lumps along with the kudos and chalk up the downside as an experience from which to learn.

As freelance designing goes it seems to create an inner drive that always keeps one looking for more….more designs, more work, more recognition and, yes, more money. After all, those are the components of being self-employed. To achieve this, creativity and a certain amount of skill are necessary to a degree. By that I mean a designing decorative artist can be adept in fine art or simply self-taught, but they must present a style that can create a demand. Even if it looks easy, often it’s not.

Much time and effort are usually involved in the creative process. Sometimes the simpler the design, the more work might have gone into it to make it stand out among complex projects. As for designers, some become known by their style, a specific look, while others are recognized by their techniques, diversity, or use of specific products. And some designers soar above to become household names in the industry, due to their business savvy, entrepreneurial or painting skills or sponsorship by a manufacturer to represent their product. Who doesn’t think of Donna Dewberry without thinking of Plaid or of Sue Scheewe without thinking of Martin/F. Weber. Occasionally it can even be about timing, simply being at the right place at the right time.
In my case, my accidental leap into the industry came about as a result of timing. It was my simple doable looking projects that caught the eye of a company’s marketing rep. I thought this might be what I’d been hoping for remember…. “that painter, get me that painter”? Actually it was a call to the editor of “Crafts” requesting my contact information.

 In May 1999, I received a letter from the marketing rep saying that they were looking for designers to create project and instructional sheets for their product line. They had liked two recent published projects, one on the cover of “Painting” magazine, the other in “Crafts”, and there was interest in working with me. Enclosed was a catalog of their products with samples and a request to let them know if I was interested in working with them. Out of the blue, someone was finally looking for me; I could hardly believe my good fortune. I had no idea where such an opportunity like this might lead but it certainly was an honor to be chosen out of so many other published designers. Many who painted much better than I did; also ones that were more well known. I explained that I was self-taught and not very familiar with artistic fundamentals.

 The marketing rep eased my concerns saying they were looking for projects to promote to children and beginners; so basic fundamentals weren’t pertinent at the time.
So here it was, a new opportunity that had found its way to me. To take the offer meant leaving a company I truly enjoyed working with for almost 15 years. The designer liaison was very understanding and supportive. We both realized how important it was to take advantage of an opportunity that might provide growth and she wished me success.
To move out of a comfort zone and venture into something totally unfamiliar is exciting but at the same has an element of apprehension. I would go from using a well-known brand to one I knew nothing about. There was the possibility that this could end up a dead end for one reason or another. I was also giving up a generous endorsement fee for anything published. However, the risk in taking a chance outweighed any negatives. I was eager to get on board with a company who’d been around for decades and was now eager to compete in the decorative painting market.

One of the first advantages, I was now in a position that allowed me to be a designer who could represent and promote product for a company. Though this was such a fantastic opportunity, it was a bit scary to think in those terms because of the possibility of failure to meet expectations in the long run. I had to shake those negative feelings and concentrate on what I had the potential to do and hope that it would all work out. I didn’t want to disappoint the company or give up on myself.
My first job was to create simple projects with basic painting, no floating or highlighting. I remembered what a struggle it was to teach myself those techniques and now I wasn’t going to use them. The challenge now was to come up with ideas that would be very easy using a little stroke work, and had the potential to generate interest. As I mentioned, simple made to look great is often more difficult than painting something with a little more skill involved. I remember when the first tri-fold brochure came out, “Learn to Paint with Shapes and Strokes”, “crafts designed by Linda Lover”.

The company liked the projects, which was a relief. Following the brochure, my designs were featured in ads in painting magazines to introduce their products to the decorative painting market. These ads meant more than any I’d previously done because my name was now associated with a brand; it became more than just about the design. I also picked up the level of painting for the magazine project ads and put a little more into the stroke work. As a result, the ads were beautifully done and I had quite a sense of pride being part of this company as well as gratitude for the visibility of my work.

It was almost two years before I met the folks from the company. In that time they had used my designs frequently in magazine ads to promote their line and I began to feel my own exposure expanding. I was still designing and submitting projects to magazines; that part of my life was the same. Though now I was listing the company’s brand and without an endorsement fee, which eventually was put into place later on. In the back of my mind, I knew this was a small sacrifice to what might lie ahead. I had a feeling there was going to be more at some point because they had a quality product and a determination to be recognized in the decorative painting industry.
I remember words to the effect that I’d said to my husband, that maybe one day I would travel to shows to demo product. It didn’t seem like a far-fetched possibility; I just wondered how long before it would happen. However, I knew I wouldn’t travel until our youngest was out of high school and he would graduate in 2000.
It was HIA (Hobby Industry Assoc) 2001, a new millennium and new possibilities when we finally met at the convention center in Anaheim. This is where we got to put a face to a name. Upon seeing the enormity of the show floor, it was more than anyone could possibly take in. The craft and hobby industry was still at its peak and just about every industry brand was represented, not only from the United States, but from abroad as well. Areas were sectioned to represent art, paper, fabric, ceramic and a multitude of others.

There were companies with sequins, stationery, big kilns and wood working tools, silk flowers, candles and feathers. Whatever you could think of, it seemed to be there. Buyers were looking for product and companies were promoting product. It was a hive of activity for most. We were the new kids on the block, and our booth was set up beautifully, looking like a high-end kiosk in a fashionable mall. Yet, we were relegated to the very back of the show floor, near the doors that were continually being opened and closed. California was unseasonably cold that January and for the venders in the Arctic zone, we were sadly being passed over. Because where the room began to get colder, folks were turning toward the warmth rather than to continue in our direction.
I remember one of the marketing reps, an older gentleman with years of experience, commenting on not ever having seen such lack of traffic. But it was only evident in our frigid zone. It was a huge expense to attend this show; merely the shipping of the booth from one coast to the other and back was a small fortune besides the cost of the booth itself and travel expenses. I wasn’t sure how this would all play out. However, the company decided it would be worth a second try and they signed up for the following year. This had been somewhat of a learning experience for all of us. They knew what to look for the next year beginning with an improved location.

It was quite an experience to share with my family when I arrived home. Even the plane trip was awesome, getting to see the Grand Canyon from the air, Lake Mead, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. It was an understatement to say that I anxiously looked forward to the next show. I also realized, being more introverted, I’d have to work on getting my heart out of my throat when talking, concentrate on eye contact and kick up the volume in my voice as well.
When painting at home, it’s being in your own world, and the only thing demanding attention is the project in front of you. Promoting a product in a show atmosphere requires being a good spokes person exhibiting a strong self-assurance and salesmanship. It’s necessary to draw people in and create and hold their attention as well as having confidence and knowledge about the product you are showing.
to be continued……..

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