Friday, May 22, 2015

We've Moved to Squarespace

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I've moved me and all of my stuff over to Squarespace. Nothing personal, Blogger. I was just looking for a place to host my work, blog and store, all under one roof. Also, it's really pretty over there. Not free, but really pretty. Come visit me at the new Wing+Tree website and blog. I'm not completely unpacked - but I'll show you around anyway.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Naming a Business: Tell Your Story

I am a story teller. I find comfort in the steady cadence of a story well told, the way life and love and loss are woven out of shapes and sounds. My life is full of stories. Yours is too.

Your business name has a story behind it, even if it's named after you. Who you are, who you love, what makes you laugh, why you chose self employment over punching a time clock - yours is a story that your customers want to hear. Give them a reason to choose you over anyone else - show them your heart, your hands at work, your triumphs, your mistakes. Share your process, your epiphanies, your plans for the future. Tell them your story.

Here is mine: This is my baby brother Russell. He was five years old in the fall of 1961 when we moved to our new house. As he and our 26 year old mom stood in the back yard exchanging I love yous, Rusty reached for the biggest, tallest love he could see, lifted his hands to the sky and cried "Oh mummy - I love you as much as the trees!" In the 50+ years that have passed since that autumn day, the word Trees as an expression of love has made its way into every card & letter, every moment of tenderness, every goodbye. This tree story has been told and retold so many times that it is an integral part of our family history.

In 2011, I bought 9 metal channel letters at a local consignment store. Four consonants. C-C-R-T. Five vowels. E-E-E-E-I. They didn't seem to have much to say and spent the first year scattered around our dusty studio. When my new desk was installed, I cleaned them up and arranged them randomly across the top of my new wall cabinets.

Months later, I looked at that odd assemblage and broke into a wide smile. There, hidden among the gibberish was the name my little niece Taylor called me - REE. And so REE it was, until one day the letter T finally caught my attention. I laughed out loud, called it serendipity and added another chapter to my story.

In the summer of 2012, our new assistant suggested a use for one of the Cs. For a time, TREE was rearranged to spell ERECT, which we found endlessly entertaining.

This is my baby boy, Neal. He was five years old in the summer of 1998 when we moved into our new house. Surrounded by tall trees that waved and danced in the wind, our woods were alive with wild life and bird song. My favorite was the Chickadee. This little black and white bird has been a part of my memories since I was a tiny little girl.

Each time we heard its song my mother would feign surprise, look around and whisper "Listen! That's your bird! Do you hear it?" She'd mimic its three note call - one high note followed by two repeating lower notes - "Where's Sheree? Where's Sheree?" She'd hold me in her arms as I looked around in awe, never seeing that bird but knowing that its call was only for me. It was my bird.

When Neal was born, that early morning bird sang a new song. Like my mother, I held him in my arms, looked up at the trees and exclaimed "Listen! Do you hear that? That's your bird!" And I'd repeat his name in that same three note call - "Neal Michael, Neal Michael." It was his bird.

At 18, Neal was a 6'-4", 230 pound man. I remember the day when he poked his head in the kitchen door and yelled "Mom, do you hear that? That's my bird!" Outside the window, our bird was singing our songs. It was a bonding moment, the two of us smiling, each warmed by our childhood memories. I could see the future in my mind so clearly: Him singing that three note song when he passed on his bird.

Neal died in a motorcycle street racing accident on August 20th, 2012. He was 19. That winter, after our first real snow, I went to check on his grave. The roads leading to his place beneath the pines went from plowed to tire tracks to virgin snow. There was no place or way to turn around so I continued on. An hour later, as I stood beside my hopelessly stuck car, I heard the sweet, familiar song of Neal's bird. His body may be gone, but his spirit is always with me. He is my angel and it soothes me to imagine him blazing across the skies on strong, wide wings calling "I'm with you, I'm with you."

Choosing a name for your business takes time. You'll turn away hundreds of possibilities before the right one presents itself. When it does, you'll know. Saying no leads you closer to yes - to the right meaning, the right sound, shape, story. For me, yes began with a reminder from the universe. My new business name and tag line speaks to house and home - perfect for my new line of home decor and art prints. Wing & Tree. It's easy to pronounce and remember, looks good in print and has a meaningful story behind it. I love it.

This is the third in a series of Naming a Business posts. Read the first here and the second here.
What is your business name and how did you choose it? Let us know in the comments section below.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Naming a Business: Brainstorming

The process of choosing a name for my new art/design business was so complex, I'm wondering if it's even possible to reconstruct it here. If you follow the path described here, you'll at least have a list of possibilities to brainstorm - or present to your family and friends. In the end, the name you choose will have to speak to you, whether or not your best friend or co-workers like it. 

In my last post I referenced a few Skillshare classes I'd taken. The worst class - in terms of polish and presentation - actually gave me the best direction. In Name Your Product in 60 Minutes, Sorin Amzu introduced me to the concept of mind mapping - a form of brainstorming. The object is to write down everything that comes to mind about a particular thing. Since I couldn't completely relate my quest to his presentation, I Googled the process and watched a few videos for clarification. One suggested using myself as an example, which I did in the map below. The only thing that keeps an exercise like this from continuing forever is running out of paper. There's much more to my awesome, complex self than listed here, but it was a great warm up. I'd like to continue it on a larger sheet. With more pictures. 

This exercise generated four additional, two sided sheets. One listed the characteristics of my target audience - my perfect customer (female, ages 25-55, college educated, art appreciator, loves house & home, decorating, nesting, bit of a DIYer, etc.) Another was covered with words to describe the characteristics of my product offering (abstract, colorful, sophisticated, artsy, floral, geometric, pattern, word art). A third focused on me - what I care about (humor, design, language, consciousness, spiritualism, law of attraction, seeking) Still another contained lengthy notes on branding - taken while watching the Skillshare classes - Branding Your Creative Business: Define Your Brand and Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity.

Both instructors suggest beginning with a short brand mission statement - describe your business, what you offer, what you do. Virgin Airline's Richard Branson recommends using the 140 character Twitter template. As an example, my day job statement is "hand painted, personalized pottery gifts for weddings, new baby & family celebrations."

Identifying your customer: Understanding who will buy your offering is so important. Knowing who this person is helps you speak specifically to them. On the list of questions: Name, age, gender, job roll, education, relationship status, children, pets, income, music - you get the idea. Knowing your customer will help you figure out how to market to her - not the gal wearing a hoodie and pajama pants in Market Basket.

There is so much more to branding than the little, incomplete paragraphs I've crafted here. Part of being successful in a creative business is being a sponge. Read everything. Watch everything. Ask questions. Hang out with other creatives, even if it's only online.

{Uncompensated endorsement: Skillshare offers tons of classes on design, business, photography, DIY, writing and more. If you're in or are starting a creative business, I earnestly suggest you look into this great site. It is totally worth $10 a month.}

In the middle of all of this brainstorming, I found Elle & Company, owned by a most adorable Lauren Hooker. Her logo design portfolio made me realize that I needed a logo and it had to look good in print. And because I fell in love with her lovely little ampersand, my search for Something & Company begun.

After three days of note taking, video watching, muttering under my breath and not sleeping, I knew to avoid odd spellings, the difficult to pronounce, the too much like someone/something else. I'd read credible advice to use my own name, something known/unknown. Something descriptive. Abstract. Historic. Pets. Vacation spots. Latin. Misspellings. People, places, things. WTF. This is the song that never ends.

Another weekend came and went. I'm back in the studio, standing at my desk in front of a blank Photoshop document. Tick.Tick.Tick. Something & Company. Ree (my nickname) & Company. No - too heavy on the right. Every word I can think of that stands for Design & Company. Every word I can think of that stands for Art & Company. EWICTOTSF Humor & Company. I rifle through my notes. Read "stories help people feel connected to the brand." I love a good story. My coffee's gone cold, a great excuse to get away from this exercise. On my way back from the microwave, I glance up at this sign above my old desk.

Hey, can I tell you a story?


Monday, May 11, 2015

Naming a Business: Branding

I am a project driven person. I approach each new {big} idea with single minded purpose - throwing myself into my work to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep. Some might call this a form of OCD. Whatever. It's what I do and I've been this way for so long, I'm barely aware of how insane I may look to others. Just get out of my way and let me get this thing done. Once I'm done, my interest, energy and adrenaline are depleted. I'm cooked.

After completing the launch of our new Sketchbook Collection last month, I found myself in my usual directionless, post-project funk. My desk and work table are littered with the remains of that project - piles of sample plates, brochure rejects and a growing stack of unanswered, un-dealt-with correspondence. Which includes my 2014 taxes and worker's comp insurance. I know. I publicly promise to deal with them Monday morning before I do one single other thing. Pinky swear.

What's been keeping me up these days is our new line of art prints. When I first got the art print idea, it seemed like such a simple thing. Design some prints. Put them up for sale on our site. Ya. No. That was before my Number One, Nicole questioned my un-thought-out decision to sell them under the Museware Pottery brand name.

She pointed out that because we are known as Museware Pottery, some might be confused by the new offering. Kind of like Coke all of a sudden deciding to sell batteries. Or that they might choose a print over pottery wedding gift - effectively causing us to cannibalize ourselves. While I did not agree with the latter, her observation combined with My Guido's relentless insistence that Art Print Company be a completely separate entity - gave me pause. Thoughtful Sheree is a student. Don't tell me what to do Sheree barrels ahead and does whatever the hell she feels like doing. Because she knows everything. Just for the record, I don't. I just act like I do, which explains why self employment suits me better than getting fired from yet another job.

Student Sheree recognized that she needed to understand branding before she made any more decisions. One of my first Google searches led me to Iowa State University's Building Your Brand page. I have to tell you, I fricken love the internet. Everything in the whole wide world, the good, the bad, the sacred and profane - all of it - right at my fingertips. And me, in my bathrobe. Anyway, the post helped me to define, from a business perspective, what a brand represents to the consumer mind, and why I should care.

Recognizing the importance of branding led me back to my go-to place for learning creative and business stuff, Skillshare. In the last months, I've taken dozens of classes through Skillshare and almost without exception, have come away learning really important stuff for refining and developing my business. My last two classes - Branding Your Creative Business and Branding the Logo - Crafting a Brand Identity made me realize that Art Print Company needed its own identity. Possibly even its own website. Which meant I wasn't just selling art prints. I was starting a whole new business.

Once I got over the enormity of this revelation, I realized that Art Print Company needed a name. Naming a business may be one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur faces. Names are permanent. And people respond to them as if they matter, which means they do. My first inclination was to name it after myself. I've been in this business for 10 years and a quick Google search reveals pages of stuff associated with my moniker - none of which I'm ashamed of. Thank God the internet did not exist in the 70s. Since I have at least some name recognition, it seemed like a good - if uninspired idea. Armed with direction and resolve, I grabbed my reserved domain name and applied it to my new, unbuilt Squarespace site and called it done.

Then, like a bop on the head from The Universe, I found the blog post Naming A Business After Yourself: When Is It A Good Idea? by the practically famous Emily McDowell. She did exactly that. She also made a credible case for not doing the same. Since her entire fan base finds her by her name (or by Googling "the Emily that makes cards") she had to find a way to transform her one-woman-show self into the growing, staff supported, product producing powerhouse she and her brand has become.

Once I read Emily's argument, my whole running with scissors momentum ground to a slow, disappointing WTF halt. Once I got over myself, I enrolled in another Skillshare class called Naming Your Product in 60 Minutes. In spite of being poorly organized (videos uploaded in reverse order) and difficult to follow (sorry, Sorin) it did contain enough useful information to get me all excited about finding a real, lasting name for my new ... stuff.

Sorin introduced me to the concept of mind dumping - brainstorming ideas by drawing them out rather than linear list making. While my efforts were not nearly as clever as this one, they were a useful way to organize a ton of random information. I spent the entire week brainstorming - writing out pages and pages of ideas in a form known on the interwebs as MindMapping. In some ways, it was the same kind of fun as giving birth - an analogy I regularly apply to the creative process. In other ways, it was a creative project just begging to be developed. What I eventually came up with makes me so happy, I can't wait to share it.


Friday, May 1, 2015

On Age & Beauty

I turned 60 on April 10th. Becoming 60 and being 60 are two different things. The first is somewhat entertaining. The latter is something of a surprise. First, and I know it sounds cliche - it sneaks up on you. I've stared at a motionless clock. Endured an endless week. Wondered how much more winter or summer or rain or waiting I could take. But the years - they slid by like a deep, silent river.

My 19 year old son, Neal, used to tell me I had no idea what it was like to be a teenager. To him, the decades that separated us were lifetimes. In some ways they were. One gathers a lot of wisdom between 19 and 57. But the heart, the fundamental part of our being, the part of us that always was and always will be - that part doesn't change. I may not be the wing nut I was at 19, but my core self remains unchanged by the passage of time. Nineteen may seem a lifetime ago, but to me, it was yesterday.

It was yesterday when I stood in a featureless brick building, raised my hand and took an oath to serve in the US Navy. I was 19. Yesterday when I carried a sleeping newborn into a tiny, empty apartment and began my life as his mom. I was 38. Yesterday when I watched them lower him into a grassy lawn, surrounded by our family and friends. I was 57.

When I started this post, I was laughing - at the passage of time, the saggy boobs, the chicken neck, the absurdity of how little time we have. Right now, I'm crying - a little over the loss, but more over the sheer beauty of life. Of his smooth, handsome face, smiling at me from the lock screen of my phone. Of the fact that he picked me - imperfect, wonderful me - to be his mom. I'm crying over the overwhelming love I feel when I think about him, and how he continues to return it, showering me with feelings so intense, crying is the only way to bear it.

While searching Facebook for a picture of Neal to add to this post, I came across a note I'd placed on his page:

I wish you could just come home. I wish your leaving was a bad dream. You can't. It wasn't. Here are my wishes for you: I wish you by my side every day, guiding my hand. I wish to always hear memories of your laugh and the way you called my name (mom mom mummy mumma ma mom mom.) I wish to find the wisdom of your new life in the choices I make for mine. I wish for your happiness, your fast and free flight, your knowing. I wish to spend the rest of my life honoring you - my only son and my absolute best teacher. I love you, Neal.

I turned 60 on April 10th. I've lived more years than I have ahead. And as the days unfold, I'll use the wisdom I've gained from the long road, the forgiveness I've received from my mistakes, the softness I've learned from the loving. I'll use the wishes I had for my son and the hopes I had for his life to guide me. And I earnestly, sincerely share those wishes with you, whoever you are.  To quote Abraham - there is great love for you here.