It's a Book, It's a Film! My Handmade Nation Labor of Lovecomments (8) December 18th, 2008
creatively motivated people, I have made things my entire life and I was
lucky to grow up in a home where art was encouraged and nurtured. My
romance with D.I.Y (do-it-yourself) stems from living in the Pacific
Northwest in the early 1990's where there was a strong underground
music and art community. I became involved with other teenagers and
early-twenty-something kids that embraced the mindset that you could do
anything yourself. This included starting bands when not really
knowing how to play insturments, independently releasing records, cd's
and taps, starting magazines (or zines) and distributing them through
mail-order outlets and learning to stencil, screenprint and make one's
own clothes. This teenage scene was my "gateway drug" to living the
D.I.Y. lifestyle that I still choose to live today.
Skip to over 10 years later in 2002 I began spending more time online and came across crafty websites and message boards like Craftster.org and Cutxpaste.com. These sites were my introduction to what is now considered the indie craft scene. I related to these sites because they rang true to my lifestyle- which basically revolved around doing things on my own terms. Since my teen years I had continued to make artwork, painting, photography, zines, and jewelry, this "craft" community seemed like the perfect fit.
The idea to document the community came early on, pretty much after participating in my first craft fair (Renegade Craft Fair in 2003), but didn't become a reality until 2006. The actual production part of making the documentary was a pretty simple process after making the decision to commit to the project. There were two big obstacles to start with: #1 finding someone to shoot the film and #2 getting a camera. I approached my good friend and filmmaker Micaela O'Herlihy who has an impressive resume of experimental films and gallery showings under her belt. Thankfully, she agreed to shoot the film. I knew that we could work well together since she was coming from a similar mindset. Plus, who wouldn't want to travel around the country with one of their best friends interviewing other amazing artists? The camera problem was the first of many expenses that went mostly onto my credit cards. I bought an industry standard camera and we were pretty much set to get started.
Since I had participated in many indie craft fairs as a designer and was familiar with a lot of the vendors out there from owning my own shop and also producing a craft fair in Milwaukee, contacting makers to set up interviews was really easy. I booked all of our travel around different shows so we could shoot event footage, do interviews and studio visits all in one swoop while in a city. Most of our traveling was done over the weekends since I had to be at the shop and Micaela's son Thurman was in school during the week. Overall we went to 15 cities, traveled over 80,000 miles and interviewed over 80 people.
Our biggest hurdle from the get-go was finances. I wasn't patient enough to raise money before starting, once I got the idea in my head that we were going to shoot the film, I was dying to get started. Basically, I just charged everything. This isn't traditionally the way one goes about making a film, but its been done before and, well, we finished it which is pretty exciting. Now that the film is complete I just have to figure out how to pay it all off and hopefully make a little money to boot to pay everyone who worked so hard for free, including myself. There was a lso a great deal of money raised via our etsy shop and through community donations, this was and is how I have been maintaining my credit card payments.
I started our blog during pre-production and maintain it to this day to keep everyone in the loop with what is going on with the documentary, book and other programing. It's really kept the community a part of the project. During production is was really exciting to see that people were really interested in what we were doing, who we were going to interview and what we saw along the way. I think that the blog (even in its casual format) was what made the project so successful- people have been checking in for three years to see what has unfolded. From concept to New York Times feature, my readers have really been with me through the entire process. I think it's exciting for people to see someone who doesen't really have a plan follow through with such a large scale project. I like to think that it shows that anyone can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
The timing of the film seemed to be very ideal, a lot of synchronous events have happened with press and opportunities. I credit this partially with my devotion to the project and the time I've spent on it as well as the marketability of "D.I.Y." and "craft" in our current market. When I released the trailer on Youtube.com in April of 2007 I was not expecting the massive response I got. I was also not expecting to be approached by three publishers about the possibility of doing a book (yes, this is how we got our book deal with Princeton Architectural Press). The book was not handed to us on a silver platter, Cortney Heimerl and I had to put together a very formal proposal that was then approved and put into a very tight production schedule for it to be released this fall. It was one of the synchronous things that now really makes me smile.
Through this experience I have definitely become a little burnt out on certain aspects of craft, however my root feelings about the community still pushes me forward and excites me daily. I try not to think too much about the negative aspects that pop up now and again and focus on how what we have as a movement is amazing, special and empowering. I think as long as I continue to do that I will always be excited about art and craft and the act of making, that is what ties us all together.
In the near future I am really just trying to finish up all the loose ends surrounding the documentary- even thought it is "finished" there are all these little things that add up to make it complete. Cortney and I are continuing to tour and promote the October 2008 relase of our book, Handmade Nation, which, by the way, is already in its third printing. I am working on scheduling screenings of Handmade Nation, entering the film into festivals and working out the best options for distribution. I also still have to maintain my shop Paper Boat here in Milwaukee, espically during the hoidays, otherwise my business partner Kim Kisiolek will want to strangle me. There are dates for Milwaukee, New York, Portland OR, Germany, Australia already penciled in and many more to come. A lot of people don't realize that there is just me maintaining the blog and answering emails.
I am also hoping to put together another book proposal for Princeton in the next few months, but we'll see about that, there are only so many hours in the day. For now I just check things off my to do list at the same pace as everyone else. On a daily basis I am shocked at how quickly the week and months pass and just do as much as I can. Basically, I am just so excited to share the work of my past three years with everyone. There has been such an amazing group of people that have make the film and book a possibility and for all of us the idea that the film is almost done is very exciting. If you have additional questions you can check our website and blog for details.
I am doing a giveaway which will incude a Handmade Nation tote bag, a Handmade Nation Sublime Stitching embroidery pattern and a signed copy of our book. In order to win please share with us your favorite creative blog that inspires you. Keep it short and sweet and if someone has already picked your favorite blog, its okay, list it again. A winner will be picked at random, please post by Christmas. The winner will be anounced shortly after.
I'll start, I can't pick one so two of my favorite blogs are Poppytalk and My Love For You
Happy Holidays everyone!
Director and co-author