BEHIND THE SCENES

launching the doonyaya shop

doonyaya // pillow

It’s happening folks – I’m launching my online store! On Monday. As in the Monday that’s tomorrow. The opening coincides with a Remodelista feature about my home, my studio, my handmade housewares, which is really exciting, and also kind of scary. Truthfully, I’m completely freaking out. In a good way. And a bad way. Good because it’s forced me to get off my arse and take myself seriously enough to open a store. Bad because I don’t know how to do any of this – except design and screen print and play with clay. None of which has to do with starting and running a business.

And as with any deadline, it seems that everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Let’s review: the studio lights for photographing my items decided to only work when they feel like working – which apparently was for three photos; my one employee decided to leave College and go home; my ink supplier is indefinitely out of black ink; I accidentally deleted an entire day of product shots; the emulsion on my screens is washing off in patches; the community studio where I screen print is booked through October so I’m printing at home and washing my screens with my garden hose, which has led to another list of problems too lengthy to list here (except the time when I almost broke my ankle falling into a hole near the hose because I was printing at night and rinsing the screens in the dark and couldn’t see where I was walking); the first batch of pillows had to be re-sewn a size smaller because the corners were too round; the thread I sourced for the napkin edging was the wrong color; the heat-resistent material for the pot-holders is crinkly and I don’t like it so there will be no pot-holders for sale; my conveyer dryer for setting the ink started overheating and smoking; I had a lingering sinus infection which made it close to impossible to breathe; and I’ve only had time to make one, single Cat Owl…and here it is.

doonyaya // cat owl

Suffice it to say that the learning curve has been big. Mostly this month has felt like climbing Mt. Everest after spending the majority of my life strolling around the neighborhood sipping lattes and talking about climbing Mt. Everest.

But amazingly, I’ve had every new challenge/obstacle/problem matched with an equally competent expert/friend/enthusiastic stranger give me the help/expertise/enthusiastic thumbs up just in time. In fact, I get weepy and sentimental about the amount of support, encouragement, practical advice and words of wisdom that has come my way these past few weeks. Like, “there will be bumps and setbacks along the way, but it will build character and make you stronger” or “what you are doing is brave” or “take care of your health first” or “expect the best but prepare for the worst” or “get a POS system” or “it’s gonna to be great” or “you are your own worst critic” or “you will be fine” or “no worries” or the best of all: “yes, I can help you with that.”

So here’s my big THANK YOU to everyone that has helped me – you know who you are. Now let’s open this store and sell a Cat Owl.

thriving under deadlines

making pillows // doonyaya.com

It’s been a week of production, preparing for a photo shoot of my house by Joe Maer and Jim Franco, that will hopefully lead to a publication somewhere cool. Or not. Getting my house photographed and staged by a professional team is exciting enough. Plus, Joe and Jim also offered to shoot some “beauty shots of my linens,” which sounds racier than it is, but in my world anything that doesn’t include folding piles of dirty boy laundry is thrilling.

making pillows // doonyaya.commaking pillows // doonyaya.comAnd deadlines get me all amped up and busy. They give me a purpose and direction. So I’ve been jumping between printing, prepping and organizing products, consulting and overseeing sewing production, making decisions about thread, tracking down midcentury lights and matching bulbs, finalizing designs and patterns, dropping items off, picking items up. . .and hopefully getting my bangs trimmed so I can feel a little bit pretty for the photos.

But mostly, having a deadline forces me to make decisions quickly. There’s no time for hemming and hawing. I can’t research and debate the quality of various thread content at 2:00 a.m. – one of my favorite pastimes after a Netflix binge. I have to pull the proverbial trigger. Which goes way against my natural inclination to obsess about the details. Which I can do. For. Ever.

making pillows // doonyaya.comIn fact, my super inspiring business coach, Kathleen Shannon, recently wrote about the importance of decision-making for success. Since I can’t say it any better than Kathleen I’ll quote her: “The ability to make decisions with ease and speed is something that sets successful creative entrepreneurs apart from the rest.” Which is similar to what the business grand-daddy guru Dale Carnegie has to say about the importance of swift decision-making as a necessary quality for success: “Problems never go away by doing nothing.” That sure makes sense.

Thankfully, because of this deadline I’ve had tons of practice with my decision-making skills this week. And it’s helping me feel more confident about my choices, which is really about trusting my creative intuition. There’s a feeling inside that clicks when I know something is working, whether it’s about a material, a technique or a design. And the decision-making part comes in when I trust that feeling – or creative intuition – and go with it. It’s when I don’t let my doubts get more space than my gut.

Trusting my creative intuition makes decisions easy: the answers are already there — I just have to listen

Of course making a decision is always a risk. And that’s why I procrastinate. . .or obsess. . .or weigh every angle. I think I can figure out what to do by some mental game of logic. Which just doesn’t work when it comes to creative output. My best creative ideas are made under the gun because there isn’t time to think. There’s only time to act.

making pillows // doonyaya.commaking pillows // doonyaya.comSo I’m going to make another swift decision to trim my own bangs. . .after I watch a series on Netflix and research bang-cutting techniques for a few hours. . .and definitely weigh the pros and cons and consider all the possible consequences. . .and put it off for a while so I don’t make a mistake or have any regrets. . .or maybe just not do it at all. . .cause it’s probably a bad decision to begin with. . .

testing…testing…

ink tests // doonyaya.com

I used to think that if I made something ugly or if things went wrong with my materials that it meant  a) I’m not talented enough and b) I should give up and do something else. I called it the “bail factor.” Because this outlook made me bail. All. The. Time. I didn’t realize that becoming an expert at something took time. And patience. And commitment. And not giving up – especially when things go wrong.

The only way to fail is to give up

About a month ago I came up against a problem that normally would have set off the “bail factor.” I couldn’t find the solution quickly enough for my self-defeating thoughts to tell me “this is too hard . . . forget trying to support yourself making things . . . just get a real job . . .” In retrospect the problem was small, but at the time it was insurmountable and overwhelming.

Here’s what it was: the white ink I was using felt too stiff for napkins. It was perfect for pillows because most people aren’t putting pillows on their face. But I wanted my napkins to be soft, which was one of the reasons I chose European linen to begin with. Linen softens over time and becomes broken in with washings. And the white ink was ruining all that.

But this time, instead of bailing I decided to run a series of tests. Because that’s what experts do. They take a scientific approach instead of an emotional one. They eliminate the problems through trial and error. And they stick with it. No. Matter. What.

So I tried various dilutions of ink to print paste, as well as different washing times and temperatures. I logged my results and eliminated the variables. I tested and re-tested, over and over until I finally had the perfect result: soft, white ink . . and another step closer to becoming an expert.

a day of screen printing

doonyaya • screen-printing

Truth be told, I don’t often have an entire day to screen print, focused and uninterrupted. So when I do, you can bet that I take full advantage of my time. Which, to this self-diagnosed ADD-er means running around like a decapitated chicken trying to get every possible idea formulated, all unfinished projects tied up, and a whole new line of products made and ready to launch.

At the same time.

Which is kind of impossible.

But whatever. That’s how I roll.

So I want to give you a glimpse into what goes on when I’m in my high-octane production mode.

First up is working on the designs, which are currently all about irregular geometric shapes. This is the most obsessive part of the process because it entails cutting up small, irregular shapes out of tape and sticking them onto clear acetate in ways that I hope will be amazingly awesome.

So after a while of working on this (like five minutes), I waddle on over to the washout station and “reclaim” some old screens. This essentially means taking a shower with a power washer.

doonyaya • screen-printing

As a side note, most of the photos of myself are in black and white because I just think I look better that way.

Next, I start work on a new repeat pattern, which means I have to get everything lined up perfectly. I’m a firm believer in doing this without the help from any fancy fandangled computer program like photoshop and its high-tech, easy to make straight line “guides.” In my low-tech world, making a repeat pattern is hard to do. Like really hard. Plus, I’m trying to insert a second color into the repeat, so it will be really obvious if things are even a little bit off-kilter. It had better work, that’s all I’m saying.

doonyaya • screen-printing

As another side note, I am always smiling when I’m screen printing because, for those of you that don’t know it, screen printing is really fun. I didn’t smoke anything funny beforehand.

While the ink is drying on my two-color repeat pattern, I start printing my new brick design onto linen, to be made into a beautiful pillow or cool napkins. This requires loud music of course.

doonyaya • screen-printing

As another side note, I’m printing at the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY. It’s a community printing space where I can rent time to print until my sink is installed in my garage/studio space at home. Every day they hold a potluck lunch which is a great way for the resident artists and local printers to hang out. 

doonyaya • screen-printing

After lunch it’s back to taping irregular geometric shapes onto acetate. I’m trying to create another two-colored pattern with my triangle design. And it’s going to be awesome, but trying to figure out where the repeat should go and how to line everything up is hurting my brain. As a side note, I’m not smiling anymore.

And the rest of the day goes pretty much the same way as described above: Design. Rinse. Print. Repeat.

Lucky for me I get to go back tomorrow for another whole day of uninterrupted printing.

I should definitely be able to launch that new product line…

creating with ninja mind skills

doonyaya.com

The first part of creating a design is to get the idea on paper, in all its messiness and imperfection and sometimes downright ugliness. This is both the most exciting and potentially disappointing part of creating art, because it could be the greatest piece of work ever made – or the worst. And if it’s the worst then I might just listen to what my defeatist mind tells me – that I’m a terrible artist and I should pack it up and go home.

And that would be really sad, because there is nothing I want to do more with my life than make pretty patterns (and raise my son Lars).

So I’ve had to develop some ninja mind skills to defeat the defeater inside. And this is what I’ve learned: the antidote to defeatist thinking is to prove it wrong – to wield the sword (or pen) of powerful creativity and make more art. It’s to tell my own mind “thanks for sharing … now shut up because I have work to do.”

The only way to fail is to give up

And it works every time. Because creativity begets creativity. And being creative proves to your stinking little negative thoughts that you are a powerful art-ninja not to be messed with. And there is no negative little thought on this earth that can stand up to that – even if it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever made. So let’s get out there and make some art! Let’s banish the defeater and get busy creating! Are you with me art-ninjas?!

I’ll be right there, as soon as I finish this drawing …

getting back to screen printing

screen-printing // doonyaya.com

It was a beautiful day of screen-printing. In fact, screen-printing never felt so good. Probably because I’ve had a few hiccups in my creative life over the last few years – like moving from Maine to New York with a ten-month-old, selling my business in Maine and starting a new business in New York, having my art supplies in storage for two years, renovating our farm house so we could live in it, moving out of our apartment in Hudson, moving into our almost-renovated farmhouse, moving into a new studio space, moving out of that new studio space because the landlord couldn’t seem to fix the leaking roof, putting my art supplies in storage again, throwing away all my screen-printing inks that expired while in said storage, working from a small table in my living room, using the laundry room as my office, struggling with issues over the fabric I had purchased, not knowing what to make without access to a screen-printing studio, re-designing and stream-lining my business, and oh, keeping our son alive for the first three years of his life – which made me appreciate an uninterrupted day of creativity. Let’s just say that getting back to “work” felt really good.

screen-printing // doonyaya.com

screen-printing // doonyaya.comAnd despite the set-backs, I’m even more focussed, productive and inspired about my work than ever – what’s up with that?! What kind of weird and slightly disturbing magic is mixed into the brew of life’s challenges? Maybe it’s the Universe’s little bonus for getting through difficulty – we’re thrown a bone of appreciating what we have and inspiration for what we do.

Creative challenges make me appreciate the successes even more — I see how much is possible with so little

The truth is, I resist creative challenges even though they give me so much. Having any limitation, whether imposed by myself or others, makes me panic. I feel boxed in and tied down. I tell myself I can’t work without full expression, all of my tools at hand, wide open spaces . . .

screen-printing // doonyaya.comBut the biggest lesson of these past few years has been that creative challenges help me be more creative. It’s an anomaly that I’m actually more productive when I have less to work with. Limitations make me hone in on what matters. When I’m forced to “narrow the focus”, as my coach Kathleen says, my creative mojo kicks in and I become ninja-maker: completely unstoppable with a single sword (or pen) and my own two hands. I get all: “who needs a studio? Who needs an office? Look what I can do with a laundry room and a pad of paper!”

And then when I do have access to a full studio with all the tools I could possibly need, it’s nothing less than total creative happiness.

And that is definitely worth a few challenges along the way.

latest drawings for cat-owls

cat-owl drawings

Here they are: the first drawings for my new line of Cat-Owls. Seeing them on paper makes it easier for me to spot common themes or the overall look of the line. It also makes it easier to edit and choose the ones to expand on, until I have a fabulous batch of Cat-Owls ready for handmade production.

cat-owl drawings // doonyaya.comI’m particularly fond of the triangular pattern and can just about guarantee seeing this pattern in full screen-printed glory in the near future. I also think the polka-dots and stripes are fun, although I’m debating whether the stripes are too plain. Maybe larger, bolder stripes? And lastly, I experimented with the “fish-scales” and have decided to keep them as the loopy pattern, but will also be trying other variations to spice things up.

As for their “pants,” the solid colors will be narrowed down to five options: grey, orange, dark teal, royal blue, light turquoise and apple green. Wait, that’s six … I can work with that.

And then there is choosing the background fabric colors for their “shirts.” The only color I’m certain about is pink because pink and orange should never be apart. And light grey because it looks good with everything. The rest of the color options need more investigating and experimenting to materialize into final decisions.

So, until then it’s back to the drawing board.

from design to print

screen-print design // doonyaya.com

When I tell people I am a screen-printer I get one of two reactions: a blank stare or an idea for a T-shirt they’ve been wanting to make that says something like “guns don’t kill people, dad’s with daughters do.” And then they ask if I can make it for them. That’s when I say “no” because frankly that’s not my gig. I design and make my own stuff.

That’s usually when the conversation  goes towards me trying to explain what I make and how I make it. Which is not easy to explain because screen-printing is not easy to explain. I get all techie about “mesh-count” and “exposure times,” and then I stop when people’s eyes glaze over. I hear them thinking, “. . . never should have asked . . . ”

So I decided to do a post on my process. It’s an entirely selfish motive of not wanting to explain how I screen-print every time the topic comes up. Now I can say, “funny you should ask, I just posted the process on my blog.” Here it is:

1)  CREATE THE DESIGN: This is when I either use the computer to create the design or go old-school with pen and paper (my preferred method). If the pattern is drawn first then I scan the image and finesse it on the computer.

Next, the image is printed onto mylar (a clear film sometimes called velum or transparency). Or sometimes I go even more lo-tech and put my design straight onto the mylar. This can be done with stickers, contact paper (see above) or with opaque pens.

screen-printing // doonyaya.com2) BURN THE SCREEN: Once the design is on mylar it gets burned into the screen. This happens by coating the screen with a light-sensitive photo emulsion and exposing the screen to light with the pattern underneath it. When the screen is washed under water the emulsion that did not get exposed to light will wash out and the emulsion that was exposed to light hardens onto the screen. Basically, anything on the design that is opaque will be washed out and anything that was clear will stay. This means that the open spaces that have been washed out will have ink pushed through and be the colored ink parts. Got all that?

design process // doonyaya.com3) PRIN THE IMAGE: Once the screen is prepared it’s time to print. There are different ways to set up the printing, but this is a simple way to do it: the screen is placed in clamps so it can move up and down. The paper or fabric is placed under the screen and ink is squeegeed through. Pretty simple, right?

design process // doonyaya.com4) DRY THE WORK: If sunshine is available I like to put my fabric outside to dry “naturally.” But, if a second color is being applied, I run it through my conveyer dryer which is exactly what it sounds like: a conveyer belt with hot air and heat to dry the fabric quickly and set the ink. Once it’s dried the fabric can go through the washing machine with a minimal amount of fading. If I didn’t have a conveyer dryer then I could put the piece through the home dryer and it would set the ink just as well.

design process // doonyaya.com

And that’s it! I’ll never have to explain it again.

finding the perfect fabric

fabric swatch // doonyaya.com

Finding the fabric to make my napkins with has been a long road. Mostly because I have standards and won’t settle for cheap, environmentally hazardous, chemically laden, made-under-terrible-conditions cloth. The problem is that I want to have integrity in every area of my creative process.

Just so you know, I didn’t start out this way. With integrity, values and morals, that is. When I first decided to take my handmade items to market and sell them I was more concerned with how to turn a profit than what materials to use. My priority was financial, even if it meant sourcing from China and buying cheaper fabric.

Then I started printing and sewing with the cheaper fabric from China. It was thin, rough in my hands and it felt, well, cheap. So I packed up the chemically laden, scratchy, thin cotton that was probably made by children under terrible working conditions (check out the story if you want to feel badly about the T-shirt you’re wearing), and left it by the dumpster behind my studio for someone else to use, or for it to be thrown away.

And as I walked back to my studio, I made a decision to never compromise my values for profit again. And that meant money was no longer the priority. Feeling good about what I make would be the new order.

By all logical and practical business sense this would be the end of making a living doing what I love. I had believed and told myself that making a profit was impossible if I didn’t compromise. I mean, don’t some corners have to be cut?

Maybe. This is an experiment that might blow up in my face and leave me applying for a job at Starbucks. But I don’t think so. Because I believe that the people who buy my handmade items for their homes also care, and are willing to pay more for quality materials just like I am.

So I scoured the information superhighway of the internet as well as the concrete streets of New York to find the perfect fabric. After a gazillion stores, millions of fabric samples, aisle after aisle of yardage, I finally found it: perfect, beautiful, soft European linen. Not only amazing to work with, linen is also a renewable resource and biodegradable. It’s eco-friendly and free of harmful toxins because it is easy to cultivate. And, as far as I know it is not produced by children.

Even so, I had to try it out in my own home under real-life circumstances. And I found that short of running it over with a tractor, it got even better with wear and tear. When washed and worn, linen starts looking both old-world rustic and urban-edgy all at the same time. It is truly the perfect fabric.

And most importantly, I feel good about it. Really, really good about it.

new designs: going old-school

design process // doonyaya.com

I spent most of this week cutting little triangles out of contact paper and sticking them onto velum. In a beautiful pattern, of course. I’m designing a new line of napkins and I wanted to add a creative challenge (because designing a new product isn’t challenging enough). Here were my guidelines: 1) only using simple tools to make the patterns 2) not relying on a computer for any part of the process.

But why not use the computer? And have perfectly uniform triangles to “copy and paste,” enabling me to whip out designs inside of an hour instead of a week?

A valid question. I happened to ask myself that every five minutes of tirelessly peeling off sticky-backs and trying not to crumple the thin contact paper that is better suited for big rectangle drawers than tiny triangles for napkin designs.

The answer is that I’m creatively stubborn. I’m determined to prove to my imaginary audience that watches my every creative move, that I don’t need a high-tech tool for a low-tech skill. And screen-printing is lo-tech, for those of you that might be intimidated by it. Monkeys can screen-print. Stoners can screen-print. Moms can screen-print. And we all do. Except maybe the monkeys.

Because what I love about screen-printing is that I get to use my hands to be creative, that I can literally feel my work being made. It’s a messy, tactile medium. Unlike computers.

Handmade shows something about the artist that can’t be translated in mass-produced products — and that makes it even more meaningful to me

I love the look of handmade where “mistakes” actually add character. For me, designs that are super slick and have no rough edges become dull and bland. I thrive on random “accidents” that come with creativity. Any time that I make a “bad” cut and the lines don’t match perfectly, I get a little internal thrill because I know that the design just got better.

So, keeping it old-school has delivered on all it promised: I have proven to myself (and my imaginary audience) that creativity is not generated from high-tech tools. That something beautiful or inspired can come from materials that are right in front of us. That the act of making can happen right now, with whatever is at hand.

I couldn’t ask for more from a roll of contact paper.

cat-owls: drawings for a new line

cat owl // doonyaya.com

Big things are happening at doonyaya – most notably, a new line of Cat-Owls. Here’s what makes them new: they will be made from my own screen-printed designs instead of vintage fabrics that made up the last line. And that’s not to say I’m abandoning vintage fabrics altogether (I’m a serial ebay-bidder after all, and my heart jumps when I see a good ’30s feed-sack cotton – my husband worries about me), I’m just evolving and expanding the line, or growing with the times.

And these times call for screen-printing, because my screen-printing studio has been imprisoned in a storage unit for two years(!) and has, at last, been set free.

The first step in screen-printing fabric is making the designs. In my case I am drawing them with good old-fashioned pen & paper.

But I’m actually not even designing the fabric quite yet. First I’m drawing Cat-Owls with different patterns that may or may not make the final cut to becoming fabric for said Cat-Owls.

My reasoning is this: I want my new line of doonyaya designs to have a pattern-pallette that is incorporated throughout the entire line, like a selection of patterns that work for different items. For example, a bright and fabulous polkadot pattern could be great on a Cat-Owl and on a toddler blanket, or the dapper stripes could work as a bolster-pillow and on a storage tote. Makes sense, right?

So this week has been devoted to drawing Cat-Owls with lots of varying patterns and color combinations. And in that process I have been finding common ideas and themes – some that stick and others that inevitably go back to the junk pile of gross ideas. I know you have that pile, too.

MAKING IS A TRY, FAIL AND TRY AGAIN ENDEAVOR

But even the “failures” teach me something about my own aesthetic and my creative preferences. I hone in on my intuition and start to see what “works” and what doesn’t. I get really sharp with my discerning eye and knowing what next steps to take. And that brings me closer to who I want to be as an artist and maker – all pretty great things to learn from drawing Cat-Owls.

monochrome experiment for pottery

handmade pottery // doonyaya.com

When I first signed up for a pottery class in my town I thought it would be exciting and fun to play with clay. But I quickly got frustrated with being a beginner – pots flew off the wheel, glazes came out looking muddy or pale, and everything I made reminded me of my early creations as an eight year old that were relegated to ashtrays by my chain-smoking step-father. You know the ones – clay blobs with a finger-sized hole in the middle.

I was ready to give up. Throw in the shammy. Stick to what I already know. Stop trying to learn new tricks.

HAVING A LIMITATION ACTUALLY OPENS UP MORE POSSIBILITIES AND GIVES A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE MATERIAL

And then my teacher Robert Hessler, in his infinite wisdom, told me to narrow my focus: hone my skills and clarify my aesthetic. As a result I am only making black and white pots. How could he have known that this challenge would sing to my monochromatic soul? Don’t misunderstand me, I love color – just in measure. Especially in my own home where too much color feels like clutter. And clutter makes me edgy. Just ask my husband who would love me to stop “pile-shifting.” But this is way off topic.

making pottery // doonyaya.compottery // doonyaya.compottery // doonyaya.com

I glazed my first black and white “experiment” on a shallow slab pot. And it looks really great. Which made me realize that limitations are good for me – I have to dig deeper into what is possible with less at hand. Which leads to more discovery. And hopefully to better looking pots.

production for the “sustainable living fest”

This Saturday (March 17, 2014) I will be selling doonyaya products at the Sustainable Living Fest in Stone Ridge, NY. There is nothing like a deadline to shift me into high production gear and push my designs, especially when I know there will be an opportunity to meet buyers in person and get immediate reactions on my products. It has been a welcomed week in the studio.

cat owls: lars & alma

Here they are – the first batch of cat owls.There are two cat owls: Lars (named after my own son) and Alma (named after Lars’ dear friend and playmate). Lars and Alma (the cat owls) are very fashion forward and flatly declare they will never be seen wearing the same outfit twice. This keeps my always on the lookout for new fabrics, designs and patterns – something for every occasion. They will be available for sale in my etsy shop and various craft fairs, so keep a look out.

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