This last week or so has been hard. I finished shooting all the pictures for the book, which means that, when combined with the finished illustrations and chapters, my part of the book is done for now. I’ll get to review it in December, but until then it’s in my editor’s hands.
It feels good to get that off of my plate, but now that I am not distracted by the directions I’ve committed to, I’m stuck making the decision of where to go next. In so many ways I’m in the same space as my four-year-old daughter – I want to grow up and stay a kid at the same time. She loves helping with the dishes, and doing select things for herself, but still wants to be carried and have someone take her to the bathroom. I want to grow my business and remain a small crafter at the same time.
We have our nomination for the Martha Stewart American Made competition up. I check neurotically to see if that red ribbon is there yet, confirming Moxie & Oliver as a finalist. I check to see how many shares we have, and am happy to see that the number keeps going up. This relentless checking has forced me to question what becoming a finalist would mean to me, and why it is so important.
Since I started Moxie & Oliver I’ve kept mostly to myself, and let the business grow organically. I rarely, if ever, have promoted my own work, and I think this is pretty normal for artists. But this year, I resolved to try to grow the business and one of the things that this has meant, that I certainly did not anticipate, was that I would be looking very closely at the work that other leather crafters do, and comparing it to my own.
That comparison is what has been eating at me. There are other people who make things out of leather (they don’t necessarily work the leather, by dyeing or adding pattern, etc.) who are, at a minimum, more the “Martha Stewart” style than my work is. They may be more successful, I don’t know, but they make a product that they can easily scale. They can easily have someone else, anywhere in the world, cut and sew the leather together using their patterns.
So I start thinking that maybe, after ten years, I’m doing the wrong thing. Maybe the right answer is to make hipster gear in solid color leather and sell it for an ungodly amount of money. I could hire lots of assistants, create a factory, and be a brand. I could grow my business that way. I could have a leather empire.
The problem is that I’m not an empress, I’m an artist. If I start to separate my artwork from the leather it adorns, my pieces lose what makes them unique. They lose that distinctive Moxie & Oliver quality, and I will no longer be doing what I love to do – make art. There’s something hard-wired inside me that needs to paint bright colors and flowers on everything (according to my husband, this list also includes birds). Whatever this drive is, I need to feed it.
Through all this comparison to the other leather crafters, in the midst of all the questioning I have done, I have realized that my work is truly unique. There is nobody out there doing what I do, and in that sense comparing myself to people who also use leather but do something completely different with it is absurd. I’m actually looking forward to the book coming out, and to teaching some classes locally, so that other people can learn to put their own art on leather.
I will grow my business as an artist, making my artfully distinguished leather goods. And, I will do it with an incredible gratitude for the people who have supported me these last ten years, and who continue to support me. You all are amazing.