Thursday, June 26, 2014

Life hit the fan

I haven't found time to write lately, but I've been feeling the need to reach out to my community, if only online, to describe how things have been.

Over the past few years, while I feel like my mosaic skills have grown by leaps and bounds, commissions had dropped to only a few small projects each year.  I did a lot of presenting and exhibiting, but gallery sales were extremely rare, and it actually costs a lot to do these shows, and I was basically doing my work at Mike's expense.  So, we had made a plan that, if within about 2 years I wasn't earning some surplus income, I would get a job with a paycheck.  Since I've been teaching at the high school on Fridays, I thought I might work toward a job in the school system, but in the meantime, I would give the mosaic business my best effort.

And then I got a call from a colleague, asking if I would be interested in taking over a fabrication account with a large company.  This company installs lovely mosaic floors in all of their stores, and an occasional mosaic mural.  She warned me that it could be very difficult work with short deadlines, but that it would be steady income.  I decided to go for it, thinking this could be the "job" I needed to support my art business.  But, I could still be in the studio, working on my own schedule, still tending the garden and animals and being there for my 11-year-old (because, I don't know how my friends manage when there are so many school late-starts and holidays, and kids get sick and have doctor appointments, etc.)  I was very excited about this new opportunity.

Then, my first commission for the company came in with an insanely short deadline, so that I had only four days to complete an 11 square foot marble floor, which took over 50 hours.  And at the same time, a very difficult family crisis took place, so that I was also caring for a family member on top of child care, farm maintenance, and packing for a big trip to Oaxaca.
This is an example of the floor mosaics, with the company name cropped out.

Since then, I've completed six floors for this company, between 11 and 16 square feet, each one on a short deadline.  So far, with every single one, there have been problems with shipping that have cost me extra money, caused delays for the contractors, and have brought me to tears.  When I get a contract, I spend about 5 days bent over a work table, hand-cutting marble for 10-12 hours per day, and the requests are coming in faster and faster.

I tried to quit after a recent fiasco where the largest floor yet arrived at the job site with a whole section missing.  When I had it picked up to return for repair, the shipment disappeared for six days, delaying the project even further.  It has finally made its way back to me, and I'm currently in the process of reconstructing the missing section.  The company has urged me to continue contracting with them, offering to pay extra for solid wood crates.  So, now I have a makeshift wood shop in my driveway where I'm attempting to build crates until I can find a better solution.

Meanwhile, I have only been fully paid for the first project, completed in March.  And the crisis with a family member has continued, and while this has a much bigger impact on my life and emotional state than my work, it is too personal to go into publicly.  (Those friends I've seen in person know all about it and I owe you all my sanity for letting me unload.)

I just wanted to explain why I've been a bit removed and subdued lately.  The garden is still going, and Mike has taken on more of the work.  The animals are all managing, and Anouk is getting old enough to help more with them.  My bookkeeping and studio are both a mess, and I don't have much time for more inspired mosaic projects these days, but I do get an occasional break between projects, waiting for the materials to get here, and I relish that time.  And, when those payments finally start rolling in, I think I will find new enthusiasm and appreciation for this work.  I don't have to wonder how I'm going to pay for my trip to Philadelphia next year for the American Mosaic Summit, where I'll finally see the work of Isaiah Zagar in person!  I'm seriously considering buying a top-of-the-line saw that will allow me to custom cut just about any material.  And, if all goes as planned, I'll do fabrication for this company for a year or two, and find myself with some very good experience to make my business profitable moving forward.

(And, if any of my friends want to make a trip out to my place this summer, I can't stop working, but I can certainly visit while I work, and would appreciate the company.  Just saying.)


  1. Ugh, I feel for you! It's hard to transition your business, especially if you HAVE to instead of want to. Do you have a mentor who you can go to with questions about doing business a new way? I'm thinking of Carl and Sandy Bryant or Mauricio Robalino (though I'm not sure he does commercial business, he does do large scale works).

    Also, if you're interested in doing more teaching, you might qualify for this program:

    Hugs, Deane

  2. I also feel for you, and admire you for all you're accomplishing and managing in your life! I should have said this earlier this week, but your work that's in Hillsboro can stay at my house until it's more practical to come down. There's no pressure to come get it this weekend. I will happily pick the two up at Sequoia on Monday and keep them at my house until whenever, if that helps!