Sometimes, on a day like today, when I’m at my workbench with the sun streaming through the open window and the birds are singing in the garden; when I’m tooling a customer’s own beautiful design onto the cover of a journal; when Samantha’s working next to me and Tanner the Dog is running in his sleep by my feet; I smile and think to myself, “How did this happen? Work isn’t meant to be like this!”
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not all roses. There are other times when we’re still working at midnight after a 14 hour day because we’ve got a deadline to meet; or when there are barely enough orders coming in to pay the bills; when I’ve just tooled a customer’s own design onto a journal and discovered there’s an ugly scar on the back and the whole thing has to be scrapped (the perils of working with natural materials); when I scowl and think to myself, “How did this happen? Work isn’t meant to be like this!”
I suppose it’s a bit of an odd life we’ve chosen together, both of us working from home making leather journals for a living, but I can pinpoint the exact moment it happened. When I first met Sam I was a temporarily unemployed lad from Northampton who was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with his life; Sam was an art student living in a village just outside Northampton. Not long after we met Sam took me for a walk along the canal towpath near her home; it was a glorious day in mid-summer and she was telling me about how much she loved Canal Folk Art. We discussed the techniques of this and who the artists were and, due to us both being skint at the time, we toyed with the idea of spending the summer painting up some tin buckets, watering cans, plates, mugs etc. etc., setting them down on a blanket on the towpath and selling them to boatmen and tourists alike.
We didn’t actually do this, it was just one of those idle summer conversations, but that conversation never really left either of our heads. It appealed to the vague dreams I had as a child of being able to do something I loved for a living rather than that terrible and terrifying prospect of growing up and getting a ‘proper job’.
So, we devised a plan. While Sam was studying Fine Art at University I would work any jobs I could get. At the same time we would be practicing all manner of traditional crafts in our spare time. Studying art, Sam was already incredibly visually creative, so that gave us a bit of a head-start. We played with all sorts of crafts, woodcarving, pyrography, lace-making, crochet, walking stick making, an ill-fated excursion into the world of making didgeridoos, and, of course, bookbinding! During this time we had stalls at all manner of craft fairs and country shows, starting off small with little church-hall type fairs until we earned enough from these to attend the huge and fancy stately-home based design shows.
The plan was that within five years one of us would be working on the craft business full time while the other was sensibly employed elsewhere to help support it in the early days; that person would then go down to part-time hours in that job until, within ten years we would both be gainfully employed in our very own fully formed craft business. How’s that for a business plan? It’s almost like we’re proper people or something.
And we did it!
That ten year deadline has long since passed (it’s now almost twenty five years since that day of sunshine by the canal) and we’re still here, somehow that ragtag pair of misfits managed to grow up and become a proper craft business.
And I still often think to myself, “How did this happen? Work isn’t meant to be like this!”
…and I’ll leave you to apply your own meaning to that phrase.