On Sundays I reflect.
I didn’t drink alcohol this week.
I am going to attempt to shift the format of this blog from a summary of my week into something different. I will be writing more about my thoughts and contemplations here, at least this week. Sorry if you wanted to read about my week. Honestly at this point my weeks are so busy I don’t even know how to keep track of what happened this week or last. If I had the time I could write as in depth a blog post every day to summarize what had gone on in my life, but that has started to feel like a burden to me distracting me from really being present in the here now.
A bit about how I got here.
A lot of you know the story. I slept on couches for a few years and carried all my personal belongings around the country in a few bags. I spent money I didn’t have, and asked favors from everyone I knew. I also asked favors of complete strangers, and many times they obliged. I firmly believe that if you put something out into the universe, the solution exists. If you keep something inside, the chances are a lot less likely that something happens compared to when you just put it out there.
So I put it all out there and I went all in with this. Five years ago when I started Drinking Vessels I did not know how quickly we would get here. I have had the vision in my head since day one if not before. I had no idea what the timeline would look like to get here. My studio has been operational for three years. I am employing people. I have regular weekly orders in with multiple artists. Products are being listed on the site less than a week after we receive them, often within 24-48 hours. Website sales are happening almost daily, often sending me to the post office with 5-10 packages.
I attribute all of this to the team of people who are behind the scenes supporting me and my brand. A lot of you are aware of my brother Jon in Miami. After putting in the hours at his day job with a philanthropic foundation, he spends countless hours helping me with the big picture for our brand. Marta is at the studio all week cooking and cleaning, assisting me with packing and shipping as well as anything else I throw her way. She goes above and beyond to keep the operation running smoothly. Skinny has been on top of photo content and social media stuff and has increased the speed at which we can take products live on the site for you to browse. Rob is making cups in the studio most days of the week. JCOST still helps with graphic design from Alaska, and Bibi helps a bit from Boulder too.
And most of these people I can’t afford to pay. The ones who I can pay, are working for barely enough money to survive. They work exhausting hours in a hot studio where sometimes the only place to sit and get work done is the floor. I have caught myself spitting out to do lists for ten minutes before I realize that I have given someone an impossible amount of work to accomplish in a completely unrealistic time window.
And I ask myself “Why are these people dedicating themselves to something without much direct benefit to themselves?”
But this leads me to a deeper set of questions? Why am I doing this? What is the real mission of Drinking Vessels? (I still haven’t written a mission statement). Is my impact on the world overall positive? Is my brand ethical or just feeding into consumerism? Is what I have committed my life to “good”?
I love art. I also love creating deep meaningful relationships with other people. In my first role assisting Huffy as his apprentice, I began to see all of the distractions and obstacles that exist for artists. At the time I was such a fan of my teacher’s work, that I simply wanted to alleviate any stress or distraction I could for him to be able to create more art. Without specific instruction to do so I began employing all of my knowledge of branding and marketing as well as sales experience. I helped run a gallery as well as national distribution of our production line, which I also helped to produce. During this educational period I became aware of how the typical glass artist operates, what their overhead looks like, and what it takes to handle the business of art beyond just creating. I met artists from around the world at trade shows and industry events, who have become my friends and colleagues.
As I grew, I found a niche in Drinking Vessels. I knew that I would use this umbrella to represent and brand my own work but I also knew that it would become a home for artists and collectors to come together. Venturing into this unknown has been nothing short of terrifying. I reinvest every dollar I make into the brand, and at no point do I have any certainty of sales.
Most artists are living piece to piece without much savings. In addition to paying rent and bills, they have to buy their own supplies to create their art. Many don’t have good health insurance which most people get from their employer. Artists are self employed, and do not have any guarantee of a sale tomorrow. In addition to producing the art and safely storing it, they must market, sell, and deliver the art to the client. Typically an artist doesn’t have an assistant or any help. This means they handle every facet of their business independently. They can’t paint or blow glass while they are driving to the post office or the grocery store. They can’t create while they are messaging clients or discussing business on the phone. If you add up the weight of what it takes just to keep the “business” operational on the most basic level, factor in feeding themselves and sleeping you’ve virtually filled the day and that doesn’t even include time to make art.
So it is very easy to identify the problem here for me. I then find myself asking “What can I personally do to alleviate the burden on artists so that they can focus on creating the art?”
I spend countless hours to ensure that all of the content we put out is top quality. I probably communicate with 100+ customers per day in my private message inbox in order to provide accurate information on artists and their work. I am the human resources department for Drinking Vessels, and I also handle the packing and shipping of every box (sometimes with assistance). I orchestrate photo shoots and make sure all listed products have the correct information and pricing. I communicate with artists in a way that allows them to create their work without feeling stuck in a box. For the artists that I work most closely with, I have been able to establish a consistent paycheck on which they can rely to know that their bills are covered.
And this is really the “why” to the questions I have been asking myself. I am doing this for the artists. It is my ultimate pleasure to be of assistance in the creation of such magnificent art that will span the test of time. We document this work to the best of our ability. Nearly every piece is photographed and catalogued. As an artist myself, I think about how I would want to be represented. I apply the same standards to showcasing other artists work as I do for my own work. This has been a great challenge without a budget to hire a professional staff at the going rate.
Maybe I am a jack of all trades. I am certainly a master of none.
I recognize my shortcomings, and I know how to ask for help. I have a camera and take good pictures, but I am not a professional. I don’t have editing software or even know how to use it. I recognized early on that I would have to hire professional photographers in order to represent these artists at the level they deserve. I have recruited my friends, and anyone willing to model for glass trades. At first I could only afford to give models a chillum that I made, but lately I have been able to increase to trading nicer cups and even paying some of them. We have always provided our models with digital edits of the photos to use for their own purposes, but virtually everyone you see posing with cups on our page are people who wanted to be there creating content with us.
I guess where I am going with all of this, is that I am so grateful to all of the people who have helped me bring this vision into reality. It is an amazing feeling to know that this many people believe in what I am doing. I haven’t even gotten to the collectors who supports our network of artists!
Every day I am having conversations with artists and collectors alike. Most collectors are working some kind of job, and then choosing to use their money to buy art. Rather than buying mass produced over consumed indulgences from corporations, they buy handmade objects from artists. I lately find myself thinking a lot about supply chain and where my dollars are going. Aside from paying artists I support about 20 businesses and aside from the post office and the grocery store virtually every business I support is independently owned. I source as much of my food locally as I can. I buy my tools and raw materials from people I know. I choose not to support brands that do not align with my values. I actively take steps to reduce the environmental impact of my brand. We repurpose as much as we can into packing materials to reduce our waste, and we are turning most of our glass trash into another art project to prevent sending it to the dump.
Sometimes I start to wonder if I am just feeding into the system that I so abhor. I’m selling things people don’t need; luxury items. I remind myself of the things I have shared with you all today in this blog and continue to attempt to improve in any way I can.
One major way that I can improve, is to ask for your feedback. If you have read this far, I hope you will take the time to email me your thoughts. How can we do better? What are we missing?
I have been consumed with running the brand over the last few weeks which has pulled me away from the social justice work I want to be doing. There is so much injustice in the world, and I recognize how I benefit from my position of white male privilege. I am committing myself to reading more this week and making time to assess what I can do to have a positive impact instead of being a passive bystander.
If you’re here for the CUPDATE, check out all the new products we listed on the site this week. Sorry this week was a bit different from past posts. I will be pushing myself to elaborate on these ideas in the next few weeks.
Thanks for tuning in,
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