Stitch Merchant


A Sharp Turn

It's been a while since I've posted any letterpress work. It's been a while since I've posted anything. I was at a loss. I didn't know what to talk about. All I could think about, I didn't want to say here. When I'm in the thick of something, I can't seem to articulate myself. I'm sure some people wouldn't share this kind of thing with the world. But writing your thoughts down in a journal like this (as public as it may be) requires some honesty. I can't seem to move ahead in this space without addressing it. I've tried. It didn't work.

I am right in the thick of the do-what-you-love generation. Here's a great article on that idea and it's pitfalls. It started in high school with the guidance counsellor breathing down my neck. The clock started ticking. People were whispering in my ear that I should find something that I love to do and make it a job. Other people were saying that I had so much potential that I couldn't do just anything. It had to be something. I had to be something. And to settle for less would be a crime. My entire adult identity would be defined by what I chose to do and how much I loved to do it. I had to make a decision. The sooner the better.

I always loved to make art. Who doesn't? Who doesn't love to cast off all of the rules, goof off, do whatever you feel like doing that day, call it art and then get paid for it. Yeah! Sign me up. I'm much wiser now. I know that being an artist (of any kind: writer, photographer, illustrator, painter, theoretical physicist) isn't like that. It's hard work. It has become marketing, networking, promoting, accounting and a tiny bit of doing the work that you love. I chose to be a graphic designer. At the time, it seemed like the perfect way to make art, get paid for it and be accepted as a contributing member of society. Had I gone the way of fine artist, I probably would have ended up in this same spot, maybe a little bit sooner, but there would have been a lot more scorn and doubt from others and a healthy I told you so in the end. I thought I was doing the right thing. Not only the right thing but the best thing. I would do what I love, get paid for it and have no societal backlash for choosing to be an artist.

I'm not sorry that I did it that way. I was able to work from home and be with my kids while they were growing up. It paid the bills. It fed us. But I didn't love it. In fact, I hated it. Every layout change, every nit picky comment and every bad client choice that overruled a great suggestion, it all chipped away at my self worth. It was a vicious cycle of doing what I love, having it picked apart, but since the work was so close to my heart it felt like they were picking away at me, my self worth would go down, but because I was lucky enough to do what I loved I would put more work out there.

Then the girls got older and I had more time and flexibility. It was my chance to get out of that vicious cycle. I thought letterpress would save me. I thought, finally, finally I can do something that I love. I will feel great. Everything will fall into place. But that's not what happened. What happened was that I had to do a lot of marketing, networking, promoting and accounting. All the things that I hate. I started to wonder why I couldn't be happy doing what I love to do. And it took me a really long time to sort it out. It took a lot of cold, hard looks in the mirror. I came to see that in my case, it wasn't fulfilling. Printing things that I thought were beautiful still ended up in the trash. It felt like the fast food version of art. No wonder all of that marketing etc. wasn't worth it. The end product only fueled my love of printing. It didn't bring a greater good to the community. At least not enough to counter the fact that it all still ended up in the trash.

Everybody needs something from their life. What I've come to realize is that, for me, there needs to be a purpose. There needs to be some aspect of what I do that is for the greater good of the community I belong to. No matter how big or small that might be. The graphic design that I used to do wasn't for the greater good. It's sole purpose was to sell people things they didn't need. Doing it fed my family so I could justify it because it was for the good of the people around me. But that's where it ended. Letterpress wasn't for the greater good. It's sole purpose was to make me happy. That's a hobby. Not a job.

I am extremely fortunate. I have been working hard at something new. I've been doing it for almost a year now. I alter clothing and teach sewing. I get to work at a great store. Their purpose is to give people skills for making things. This is a purpose that I can stand behind. But how does altering clothes feed a purpose? How does it contribute to the greater good of the community I live in? I'm helping people hang on to clothes they love. Clothes that make them feel comfortable in this big, crazy world. I'm helping to keep clothing out of the dump. I'm helping to teach people new skills. Skills that help them take care of themselves and their families. I'm helping people to see the value in mending over replacing. And this help that I'm giving out has been the biggest reward of my professional career. Seeing the smiles on their faces. Seeing their self-worth go up. Seeing them share what they've learned. All of these things make me want to go back to work so that I can do the same thing for someone else. It feels so damn good. And now I can honestly say that I love what I do.

I suppose that leaves me firmly planted in the do-what-you-love generation. I just had to go about it a different way.