Butterflies, much like the phoenix, are a symbol of transformation. Though, commonly associated with Spring, they are perhaps best tied to all year, as their life, too, is a cycle that often reflects our own and the turning of the wheel of the year. As Fall and harvest come to pass and we approach the winter and hibernation, we, too, have feasted and now tuned inward, as the caterpillar becoming the chrysalis.
Inspired by this post by The Enchanted Wren!
If you are anything like me, you have done many pretend author interviews in the bathroom mirror since you were about eight. Yes, indeed, I am a pro of this type of Q&A. We’ll see if that carries over to my interview with Dot Cannon from Noelophile blog at the Mystic Dragon Book Festival on August 15th.
Throughout all of those pretend interviews, as well as the millions (no, I’m pretty sure this is not an exaggeration) of author interviews I have watched online thanks to youtube, and that one time I saw Diana Gabaldon live, one of the most commonly asked question is when did you become a writer? When did you start writing?
When is a very different question then the why (which most, I have found, answer much like Descartes- “I write, therefore I am”). Writing is a state of being, how we got to that state, though, is as diverse as the people who write.
For me, personally, it is something I have always been doing. I don’t mean this as a simple answer or a cop-out. It is the truth and I owe it to the most powerful inspiration in my life, my mother.
I grew up to the sound of her fingers dancing across the keyboards, making new worlds to explore and new characters to meet and fall in love with. And those were some of my purely happy childhood memories. I still remember the first story she wrote. It was about a small acorn I found walking back from dropping my brother off at the bus stop.
We had a deal. She would let me stay up past my bedtime to get to listen to what more she wrote that day as long as I brushed her hair. And I learned a lot in those nights. I learned tricks for editing (reading aloud). I learned research and the lengths one could go and the different resources available. I learned spelling and grammar (and that even the best sometimes flub in that area). Most importantly, though, I learned the power of storytelling, the power of writing, the power of words. It ignited a spark.
I remember my countless sketchbooks filled with what most would call scribbles on the front, and on the back would be a corresponding very short story. My mom tells me on the way to ballet, I would tell stories from the moment the key in the ignition turned to the moment the car would park. I grew up writing and telling stories, and I owe much of that to my mother.
I was fortunate to not only grow up with a mom who was passionate about reading and who shared that passion with me, but to grow up at my mother’s keyboard as well as her bookshelves. And what is even more exciting, as I follow in her footsteps and publish my own stories, is getting to experience the stories and characters I grew up with being shared with the whole world, too. Mouse and Shadow; and Emma and John; and Ellie and Alex were my earliest and oldest friends and playmates. And to see them become a book I can hold and open and revisit any time, is indescribable.
So when did I become a writer? When did it all start? It started with the first word my mother typed.
Check out my mom’s blog/website: http://www.keyboardmusings.com/
Her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Barbara-Lieberman/e/B00NHI7PT6/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Her Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8442199.Barbara_Lieberman
When you are a child, you are handed down a lot of different things from your family. You have your name. Some idiosyncrasies you pick up along the way. You have the physical gifts and keepsakes. You also are given references, and by that I don’t necessarily mean what you would put on a job application. I mean, culture, whether it is the classics or more modern day pop culture. I mean, things they loved that they shared with you that you now have grown to love.
Growing up, if my family wasn’t randomly breaking out into song (because, yes, my life is and has always been a musical), we were tossing references back and forth. Close to every sentence has at least one reference, some so obscure those eavesdropping would have thought we were speaking a foreign language. This is probably why my newest book, Society’s Foundlings, is riddled with random references.
In the acknowledgements of my book I thank and tip my hat to a few of the people who have given me the building blocks of my reference palace, including by brother, Ben, my mother, Barb, and one of my best friends, Alyse. Someone who I failed to mention, though, was my Grandmother. And she is someone who deserves mentioning.
Anyone who knows about my Acorn Tops business knows well about my Grandmom’s influence and inspiration. One of the gifts she gave me, a picture, is now my logo and how I got the idea to carve fairy doors. She has also inspired products from my business, such as my collaboration with Seeds of Inspiration, the Seeds of Remembrance Rosemary Scented Fairy Pillows!
Though, she passed away when I was very young, she has given me a lot. She has added to my love of reading. I have her Anne of Green Gables books, the ones with her name written in them. I have her Anne of Green Gables doll. I order Eggs Benedict whenever I can for breakfast and orange cream ice cream at the boardwalk and the beach, just like she did. I share a name with her and am named after the same strong and incredible woman, she is named for. And, most relevant to this post, I share a love of Harvey, the movie about the 6ft 3.5in tall pooka. I even dressed up one year for Halloween as El Wood P. Dowd, with a hat that had slots cut in it for rabbit ears and business cards with one number crossed out (call me at this number, not at this number).
In Society’s Foundlings, the reference appears when three of the characters are gathered around the television. One, sitting upside down on the couch, offers non-stop commentary while they watch and another is showing off his knowledge of every movie ever made. It’s a very minuscule part, one that could easily be missed and would not even be worth mentioning, if not for the personal significance, and not necessarily my own.
A book, a movie, a song, a television show- they have memories tied to them. You see them, you hear them, and they make you pause for a moment with a small nostalgic smile. Because you remember that person it reminds you of, who first showed it to you, who watched it, read it, sang it with you. You remember that moment it’s associated with, like a photo album you don’t have to pull out of the top shelf of a closet. And you remember how it made you feel. The way it spoke to you.
John Green (yes I am referencing him once more), did a whole vlog about Harvey. As he says, “All I know is I woke up the morning after watching Harvey feeling a little bit better and in all the years since, I have never felt quite as hopeless as I did before I watched Harvey.”
If you haven’t watched Harvey, I suggest you do. It’s a life changer for sure. And maybe when you’re reading Society’s Foundlings and you come to the part where they are watching it, you will pause for a moment and smile.
“Stop thinking about art as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers.”- Roy Ascott
In my family there are a lot of traditions that include the Christmas tree. We tend to put it up the day after Thanksgiving. (We’re a little late this year.) We blast Christmas carols as we decorate. By far, my favorite, though, is the ornaments. We don’t do themed Christmas trees. You will find very few simple or elegant glass balls. Our tree tells a story and every year that story starts with Grandmom’s star, a gold and red ornament. It’s always the first on the tree. Next, I put my baby’s first ornament, a brown bear laying on a group of blocks that have my birth year on them. Following that are ornaments we’ve received every Christmas since we were first born. Every year my grandparents would get us an ornament. Each ornament represents an interest of ours from that year. It’s what we liked, who we wanted to be, where we wanted to go, where we went, who we were. It’s a story about each of us individually, but also who we are as a family. And I have yet to see a tree more beautiful. (I may be a little biased on that count.)
My ornaments range from The Comfy Couch and Madeline to ballerinas and teachers, from Crayons and beloved books to feminist quotes. Photos of beloved pets who have since crossed the rainbow bridge to handmade ornaments marking milestones. Each is a memory. It makes the tree feel more special to me. It is unique and it is specifically mine. No one would look at my tree and doubt who it belonged to.
I like to achieve something similar with the ornaments I carve. I like them to be unique. I like them to be special. I like them to reflect and capture people’s interest. That beloved books or movie, that milestone, something important, something my customers can looks back on with a smile, something that tells a story. That captures this moment, this year, forever. And maybe, just maybe, something that would mean as much to them as Grandmom’s star.
At my most recent event, a customer mentioned how cool they thought it was that I had very ancient symbols, such as my goddess fairy door, and some newer symbols, such as my Mockingjay inspired ornament. I had something for everyone, they said. As Seeds of Inspiration put it when I was talking to her about it, it’s almost like a secret handshake. Whether it’s the knowing look and smile I receive from a customer picking up the goddess fairy door, or the squeals and shouts of excitement over my TFIOS inspired products, it kind of feels like a secret handshake. The customer and I share more than a mutual understanding and knowledge; we share a connection.
Certain symbols like that of the goddess or the okay… okay clouds from TFIOS fit into certain niches. If you know Divergent you recognize my Divergent door. The same can be said for many of the symbols I use. Some people who have never heard of TFIOS will buy a TFIOS inspired fairy house because the glow in the dark infinity sign on the top reminds them of their wedding. Most of my sales, though, when it comes to a more specific audience comes from people who fit into the niche. Teenagers tend to gravitate most to my products that are inspired by young adult fiction. A woman wearing the celtic knot necklace and matching earrings is more likely to pick up my celtic knot tree of life door.
That being said, there are certain universal symbols, recognized by all and it is all who seem excited to see them. A sixty year old man will pick up the same spiderman fairy door that a six year old girl picked up not five minutes ago. An eight year old boy will gush over the same Lorax fairy door that a thirty year old woman gushed over an hour or so before. There is a connection there, too. Everyone knows Thomas The Tank Engine. Anyone can recognize Thing One and Thing Two. There is no one who does not know the Batman Symbol or The S Superman wears on his chest.
Then there are the personal symbols, like my logo. This is not universal. This does not fit into a specific niche. No one I have ever come across knows the artist. But it’s not so much the artist. It’s not even so much the artwork itself, though it is a huge inspiration. It is a connection, too; a connection to my grandmother that I then share with my customers.
Deep down all symbols are somewhat personal, even the most universal. There is a reason we feel drawn and choose certain symbols over another. When it comes down to it, it can be as personal as scent, and yet it still holds a capacity to connect two total strangers.
Acorn Tops is proud to be able to have a little something for everyone. I extend my hand… you know the handshake.
It’s coming on Christmas, and no I’m not about to break into The River by Joni Mitchell. Okay, so maybe it's not coming on Christmas for the rest of the world, unless you count department stores. However, I have about three events left for the year, all of which are after Halloween, and two of which are after Thanksgiving. Generally, I find Thanksgiving doesn’t generally bring many sales for me, but we’ll see if my Harvest Raggle Taggle Fairy Dolls can fix that.
Christmas, though, tends to bring a lot of sales. So, while the rest of society might still be trying to figure out which candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters this year and putting the finishing touches on their costumes or trying to decide what sides will be offered with the turkey and if the pies this year should include the apple with cheddar cheese or pumpkin and whipped cream, I’m blasting Christmas songs in my room, working on Christmas and winter related products. Ice house and Christmas fairy doll, anyone?
Holidays and seasons in and of themselves tend to offer a plethora of inspiration. One needs only to walk into JoAnns or Michaels, or, if you’re on the East Coast, AC Moore to discover any amount of craft supplies geared to holidays or seasons. This would be one of the reasons we often unsuccessfully attempt to put blinders on while walking past the fabric sections. And while I, personally, also draw inspiration many times from beloved books or favorite movies, and online through many google, deviant art, pinterest, tumblr, etc. searches, ideas and inspiration and ways to make the ideas happen, also come from the people around me.
Truth is handmade entrepreneurs owe a lot to the people around them. I am lucky to have Handmade in South Bay, my own personal Algonquin round table, where I can not only learn tricks of the trade and have help in growing my business, but also vent my frustrations and celebrate my successes. I am lucky to have a boyfriend who always asks what I’m working on and not only shows interest and compliments my abilities and work, but also offers ideas happily, like having the acorns for my squirrel fairy garden look like they are wrapped like a gift, and enjoys seeing me excited about my work. And I am lucky to have a mother who offers honest opinions of my creations, gives suggestions for making them better, acts as a sounding board and often bears the brunt of my frustrated rants and overly excited babbling, as well as the countless other ways she supports me (I could write a novel-length blog about her alone).
What it comes down to is this, Acorn Tops would not be where it is today if not for the support I get from my friends, family, and boyfriend. They all have a hand in it and many of my inspiration I owe to them. I am more grateful than I could ever put into words.
I am my grandmother’s granddaughter in a lot of ways. I share her tendency to worry; the ever constant “what will people think.” I share her love of Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Shirley. That’s Anne with an E. I also share her love of autumn. She passed away when I was six, but I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I don’t think of her. It’s happening a lot more than usual now because autumn was her favorite time of year. Now more than ever, my mom and I will exchange looks and ask each other, “You know who would love that?” Just this morning it was the collaborative gift box sets with Seeds of Inspiration, Jessie’s Custom Greetings, and DPR Collectibles.
I keep joking that if she was still around today, we’d never have to actually buy her anything. All these seasonal product we make, be it a mug hugger or fairy door would be the perfect gifts. And I bet she’d get a kick out of it being handmade. I could see it now. Scented acorns and pumpkins at the center of her dining room table. An autumn fairy house tucked away in her perfectly square garden of perfectly straight lined zinnias.
As I type this, I’m putting the finishing touches on an autumn fairy doll. I can’t help thinking of it as ‘Grandmom’s Fairy Doll.’ If she were still alive today, this doll would be hers.
“I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” And I am so glad I had a grandmother who could pass that love on to me.
In handmade small businesses, especially where the products you sell tend to be one-of-a-kind (OOAK), every item you make is a risk. The design and the product itself is made with a few things in mind. For me, at least, I try to think of the customer. What would someone want to buy? I don’t necessarily love Hello Kitty, but she has a huge following. And if it was up to me, everything would most likely be purple, and sparkly, and glow in the dark. Okay, so most things are sparkly and glow-in-the-dark, and there is a lot of purple currently in my etsy store. Though, if you ask me about it, I’ll say it was stocking up for the Lavender Festival, which is partly true. Because the other thing a handmade small business where you make OOAK items allows for are your own personal preferences. If you only ever think of the customer, you can sometimes hit a rut in creativity. And sometimes for your sake, and the customers', it helps to go with what you love. If for no other reason than the passion shows in your finished products as well as your presentation of them.
Problems can sometimes arise when taking these risks, though. You can wind up with the same items sitting on the shelf month after month. It happens to the best of handmade small business entrepreneurs. You thought someone would absolutely fall in love with this product. People walk into your booth gushing about how cute and wonderful it is. It gets view after view and like after like on the vast majority of your social media, but for the life of you, you can’t get anyone to take the next step and buy the darn thing.
There are a few solutions to this. A lot of events require or ask vendors to donate an item to a raffle. If I find an item hasn’t moved in a year, I’ll consider putting it in the raffle, just to get it moving. Another solution my business in particular allows for is to spruce up the items and change it. For instance, I made four different colored fairy houses for a special line that I called Colorful Cul-de-sac. It was a fun challenge for myself to create fairy houses with only one particular color, and there are many people who, like me, are obsessed with their favorite. I figured I’d use common favorite colors; blue, green, purple, and pink. People loved them. They’d gush about them. I even came close to a sale or two. But alas, there they sat. Social media held similar results.
Eventually, the purple one sold. The blue went to a raffle. Someone wanted a fairy house to match the St. Patrick’s Day fairy door they bought. I spruced up the green colorful cul-de-sac fairy house with green shimmery swirls. The customer loved it! Now, a year later, the pink fairy house sits. My next event, the Seal Beach Wag n’ Walk, is this Saturday. And I’ve decided to spruce up this fairy house in a similar way to see if it’ll grab someone’s attention. It's another risk, but it's worth it if I can get it sold. Fingers crossed!
Originally posted on Acorn Tops Tumblr: On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
Recently, I finished a custom order for a three year old. Using purple fabric, including soft flannel, I made my first Snuggle Huggle Fairy Doll. It is similar to it’s Raggle Taggle counterpart, but without the glass bottle/small wand and wire-wings so children younger than five can enjoy it. It has been mailed with it’s matching fairy house. It’s funny to picture this three year old playing with this handmade rag doll when you also think that generations and generations ago, before possibly her own grandmother and great grandmother can remember, some forgotten ancestor in the far off past could’ve been playing with a rag doll, too, when they were three.
Dolls are one of the first toys we know of. It is a toy that can be found all over the world, across time and cultures, from the corn husk dolls of the early Americas to the fragment found of the Babylon period alabaster doll with movable arms. Dolls from Egypt dated all the way back to 2000 BC were discovered in grave, a sign that they were as cherished then as they are now. They were also discovered in Greek and Roman graves, as well as dedicated to goddess once outgrown, according to A History of Dolls. Early on the material used for dolls included bone, wood, wax, ivory, clay, and rags.
As A History of Dolls puts it, “Although not as sophisticated as dolls made from other materials, rag dolls were well-loved, often as a child’s first toy.” It is also “the most popular and well known of all American Folk Dolls,” according to Historical Folk Toys. Though most rag dolls have not survived due to disintegration, the oldest surviving rag doll in North America is Bangwell Putt.
Around the 1780s, toys were used and encouraged to prepare for gender-oriented socially acceptable roles, such as mother and wife for girls. Before this, in England, dolls such as Bartholomew’s babies were used as ways to display fashions and styles. It would have been the 1750’s version of a fashion or dress-pattern catalog. Before even this, as early as 1630, rag dolls were popular toys.
A little history is shared on the Wagon Train Dolls website. The wagon train dolls are what inspired my Raggle Taggle Fairy Dolls. During a vacation in Kern County, I came across the dolls in the local museum and felt inspired to make my own, with a fairy twist.
It is a universal toy and dolls like Bangwell Putt, and the box of my mothers dolls from her childhood, and my great great grandmother’s doll, Edna, are a connection to our history. They are personal. And because they are personal, they provide a magic to transport us to a time long forgotten. To think one day, my great great granddaughter can look at my Molly Doll from the Comfy Couch with the same awe I feel when I look at Edna. To think one day, it could be that custom Snuggle Huggle Fairy Doll that survives hundreds of years.
Originally posted on Acorn Tops Tumblr: On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
In the type of business I am in, it is important that the tap of creativity does not run out. Whether or not we think creativity is as endless as Legolas’s arrows, there are times where it feels like the well is dry. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. We’ve hit a wall, a block, call it what you like; it is frustrating.
After banging your head against the wall and pulling out large clumps of your own hair, and still getting nowhere, the question is how to get out of this creative slump. How do you get passed this?
You remind yourself you need to make product because this is your job, it is your livelihood. No one else is going to make it if you don’t. And if you don’t make it, you can’t sell it, and if you can’t sell it, you don’t make money and now, if you are like me, a thousand worse-case-scenarios are popping into your head. Not to mention, you already said you would be at two shows. This only adds on more stress and pressure, which does not help this creative constipation.
In a handmade business, creativity and inspiration is key. Instead of pressuring yourself to make something, take a step back and look for that creativity and inspiration. Sites like Pinterest let you search through countless photos and can give you countless ideas.
Find the internet distracting? Find yourself drooling over snapshots of someone’s dinner or cooing at the adorable puppy your friend posted rather than searching for ideas? Get off the computer and go green. Return to those third grade “what I did this summer” collages. Finally those stacks of magazines and catalogs collecting dust in some corner can be put to good use.
At a Handmade in South Bay meeting, one of the activities we did was a vision board. After creating a fairy house I was less than happy with, I decided to take that idea and run with it. Searching through magazines and catalogs for anything that could inspire new designs of fairy houses and fairy doors, I took some time away from carving and painting and became more inspired than I have felt since my last show. It took some time, but it was fun and it was worth it. Now, I’m itching to get creating.
Other ways to return to that endless quiver of creativity is to return to your roots. Think of the people around you. What do they like? What reminds you of them? Make something inspired by the people in your life.
Go with what you love.
Go with nostalgia.
If you’re seeking inspiration and creativity go with what you’re passionate about, be it a book, a movie, a television show, pop culture, or video game.
Get out of the house and go play on a swing set. Put away the serious, brooding, anxiety-ridden, deadline-procrastinating businessperson whose constantly checking the wallet, phone, or watch every two seconds and go for a walk, watch some clouds, take a breath, and watch the world, even if it’s just for ten minutes.
Inspiration doesn’t always hit at the work table, and the more you force it, the less willing the muses are to help.
On Fairy Wings and Acorn Hats
The magic behind it all!