Remember last week, I spoke about my can of P’s? And we looked at Predicament? Well, this Tuesday, I thought we would take a look at Product. What is it that you want to produce? Do you want to make something yourself? Or do you want somebody else to make it for you? When we start out, unless we are the Big Cheese, we tend to opt for cobbling it all together ourselves, don’t we? For me personally, I wanted control of my own product – quality and style – so I opted to learn how to do something rather than give the job to another and then give him or her all the money for doing it!
So Tuesday’s blog rolls back the hours, and I want to take you right back to 1993. Wow! I was living the dream, in Monterey, California. Grace and Mark were nippers. I had walked away from the language school in Germany, lock, stock and barrel. If you missed the post on Predicament last Tuesday, you might want to go back and catch up…You will soon understand why I gave up a booming business! So here I was in America, with a US military lawyer for a husband and not one but two little kids. And my oh my, were they beautiful! I think that these years, before their Dad moved on to greener pastures, were the happiest and best.
I realised whilst over there, that many American children weren’t that familiar with their Nursery Rhymes, and having a linguistic background, I knew that Rhythm and Rhyme were essential for learning to read. Grace and Mark, having an English mother, would recite and chant our little ditties, but their American friends were baffled, and asked, “Who’s Humpty Dumpty?” They were into Barney, the purple dinosaur, and Sesame Street. I had an idea, a lightbulb moment.
I decided to illustrate a Phonic Rhyme Chart, to help them along a little. In other words, Baa Baa Black Sheep would sit on a B, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would sit on a T, etc.
I wanted it to have an authentic Victorian flavour, because I knew Americans love all things traditionally British.
Then I would write the Rhymes on the back of the chart for the adults, because obviously these poems were not getting handed down, and the parents needed a prompt.
It would be like a poster, a whole ABC of nursery rhymes, with the letters in the background, and the nursery rhymes on the back. This subliminal Phonic concept was very new at that time, so that was my USP, my Unique Selling Point. You need one of those! Oh! And it was to be laminated, so that it was robust and could be handled.
Problem was, I had absolutely no clue how to go about it. Didn’t know the first thing about printing or camera ready artwork. Computers were only just coming in, and life was still pretty mechanical.
So I asked around and found out what I had to do. I think that is important to do. There is always somebody who knows the answers to your questions. Mostly people are more than happy to help and share, so never be afraid to ask. Apparently, a mechanical paste-up was required. I could see what I wanted in my head, but how to deliver what a printer needed – now that was the challenge….
Sometimes, the only way to learn is to have a go. And that’s just what I did.
Firstly, I decided which Nursery rhymes I wanted to use for my poster. Some of the Mother Goose Rhymes were a little dark, and there just weren’t any for some of the letters, so I wrote my own!
Next, it was drawing time! I printed out a large letter on my Classic Mac (ahh, those were the days…)
Then, I drew the nursery rhyme figures into the shape of the letter on vellum with my old friend, a black micron pen. Here, for example, is Sing a song of sixpence.
Once I was happy with the illustration, I laid another piece of vellum over the drawing and blacked in the actual letter, so that the letters were separate to the pictures.
This was how I learned to create overlays.
Then, when I had illustrated the whole Alphabet in this way, and each layer was stored on a piece of cardboard, and protected, it was time for the mechanical paste-up. This meant buying a great big light table! I remember it as if it was yesterday! I positioned each letter on a huge piece of card, like A1, with remountable spray. Then, I overlayed another piece of huge A1 vellum, and stuck the next layer, the images, down, exactly over their respective letters. Then came the challenge: there was a third A1 layer which had to be taped on top of the other two. And it was this layer that I water-colour painted. So the letters, the images and the colour were all on separate layers, controlled by crop marks. This was what people told me to do, and I just kept asking daft questions until it was obvious even to me.
I liked that it was all in pieces, too. That way, if I made a mistake, or I wasn’t happy with a part of it, I could redo that without having to start all over again.
Nowadays, I see how Photoshop and Corel Draw and Illustrator totally work like this. But to figure out a mechanical paste-up of this magnitude was probably the best training camp I could ever have inflicted on myself. It took many weeks to complete, and not all the artwork passed muster. I think I have a whole second alphabet of letters I changed my mind about!
But look how they are all still pristine in their cardboard sleeves, protected by tracing paper! 20 years old, and still like new.
I was sooo excited! 10,000 copies, complete with the poems on the back. That was a lot of money for me, a big investment in those days, so I needed to have a selling plan.
I will never forget the day I watched the posters being printed. It was recommended to me that I always be present at the start of a print-run, to check colours and quality. Top tip. Squeaky wheels get oiled…
And then we bought an industrial laminator and started selling them. And they sold like hotcakes. From coast to coast. It went crazy! How did we do that? I found a really good sales rep, an old boy, who was totally in love with the product. I think that was key; a good rep. He charged 5% commission on all trade orders. And the fax machine just kept churning out orders. Nowadays, with the power of the Internet, it is so easy by comparison. In those days, we had to pound the pavements.
We used Grace and Mark to model for us, too! They were on our Business cards, Business Postcards, Mission Statements, everywhere!
My brother came over from England to help me, and we would have to laminate at night in the garage, because the high power machine kept knocking out the electric in the neighbourhood!
And I guess, that is what I love to do: have an idea and take it through to market.
I remember sitting in a really cool Bookshop in San Francisco, and seeing our laminated Rhyme Charts hanging on their beautiful Display (which we also handmade, and which was also key – to give the shops a Point of Sale), and being so proud. To take an idea, a concept, through to completion and then even sell it, was magical. Especially because I hadn’t had a clue what I was doing!
It was about that time when the old boy, the rep, said to me “What now? You need to follow through.” And I had three possible doors to open:
More rolling back the hours and looking at the business of art next Tuesday. Next week, maybe we should look at P for PRICING…we never know what to charge, do we!
But tomorrow we will take a look at something new…