Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Design Work on Little Red Riding Hood

I spent some time tonight trying to remember how I had thought of the Little Red Riding Hood story when I was a kid. I remember waiting eagerly for the arrival of the wolf... the story was all just exposition till he arrived - shadowy in the background at first, then closer to her.

Before the wolf though, there was always a page about her wonderful "riding hood" and how her grandmother (or sometimes mother) had made it special for her. It was a symbol that she was loved (since relatives who dislike you rarely sew you gifts) - and this symbol meant that she would be missed if say... a big bad wolf were to do her in.

So thinking about how to make her riding hood special, I put a lot of pattern on it but also pushed the idea of the "jointed paper doll" from something with just movable elbows and knees to something that you could pose the outfit on as well. So at the shoulder joints there is now the option to make her cape billow out in the breeze... as well as the option to have her hood on or off.

This is the basic idea - the hood is going to have to be finessed as a last step once I get the doll on cardstock since I'm not sure quite yet how to keep it securely in place. Right now it's also part of the left shoulder brad... but I'm thinking it may need to be a separate piece entirely that "sits" on her head instead of swinging up and around it.

And oh yeah... someday she'll have arms and legs. Probably tomorrow. One of the things I'm pleased with on this doll that I didn't quite manage with Alice is to make the metal fasteners (brads) part of the design of the dress. The shoulder brads pierce through the "buttons" on her cloak, and her leg brads will pierce through her dress at the tops of the gathers. I think it'll look much more finished and purposeful than Alice did. It might even look like shiny buttons on her outfit - which is all the better.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Capturing Time"

Something that you never have enough of when you start your small business is time. Time to do everything including sleeping a little bit, having some fun, and just maybe doing nothing for awhile. Sleeping eight hours a day would be nice but not many of us get that with a new business. With Five and Nineteen Blackbirds what gets done is done by either Megan or me. She has a full-time day job so she is more strapped for time than I am throughout the week. My job is part time. But the fact still remains that whatever gets done in the business is either done by Megan or me. We have to manage our time.

Once the business is up and running, time won't be in such a rush to pass us by. But at the beginning, well, everything pretty much has to get done at the same time. And that's where the frustration can set in. When you are doing one thing, while two or three other things are vying for your attention, life just gets hectic. I think to solve this problem of trying to find enough time throughout our busy lives, Megan and I have both become great list makers and the satisfaction we get when things are crossed off is quite substantial. Plus we don't have to keep reminding ourselves what needs to be done next--it's right there on the list.

I'm looking at the Alice paper doll and I'm very proud of Megan. Alice took an amazing amount of hours to produce and she is beautiful. I'm pretty sure that Megan didn't get eight hours of sleep a night--just not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything she did and sleep a lot, too. I, on the other hand, need my sleep or I get cranky. So most of my work has been accomplished during the daytime or early evening hours although I've been getting up earlier than normal. I've also been switching one activity that I used to do for a business one. There is just something about the excitement of starting a new business that you just want to leap out of bed in the mornings and conjure up all the possibilities and get busy! Before our business I used to watch the Today show in the mornings but instead I now start doing whatever is on my list. My list covers the entire week so that if I have a bad day thrown in there somewhere, it doesn't affect the total amount of whatever I have to accomplish. Five days to get stuff done is much better than one day. And I must admit I really don't miss TV. Too much other, more exciting stuff to think and do.

In our business Megan is doing all the creating of the paper dolls which is more time consuming than one might think. She is working on Little Red Riding Hood right now and she's just pretty darn cute! I'm doing the business side which is mainly getting the business set up at this point and getting us legal. As soon as that is accomplished, I can work on other things for our business. After you get your business up and running, more and different fun things come into play. There is always something new to do and learn. And there is always something to do for your business to make it better. If I've caught up on everything for the week, I read about new businesses and learn things that I will need to know later.

This week I'll be busy getting all the licenses in order, the daily paper work done (if any) on the business and typing up our business plan that was sort of informally written down a couple of weeks ago. Typing it up is a good way to get it down in black and white and get us both a copy so that we can refresh our minds as we go along. I'll also begin to look into the taxes we will need to pay, and all the income tax forms we will need to fill out after the first of the year--both state and federal-- just to get a handle on that part of the business. Forms and licenses are always a challenge and one should never expect that part of the paperwork to go smoothly.

And that might be enough for this week I think. Got to know when to say when.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mmmm. Cake.

The other night my kids and I managed to bake a completely decent looking chocolate cake. I'd never been brave enough to saw the tops off my cake layers before so that they lay flat... turns out it's really easy. Thank you Food Network.

Red, Red, Red.

Doing the coloring for Little Red Riding Hood has been slow going - mostly because unlike Alice I didn't want a lot of soft pastels. It's a little too "color burned" in spots, so I'm going to have to go back in with a lighter touch and fix some things - but I'm happy with the overall palette.

Now I have to go change my name with the social security office so that my legal name is the same as the name on the business forms my mom has been filling out. I don't envy her the stack of paperwork she is having to fill out - so I guess it's the least I can do to have my name correct.

I'm also going to stop by Staples if I have time and pick up some cheapie white gel pens (which look delightfully roughened as opposed to REAL art supplies) since my wolf for LRRH is going to be white as drawn on black paper. I could cheat and just hit the "negative" button in my photo editing program... but sometimes that makes me feel like I'm playing dirty.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Little Red Riding Hood : A Lesson in Questionable Parenting.

Sending a six year old through the woods by herself to deliver bread and jelly? What was her mom thinking?

No wonder bad things befell her... in modern language that would be like me asking my 5 year old daughter, Alex, to go into the supermarket and get us the ingredients for lasagna while mommy sits in the car and updates my facebook page on my blackberry. (Too much responsibility for those who can't even tie their shoes yet.)

All that aside, I've started the sketches for Little Red Riding Hood and she is a cutie if I do say so myself. I was getting ready to give her a drab little brown dress since LRRH always struck me as the middle-class cautionary tale of the era. She wasn't a princess with a witch mad at her... she was just a kid being followed by a wild animal. However... I don't particularly do "drab and brown" all that well so I consulted the book my mother gave me "The Grammar of Ornament" by Owen Jones which is a nifty little compilation of patterns from around the world and through the ages that you can borrow (steal) from without guilt since the originators of all the patterns have been dead for several hundred years.

No need to reinvent the wheel, or sit there and try to figure out how to make your abstract flower pattern repeat off into infinity because someone somewhere has already done it first (and better). Standing on the shoulders of giants isn't just for scientists trying to genetically clone dinosaurs... it's for artists as well.

So I added some pattern to her dress... it'll probably still end up being brown, but now it'll be brown with a very snazzy, patterned waist-wrap inspired by Indian Hookah engravings from the 1800's.

Did they have hookahs in the woods of Europe in the 1700's? Doubtful... but why let that stop me? Everyone should laugh in the face of historical accuracy once in awhile... especially if it means little girls get cuter dresses.

"A Business Plan: The Blueprint For Your Business

Up to now I've talked mainly about money or the lack thereof. And that's not a bad way to begin. It is actually one of the three components of a business plan. Money in a startup business is extremely important. Most of the time people who begin a homebased business deal with money issues long before they sit down and decide where the business is headed in five years time. These blog entries I'm doing are basically to show you how Megan and I are starting up our home-based business called Five and Nineteen Blackbirds. So far I've talked about us getting a handle on the money, inventory, and supplies and what it cost to make our product. These are all things that we need to know and of which we need to be continually aware.

In a lot of ways I should have started with telling you about our business plan in its totality. Most businesses start with a business plan and we've had one from the beginning (ever since we talked and then decided, oh my, we need to begin with the basics) but since we were developing it for our own purpose, and not for one like taking it to a bank and asking for a loan, I've delayed a few entries from telling you about it. The money issues seemed to be more important in our minds.

A business plan can be as simple as scribbling it on the back of your kid's coloring page or as fancy as taking it to a printer and getting it printed and beautifully bound. The route you take depends on the reason why you've written it. Ours was more like the back of a coloring page. It was/is just for us so that we know where we are going with the business in a year, two years, and five years with space to fill in after that. We have patience, talent and, so far, know the direction we want our business to take.

What is a business plan you might wonder. There are basically three parts to any business plan and that is: a business concept, a marketplace section, and, of course, a money (financial) section. Like I said our plan is pretty simple because even starting out simple things get more complex as you go. Ours will not be the exception. Simplicity is a totally underused concept as far as I'm concerned. Keeping things simple allows you to take away or add to quite easily. To see at a glance where you are. We know what Five and Nineteen Blackbirds is, what product we are making, and how to underwrite it. Simple. For now.

So for the first part: A Business Concept. Sounds fancy, doesn't it. This section involved what business structure we decided upon, our product, and how we plan to make our business a success. I can tell you for sure there is a lot of hard work involved in this first part--especially on Megan's part. Creating is always time consuming but extremely rewarding. What products we might add to the paper doll line. How and when this might happen. All the little and not so little details that make your business happen on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. This is where your projection into the future happens, too. Where do you want to be in one year; three years, five years?

Section Two: Of course, of major interest, is where and to whom will you be selling your product? Who are all those potential customers and how can you show your product to them and, more to the point, get them to buy it? Why would they buy it and for how much? Who is your main competition? Is their product better or worse than yours? Is it priced lower? Higher? or somewhere inbetween? This section is better known as marketing your product. Always, always thinking about what the customer might want. Thinking about competition and quality and dollar values on your product compared to the competition. This is where your unique selling strategy comes into play. What ways will use to get your product out there on the market so people know about it and want to buy it?

The final section is what my first entries dealt with in terms of money. The accounting part of it. How much you have, where it goes, what is your break even point, at what price do you sell your product? Can you keep your business in the black? Can you underwrite your strategies from the first two sections? Is your cash flow healthy? This is definitely the money part of it. In a lot of ways this part is the most important starting point because if you can't underwrite your dreams, they just aren't going to happen. But as time flies by all three parts become equally important.

The rate of failure of small businesses is high. There are a lot of reasons for this but most go back to unwise use of money or poor product quality or bad management policies. That is why you must be continually learning new and better ways of running your business. Talk to other small business owners and exchange information. This can be quite helpful to a first time small business owner.

A good source of information on how to make your business better is your local public library where they have books on small businesses, how to start and run a business and all the questions inbetween. Libraries where you live are generally free so seek them out and learn a lot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Inventory is What Can Make or Break Your Business"

In a small business you use what you have and buy what you need. Ours is an extremely small business at the moment and we don't have a lot of supplies tied up in our business inventory yet. We want to sell on Etsy and to do that we are in the process of getting business licenses, tax numbers, and a host of other documents to have the paperwork to prove that we are a small business and can actually do business legally here in the state of Missouri. But we can't sell anything until the paperwork is done. So everything right now is inventory. Supplies, works in progress, and finished products are just sitting there and not making any money for the business. And the finished projects won't make money until they are sold. Until then it is all just . . . well. . . inventory.

So now seems like a good time to talk about inventory.

Inventory is one of the more visual aspects of doing business. And while our business is really small right now this is the best time to start keeping track of our inventory and then as the business grows it is easy just to keep adding to your inventory records. Right now a visual inspection would work but maybe not in a year. We hope not in a year! So I started keeping inventory records now. Five and Nineteen Blackbirds will not always be small. We hope it will grow a lot in the future and we have plans to help it do so. Inventory plays a big role in helping your business grow.

There are basically three parts to inventory: the supplies, the product or products (paper dolls) in progress, and, of course, the finished product (Alice and all her soon-to-be friends) all represent various forms of inventory. And each one of these three actually represents money tied up until we sell the finished product which at present is Alice. Now you can begin to see how important your inventory might be to your business. You spend your business' money on supplies but that same money can't return back to you in the form of profits until your product sells. You've heard the expression. "My money is all tied up." right? This is like that. You've spent money but not yet seen a return on it when you look at your inventory (supplies, works in progress and finished products).

One of the bigger parts of doing business is knowing what you need to make what you want to sell and not having a lot of money tied up in supplies that are just sitting on the shelf. Unused and unneeded supplies that take up space are tying up your money that could be used elsewhere. You need supplies for sure for your projects--just don't over buy. By the same token don't under buy either. It will take a little experience to hit the right amount of supplies so that you have what you need but no more than that. A small business starting out can never have enough money. What small amount you have must be used wisely and inventory is one of those places where being wise pays off handsomely!

The trick to inventory is this: Buy only what you need to make your product and be timely about it. In other words when you decide what you want to make, buy all of the supplies that you need for that project before you need them (no panic shopping--that's costly) but no more supplies than you will actual use or pretty close to that. That keeps the cost low and gives you the finished product while freeing up money to use somewhere else like licenses. You don't know how popular your finished product will be so it is important to keep costs low and not have money tied up in extra supplies that are just sitting there, waiting to be used on a project that is either already done or a future project that may never happen. If you have a business plan and know which future projects will definitely get made and you have the extra money, you can buy supplies ahead for a future project and feel pretty good about it.

Some extra supplies are good to have on hand if you use them over and over again in similar projects. And sometimes you can find them on sale which is a really good thing. But supplies that are specific to each project need to be thought through carefully so that you don't underbuy or overbuy. Like I said, it is a fine line trying to determine what you need in the quantities that you will use and have the supplies arrive at the exact time that you need them.

To sum up inventories: Buy only what you need and use it up in the project that you will be selling. That way you make the best use of your business money. When your business has grown a lot, you will have a better understanding of how much in the way of inventory you will need to keep on hand: the supplies, the works in progress and the finished product ready to be sold. Experience as your business grows is priceless. You will learn a lot. Enjoy the journey.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You Never Forget Your First Love, Or Your First 60 Hour Struggle To Make a Paper-Doll.

Well Alice is done, or at least she's completed till we figure out how we're going to print these up... and till I get a better business logo for us. There's little things that still bug me - the sleeves are still slightly (and inexplicably?) greenish.

I'm going to have to chalk this up to a lesson learned the hard way about using new software. In the future I'll color all parts of the doll simultaneously to avoid trying to match colors further down the line.

There's always a point I hit in a project where 20 little things annoy me and stick out to me and drive me NUTS. In my youth I'd skulk around my house eating cereal at 2am and complaining loudly to all my cohabitants who mostly wished I'd just go to bed. Now that I'm older (and more tired) what I do when I hit this point is write all the little nagging problems down on a post-it note and stick it to the piece of artwork. Then I don't look at the piece of art for a week or so... then when I come back I notice what sticks out at me as mistakes or flaws, and usually none of them coincide with what I wrote down on the post-it.

In other words - I just get wrapped up and neurotic over nothing. (Right now I might feel with all my heart that the rabbit's eye is rotated 15 degrees too far clockwise on his head... and in a week I'll just squint and realize how truly crazy I am.)

So I'm declaring Alice done and going on to the next project. Right now I'm thinking Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, but I'm also thinking about Little Red Riding Hood and her wolf infested living situation. (You don't even know the terribly bad wolf problems that little girl's been having.)

"What did you say Alice cost again?"

Money, money, money. Most, if not all of us, really don't enjoy thinking about money. We like to spend it and we sure like what it can buy but the thoughts about money and how to make more of it aren't all that welcome to most people. But when you run a business it is important to not only think about the bottom line but to make it happen. In running a business there are lots of important decisions you will have to make to keep your business healthy. You must bring in more money than you spend and that's pretty much the bottom line. Your business has to stay in the black which means it has to make a profit, at some point, and the sooner the better.

When running a business, it is important to know how to figure costs. The plain and fancy name for that procedure is cost accounting. Cost accounting will help you run your business because it is still the best method known to man so far to help determine costs, profits, and everything else in between. To make good, sound decisions about your business you need to determine how much each product costs to make, the profits it will generate, and the importance of artistic value. Yes, artistic value. You might be able to make a bigger profit on a less beautiful product but, if in the long term, putting a little more into the beauty of it makes you more profit, then figure out how long it would take to return a profit at a little higher price. People are generally willing to pay for quality and beauty. Even if it costs a little more.

Right now I'm trying to determine the cost of Alice. Now I need to figure all the material costs for her right down to the amount of how much pencil got used up and what about that x-acto blade? Pencils are expensive and at some point will need to be replaced. So when you begin to figure out what your product costs, don't leave out anything--no matter how insignificant you think it is. At some point everything will need to be replaced.

To figure out how much each item costs, I'll use the example of the brads that hold Alice together. Take the total cost of the box of brads ($2.99) and divide it by the number of pieces in the box (100) to get the price per brad which is about 3 cents a brad and, if you use 10 brads on Alice that would equal 30 cents. So 30 cents is the total cost for brads that you need to figure into the total cost. Then you just determine how much the other supplies cost and add them together to get the total amount for the supplies. A word about the shipping and handling fee--that gets figured separately and the buyers realize that on Etsy and most other places.

The last part of the equation that I want to discuss with you is what is a fair price to charge for art ability and the hours spent on making the product by you. Artists and craftsmen are talented and can't be expected to work for nothing. Neither can you. So set a fair price for all the effort put forth because that is a really smart thing to do.

Figuring up all of the supplies that it took to make Alice and then adding on a fair price for the artist's work and a fair profit margin is what Alice is worth. Whatever you make, it takes your time and talents as well as raw materials. Don't forget to add those in at a fair price. When all the different aspects of making your product are added up, then you have the cost of your product and can more easily know what you have to charge to cover costs and generate a fair profit.

One last thing: When you begin to make a profit, you will need to begin thinking about long term replacement costs and set aside money for those items that will either depreciate in value, stop working, or become obsolete. In the long term computers have to be replaced, light boxes don't work forever, and rulers break or become unusable. The x-acto knife, scissors, etc. that Megan uses a lot but doesn't use up like brads will get replaced, too, at some point. And that point always comes sooner than you expect if you haven't planned for it. So determining how much of your profits to set aside to put back into the business is always a good idea. Just something for you to think about in your spare time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Beginning a Business: Getting a Handle on Money"

Beginning a business with my daughter is one of the more terrific things that I've done. We sat and discussed the creative aspects of what we would sell (the paper dolls), where we would sell them basically at first (Etsy), and the different phases of starting up our business. Of course, phase one is just getting everything up and running. Megan is doing a terrific job of designing the paper dolls and her entries are devoted to the creative side of the business. At present she is telling you how Alice and the White Rabbit has been created in her entries.

Megan thought it would be a good idea if you read about the business side of the venture as well as the creative side. I agree. If you want to begin your own business, maybe some of what I tell you will help. I hope so. The business side of the venture is always a little more concerning, time consuming, and occasionally dull (if there is enough money to go around) or too exciting (if there is no money or not enough to go around). It is always good to know where to begin on the business side and that is what my blog entries are all about. Today is getting a handle on money. It is basically the accounting part of money. The keeping track of it. Money has many interesting aspects to it but today we are going to focus on the accounting part.

The business side of any start up business should always begin with thoughts and actions about money. How much do you have to start your business? Is that enough? What is the price point at which you can sell your product? How much income can you make your first year? Will it cover your costs? What in particular in the way of supplies do you have already that you can use and what must you buy? And on. . . and on. . . and on. This is where most people get stuck and overwhelmed at the same time.

When you begin a business, you must get control of the money side of it before you go on to any other questions you might have. You can have millions of reasons why you want to begin a business but to keep your dream alive you must be smart about the money. You don't have to have a lot of it but you must keep track of the money you have and use it wisely.

First, how much actual money do you have for the venture? That's your start-up money. Whether you have your own money or have borrowed money, it is of the utmost importance that you now keep track of it. I can't emphasize this enough.

I have chosen to keep track of the money side of Five and Nineteen Blackbirds on a commercial product called Quicken. It lets you keep a running total of your expenses and income. Whenever you spend or make money, you make an entry in the register and after the entries are made you check on the health of your business. That is key. Making those entries on the day you make your purchases or receive your money is so important. It is easy when you do that. Not so easy or as much fun if you wait several days (or a couple of weeks--oh, no!) because then everything is all mixed together and you feel like maybe pulling your hair out (or perhaps someone else's hair) and the fun evaporates and the hard work begins. Know how much money you have at all times. Life is just easier that way.

Because I'm using an older version of Quicken (since we already own that one) the titles I use for things may have changed. The first thing is to set up a register. Just use your business name on it. My first entry is the amount of our start-up money. The entry information is pretty easy to do. Underneath the name of your business the form will have the date (be sure to use the date on your expense receipts or money receipts); the number of the check, the name of the payee, category or memo. This is very important because you will want to know where the money is going or from whom the money is just piling up from in your account. With the amount of the payment, and here is one of the neatest parts, you can do an open split which is basically taking your receipt and typing in the amount of each item you purchased. Hobby Lobby is my example. We bought glitter glue, brads, paper and small plastic bags. Each item is listed with the amount that we paid for it. Now anytime I can go back and find out how much we have spent on just glitter or brads, etc. The next two headings are payment (expenses) and deposit (income) with the final heading being balance. You will always want to know your balance so that you don't run a negative one--which is spending more money that you have or are taking in. A business that runs in the red (negative balance) pretty much kills your dreams. And no one wants that!

So you are saying, "Great, I don't have that program. So what do I do now?" Well, you can also keep track of your money on paper. You just need to set the categories up on the paper and do the math as you go. The paper and the computer program will both get you to the same place. I've done the paper way before I had a computer program. I can tell you that keeping it on paper is a little more work on your part but with a good calculator and a little more time, everything is good. You don't need a computer program to keep track of your accounting. It just makes it easier because the program does so much of the work for you. All you do is type in the figures and the program takes it from there. But would I buy a program if I didn't have one already? No. I would spend my money in other places for other things. But, if you have a program already, you can use it to make your life easier.

There is only one more thing I want to discuss today about money. I will discuss other aspects of it in later entries. We will get a separate banking account for this business. It will just be easier for us. An account devoted to Five and Nineteen Blackbirds can clearly show what income we have and what expenses we incur. It will make our life easier. Especially when we enter the second, third, etc. phases of our business. You don't have to have a separate account--just keep really good records. There are many good reasons for doing so. Probably paying taxes is maybe one of the best reasons to keep clear and precise records.

Things always look grim at 5:00am

So I plowed through coloring my first paper doll even though with my new Windows 7 operating system, I no longer have a Photoshop that runs properly - and have switched to Paint.Net.

Using Paint.Net after about 12 years of using Adobe products is a bit disconcerting, but after installing a few plugins I thought I was doing alright. In fact, I got all the way to the end of cutting and assembling Alice (replete with white rabbit) before I realized that not only was I not finished with my paper doll, but there were all sorts of color issues... the most noticeable of which is that no two parts of her dress are the same shade of blue or gray.

"How could this be?" I asked my empty dining room in horror.

It being 5am, I'm probably not smart enough to say this for certain yet - but's eyedropper tool is apparently not very good at resampling colors that you've created through layering transparencies - even after you flatten the image. I don't know why that is, except that karma must have a grudge against me.

I suppose I could pen a nasty letter to the developers of the software, or I could just start over tomorrow and redo the dress completely.

On the bright side - the rabbit is cute and took me only 35 minutes from start to finish.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Making Wonderland in Color

I've started doing some experimenting/testing/rough-drafting with how I want to color the paper dolls. I had initially thought I'd make the colors vibrant, and then use a smoothing tool in Photoshop so that it was well-blended and painterly... thus erasing all traces of pencil lines and sketchiness.

Now I'm thinking I'd like to add just soft color tinting and keep my rough pencil lines visible underneath so that they look more hand-drawn and like vintage children's book illustrations (another way of saying that it DOESN'T look like it went through Photoshop). It's always against my nature to leave something a bit rough looking, though. If there was any useful advice I took away from my professors in art school it was that "When it looks finished, you need to feel done... and when you feel done it needs to look finished".

pencil sketch of Alice - Alice in Wonderland These are vague guidelines, but a useful question to ask yourself at these moments (when it's tempting to make EVERY form of media look like paint) is "Am I done? I feel done. Sure... I'm done."

No one tells you when you're thinking about becoming an artist how much shrugging is involved or how much a healthy bent towards laziness can keep you from overworking a drawing into 'boringness'.

Sure. That looks ok. Shrug.

Rarely in my life have I stepped back from something I've been working on and felt the need to pump my fist in the air and scream "YEAH!!! PERFECT!!! I DOMINATED THAT PIECE OF PAPER!!" Most of the time it's just a lot of quiet head-tilting and squinting and a gentle voice in my head murmuring "Yeah... it's done... sure. Go get a snack."

Now that I've figured the coloring style out for Alice - it's time to do it more neatly and for real. Where this headshot took about 15 minutes, I'll probably spend three times that long when I'm doing it for the final product. (I'm already unhappy with how gray I made her blonde hair.)

That's going to be my Tuesday night. That and watching "So You Think You can Dance" and possibly eating chinese.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day One (actually, more like Day 5)

My mother and I have decided to start an Etsy business, and this business is to be based on paper dolls (even though neither of us have ever made one before in our lives). We both love paper dolls, though - and love gets you through. After all, that's the theme of 80% of Hollywood movies... and movies never lie.

We know, we know... paper dolls seem a bit antiquated for a 2010 business model. Who collects or plays with paper dolls in the year 2010?(We're hoping at least 5-10 people per month.)

pencil sketch of Alice - Alice in WonderlandThis weekend we sat down with a notebook, mostly because things always feel less daunting if there are pen and paper involved. (We both seem to find neurotic comfort in list making - I'm convinced it's genetic.) It only took us about ten minutes of excitedly talking about it and making wild hand gestures to stumble upon the inevitability that we would soon be selling our paper dolls in retail stores, shipping them overseas, and one day even hand-delivering sets of them to royal families in countries we'd never heard of... and it was at that point that we paused and realized we needed to start with the basics.

After about five minutes of discussing starting up a business, keeping an inventory, designing the products, the start-up costs for supplies and the general logistics of all those things... I looked up and asked my mom, "Can you like... handle all the boring business and money stuff instead of me?"

She nodded amicably, so she is somewhere right now writing out business policies and tracking the costs of our first (rather poorly researched) trip to Hobby Lobby. For my part, I stayed up until 2:00 am sketching out our first dolls - based on one of my favorite stories: Alice in Wonderland.

The first thing I learned about designing articulated (jointed) paper dolls:

This is something easier said than done. In my mind I envisioned drawing some basic overlapping ovals, shoving a metal brad through it, and then watching re-runs on HGTV for the rest of the night. However, unlike a flat sketch that only has to look good as it is... jointed paper dolls have to actually move in a realistic fashion. To be more specific, when you pose their arms and legs by rotating them - it shouldn't look like their elbows and knees are developing compound fractures.

(I don't know about you, but I find the 'prettiness' of paper dolls somewhat diminished by them looking like they've been the victims of medieval torture devices which have snapped all their limbs at odd places. Call me a perfectionist.)

So that took a lot of tracing trial-and-error and about an hour at the light table for just the simple task of making realistic-looking joints that rotated. But I finally fit it together.

light table view of assembled paper doll

The second thing I learned about designing articulated (jointed) paper dolls:

Drawing bigger is easier. I'm not talking about life-size here... but probably twice as large as you expect the finished product to be. This lets you comfortably draw all the details in while working with cut-out pieces. Now that I've fitted it all together, I don't want to have to get my face two inches from the paper to draw stockings on tiny slips of paper.

Sounds obvious to work larger, but after my first attempt, I ended up with tiny little doll pieces (like a veritable flurry of confetti) and they were impossible to work with - much less draw on.