Wednesday, May 9, 2007

In Praise of Production

I often hear the comment...."I could never do this as a business. I could never stand to make the same thing over and over again." The very idea of becoming a machine, cranking out the same thing, over, and over, and over,.....again, and again, and again.......sends people scurrying in all directions.

I used to be of the same mindset.

Yes, it is true. I uttered those very same words. But now I live on the other side of them, and I have to sing the praises of production. Yes, there are times it is monotonous, and I don't want to make another crane! "No, no, please! Don't make me do it!" But those are brief and fleeting moments in the grand scheme of things. So what is so great about production work?

1. You learn. You learn lots and lots of things about the nuances of the material you are working with. Things you would never learn or understand if each time you sat down to create you were doing something different. In the 1oth piece you may learn some way to do a maneuver more efficiently. On the 100th piece you may find the piece more finished and refined than the first, without even knowing for sure how you got there. You learn subtleties about the limitations of the material, or how to work with the material, rather than against it.

2. Every job has it's production aspects. Every job is repetitive to some degree. It is where "experience" comes from. When I was a marketing analyst, I used to do market studies of various areas of the country trying to determine the growth prospects, and which industries would predominate. Every area of the country I studied was different. The competition, the industries, the product mix, etc., etc. And yet, each time I began working on a new project I began from the same place. Gathering the data. Putting it through the same types of analysis. Getting a lay of the land. From there each project diverged, but then it was back to "production"....creating a report with the same general format as those completed in the past.

3. There is comfort in production. There is something nice about just sitting down to make something you are good at making. Knowing the moves. Knowing what to expect. Knowing where to start. You don't need to reinvent the wheel each time. You can just get to work.

4. There is inspiration in production. Yes, inspiration. As your mind is in that relaxed state as you work with your material, you may find an idea pop into your head....that eternal question...."What if?" Nothing feeds creativity like daily, or near daily contact with your work. If you had to sit down and create from scratch each time, it is overwhelming. But as you work with the material each day, you will find the ideas coming to you. The incremental changes to what you do regularly each day can lead to new products and new ideas. The media gets into your bloodstream. You can't help but think about other ideas of what you could do and where you could go with the material.

5. If you are going to try and make a living, isn't it more fun to be doing it with something you love than doing work you hate? I had a "crisis" moment about a year ago. I finally realized that if I got serious about my cranes, there was a market for them. A really good market. But I wasn't sure I wanted to be making hundreds, if not thousands of cranes.

But then I realized, people would pay me to make things from clay. People were finding inspiration in my work. People were connecting to the cranes in ways I never could have seen. How could I not make the cranes? As I expected, demand has been fantastic. I could barely keep up last fall. I gained fifteen new accounts between the end of July and November. Many were re-ordering the cranes multiple times. I was a crane factory.

This might be where some of you say, ...."See, that is what I am talking about! I don't want to be a factory."

But the cranes have brought me cash flow. They have financed my first participation in a wholesale show. Nine out of the the ten new accounts from the ACRE show were people buying cranes. They have generated lots of interest from media. And there are the stories. The personal stories of connections with the cranes. The more cranes I make, the more lives I get a chance to touch.

6. Production is everywhere in our lives. The repetition we want to run from is a part of our lives. Doing the dishes. Sweeping the floor. Picking up the clutter of life. We do it, and then we do it again, and then again, and again. We may not always enjoy it. But sometimes, we may notice that time spent doing the dishes has a certain meditative quality to it. Or when we finish picking up the living room, vaccuuming and dusting, there is some pleasure in seeing the results of our labor. And soon, we will do it again. The laundry, the cooking, the shopping, and on and on. Sometimes we want to run screaming from the room rather than do that task yet again. But it is often the thought of the task that is more distasteful than the actual task, once we get started.

7. Production of a product we don't like making is the real problem. Sometimes when people make the decision that they want to sell their work at shows or through shops, they begin by looking at "what people will buy". You see the questions on discussion boards, "What sells well at shows?" And maybe they get an answer to that question, and they go off and start making the work that will sell. They don't particularly like making it, but they have been told that it is a big seller, and that is what they want,....something that will sell.

This is the production you will grow to hate. You are making something that does not come from you and your heart and voice. You are making it because "it will sell". But it might not sell nearly as well as you think it will because your heart is not in it. You will begin to resent every pen, bead or widget that you make. This is not what you wanted to be doing. You used to have fun working with your media. This is not fun. And you will resent anyone who looks at your work at a show and doesn't buy it. "What is wrong with them?" "This show stinks." Can you feel the bad karma? Pretty soon no one wants to be in your booth. Heck, you don't even want to be in your booth.

Production work that comes from your love of the material, your connection with the work, is what will bring satisfaction. Your enthusiasm will be evident to anyone who sees your work at a show. And you will hear those voices of people who connected with your work as you sit in your studio, making more.

"POP!" That was the sound of a bubble bursting. If the thought of production work is what stops you from moving toward selling your work, maybe you need to look again and rethink your objections. It may not be nearly as objectionable as it first looked.


Libby said...

ROFL!!! Wasn't I just complaining about the concept of production work? You make some excellent points. Yours is definitely the "glass is half full" perspective on production pieces.

Loretta said...

as I read this entry the words of many teachers are running through my mind.One said "Tell one story and tell it well and people will listen". The yoga instructor who suggested I needed to find the sacred in the mundane! But especially my first college drawing professor - who became my mentor. He said that you have to draw something fifty times before you even "see" it. Draw it 100 times and you own it. There is so much to be said for delving deeply into "your thing" whatever that is. The difference between diving into a lake or skipping stones across the surface!
Too early for this much philosophy??

Elaine Robitaille said...

I've always liked production work oddly. I'm pretty confident in my ability and skills but if I had to pick between my first or second try at a flower cane and my 37th(all 3 were roses) the 37th looks much better, smoother, more consistent. And it took about 10% of the time.

I also think that the anti-production idea is tied to one aspect I often find when asking art friends about their decision to start selling: What's your goal with your sales?

"Well, I'd like to make enough to replace my materials and pay for my time."

"How much would that be? $1k? $10k? And how many of your average $10 item do you need to do that."

And while I'm picturing a game plan with little milestones and a variety of items, they're probably thinking of having to make a 1000 of that pen I am talking about.

Judy said...

Libby, You are not alone in your feelings. I did write this specifically with your post in mind, but.....perhaps on some level it did inspire me. :-)

Loretta and Elaine,
Thanks for your insight and perspective. I don't think it is ever too early for philosophical thought fact, I think it is better in the morning when I can think more clearly!