Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maker Moniker

I am happy to announce that I have been accepted into Rochester's first Mini Maker Faire on November 22, from 10 am to 4 pm at the Riverside Convention Center!

So I told my wife the good news and she said, "Can you tell me what a Maker is in one sentence?" (She knows I can be longwinded. )

But then I had to scratch my head a bit.  Can I capture this in one soundbite?  Someone who makes things?  A creator?  Part artist, part inventor?  Yes all apply, but that really isn't the full story.

The story really begins with the rise of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement.  With more emphasis by print and broadcast media about projects you could do on your own, and more access to instructions on materials on the internet, a subculture formed of people looking to "make stuff."

Dale Dougherty comes along from O'Reilly Publishing and captures the essence of this movement and founds MAKE magazine.  MAKE begins in 2005 with a focus on DIY, technology, woodworking, metalworking, etc.  It publishes ideas on projects, expanding one's skills, and sharing what the maker learns.

MAKE also launched the first Maker Faire in 2006. Wikipedia chronicles the first Maker Faire, as "a public annual event to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset."... It included six exposition and workshop pavilions, a 5-acre (20,000 m2) outdoor midway, over 100 exhibiting Makers, hands-on workshops, demonstrations and DIY competitions."

Since then, hundreds of Maker Faire's and Mini Maker Faires have been held across the world. Imagine stepping into a giant show-and-tell room, filled with creative minded makers who want to not only show you what they do, but give you a hands-on taste of it.  Perfect for kids, but also those creative minded adults who like to tinker or create.

So to me, "Maker" is a moniker that serves as an umbrella term for anyone who executes an idea, to create a physical item, and wants to share his/her skills and knowledge with others.

If you are interested in learning more, here are a few quick links:
More about my project for the Rochester Mini Maker Faire to come, stay tuned.
MAKE magazine
Rochester Mini Maker Faire
Rochester Makerspace

Monday, September 15, 2014

Origin Story

original photo
First I will confess I am tired of origin stories.  As a comic book reader in my youth I read so many stories about how superheroes came into being.  And very often the comic book writers rewrote those stories with new details, so I got those stories over and over.  Now that all the Marvel and DC movies are coming out to the big screen, I am seeing all these stories again.  I get it though, producers need to introduce the characters to new audiences.  Origin stories answer questions like "Why" and "How" the characters got to where they are now.  Who will ever forget: Adam and Eve, A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the Earth on Turtle's Back, or Krypton exploding.  They are both memorable and powerful.

I have probably written enough about how I became involved in a hobby called letterboxing, my need to carve my first stamp, and my letterboxing handle "jackbear."

But an origin story that I haven't told in much detail is the one of how I turned an avocation into a vocation.  It answers the questions, "How did I create JackBear Stamps?"

It began with an email and a photograph in May of 2008.  I received a message on Atlas Quest, my favorite letterboxing website.  A letterboxer, going by the handle of JBBK, contacted me to carve a portrait stamp.  She was not confident in her own skills yet to carve faces, and she had a photo of her friend's boys (or maybe it was a relative?) that she wanted carved into a stamp to give to him as a gift. She wanted to know how much I charged.  I told her that I wasn't really carving for cash, but since I didn't know her at all up until this point, she could just order me some PZ Kut from, my carving medium of choice from my online supplier.  She was very pleased with that arrangement, and I had an opportunity to test my skills without too much pressure.

I ran the photo through some filters in photoshop, and managed to teach myself how to transform a full color photo into something black and white, and then into a line drawing that I could carve.  We worked out a size and I got started carving.

finished custom rubber stamp image
I don't remember how long it took me, but after I proofed it for the first time, I felt like I was onto something.  The biggest challenge for me, and many newer carvers, are "eyes."  If you don't get them right, the person looks strange.  If I had to carve the stamp again today, I would make a change or two, but for my first commissioned stamp for compensation I was pleased with the result.

The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. JBBK and the recipient of the stamp loved it, and I got some extra PZ Kut in the arrangement.  But more importantly, it sparked an idea in my head. Up until this point the people I knew through letterboxing all carved their own stamps.  No need for my services.  But after this transaction I realized there might be people who weren't confident yet in their carving skills, or they might have friends who were NOT in letterboxing that needed a stamp.  That had never occurred to me before.

Around the same time I had learned about  Now there was a marketplace with low overhead that I could market my work through.  I rapidly researched how to set myself up as a business and get a sales tax number.  By that Fall I opened my etsy shop, and started selling stamps.

The rest is history as they say.  Every time I look at this stamp I think about how this was the one that started me on this journey of JackBear Stamps, and I will always remember it as part of my origin story.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

New Beginnings - It's time to tell some stories

Three times during the year I get the feeling of "new beginnings": New Year's Day, those early days of spring when the spring flowers start to bloom, and the first days of a new school year.  The last is probably due to years of going through that ritual of going back to school as a child, but even now working at a University I have that feeling with each new incoming class year.

It seems fitting then to do some rebranding at JackBear Stamps.  The first thing I'm rebooting, I just typed. I'm trying to capitalize the B in Bear.  JackBear.  Before, I left it a little b. Does it matter, not really. It's just that it often ended up as Jack Bear, or as JackBear when others transcribed it, so might as well roll with it, instead of Jackbear.  In most of my logos it will be all caps anyway, JACKBEAR.

Next, and this is the big one, I am adopting a new tagline that will define how I market my products. The tagline is "Rubber Stamps with a Story," or "Stamps with a Story."  I felt like my hand carved rubber stamps each had a story to tell.

You see I keep a big book, a portfolio of sorts, that has images of all the stamps I have carved for JackBear Stamps (I have a lot more I have carved for letterboxing that are in different journals).  This visual catalog of my stamps is fun to flip through to see how I have improved, see the size and shapes I have carved, and to get lost in the menagerie of topics covered.  When I share this portfolio with others, and they flip through, a common comment is often, "Wow, look at this one."  That always leads to me telling a narrative about why that stamp was carved.  I find myself telling a story about who it was for, and why they wanted an that particular image carved.

For instance, the image below I carved for a client on etsy.  She sent me an old photograph of this fellow, and told me that she wanted a stamp of it for a friend who was a photographer.  Her friend identified with this photograph because of how it was shot, the subject in the photo, the look in his eyes, and when it was taken.  Take a close look at it:

photo credit: Alexander Gardner

Would you then be surprised if I told you the name of this fellow is Lewis Powell (Payne) and the photograph was taken in 1865!  Now look at the background in the photo, see those large rivet like circles? Those are from the iron-clad naval ship USS Saugus.  Now look closely at his hands?  They are manacled. You see Lewis Powell was convicted and hanged as one of the co-conspirator's in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Now that is a STORY!

My stamped image inspired by the above photo

So you see, each stamp tell's a story.  I wanted to start sharing those stories here on the blog, on my Facebook page, and Twitter.  Pictures do tell a thousand words, but sometimes you need to help build the background of the story.

With the new tagline, a bear paw didn't seem to visually represent "stories" to me.  But what did? In my mind, a rocking chair did.  Maybe old grandpa sitting by the hearth telling a yarn.  But what kind of rocking chair, a windsor back?  No, I love the rustic motif.  My favorite piece of furniture by far is the Adirondack Chair (having grown up north of those mountains).  So how about an Adirondack rocking chair.  That brings up images of old hermit of the Adirondacks, and folk heroes like Ham Ferry and Bill Smith (but that's a story for another day).

So here we are now, sitting by the fireplace, rocking away in our chair, telling stories on a chilly autumn eve as the smoke of the fire seasons our flannel shirts with its charcoal-like smell.  That is my happy place. This place is now JackBear Stamps.