Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buy Handmade v. 44

We head to Colorado this week for our behind the scenes feature.

Name:  Robert  and Gwynne Kidd
Age:  45, 43
Occupation:  Woodworker

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in Virginia.  I came to Colorado to go to college and I earned a degree in Professional Photography.  I met Gwynne, who was from the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, in college.  After school we both worked for a company that put official records on microfilm.  After that I took a job in construction doing framing and siding.  I moved on to doing interior finish carpentry and I just fell in love with wood and what you could do with it.  I studied under a master stair builder for a while and that is where I started carving, making custom stair parts.  We now live in the San Luis Valley way out in the country.  My wife Gwynne is as much a part of KitchenCarvings as I am.  I do the roughing out and initial design and she does all the final shaping and finishing as well as keeping on top of the shipping.  She also raises Sheep and Goats with her mom.  She is also a field inspector for Colorado Seed Growers.  In the summer she inspects Canola, Barley, Wheat, Oats, Wild flowers, and Grasses.

When did you start creating and how long have you been on Etsy?

Robert:  I’ve been creating things since I was little.  When I was about 10 I carved some Owls into a pine board as a present for my Grandmother.  Gwynne is also very creative. Ten years ago I was doing custom woodworking.  I did stairs as well as cabinets.  I was already a wood nut and I saved every scrap from the job sites I worked on.  I became intensely interested in harvesting my own wood and particularly wanted to work with found wood.  I had all these little planks that I had sawed out of small logs and they were everywhere in the shop drying on windowsills and leaned up against the walls.  I needed something to do with them and one day I saw an article in WOODWORK magazine about traditional Swedish bowl carving.  I really liked the bowls but it was the handmade spoon pictured in one of the bowls that really blew me away.  It was so elegant.  It had such beautiful lines and proportions.  I had to make one.  I thought, here was a way to work with just a small piece of wood, a limb or small section of trunk, whether green or dry and make something both beautiful and functional.   I started giving the spoons away as gifts and soon people were calling me asking if they could buy them.  I started selling to galleries and gift shops wholesale.  I did that on the side for 9 years.  I did some crafts fairs and people really liked them and bought everything I had.  After the financial crisis all of my carpentry work dried up.  We live in a very sparsely populated area.  It is three hours to the nearest city.  I either had to work long distances from home or find another way to make money.  I started doing more spoons, only wholesale.  I started my Etsy shop in January 2011.

Gwynne:  I have helped Robb out off and on over the years.  In April of last year Robb was at the point with Kitchencarvings that he needed help.  So I quit my job and couldn’t be happier.  It’s awesome making  something  people enjoy.

How did you come up with your business name?  Is there any special meaning behind it?

I came up with the name when I started selling to galleries.  I wanted an easy to remember name for my line of kitchen tools.  If I am not carving then you’ll find my in the kitchen so I just combined the two.

Has your Etsy shop become your full time job?

Yes it has but it didn’t really take off until Gwynne started working with me full time last April.  She has been carving spoons almost as long as I have and she has really helped to increase production.  I could not do it without her.  She also stays on top of the shipping.  I tend to get easily distracted and she keeps me focused.  I can hardly stay ahead of her.  Last year we also did some wholesaling but we have decided that as fast as things sell on Etsy we lost money by not listing the stuff we did for other stores in our own shop. 

How would your creative process? 

I usually start by picking up a piece of wood and cutting off any parts I don’t like.  Usually an idea or a shape starts to percolate in my head.  I am surrounded by pieces of wood on my bench, leaning up everywhere and on every flat surface.  Sometimes a piece of wood will sit on my bench for months and then I’ll suddenly see what to do with it.  I’ll be working on something else and get an idea about another piece and I’ll stop and rough it out enough so that I can finish it later.  I usually have lots of pieces in various states of completion.  I work very fast.  I don’t hem and haw.  I make my decisions “in the space of 7 breaths” as the Samurai would say.  I can’t look at a piece of wood without seeing spoons or other tools. 

I get them close to the final shape and then Gwynne takes over and that is when they become the pieces you see in our shop.  She makes the final shape with a fine patternmaker’s rasp which is a wonderful tool.  You can make any shape with it.  She sands them and lovingly polishes them at the shaving horse.  She also catches any defects that I missed. 

I am always on the lookout for downed trees and I visit tree trimmers yards a lot to find great wood that is destined to be split into firewood.  You know the old joke about running into a tree because you were looking at a pretty girl.  I’m just as likely to run into a pretty girl because I am looking at a tree. 

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I would say that mostly it comes from the wood but there is also my time spent in the kitchen.  I love to cook and I do a lot of tinkering with designs.  I know that if I enjoy using something then other cooks will too.  Then I get inspiration from movies.  I like period movies and I am always on the lookout for examples of Treenware in scenes.  I remember one ladle I saw in the HBO series “John Adams”.  Customers also send us pictures of their grandma’s spoon and ask us to reproduce them.  I really enjoy that.

Do you also sell your work at crafts shows? 

I used to.  It is too hard to build up enough work to go to a show.  I am better off listing it on Etsy and most pieces only stay on there a few days before they sell.

I do have a story from one show I did early on.  It was raining and people were lined up before the gates opened.  When they let people in a woman ran as fast as she could across the fairgrounds straight to my booth.  She grabbed up a really nice ladle with a pour spout and clutched it to her chest and said “mine”.  I don’t know how she saw it from 200 feet away.  Another time I was doing a demonstration.  I had about 200 pieces with me and I hadn’t put any prices on them.  I dumped them in a big pile and walked over to the car to get the price tags.   When I turned around there were about ten women digging through the pile like hens after beetles.  It was two hours before I got a price tag on anything because I was so busy filling out tickets.  When I see people’s reaction to my spoons and read my customer feedback that is what pushes me to continue.

What is your most cherished handmade item?

Robert:  My favorite piece is a strange little antique wall cabinet.  It was obviously made by a child.  It has little drawers and on one of the bottoms is written 1902.  It is all handwork and the face frame is in the shape of a stylized owl.  

Gwynne:  Mine are my quilts made by my grandma and the needlepoint done by my mom and the hand knit blankets my husband’s grandmother made for our kids.  Also the first “tadpole” coffee scoop that Rob made.

Apart from creating things, what do you like to do?

Robert:  I like to hike and fish and bike and look for old coins with my metal detectors.

Gwynne:  I like to hike and fish as well and spend time in the mountains.  I like to travel and to scrapbook.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be and why?

Robert:  I would need about fifty pages to list all the things I am interested in but probably an Astro- Physicist or a Philosopher.  I am fascinated by both.

Gwynne:  I’d be a speech therapist and work with elderly stroke victims. 

Five years from now you will be………?

Robert:  I’d like to be doing the same thing I’m doing now.  I’d like to teach classes in spoon carving because it is just about the most peaceful, relaxing thing I have ever done and I think a lot of people could benefit from it for stress relief.  I don’t ever plan to retire.  I want to be found one day slumped over my bench with a tool in my hand. 

Gwynne:  I’d like to be doing what I am doing now but in a much nicer shop and with some other artisans working with us.  I’d like to be doing more travelling.

Describe yourself in five words.

Robert:  I can’t and please don’t ask Gwynne to describe me.  

Gwynne:  Honest, straight forward, loyal, caring and ornery.

Carrying on with the fives theme, if I were to turn on your Ipod, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?

Robert:  You would find audio books.  I like science fiction a lot.  John Ringo is one of my favorite science fiction writers, as is Robert Jordan but I also listen to a lot of Ayn Rand and other books by Thomas Sowell, Friedrich A. Hayek, and Henry David Thoreau.

Gwynne:   Rob has gotten me hooked on audio books as well.  Recently I have listened to the Wheel of Time series by Robert  Jordan,  Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, The Girl with the dragon Tattoo, The Wind Up Girl and Watership down.

Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone thinking about opening their own shop or participation in craft shows?

Robert:  I would say the two most important things are to make something people really want that you also love to make and learn to photograph your products well.  Don’t set out to make what you love and then find a market for it.  Find the market first and preferably one that is not saturated.  Learn to photograph your products not just to show what they look like but to make the customers drool over them.  Plus be prepared to eat sleep and breath your business.  Realize that there are other benefits to working for yourself.  Learn to count those benefits as part of your compensation such as being home to cook dinner for your kids and not having a commute.  Don’t get caught up in how much you are making per hour at first.  When you are starting out you will be working a lot of hours for not a lot of pay.  Consider it as an investment in the future.  Lastly don’t get caught up in formulas for pricing your work.  Compare your work to other similar work in the market place, honestly evaluate its quality and charge what the market will bear.  Increase your income not by raising prices as much as by becoming better and better at what you do.