Name: Jan Rhodes Norman
Age: 61 (How did that happen!)
Occupation: artist, silkscreen printer, entrepreneur
Etsy Shop: Silkoak
Tell us a little about yourself.
I have 6 grown children, 2 new grandbabies, live in Ithaca, NY and I’m a serial entrepreneur!
When did you start creating and how long have you been on Etsy?
I’ve been creating since I was little but I think the real catalyst was when I began having children. When my oldest child was born, I started learning new techniques and experimenting by making them into children’s clothing. Silkscreen, batik, crochet, handspinning, embroidery…it was so much fun! It was like instant gratification because children’s garments are so small that projects are completed quickly.
I’ve had a website since 1996 and opened my Etsy shop in February, 2009. After seeing how easy my Etsy shop was to maintain, I shut down my old website and just pointed my domain to my Etsy shop. Having had my own website, I have enormous appreciation for the work that Etsy puts into constantly improving and updating the site. It’s fun for customers and very easy for the shop owner to maintain. I have more time to think about making new things!
How did you come up with your business name, is there any special meaning behind it?
It’s a bit of a play on words. Silk Oak is a type of tree but it’s a nod to the process of silkscreening and the inspiration of nature that drives most of the Silk Oak images
Has your Etsy shop become your full time job?
Silk Oak is my full time job. Between my Etsy shop, booth at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market and my brick & mortar store, Ithacamade, it keeps me busy.
How would you describe your creative process?
When I’m in a groove, I tend to become a bit obsessed.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Anything is fair game. I never know exactly what will inspire me or send me in a new direction. Sometimes, my most creative epiphanies come from completely random sources. For me, it’s crucial not to get too complacent about where I expect to find inspiration. Expect the Unexpected!
Do you also sell your work at craft shows?
I used to do lots of shows all year round, but as my Etsy and Ithaca Farmers’ Market sales have increased, I have stopped doing most shows.
What shows have you taken part of, and do you have a favorite?
For years, I religiously did some of the major shows in Central New York, like Clothesline and Corn Hill in Rochester and Plowshares in Syracuse, as well as traveling to NYC and neighboring states. Recently, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of starting to do a few shows again. Renegade and other indie shows like that appeal to me.
How long does it take you to prepare for a show? Do you have any special methods of getting ready?
When I’m in the rhythm of doing shows regularly, my show set up is pretty organized. I run into trouble when I haven’t done one in a while and things get scattered. I’ve had some funny situations where I’ve discovered that I forgot to pack something crucial, like the infrastructure to hang all of my garments! Not so easy to remedy when your 6 hours from home. As a result, I’ve developed fairly comprehensive checklists.
Preparation varies, depending on how big the show is and how far away it is. I find it helps to pace myself and try to start adding a little extra into the workload many weeks ahead, to prevent that last minute scramble.
Describe an experience from a show (good or bad) and why that pushes you to continue with your work
A number of years ago, I was doing the Holiday Plowshares show in Syracuse, put on by the Syracuse Cultural Workers. They are particularly well known for the Carry It On Peace Calendar, which they have been publishing for decades. Their director saw my shirts and liked the designs. So began a conversation that resulted in the SCW publishing a line of cards with my designs and choosing one of them for the cover of the next year’s calendar! It showed me that you never know when an important connection will be made. I have similar experiences selling at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market.
I think the value of putting yourself in direct contact with your customers has other valuable benefits. There’s nothing like in person feedback from customers to help you fine-tune your product!
What is your most cherished handmade item?
That’s a hard one. I have some amazing hand tatted tablecloths that my Grandmother made. I also have special things made for me by my kids. Sculptures, beadwork, drawings, hand-sewn items…I’d be hard pressed to say which I treasure more- The early attempts at making things or the adult things, crafted with greater skill.
Apart from creating things, what do you like to do?
I love to cook, garden, spend time with friends and family, craft, read, dance…
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be and why?
I might be an herbalist or a chef. I love experimenting with foods and herbs. I also like the feeling of self-sufficiency that one gets from knowing how to make things from scratch.
Five years from now you will be…
Five years from now you will be…
Doing more of what I’m doing now! I want to expand my product line into some new areas. Something I’d also like to consider, as the business gets bigger, is the idea of turning Silk Oak into a collective or cooperative.
Describe yourself in five words:
Adventurous, funny, creative, inquisitive, passionate!
Carrying on with the five theme, if I were to turn on your <insert whatever type of music player you use here>, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?
Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks- I Feel Like Singin’
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong- They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Django Reinhardt- Beyond the Sea (La Mer)
Creedance Clearwater- Born on the Bayou
Norah Jones- Sunrise
Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone thinking about opening their own shop or participating in craft shows?
Enjoy yourself. Don’t let yourself get so driven to produce that the act of creation ceases to be fun!