Every day, someone new walks into the shop and says, “so, what exactly do you do here?”
And to be honest, that’s a pretty loaded question.
Our makerspace is stocked with the tools and equipment to allow our members to work in dozens of different mediums. But sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming to look out across a workshop stuffed with equipment. There are so many possibilities, you don’t know where to start. It happens to me all the time. I call it “creativity paralysis.”
But today, I’m going to break down what’s in the shop and what you can do with it. If you’re stuck in creativity paralysis and don’t know what to do, read on!
Our ceramics studio is one of the most straightforward areas of the shop, but it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all medium. After all, a lump of clay is just another blank canvas.
Our ceramics studio is currently stocked with…
Potters have been using pottery wheels to create pieces since the Bronze Age. The earliest fast wheels date back to the third millennium BC, but it’s still the most popular and effective way to create bowls, vases, plates, and other pieces. Our wheel-throwing classes are some of our most popular, but you can use the wheel without taking a class beforehand. We have three in the ceramics studio, and they are first come, first serve.
Slab building is another common method of making clay sculptures. But working the clay into a thin, consistent slab is a difficult task if done by hand.
A slab roller lets you do this quickly and easily. Just set the desired height, cover the clay with canvas, and get to building.
Canvas Work Table
Clay is remarkably pliable, which makes it very easy to work with. But it can also be pretty sticky, and when you’re rolling the clay against a surface, it can get stuck, ruining your piece.
Canvas can help counteract that adhesion, making your handbuilding less frustrating.
Clay is renowned for its durability, but unless it’s fired in a kiln, it remains brittle. We have two kilns in the shop, which our staff operate. We have a full-sized ceramics kiln and a jewelry kiln that can be used to fuse glass and fire smaller pieces.
If you’re taking a class or using the shop with a membership or day pass, we’ll fire your pieces for no extra charge. You can also drop off ready-to-fire pieces and we’ll fire them for the price of a day pass.
There’s a lot you can do with glass. From custom beads to pendants to terrariums to stained glass suncatchers. And you can do it all in the shop with these tools
In order to work with stained glass, you need a glass cutter to cut the pieces into the desired shapes. Glass cutters are much easier to use than you might think. You can even cut curves!
Whether you’re making a suncatcher, a glass cactus sculpture, or a terrarium, you need to use a soldering iron to keep the pieces in place. Just make sure you don’t touch the metal part—it’s hot!
There’s more than one way to manipulate glass. Lampworking torches allow you to melt glass down into beautiful custom beads.
Who doesn’t love making their own jewelry? Our shop has a jewelers bench with plenty of metal working tools to create your own pieces. It would take far too long to list them all, so here are a few.
Fiber Arts and Textiles
Mankind’s relationship with fabric stretches back tens of thousands of years. And if you want to try your own hand at these ancient arts, we have the tools to do it.
If you want to make your own custom clothing, stuffed animals, or bags, there’s no tool more essential than a sewing machine. We have a few on hand that you can use if you don’t have one of your own, as well as tools for hand stitching.
Leather is one of the toughest materials, which makes it a popular choice for jackets, shoes, and bags. But if you don’t have the right tools, it can be almost impossible to work with. Luckily, we have leather punches, stitching awls, rotary cutters, and even letter stamps so you can create your own leather goods.
Yarn crafts like knitting and crochet aren’t only relaxing: they’re practical. You can use them to create comfy scarves, socks, hats...you name it. These mediums are easy to do at home, but where’s the fun in that? We have yarn and needles that you can use here, or you can use your own and come for the company.
What kind of art studio would we be if you couldn’t make a picture here? Our studio is outfitted with all kinds of paints, paintbrushes, colored pencils, easels, and whatever else you could think of. All free to use with a day pass. Canvases are available for a small material fee.
Printmaking is one of the most ancient methods of duplicating art work. There are several different methods—and you can try a few in the shop.
Everyone loves a great T-shirt. Just look at Threadless.com, which has been printing beautiful and clever shirt designs for almost twenty years. But if you have a design you want to make for your band, slow-pitch softball team, your annual church picnic, or maybe just an inside joke you want to wear on your sleeve, you can use our screenprinting studio to make it a reality.
Our studio is full stocked with an exposing table, washout sink, a four-color press, a flash dryer, and other tools to make high-quality prints of your own. You can also print on tote bags, pillowcases, skateboards, paper, or just about anything else you like.
We offer screenprinting classes, but they are not required to use the studio. Although, it is highly recommended that you contact us first to make sure we have screens available—unless you plan on bringing your own.
Block printing works much like a stamp. You carve away all the negative space, then ink what’s left over and press it onto cardstock, paper, fabric, or whatever you like. We have some simple carving tools that you can use to cut your own designs into linoleum blocks, which we also have on hand.
The printing press was an absolute revolution. And while printing from a computer or copy machine is the go-to method these days, there’s something satisfying about arranging the type yourself.
We have a type set in the shop, as well as a rolling flat bed press for consistent prints. Great for greeting cards and posters!
Don’t have a garage? Use ours! Our woodshop is stocked with enough tools to make all of your woodworking dreams come true. Our current woodshop inventory includes:
Technology is more accessible than ever. And you can experience that firsthand in our tech lab, which is stocked with a few great tools. You can learn how to use all of these tools in our basic usage Tech Lab 101 class.
3D printing is one of the most exciting mediums in the last decade, making breakthroughs in medicine, design, and just plain old hobbying. 3D printers allow you to design your own three-dimensional designs and bring them into the real world. Or, you can download models from websites like Thingiverse. You can use the machine yourself, or send us your designs to print for you. Models cost 10¢/gram, or 5¢/gram for members.
A laser cutter uses a high-powered laser beam to etch wood, leather, acrylic, glass, or other materials. It can also cut through thin pieces of wood, acrylic, and leather.
Use the laser cutter to create a set of customized photographic wood coasters, make jigsaw puzzles, cut geometric necklace pendants, or more. Your imagination is the limit!
Our Silhouette plot cutter can cut thin materials like vinyl, paper, cardboard, or fabric with precision. Create die-cut greeting cards, vinyl decals, or intricate heat transfers with ease.
Computer Numerical Control machines or now the standard in industry to manufacture objects with precision. Unlike the laser cutter, this machine uses three axes. It uses a small, computer controlled router to turn wood and acrylic into intricate relief sculptures.
And wouldn’t you know it, we’re not done yet. We have plenty of other tools that don’t really fit into the other categories. Such as…
Buttons are a great way to send a message on your bag, jacket lapel, punk rock vest, or more. Show your support for a local political candidate, promote your band, or make promotional items for your small business. You could see options to custom order buttons, but there’s something satisfying about making them yourself.
One of the easiest ways to make customized clothing is to print your design onto iron-ons and...iron it on. But we all know that looks a bit tacky. And it doesn’t last long, either.
Think of a heat press like an iron-on on steroids. It’s the same basic process, but the end result is much, much nicer.
There are tons of tools we haven’t even mentioned yet that are absolutely indispensable for a number of art forms. From glue guns to calligraphy pens to wood burning irons, our shop is stocked full of valuable tools that can help you bring what’s in your head into the real world.
What will you MAKE?
Have you been staring at your Pinterest board wishing you were able to make the same things for your house? Or maybe you’ve had an idea that’s been knocking on the inside of your head, begging to come out.
Don’t wish any more. Come into the shop and let us help you turn your dreams into reality. Buy a day pass, check out our membership rates to get more access to the space, or maybe just stop by for a free tour. We’ll be glad to meet you!
Five years ago, my husband Nat and I were working at a local charter school. We had never meant to end up in education, but somehow, our paths had led us there.
And for all intents and purposes, we were in it for the long haul.
That is, until Nat got laid off.
Suddenly, all bets were off. I resigned later that year, and we struck out on our own.
After years of keeping art as a hobby, I decided it was time to try it it for a living.
In these past five years, I've met a lot of people who have found themselves at a similar crossroads.
I've met a lot of people who have toyed around with the idea of turning their part-time passions into full-time careers.
And a lot of those people are hampered by hesitation.
Most of the time, that hesitation is rooted in a sort of aimlessness. They'd love to go into business for themselves—but they don't know where to start.
If that sounds familiar, never fear: here's a step-by-step guide to help you start your own handmade business in 2019.
Set Your Goals
How do you define success? Everyone has different benchmarks for what success means to them.
Some people want to completely replace their nine-to-five. Others are happy if they make a couple extra bucks through their art.
Before starting your own business, take some time to get introspective. Sit down and make some goals. This could be a dollar amount or a number of units sold. Maybe you want to quit your full-time job by the end of the year. Or maybe you just want to sell something.
You can set your sights as high—or as low—as you want. Just make sure that your goals are realistic. If they're not, you could set yourself up for failure.
Regardless of where you want to take your handmade business, you can't get there all in one fell swoop. It should go without saying, but you shouldn't quit your day job to do art full-time without selling a few pieces on the side first.
Test the market. Sell at a couple one-day art shows. Put some of your goods in a local shop and see how well they go over. Post some pictures on Instagram and try to find some buyers there.
Start as small as you need to. You can always grow from there. It's much harder to un-quit your job.
Define Your Niche
In the words of Steve Jobs, "don't try to do everything. Do one thing well."
I know, that's easier said than done.
If you're anything like me, you don't really have a medium of choice. Some people are comfortable calling themselves a painter or a jewelry maker or a sculptor. But people like us have a hard time choosing. Which is part of the reason why I teach art instead of just selling it.
And obviously, I would never say that there's anything wrong with working in a variety of mediums. But when you're first starting your handmade business, offering a wide variety of goods can blur your message a bit.
Customers are easily distracted. If you want to break through to them, you need to be clear and direct. Offering too many different products can keep your customers from understanding what exactly it is you do. On the other hand, if you do one thing really well, you can gain attention in a hurry.
Build Your Web Presence
If you want to start any kind of business in 2019, you're going to need to have a solid web presence. Sure, there are still a number of art festivals and local shops where you can sell your wares. But if you limit yourself to your local market, you can be robbing yourself of a huge crop of customers.
You probably don't need me to tell you that the internet can connect you to buyers from all over the globe. But that takes a bit more work than just starting a Facebook page for your art and inviting your friends and family to like it.
For starters, it's a good idea to start with a page in an online marketplace. Nearly 2 million sellers are currently active on Etsy—and for good reason. Etsy has a massive customer base actively looking for unique handmade goods.
If you want to take it a step further, buy a custom domain and build a dedicated website for your wares. A standalone website can go a long way toward making you seem more professional and legitimate. Make sure that your small business website design is clean and uncluttered. Focus on high-quality product photos to show off your products.
Be sure to include a bio where customers can get to know you. Customers aren't just buying your product—they're buying your story. If your story resonates with them, they want to buy a piece of it.
Don't Neglect the Day-to-Day
For a lot of people, this is the hard part. We all know where we want our lives to go.
But the steps to get there are a little fuzzier.
You probably won't make sales every single day. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that—especially at the beginning. But every day, you need to be doing something to make those sales happen.
Set a regular to-do list of things that you do every day. Make regular posts on social media. Spend some time brainstorming new products. Schedule in some unstructured creative time.
Resist the urge to wake up after noon and stay in your pajamas all day. A regular routine (and some work clothes)can help your brain get into "work mode" more easily.
Stick to your to-do list even when it feels like it's not making a difference. Those little things add up over time.
There's no fool proof way to start your own handmade business. There isn't a guaranteed 10-step model that will ensure success.
But if you're going to be successful, you need to give it your sweat.
There are going to be days where you want to quit. Days where you would rather sit behind a boring reception desk than make one more crocheted cactus.
That's perfectly normal. And if you realize that selling your own art isn't for you, that's fine. The world needs some people to sit behind a desk.
But if you're committed to making your handmade business work, it's going to take work. So keep at it. Keep grinding. Hustle like you mean it. And if you need a place to work with some fellow creatives who can push and encourage you, the shop's open for you.
Last Tuesday, we threw the third Rebel Art Fest. This time, at Potawatomi Park as part of Best. Week. Ever. It was a pretty major step up from setting up a tent in our parking lot and hoping no one needs to drive through the alley.
Around 3,000 people came through to enjoy local artists, musicians, and food trucks—and the blacklight jungle at the Conservatory.
It might seem like our little festival has finally hit the big time, but its heart is still the same.
Two years ago, when we first thought of putting on our own festival, we wanted to highlight all of the best local arts, music, and culture that South Bend—and especially our little neighborhood River Park—could offer. There were other art festivals in the area, but they either overlooked local talent, or had no bar for entry. They either showcased only a narrow idea of fine art, or they put elementary school dance teams on the same stage as local bands playing original music.
There was a huge middle ground that was getting no representation. Namely, the scores of amazing local artists whose work might be too unconventional or "low-brow" for a curated fine arts show, or bands whose sound isn't exactly radio friendly but still make fantastic music.
We saw tons of artists around us whose work was a bit weird, but wonderful—and worth celebrating.
And strangely enough, there seemed to be a huge concentration of those artists around River Park.
Which makes sense. River Park is a weird and wonderful little neighborhood. We don't have a Starbucks: we have The Well, a nonprofit coffeeshop that moonlights as a punk venue. Our river walk is littered with unauthorized artwork from our resident sculptor. We're home to Merriman's Play House and the Farmer's Market—amazing, important spaces with a decidedly non-mainstream appeal.
It's not everybody's cup of tea. And River Park isn't going to attract the same crowd as Downtown South Bend.
But we still think that weirdness is worth celebrating.
When we sat down to organize Rebel Art Fest, we wanted it to be a platform for the weird and wonderful artists specifically in our local community. Artists that might not ever be featured in a juried fine art show, but whose work deserves a larger audience.
Artists like La Grotesquerie, with her rogue taxidermy, Rhonda Whitledge, whose fantasy-based sculptures look like characters from the Dark Crystal universe, or the intimate, magical realism of Nerdy Brown Kid.
And then, there's the music. I lost track of how many times I was asked, "where are these guys from?" But I was absolutely delighted every time I told someone, "they're from here."
One of the unique things about Rebel Art Fest was that most of the bands lived within a mile of the venue. Whether it be the lucid post punk of Properties, the anarchic punk singalongs of SHAM, or the chamber pop chaos of The Flying DeSelms, it was all homegrown talent.
A decade ago, pulling off this kind of festival in South Bend would have been a struggle.
There were artists and musicians in town, but there wasn't much of a community between them. They were isolated, scraping to get their name out there without much of a support system. Many of them left for greener pastures.
But in the past few years, there has been a real renaissance in this city. Creatives aren't fleeing the Bend anymore. In fact, we've met artists who've actually moved here from larger cities because they like this community better.
When I moved back to South Bend nine years ago, there were maybe one or two local shows a week. Now, it seems like there are two or three per night. Most often, if I can't make it to a show for a friend's band, it's because I'm already going to another show that night.
Not to mention that Rebel Art Fest wasn't the only music festival last week.
The success of Rebel Art Fest isn't just indicative of a changing arts scene. It points to a changing city.
We had a lot of support for this year's festival from city government itself. Venues Parks and Arts did a lot of the legwork for marketing and promotion. The Potawatomi Conservatories didn't just let us turn it into a blacklight jungle: they gushed at the idea. They stayed open late so we could hang pool-noodle tentacles, origami butterflies, and paper-plate-and-cellophane jellyfish in the trees and strategically place blacklights around the greenhouse.
Not long ago, the powers that be might have raised an eyebrow at something like Rebel Art Fest. Asking the city to support a showcase of bizarre artists was pretty big leap. In many cities, the city would rather shut it down than support it.
But South Bend isn't like most cities. Especially after the last decade.
Rebel Art Fest served as a reflection of the growth in our creative community. And as the arts scene here has continued to grow and thrive, our strange little parking lot arts festival has grown with it.
And you better believe that next year will be even bigger.
by Nathaniel FitzGerald
When we first started MAKE SOUTH BEND, it was because we wanted makers in our community to have access to tools and resources that they wouldn't be able to afford on their own.
Our motivation was a bit selfish, admittedly: Michelle had sketched out a leather wallet/journal combo that she was stoked about. She bought some leather making tools and made a few prototypes. After a few failed concepts, our first negative review on Etsy, and a couple hundred dollars down spent on tools that she didn't want to look at anymore, she threw up her hands and wished for a coworking space that would have the tools for her. Seeing nothing in the area, we opened our own.
We wanted our space would become a haven for artists and makers who didn't have their own studio or tools to come in and create. Not everyone has access to a screenprinting studio. Laser cutters, pottery wheels, and kilns aren't exactly home-friendly.
But something happened that we weren't expecting.
People who didn't need our space bought memberships.
We have a few members who just paint. One is an illustrator—I don't even think she's ever used any of our equipment. One person came in to practice origami boxes.
These are all things that a person could easily do at home. We were doing some of that in our basement before we opened the shop. But I understand why they're coming.
Outside of MAKE, I write freelance. This gives me the freedom to work whenever I want from wherever I want. But the problem with setting your own work schedule is the "work" part. I have the freedom to plop down on the couch in front of my record collection and plug away on my laptop. And, surprising no one, that quickly devolves into slacking off.
Working in the shop, however, gives some accountability. When I'm around other people who are working, it helps me stay on task too. And sometimes, I'm even inspired by what they're doing. Their contagious energy rubs off, and I want to accomplish something too.
This isn't only happening at MAKE. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote workers are joining coworking in ever-growing numbers. In the past ten years, almost 14,000 coworking spaces have popped up around the world. Many of these don't even have special equipment people can use: just a few desks, wi-fi, and a community of like-minded individuals.
If that sounds like something you could benefit from, but you aren't ready to purchases a membership, stop by the shop every other Wednesday morning for Coworking Wednesdays. Have a cup of coffee, grab a spot at a desk, and enjoy the community. And from personal experience, it sure beats mindlessly tabbing between your work and Reddit all by yourself.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put on some real pants.
If you're waiting around for that breathtaking website to be complete or for the product to be perfect, you won't be getting anywhere fast. It's 2018 already, and it's time to take action.
First, you should test your idea on a sample audience. Ask people for feedback and try to ask people who will actually be customers. Your mom can only buy so much product from you before you need new customers. Testing your idea is as simple as asking, "Hey would you use this? What would you pay for it?" Then take that feedback and use it to guide your further product development and your marketing strategy. In a makerspace like this, it's also easy to ask the other makers around you for feedback and even for advice on design, packaging, pricing, etc. It helps to be around others who get what you're doing.
The next stage is to make your product good enough to sell. Improvements can always come along the way. Apple has been doing this for years. Give customers what you have now, and when improvements come, you can sell those too. For example, when I started making jewelry, I had some great design ideas but was limited to only using polymer clay, so I did that until I had access to a kiln and upgraded my material to porcelain. The first designs sold well because people liked the way they looked, and the second version still sold well because there was great design and a more durable product.
The other thing that will help you sell your product is by having attractive branding, packaging and marketing. Every decision you make from the company name to the logo colors, the fonts, and even the box you put it in all convey some message about you and your company that either make people want to be part of that story or barely notice it all. You want to be noticed. Look at some recognizable brands or other popular handmade brands to get ideas on how to do this well.
Then, once you have a product you know people will want, and you've packaged it well so it tells your story for you, you need to get it out there. You can start an Etsy page (but it's grown very competitive), you can sell at shows (just make sure you find good ones), you can give some product to "influencers" to help get the word out about your item, but you must build some sort of online social presence, be that Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
If you can grow your own following, you can have an audience and customers anytime you need. If not, you'll be relying on luck or spending lots of money on advertising dollars.
So don't let 2018 pass you by. Start networking with other makers at one of our coworking days. Hone your skills and get your product to a sellable state, making prototypes. You can use tools at a makerspace like ours for a low cost. Get your company basics prepared to share, and get on social media.
Some good resources for design and web building are Canva.com and Weebly.com.
By Haleigh Ehmsen
You can shop Rachelyn Jewelry on Etsy.