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Buen Camino!

Sheree Burlington16 Comments
Camino de Santiago trip | Wing + Tree Blog | Sheree Burlington

The Short Story:

On Sunday 09.20.15 I leave to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago from southern France to the NW coast of Spain. I go alone and will be gone 6 weeks. Nicole and Kris will run the Museware Pottery show.

The Back Story:

My life changed on 08.20.12 when my 19 year old son, Neal, was killed in a motorcycle street racing accident. The last three years have been a complex journey through pain, forgiveness and healing. 

The first year was all about loss, his death, my regrets. Much of the second year was spent trying to figure out who am I now that I'm no longer a mom. This last year has been...easier. I still cry daily, it's always there, just under the surface. I also laugh a lot, especially when I talk about the tall, handsome, noisy man/boy I call my son. 

A homebody by nature, I joke that with enough food and the internet, I'd be happy to never leave the house again. When they put that electronic bracelet on Martha Stewart and told her to stay home I thought - that's a punishment? I'm an indoor cat. I don't walk or hike or travel to foreign lands. Speak French or Spanish. Go without makeup. Sleep with strangers. Eat food with tentacles or eyes. There is not a single thing about this trip that I've ever been curious to experience. Nothing. Yet this Sunday, one month after Neal's 3rd anniversary, I fly to France to begin what some would call an epic journey.

What is the Camino de Santiago? 

Camino de Santiago | Wing + Tree Blog | Sheree Burlington

The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James, is an ancient Christian pilgrimage from southern France to the NW coast of Spain. For over a thousand years, millions of seekers have walked this 500 mile trail, which begins in the French Pyrenees and ends in Santiago at the tomb of apostle St. James. Some seek forgiveness, others healing. Others walk for reasons less easily defined. 

Unlike the wilderness of Appalachian Trail, The Camino de Santiago is a cultural trail. Over the last 1200 years, an entire infrastructure has developed along its route - cities, towns and villages. Many of the buildings were constructed in the 12th century and house cafes, hostels, hotels and hospitals. Early pilgrims were cared for and treated with great reverence as they walked this sacred path. This tradition continues to this day.

Why Walk?

Like many, I learned about the Camino through the 2010 movie "The Way." In the film, Martin Sheen plays an American doctor who who travels to France to collect the remains of his son, killed crossing the Pyrenees, his first day on the Camino. The movie, scenery and journey haunted me for weeks.

I was reminded of it again when a pin about the Camino turned up in my Pinterest feed on July 13th. I read the content and was inexplicably overcome by emotion. After days of intense introspection and for reasons I cannot explain - I knew I was going. The idea was so heavy and overwhelming that I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach for days. 

As for why - I don't have a simple answer. Homesickness? A kind of longing? A woman I have not met described it like this "the Camino is a rare and beautiful gift. If it is calling you it has something special to give you. Just say Yes, and watch it unfold... it has already begun." Her words are true. I am changed by the very idea of this trip. Losing my only child has left me fearless. 

How Does it Work? 

I fly from Boston to Paris on Sunday. In Paris, I'll grab a cab to a nearby airport called Orly. Catch a flight south to Biarritz where I'll be met by a hired transport company who will drive me to my hotel. They'll identify themselves by holding a sign bearing my name. Like on TV. Are you fricken kidding me? The beginning of this trip alone is enough to scare the shit out of me. Once in St. Jean Pied de Port, I head to my reserved room to recover from my travels. I'll spend the next day touring historic St. Jean and mentally preparing myself to walk the next morning. I'll sleep in a hostel that night but don't know which one.

My guidebook includes 33 maps, each representing a day's walk - an average of 15 miles. Some of the path is asphalt, some gravel paths, others green pathways through forests, farmland and orchards. At night, I'll stay in hostels with other travelers, or in hotels when I can't stand people any more or need complete solitude. 

On Wednesday morning, I'll eat breakfast then grab something for lunch, some water and snacks. If weather permits, I'll cross the 4500' Pyrenees via the mountainous Napoleon Route. If it's raining or foggy, I'll take the lower elevation Valcarlos path. Either way, by the end of the day I'll have endured the most difficult section of the trail and expect to be both whiny and exhausted.

After taking care of everyone and everything for most of my life, I will spend the next 42 days walking, finding food, water and a place to sleep. Then I'll do it again the next day. I'll carry everything I own on my back. I have to tell you that I am shaking my head as I type this. There is enough old Sheree left to know that I have got to out of my fucking mind to be doing this. 

Follow My Pilgrimage

Because WiFi is available at cafes all along the Camino, I plan to post daily images and commentary to my Instagram account instagram.com/shereeburlington and to Facebook. If you're interested seeing what happens when a 60 year old woman gets off of the couch and heads of into the great unknown, follow along with me. I can't promise it will be pretty, but I'll bet it will be interesting. Buen Camino! 

Hey, comments make me feel good. If you have one, please leave it below. 

 

 

 

 

Silencing the Critic

Sheree BurlingtonComment

In the last two weeks I've created several dozen monoprints. I amazed at how easy it is to create colorful background textures with my actual hands. While they're each unique and share a beauty common to the process, none are worthy to stand alone as a piece of art. I sift through them daily, sorting them into piles and wondering how they can be used to create something meaningful.

While I'm no longer in a dark place, I continue to find myself in a restless, thoughtful state of mind. My decision to walk the Camino de Santiago next spring feels less heavy, though I am still reduced to tears when trying to explain it to others. Neal will be gone 3 years on August 20th, long enough so that stepping into the space he's left behind doesn't suck the breath out of me. My relationship is like an old chair - a comfortable place occasionally in need of a good cleaning.

Museware functions well without me, giving me the freedom to pursue other creative interests. And I have pursued. In the last 6 months, I've run happily from one creative thing to another - loving the discovery - until another shiny thing catches my attention. There's a subtle desperation to my lack of creative direction, an urgent whisper that I'm not and won't ever be enough. I'd like to bitch-slap that voice. When it persists, the only way to silence it is to go inside. Meditate. Walk. Design.

Monoprint | Digital Collage by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

When I started this collage, I still had my hand over the mouth of my anti-muse. Like the biblical antichrist, my anti is a "single figure of concentrated evil." It is her job, her sole purpose, to undermine my creative process. She is a miserable companion that is only silenced by the act of creating. 

This collage combines two recent monoprints, a modified selfie (image > adjustments > posterize > threshold) some hand sketched elements and my most-loved Neal angel. It was created using my new favorite Photoshop setting - multiply. Multiply makes a solid image transparent, without the dimming effect of the transparency setting. I discovered it only this week and honestly don't know how I designed without it. It combines and adds a depth to colors in the most remarkable way. Like most things about Photoshop, it is magic. 

Digital collage by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

I am so pleased with this digital collage. It is full of the kind of symbolism that makes my work meaningful and rich with the kind of color and texture that inspires me to create more. As a composition, it is more than the sum of its parts - each element is enhanced by the presence of the other. It is a reminder that quiet and contemplation can heal, that our dead are always with us and that like rivers, all roads lead to home. 

“hark, now hear the sailors cry, 
smell the sea, and feel the sky 
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic...” 
― Van Morrison

Monoprinting With Stencils

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I've felt the absence of my son Neal this past week more than usual. In the last days, I've spent a lot of time staring at old pictures of him - sweaty after riding dirt bikes in Maine, covered in first birthday chocolate cake, his long arm draped around my shoulder at Christmas. My favorite, and one that I incorporate into much of my design work, was taken in June 2012, just after his high school graduation. There are many others pictures of that day - him laughing, talking, hugging, reveling in this right of passage - the one that moves them closer to the door. But this one, his razor nicked faced stilled by a moment of contemplation, this is the one I turn to for comfort.

Neal Burlington | Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

I love the way the sun casts shadows across his eyes, the light on his brows, the curve of his lips - the single curl peeking out from his cap. It's a face I've kissed and wiped clean and held in my hands countless times and is deeply familiar. I've known it all of my lives. 

Neal Burlington | Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

So on Friday, after a long week of frustrating, unfulfilling days, I turned to this face again. After watching several videos on creating multi-layer stencils, I found one that made enough sense to follow. The basic steps are creating 3 copies of the image and simplifying each layer using image > adjustments > threshold. Threshold reduces an image to simple black and white. Dragging the slider left/right controls the amount of black/white. 

Neal Burlington stencil by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

Each layer was printed on separate sheets then laminated for durability. The printed areas were then cut out with an exacto knife. On another take, I'll try a manilla folder and no lamination. I think it will allow me to cut in more detail and built up paint layers on the stencil will accomplish the same result as lamination. 

It was thoughtful work and I was happy to have a subject for the unpredictable monoprinting process. These ghostly images are the result. The image on the left is a print on deli paper. The one on the right, one of the two stencils. However obscure, I still see him - as familiar as a son and as distant as we've convinced ourselves our dead to be. 

Monoprint of Neal Burlington by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

On a less serious subject, the print below was pulled using a piece of greenery found on the path near my house.  I picked it last week while walking as preparation for my trip to the Camino de Santiago. You know, before I scared the shit out of myself to the point where I barely wanted to get out of bed. Huh. I think I'm starting to figure things out. This art therapy stuff really does work. 

Gelatin print by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

Monoprinting on Gelli Plates

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It was Christmas in July at the Museware Pottery studio yesterday! Just before lunch, my order of Deli Paper arrived. Soon after, my order of Gelli Plates, soft rubber brayers, stencil paper and fabric medium showed up. Two Fed-Ex deliveries in one day is something of a miracle. Our studio is located in a historic mill and is a literal maze of corridors and staircases. None of the unit numbers are marked and tenants come and go like the wind. If our regular guy is off, his replacement won't even bother to look for us. As a result, we've dismissed Fed-Ex as unreliable and avoid dealing with them whenever possible. Today however, we were all like Yay Fed-Ex! 

Gelli Printing Plate | Wing + Tree blog

Gelli Printing Plates are smooth, clear slabs of monoprinting loveliness. They are durable and permanent and put my home-made plate to shame. I just took my 8x10 plate for a test drive and have found great happiness. The paint rolls on smoothly, the rounded corners leave a nice detail on the print and they clean up easily. I'm using baby wipes - water and paper towel works as well. Their literature suggests hand sanitizer gel, but with the proliferation of super bugs out there, I prefer something less apocalyptic. 

8 x 10 Gelli Plate | Wing + Tree blog

My shipment also contained the book "Gelli Plate Printing - Mixed Media Monoprinting Without a Press" by Joan Bess. What an awesome resource! Not only is it full of techniques - it includes ideas for organizing the chaos inherent to printing. Her use of plastic in-out office boxes and acrylic box frames as storage containers is brilliant. She also recommended the use of a sketchbook for rolling excess paint off of the brayer. Mine is filled with bad sketches and is greatly improved by a few strokes of color. I've never kept an actual art journal and can see myself decoupaging antique dictionary pages and other paper elements to the painted pages. So. Much. Fun. 

Monoprinting | Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

This happy collection of prints was done on 8x10 Deli paper and a few sheets of copy paper. Deli Paper is the dry wax paper used by the food industry. I see why artists love and recommend it - it's thin and translucent and strong enough to pull without tearing. It also has both matte and shiny sides and dries with a texture that adds yet another dimension to the print. I bought three boxes of 500 sheets and have enough paper to last for years. 

Monoprinting by Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

While printing can be done in a small area, staging drying prints takes up some real estate. My first session ended with dozens of wet, curling pages scattered across my wood floors. Last night I rigged up this make shift drying table using a TV tray and a scrap of 1/2" plywood. It's lightweight and can be broken down and stored in the closet. It worked well enough to warrant creating another.

After some shopping around, I found the best pricing at Dick Blick. Here is a link to my Monoprinting wishlist. One of the items on the list is Golden Acrylic Retarder. I haven't purchased it yet, but it's designed to increase the drying time of acrylic paint. Since I'm still working with quick dry craft paint - I look forward to seeing how this works with them. Additional drying time means less rushing and more creative options. Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the year. I'll spend the second half of it in my sweet little air conditioned home studio. Making really cool stuff. 

SUPPLY LIST:

Monoprinting with Gelatin Plates

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I love all kinds of art but my longest, most passionate creative love affair is with abstract art. I love everything about it - the colors, the layers and textures. I particularly love its ability to speak without words. It's the voice behind my favorite Rumi quote "There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen." 

A self taught pretty much everything, I've been creating digital collage work for five years. There is so much to love: the endless control over content, color and scale. The use of my mind where my hands fail me. The ability to undo bad design decisions with a key stroke. I've always envied artists who create work with their hands and long to use my own in the creative process.

Wikipedia describes mono-printing as "a form of printmaking that has images or lines that can only be made once, unlike most printmaking, where there are multiple originals."  This is the most organic painting method - nothing is ever repeated. Each print is unique - something that speaks to me on so many levels. It can even be used to print on fabric. I'm sitting here shaking my head. On fabric. Hello my other love. 

Self made gelatin printing plate - Wing + Tree blog

The tools needed for monoprinting are simple: a gelatin printing plate (self-made or purchased) paint, a brayer, anything that will make a texture (stencils, stamps, bubble wrap, string) and pretty much any kind of paper. I created this rough looking plate with a recipe found on Pinterest. Due to overzealous mixing, it looks nothing like the beautiful, clear, bubble-free plate on the tutorial. I'll make it beautiful when it gets remade - they get beat up are renewable.   

The mono-printing process is simple. Roll out paint onto a soft, flexible surface. Texture it with stamps, stencils, a credit card, string. Place a piece of paper over it and press it down with your hands. Pull back the paper and you have an original, one of a kind print. Place a second sheet of paper over the remaining paint and pull for a lighter "ghost print." Seriously. If there is a cooler way to create, I have not seen it. I'm still shaking my head. 

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These are my mixed media paint supplies - I bought mostly craft paint, which is great for exploration but dries really fast - a challenge with mono-printing. My e-course recommended Golden Soft Body Acrylics - they're very liquid and run with a spray bottle. They're also spendy - I have hundreds of dollars in paint colors saved to a wish list. For now, I'll work with what I have and reward myself with better quality paint once I'm sure that learning stained glass won't give my life meaning. 

Monoprinting, Sheree Burlington, Wing + Tree blog

Textures and masks play a big part in mono-printing. Here are a few I've collected in the last 2 weeks. With the exception of the two Tim Holtz stencils, I found all of these either at home or at the studio. All of a sudden everything in my world looks like a potential texture. 

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This is my first "pull." I rolled out teal and blue, placed a stencil over the wet paint and covered it with a sheet of economy photo copy paper. Craft paints dry quickly - particularly with a ceiling fan spinning overhead, so it came out partially blank. Oh, but what a lovely blankness. Honestly, I feel like I have seen the some kind of light. Each piece as unique as a finger print. This is like fricken magic.

Monoprint by Sheree Burlington - Wing + Tree blog

I turned off the fan and doubled the amount of paint for this print, which kept it wet and gave me stronger color. The bubbles from my plate are visible above the leaf silhouette. I pulled several more, using all of the paint on my palette. They're not all gorgeous, but they are all cool. I'm going to need a storage solution. 

Museware Studio | Sheree Burlington | Wing + Tree blog

This is what printers call a ghost print - the second (or third) pull from a plate. If this is what can be done with no experience, craft paint and copy paper, I cannot wait to see what I can do once I figure this out. I found a number of artists creating gorgeous, restrained, distinctive art using mono-printing. 

This particular artist - Ruth Alice Kosnick was the most inspirational. This video is captivating - I've watched it several times and was fascinated the entire time. There is something beautiful about watching the creative process unfold. I was struck by how effortlessly she moved through each step, as if guided by a force who knew exactly what this paper and paint were meant to be.

After just one day playing with mono-printing, I have a growing pile of papers, each one unique and almost impossible to part with. The next exciting part of my journey will be figuring out how to use this limitless resource of original art. I already have a head full of ideas and they all involve collage - but this time, using my hands as well as my head. 

Finding My Way

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This digital self portrait was designed using one of the canvases I made last week during my Mixed Media Mantra e-course. I scanned one of my favorite backgrounds, added some digital textures, vintage imagery and a modified photograph of myself, taken during a moment of intense introspection. While I've been known to use my eyes or face as a tongue-in-cheek signature, this is my first serious use of my own likeness. There is a certain amount of detachment necessary when working with self - an appreciation for one's own humanity, for the lines and creases that define a life. There is an unselfconscious, world-worn tiredness to this woman's expression that makes me want to know, and tell her story. 

Self portrait of Sheree Burlington - Camino de Santiago

In 2010 I saw the movie "The Way," starring Martin Sheen. The story is about a man whose son dies on the Camino de Santiago, a thousand year old walking trail in the North of Spain. When he goes to retrieve his son's body, he decides to honor him by finishing his 500 mile walk and is transformed by the experience. In ways that I could not understand or describe, I was captivated by the idea of this walk. It called to me like a distant memory and I thought about it for weeks. 

On Monday, 07.13.15, a pin about the Camino turned up in my Pinterest feed. I followed the link, read some of the content and found myself overcome with emotion. Emotion so heavy that when asked about the tears, I was unable to speak. I can only describe it as a kind of longing, almost like homesickness - words that can't touch the intensity of the feeling. It stayed with me all evening, when I woke in the middle of the night and in the morning when I opened my eyes. 

Guided by the milky way, The Way of St. James follows a pre-Christian Roman trade route. For many, The Way is a religious pilgrimage - a search for a spiritual connection. For others, it is a quest for healing, forgiveness, self discovery. My reasons for being drawn to this journey are less easily defined. A woman I've not met said these words to me: "The Camino is a rare and beautiful gift. If it is calling you, it has something special to give to you. Just say Yes, and watch it unfold...it has already begun." 

Camino de Santiago Map

Yesterday, I spent the entire day online, watching videos. Reading blog posts. Studying packing lists. By the end of my work day, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I knew that next summer I would walk the Camino de Santiago. Alone.

A Beautiful Mess

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Last week I signed up for a mixed media collage e-course offered by Kelly Rae Roberts. By mistake. I actually thought I was signing up for this limited time only offer: "For just $99, you get ALL of my e-courses, including my soul stirring painting e-course (usually $247) my popular ebook on how to build a creative biz (usually $140) and my Wear Your Joy e-course (usually $69.) A value of $450 for $99." I missed the deadline and ended up getting the mixed media course - for $247. Some computer glitch included the other two. Since my primary interest was the structure of her creative biz ebook, my first inclination was to cancel. My second was to follow this fork in the road, just to see where it lead. 

Kelly Rae Roberts Painting E-Course

Last month, before I'd even heard of this course, I moved my desk, computer and art supplies up to the unused second floor of my cape. This is the space my son Neal and I occupied when we lived with my parents (for 5+ years!) It's full of memories and I can almost hear him in the next room yelling on X-Box or playing Bruce Hornsby's That's the Way it is over and over. It's a bright, sunny, skylighted, tree-surrounded space and I love it up there. Nine feet of book cases fit perfectly along the back wall. They're packed with bins and boxes and bottles and cans filled with artsy goodness. A 3x5' work table (on wheels!) All of my paint, jewelry, collage, sewing, books and writing tools, finally - in one big happy, neatly organized, completely unused place. 

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I've taken dozens of online courses in the last six months - zine design, branding, logo design, hand lettering, marketing, surface pattern design and more. Since most were either free or included in my $10 monthly Skillshare membership, the fact that I rarely produced any actual work didn't phase me. But when I drop $247 on a single course, it comes with strong personal instructions to actually participate

Determined to make some actual art, I made a list and jumped in the car. A trip to Michael's & Hobby Lobby and nearly $300 later & I was ready to paint. First, let me say that I am a clean freak. I don't like or make messes. My art supplies are clean and organized. Every paint brush I own pretty much looks like it just came from the package. So when I watched Kelly Rae dribble paint on her canvas and then rub it in with her fingers, I thought hmmm - this may not be for me. Rub it in with her fingers, then pick up a brayer. A spray bottle. A bottle of paint. And when she wiped her paint covered hands on the front of her apron, I thought Oh Hell No. 

Since the shortest distance between me and $247 appeared to be covered with paint, I decided to get over myself and get started. The first time I wiped my hand on my apron, I was scandalized. I stared at myself in the closet door mirror, my mouth wide open. A teal streak across clean white cotton. Followed by a red streak. Black! Paint behind my fingernails, on my forehead. My glasses. On the handle of every tool with a handle. Caked and dried on my hands. No one who knows me would believe it - I wish I'd photographed them. When I finished 3 hours later, I'd produced nine really cool abstract canvases.

This is my favorite. Actually, they're all my favorite. Cheap craft paint. Fingers. A plastic fork. A brayer. An old driver's license. Bubble wrap. My favorite course instruction - there are No Rules and No Mistakes. If you don't like something, cover it with paint and try something else. 

The next video is entitled "Getting Started with Collage Layers." I don't know the details, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be messy.

Naming a Business: Tell Your Story

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I am a story teller. I find comfort in the steady cadence of a story well told, the way life and love and loss are woven out of shapes and sounds. My life is full of stories. Yours is too.

Your business name has a story behind it, even if it's named after you. Who you are, who you love, what makes you laugh, why you chose self employment over punching a time clock - yours is a story that your customers want to hear. Give them a reason to choose you over anyone else - show them your heart, your hands at work, your process and mistakes. Tell them your story.

Naming a Business: Tell Your Story - Wing+Tree Creative Business Blog

Here is mine: This is my baby brother Russell. He was five years old in the fall of 1961 when we moved to our new house. As he and our 26 year old mom stood in the back yard exchanging I love yous, Rusty reached for the biggest, tallest love he could see, lifted his hands to the sky and cried "Oh mummy - I love you as much as the trees!" In the 50+ years that have passed since that autumn day, the word Trees as an expression of love has made its way into every card & letter, every moment of tenderness, every goodbye. This tree story has been told and retold so many times that it is an integral part of our family history.

                                                                                   In  2011, I bought 9 metal channel letters at a local consignment store. Four consonants. C-C-R-T. Five vowels. E-E-E-E-I. They didn't seem to have much to say and spent the first year scattered around our studio. When my new desk was installed, I dusted them off and arranged them randomly across the top of the wall cabinets.

Months later, I looked at that odd assemblage and broke into a wide smile. Hidden among the gibberish was the name my little niece Taylor called me - REE. And so REE it was, until the day the letter T finally caught my attention. I laughed out loud, called it serendipity and added another chapter to my story.

This is my baby boy, Neal. He was five years old in the summer of 1998 when we moved to our new house. Surrounded by tall trees that waved and danced in the wind, our woods were alive with wild life and bird song. My favorite was the Chickadee. This little black and white bird has been a part of my memories since I was a tiny girl.

Each time we heard its song my mother would feign surprise, look around and whisper "Listen! That's your bird! Do you hear it?" She'd mimic its three note call - one high note followed by two repeating lower notes - "Where's Sheree? Where's Sheree?" She'd hold me in her arms as I looked around in awe, never seeing that bird but knowing that its call was only for me. It was my bird.

When Neal was born, that little bird sang a new song. Like my mother, I held him in my arms, looked up at the trees and exclaimed "Listen! Do you hear that? That's your bird!" And I'd repeat his name in that same three note call - "Neal Michael, Neal Michael." It was his bird.

At 18, Neal was a 6'-4", 230 pound man. I remember the day he poked his head in the kitchen door and yelled "Mom, Listen! That's my bird!" Outside the window, our bird sang our songs. I stood next to my giant boy/man, each of us smiling, warmed by our childhood memories. And I saw it so clearly - Neal singing that three note song as he passed on his bird.

Neal died in a  motorcycle street racing accident on August 20th, 2012. He was 19. That winter, after our first real snow, I went to check on his grave. The roads leading to his place beneath the pines went from plowed to tire tracks to virgin snow. There was no place or way to turn around so I continued on. An hour later, as I stood beside my hopelessly stuck car, I heard the sweet, familiar song of Neal's bird. His body may be gone, but his spirit is always with me. He is my angel and it soothes me to imagine him tearing up the skies on strong, wide wings. 

Choosing a name for your business is a process. You'll turn away hundreds of possibilities before the right one presents itself. When it does, you'll know. Saying no leads you closer to yes - to the right meaning, the right sound, shape, story. For me, yes began with a reminder from the universe. My new business name and tag line speaks to house and home - perfect for my new line of home decor and art prints. It's easy to pronounce and remember, looks good in print and has a meaningful story behind it. It makes me happy.  

Naming a Business: Brainstorming

Sheree BurlingtonComment

The process of choosing a name for my new art/design business was so complex, I'm wondering if it's even possible to reconstruct it here. If you follow the path described here, you'll at least have a list of possibilities to brainstorm - or present to your family and friends. In the end, the name you choose will have to speak to you, whether or not your best friend or co-workers like it. 

Naming a Business: Brainstorming - Wing+Tree Creative Business Blog

In my last post I referenced a few Skillshare classes I'd taken. The worst class - in terms of polish and presentation - actually gave me the best direction. In Name Your Product in 60 Minutes, Sorin Amzu introduced me to the concept of mind mapping - a form of brainstorming. The object is to write down everything that comes to mind about a particular thing. Since I couldn't completely relate my quest to his presentation, I Googled the process and watched a few videos for clarification. One suggested using myself as an example, which I did in the map below. The only thing that keeps an exercise like this from continuing forever is running out of paper. There's much more to my awesome, complex self than listed here, but it was a great warm up. I'd like to continue it on a larger sheet. With more pictures. 

This exercise generated four additional, two sided sheets. One listed the characteristics of my target audience - my perfect customer (female, ages 25-55, college educated, art appreciator, loves house & home, decorating, nesting, bit of a DIYer, etc.) Another was covered with words to describe the characteristics of my product offering (abstract, colorful, sophisticated, artsy, floral, geometric, pattern, word art). A third focused on me - what I care about (humor, design, language, consciousness, spiritualism, law of attraction, seeking) Still another contained lengthy notes on branding - taken while watching the Skillshare classes - Branding Your Creative Business: Define Your Brand and Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity.

Both instructors suggest beginning with a short brand mission statement - describe your business, what you offer, what you do. Virgin Airline's Richard Branson recommends using the 140 character Twitter template. As an example, my day job statement is "hand painted, personalized pottery gifts for weddings, new baby & family celebrations."

Identifying your customer: Understanding who will buy your offering is so important. Knowing who this person is helps you speak specifically to them. On the list of questions: Name, age, gender, job roll, education, relationship status, children, pets, income, music - you get the idea. Knowing your customer will help you figure out how to market to her - not the gal wearing a hoodie and pajama pants in Market Basket.

There is so much more to branding than the little, incomplete paragraphs I've crafted here. Part of being successful in a creative business is being a sponge. Read everything. Watch everything. Ask questions. Hang out with other creatives, even if it's only online.

{Uncompensated endorsement: Skillshare offers tons of classes on design, business, photography, DIY, writing and more. If you're in or are starting a creative business, I earnestly suggest you look into this great site. It is totally worth $10 a month.}

In the middle of all of this brainstorming, I found Elle & Company,  owned by a most adorable Lauren Hooker. Her logo design portfolio made me realize that I needed a logo and it had to look good in print. And because I fell in love with her lovely little ampersand, my search for Something & Company begun.

After three days of note taking, video watching, muttering under my breath and not sleeping, I knew to avoid odd spellings, the difficult to pronounce, the too much like someone/something else. I'd read credible advice to use my own name, something known/unknown. Something descriptive. Abstract. Historic. Pets. Vacation spots. Latin. Misspellings. People, places, things. WTF. This is the song that never ends.

Another weekend came and went. I'm back in the studio, standing at my desk in front of a blank Photoshop document. Tick.Tick.Tick. Something & Company. Ree (my nickname) & Company. No - too heavy on the right. Every word I can think of that stands for Design & Company. Every word I can think of that stands for Art & Company. EWICTOTSF Humor & Company. I rifle through my notes. Read "stories help people feel connected to the brand." I love a good story. My coffee's gone cold, a great excuse to get away from this exercise. On my way back from the microwave, I glance up at this sign above my old desk.

Hey, can I tell you a story?

Naming a Business: Branding

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I am a project driven person. I approach each new {big} idea with single minded purpose - throwing myself into my work to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep. Some might call this a form of OCD. Whatever. It's what I do and I've been this way for so long, I'm barely aware of how insane I may look to others. Just get out of my way and let me get this thing done. Once I'm done, my interest, energy and adrenaline are depleted. I'm cooked.

After completing the launch of our new Sketchbook Collection last month, I found myself in my usual directionless, post-project funk. My desk and work table are littered with the remains of that project - piles of sample plates, brochure rejects and a growing stack of unanswered, un-dealt-with correspondence. Which includes my 2014 taxes and worker's comp insurance. I know. I publicly promise to deal with them Monday morning before I do one single other thing. Pinky swear.

What's been keeping me up these days is our new line of art prints. When I first got the art print idea, it seemed like such a simple thing. Design some prints. Put them up for sale on our site. Ya. No. That was before my Number One, Nicole questioned my un-thought-out decision to sell them under the Museware Pottery brand name.

Naming a Business: Branding - Wing+Tree Creative Business Blog

She pointed out that because we are known as Museware Pottery, some might be confused by the new offering. Kind of like Coke all of a sudden deciding to sell batteries. Or that they might choose a print over pottery wedding gift - effectively causing us to cannibalize ourselves. While I did not agree with the latter, her observation combined with My Guido's relentless insistence that Art Print Company be a completely separate entity - gave me pause. Thoughtful Sheree is a student. Don't tell me what to do Sheree barrels ahead and does whatever the hell she feels like doing. Because she knows everything. Just for the record, I don't. I just act like I do, which explains why self employment suits me better than getting fired from yet another job.

Student Sheree recognized that she needed to understand branding before she made any more decisions. One of my first Google searches led me to Iowa State University's Building Your Brand page. I have to tell you, I fricken love the internet. Everything in the whole wide world, the good, the bad, the sacred and profane - all of it - right at my fingertips. And me, in my bathrobe. Anyway, the post helped me to define, from a business perspective, what a brand represents to the consumer mind, and why I should care.

Recognizing the importance of branding led me back to my go-to place for learning creative and business stuff, Skillshare. In the last months, I've taken dozens of classes through Skillshare and almost without exception, have come away learning really important stuff for refining and developing my business. My last two classes - Branding Your Creative Business and Branding the Logo - Crafting a Brand Identity made me realize that Art Print Company needed its own identity. Possibly even its own website. Which meant I wasn't just selling art prints. I was starting a whole new business.

Once I got over the enormity of this revelation, I realized that Art Print Company needed a name. Naming a business may be one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur faces. Names are permanent. And people respond to them as if they matter, which means they do. My first inclination was to name it after myself. I've been in this business for 10 years and a quick Google search reveals pages of stuff associated with my moniker - none of which I'm ashamed of. Thank God the internet did not exist in the 70s. Since I have at least some name recognition, it seemed like a good - if uninspired idea. Armed with direction and resolve, I grabbed my reserved shereeburlington.com domain name and applied it to my new, unbuilt Squarespace site and called it done.

Then, like a bop on the head from The Universe, I found the blog post Naming A Business After Yourself: When Is It A Good Idea? by the practically famous Emily McDowell. She did exactly that. She also made a credible case for not doing the same. Since her entire fan base finds her by her name (or by Googling "the Emily that makes cards") she had to find a way to transform her one-woman-show self into the growing, staff supported, product producing powerhouse she and her brand has become.

Once I read Emily's argument, my whole running with scissors momentum ground to a slow, disappointing WTF halt. Once I got over myself, I enrolled in another Skillshare class called Naming Your Product in 60 Minutes. In spite of being poorly organized (videos uploaded in reverse order) and difficult to follow (sorry, Sorin) it did contain enough useful information to get me all excited about finding a real, lasting name for my new ... stuff.

Sorin introduced me to the concept of mind dumping - brainstorming ideas by drawing them out rather than linear list making. While my efforts were not nearly as clever as this one, they were a useful way to organize a ton of random information. I spent the entire week brainstorming - writing out pages and pages of ideas in a form known on the interwebs as MindMapping. In some ways, it was the same kind of fun as giving birth - an analogy I regularly apply to the creative process. In other ways, it was a creative project just begging to be developed. What I eventually came up with makes me so happy, I can't wait to share it.