One of the great things about being a designer is that I get to work with all kinds of new and different products. Back when I was just starting out in my business, I used to attend an annual trade show held in the Chicago area that was hosted by the Craft and Hobby Association. The show was held at the huge Rosemont Convention Center and was a week long convention filled with classes, lectures and of course, the trade show. There were hundreds of vendors and while most of them didn’t sell retail items, it was a chance to see and learn about all the new products that they offered. There were make and take it demonstrations and we had a chance to meet with industry professionals and ask any questions we wanted about all the new products and try them first hand. Usually, on the last day of the show, many of the companies wanted to get rid of many of the samples that they had brought for demonstration and simply gave them away. I remember walking through the convention center, barely being able to carry the various products that were given to me to try.
This was where I first met up with all the wonderful people at All American Crafts, the publishing company who publishes Creative Woodworks and Crafts magazine – where I have been a contributing editor for 15 years now. All American publishes a variety of craft and hobby magazines ranging from woodworking to knitting to painting and everything in between. I remember coming home from that show back in 1996 with a handful of business cards from all the editors and personnel from the magazine and a world of opportunity ahead of me. It was an incredible time.
Now days it seems that the trade shows are quite a bit smaller. We have the internet and many people are able to shop online and view new products directly on the manufacturer’s website. There seems to be little need for even the larger companies to invest the cost in attending a large show such as that, as everything that they offer can be seen online. While it is more convenient for both the product companies and also the buyers, it is still not the same as seeing these products first hand. But it is a sign of the times, I suppose.
During one of these trade shows, I also had the opportunity to meet up with some wonderful people from DecoArt. At the time, my main focus was painting, but in learning about this company and seeing the vast array of products that DecoArt produces not only for decorative painting, but for finishing and crafting it has been an association that I have enjoyed very much and I am very happy to be involved in their Helping Artist program.
As a designer, seeing new products is a great springboard for being creative and coming up with new ideas. In working with both the painting and woodworking industries, I find a huge array of stains, paints and mediums that can be used by both woodworkers and painters in order to expand their own scope of projects. I feel that by trying and reviewing these products myself, I am somewhat of a liaison between the manufacturers and the consumers. And that is a great deal of fun.
When I use a product and introduce it to my customers – either through my articles that are published or directly through my own pattern sales – I try to keep a few things in mind. I try to find things that are also easy for my customers to obtain, and also are not too costly. There is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing a project that I want to do and not being able to obtain the supplies to make it. I think that living here in rural Canada has really helped to make me aware of how important having things available via mail order is. When I lived in Chicago, there were literally hundreds of stores nearby and I could easily go from store to store to search out a particular product that I would need. But now with Helifax almost three hours drive away, I find that it isn’t so easy, and I try to limit my recommendations to things that can be obtained online.
Also, the fact that I no longer reside in the United States brings to light another thing to consider – not everything is available to be shipped internationally. While some USA manufacturers do ship to Canada and abroad, there are usually hefty taxes and duties placed on the products which makes them cost prohibitive. After all, if you need a bottle of paint that retails for $1.25, by the time you have it shipped here to Canada, it could cost you much more. There are usually minimum orders when shipping out of country and customers need to shop wisely so that the cost of making a certain project is feasible. All these things need to be considered.
Of course, I have found several companies that I consider my ‘favorites.’ DecoArt is one of them. Lee Valley Tools is another. There are other craft suppliers that I am stumbling upon too that are up to the task of providing the supplies that I use to create my projects. While I have a list of several of them that I recommend, I am always in search of new sources for supplies and tools so that I can recommend them to my customers with confidence. For that reason, I try to read a lot of the feedback given in the forums regarding the companies that others may have used and I pay close attention to their feedback and experiences. This way I can recommend them with confidence that I am not sending someone up a dead end road, or to an unreliable source.
With that said, I am now in what I call ‘Design Mode.’ I have probably about five projects in the works in my head, and there are some really cool new products that I am trying out and thinking of using in my next designs.
Some of you may remember the kitty cat chalkboard that I recently designed.
This was the first time that I used a product called “Chalkboard Paint” in which you could paint any surface and make it into a chalk board. This was something that I thought was really cool, and I had some other nice ideas for using it. The only thing was that I didn’t want to have to make everything black. I had seen that other colors of this type of paint were available, but they were limited to green, blue and pink. I called my liaison from DecoArt and she informed me that they were going to be discontinuing both the pink and the blue chalkboard paint, but they were coming up with a new product – a clear varnish that would turn any surface into a chalkboard. They call it Chalkboard Coating and I can’t wait to give it a try.
I was thrilled with hearing about this, as it opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. I put in a request to test some of it and she sent me some, which I received the other day. It states that it works on any painted walls or surfaces and even wood and stucco and I am taking the time this weekend to test it on a variety of surfaces and finishes. I will certainly give a review on it for you as I learn, as I think that there could be a lot of great applications for this in many projects. It will be fun to see how it does.
I have a couple of other new products that I will be using too, but I will introduce them one at a time as I use them and you will be able to see how they perform and I will be better able to tell you about them after working with them. As always, I will try to give my honest assessment and opinion of how they work and also give some suggestions as to how you will be able to use them in your own projects. It will be a fun learning experience for all of us, I think.
I like ‘Designing Mode.’ And I love working with new products. It makes my work both interesting and fun and it seems that each new product opens a floodgate of ideas that keep me happy and creative. And if I can pass that on to you, all the better.
I hope you all have a great day today. I know I will have fun both drawing and playing around with this stuff and seeing how it does. I promise to keep you informed.
-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"