A Closer Look at IBPA Member Barbara J. Genovese, Writer and Master Crayon Maker
By Barbara J. Genovese —
It’s been an arduous journey – to retrace the steps of the girl I was in my mother’s house, who, when she created art, was forced to walk it out to the trash. It’s been an odyssey of mythic proportions – to find the missing pieces that lit those original artistic fires.
The 1st part [writer] started when my mother found my diary when I was a girl. The shame that burned my cheeks when she read out loud what I had written cautioned me to save “creative writing” for later. What I wrote in dreams she couldn’t touch, but I was determined to reclaim my writer’s voice once I left her house.
The 2nd part [master crayon maker] started this way:
2008. I planned to go to [yet] another networking meeting. As I headed out, that small not so still voice said “Bring your crayons.”
“Why?” I answered to the air.
“Just bring them.”
During the meeting, instead of my “elevator speech,” and with my heart in my throat, I launched into my crayons – which I had started crafting about 20 years before, and giving them away. A voice in the group piped up: “So why aren’t you charging?”
Her question stopped me in my tracks. Then challenged me.
Designing a Card, 2009
While I continued to look for work, I decided that the next logical step would be to design a business card. I studied my design books, and re-acquainted myself with the basic principles of good design. But I still had a challenge: how do I create a business card that showed what my crayon did? I realized that I had to step outside of the box, outside of my comfort zone, and design something that was not like all the other business cards I’d seen or been handed AND not listen to what people were telling me about what my card should look like. Now I know that you can create a card in minutes with templates. But something deeper was calling. Something connected to something else, that led down a maze, that lived in a dark forest outside the city limits. So I had to play it by ear, take my time, remember to have fun, and let the solution present itself.
During this time, I was reminded of when I was a kid, and there were TV programs with songs. You followed the rhythm by “following the bouncing ball.” And – it was fun to sing along. That image became my ticket out of the maze I had just entered: the attempt to create a small business from my deeply inculcated “give away” mentality. So when I committed to “following the bouncing ball” it meant that I explored every lead, intuition, everything that woke me in the night – and just kept placing one foot in front of the other. After all, what did I know about business? And, as I’m very thorough by nature, I was afraid I’d miss out on something if I didn’t. I had also associated that bouncing ball with fun. So somewhere along the line of my steep learning curve, I made the decision to have fun with it. After all, what were the chances I’d succeed and actually create a small business? Little did I know that ‘fun’ would soon morph into ‘joy.’
The design process took six months, and was worth every minute. When I decided to do craft fairs, and had a handful of cards next to, or behind each other, each card was different because I drew with the crayon on all 1,000 cards. So I didn’t have to explain to people the uniqueness of the crayon – they visually could see it. I felt as if I had won a Design Lottery!
I’ve learned from this that I don’t always know where I’m going, but it’s important for me to trust my wider wisdom, as I call it – that intangible something that knows, if I’m willing to follow it, more than I do.
Keeping Mom Out of the Room
Something curious started to happen when I made crayons. I was aware of an extremely critical voice [my mother’s] commenting on the colors I chose and how I mixed them. I heard myself say: “This is mine; you need to leave the room.”
Over time, I was left in peace, and my thoughts became suffused with quiet joy, rather than the fear that seemed to be chasing me.
Craft Fairs, 2009-2011
While studying my design books, I committed to two years of craft fairs. Why two and not one? I couldn’t tell you. You’d have to ask the bouncing ball.
These were my crayon’s “teething” years. I perfected display, packaging, sales pitch, and price point, as well as collecting art, and what people said.
I created a phrase – “Do you want to take a crayon for a test drive?” It always raised an eyebrow or elicited a giggle.
I witnessed the vibrancy of the creative spirit in [mostly] kids, before they even laid a hand on the crayon – “I know what that does!” And they did. And they took the crayon in their hands and flew off the page with spontaneity. They loved the unpredictability of the colors.
I witnessed the deflated spirit of adults who said “I have no talent.” “I can’t draw.” “They’re only crayons.” They reflected back to me what I felt when I was a girl, growing up in my mother’s house.
That bouncing ball led me to SCORE, so I contacted my local office and hooked up with an excellent mentor. SCORE is a government agency with volunteers who’ve had businesses, and are available to mentor or counsel anyone with a small business, or thinking of starting one. My mentor knew, without my naming it, that I had a need to understand the different facets of running a business in my own way, and in my own time. He had clients who were all about profit without considering the components of their business. He liked that I thought about things, and pushed myself to learn. I liked that he dreamed wide for me. And sometimes months would go by before I was ready for my next lesson in his University without Walls.
The Kolorwacks Trademark, 2011
During the “teething” years, I named my crayon, and trademarked it. The naming clue came in a dream: “Look in foreign dictionaries.” Polish was the language that nailed the sound: kolorowac = use crayons.
On my invoices and notes, I’d write: Thank you for being kolorwack’d!
The Letter Writing Campaign, 2012
I sent letters to Vancouver and Seattle stores, and garnered one reply, with a hiccough. The owner wouldn’t pay the suggested retail of $6, only $5. In that moment, time stopped. A small voice interpreted: “She’s not going to be a long term customer, but you’re going to learn a lot from her.”
And it happened just that way.
I took a website design class. I know we live in a fast-paced world. Our technology is making us speed junkies. One of my favorite phrases about these people is that they’re in a hurry to die. This class was no exception. The instructor told us to go home and design our websites in half an hour. He showed us how during the class.
The basic package for a website was five pages. I still had not secured steady work, so I made do with basic. It was an exercise in simplicity and elegance. It took me 40 hours to design.
The Stores 2012-2013
There were a handful of stores that came and went. I followed my own rules on this, and my mentor supported me. If a store was consistently behind in paying its bills, I discontinued selling to them. This refusal on my part was easier than I thought. I realized that I didn’t want consternation connected with something whose creation gave me contentment; I didn’t want the feeling of struggling for the money due me in the creative sandbox touching what was fun, and was now beginning to be infused with a sense of joy.
I found my 1st long term store by following that bouncing ball: a friend’s FB posting for a store whose website was imaginative and whimsical. I took a chance, telephoned, and told them I was a Master Crayon Maker – – and asked if I could send a sample. They fell in love. I could hear it in their voice: “Your crayons bring joy to people, Barbara. We see it in their faces. It lights their curiosity.”
Funny thing about joy, isn’t it? Infuse it into what you do, and it reflects itself back to you.
The 2nd long term store found me at the 1st store! Same sound of joy. It was easy to welcome them into my sandbox. 3rd store? I walked into a Portland, OR store which had always appealed to me with its design layout – simple and elegant. I left a sample; when I called back, the co-owner said YES.
I listed the stores on my website. This was the business model I had envisioned [versus logging on each day and filling orders myself] based on a question from my mentor: “How do you want to spend your time?”
My answer: “Writing, and making crayons – things that bring joy into my life.”
Grace, and That Bouncing Ball, 2014
And the knowledge that sometimes the only available means of transportation is a leap of faith. That, and a quote from Goethe: “Be bold, and powerful forces will come to your aid.” Which is in good company with another quote on my wall from Walt Disney: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
It took me two years to show a profit. But this wasn’t about monetary profit. It was more intangible than that – and something that money couldn’t buy – the soul of an artist. It was also about having compassion for myself. Without rendering that for yourself, you’re lost.
Crafting crayons is a joyful Zen meditation that brings revelations and epiphanies and a sense of creating a world. It brings Beauty to my spirit. The nature of wax teaches me about my own nature. And it has taught me that no matter what work I do, it must involve joy. Otherwise, what am I doing here?
About the author:
When I apprenticed at The Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, back in the days when it was on Ohio Avenue, I remembered Artistic Director, Ron Sossi saying: I’d like to think that one day, if I wanted, I could wake up and be something else, like a shoemaker.
Words to that effect. But words that stayed with me, and buoyed me through some tyrannical typhoons. Reclaiming my voice as an artist has taken time. The next childhood soul retrieval is the indie publication of my children’s chapter book on conservation, written in anapestic tetrameter titled George Leaves the Lights ON. Now, if I could only find an illustrator to match my whimsy and imagination…
You can find out more about me and Kolorwacks at: www.kolorwacks.com.