Monday, July 1, 2013

Featured Artist: Wide Eye Dyes

Hi Steve! Thanks for joining us this week! Tell us about yourself. 
My name is Steve and I own Wide Eye Dyes. The shop sells tie dye, Japanese shibori dyes and hybrid combinations of the two. One of the unique things about the shop is the use of tie dye and shibori on black. These multistep techniques yield some striking and unconventional results. Many people have a preconceived notion of tie dye shirts in their mind, but the dye arts have come a very long way since the 60’s and 70’s. Done well, custom dye work is wearable art where each piece is as unique as work you would find in any sort of art gallery.

I live in Western Michigan with my wife Karen, our increasingly ancient dog Shaggy and our ball python, Monty. After the Meet and Greet a few weeks ago, people told me “Wow, you are not what I expected for the tie-dye guy.” Never judge the book by the cover. I am a 55 year old collage chemistry professor with grey hair and a 3 inch Fu Manchu mustache. I have been a student and teacher of the Chinese martial arts for most of my adult life and have lived in and traveled throughout China. I love music and am a rabid Frisbee player when I get the chance. In addition, I happen to enjoy the art of the dye. See what you want, but in truth, I have always been that guy you were thinking of.

How did you get started in your handmade business?
This makes me smile. I had done a bit of tie-dyeing years ago (like many years!) and lately my son had been doing some nice work. When the family got together over Thanksgiving last year, we did what all traditional families do at Thanksgiving, we tie-dyed. When they were all done, my shirt was the worst. I am not sure that the dog did a shirt but if so, it would have still been better than the one I did. Knowing that I used to be good at this, I swallowed my pride and got to work. It was a cold winter and I started producing a large number of shirts each evening as I reworked my technique and absorbed new methods. As the snow finally melted and receded it seemed to have left behind a huge pile of tie-dye shirts; it was time to start selling. While the financial end is obvious (and appreciated), for me selling is also about the affirmation of the work. If someone likes one of my shirts enough to buy it, it makes me smile. I like to smile. The other day, I saw a man ride by on a bicycle wearing one of my shirts he purchased at a local art market in my town. Seeing that shirt go by just made my day.

What are your hopes and aspirations for your store and where do you see yourself going from here?
I have never seen myself as an artist or a business owner, yet lately I find myself in both roles. As an artist, I do the work that I feel inspired to do. Inspiration comes from music, the weather, politics or just life. I know it sounds stupid to say that a shirt or garment design can be inspired but its true. The descriptions for many of my items talk about the inspiration for that piece (Looks like Rain, Grateful Deer 2, Sunrise, Night Hunter, etc.).

As a businessperson, I feel pressure to produce what will sell. My first goal is to never lose the freedom to produce what I feel inside. This is the work that is the greatest pleasure to produce. My second goal is to develop the market that embraces that vision. That will take some time. The people here at The CraftStar have been wonderful and supportive and are helping me work on my business/promotion skill set.

This summer I want to branch out to combine batik with shibori and tie-dye methods to create new hybrid techniques and see what happens. Turn up the music and create. Truth told, the laundry room is actually kind of a strange place to rock out, but hey, but I have a good time.

In the long term, I would like to reach a place in 10 years (long after CraftStar has become the only on-line market anyone uses) where I can supplement my retirement with the proceeds from an active shop. Ten years is a long time, we’ll see what happens.

Have you ever experienced any major accomplishments or recognition?
Yes, one. I was selling at a local art market and a woman in her middle sixties approached my booth. She wore a broad rim straw hat, glasses with wide frames and her hair pulled back tight in a ponytail. We started talking about my shirts and she said that once long ago she used to wear tie-dye but that these shirts were different. She wound up buying a shirt from me and wondered back into the crowd. About 15 minutes later, this woman (now wearing the shirt) came skipping up to the table (yes, skipping). The hat and glasses were gone, and her hair was down and loose across the shoulders. She came up to me with a huge smile and said “If you need a testimonial, I feel 30 years younger.” She disappeared back into the crowd. I will never receive a higher honor than that woman’s smile.

What are three tools in your work space that you could not live without?
My ipod is the number one tool that I cannot live without. I am a huge music fan (60’s, 70’s, 90’s and to the present and yes I realize I skipped the 80’s). I use it for inspiration as well as to just keep the workspace upbeat.

My number two tool is a good sense of humor.  Stuff happens and when you are making something, stuff usually happens at the wrong time.  Being able to swear once and then laugh it off can open up the door to a new direction for what you are working on.  Learning is about mistakes, and being able to laugh at yourself, helps.
The 3rd tool would be the patience of my wife.  I work in our laundry room and sometimes I bring that room to the edge of apocalypse.  She gives me “the look” and I know it’s time to start cleaning up a bit.  She’s the greatest.

Have you ever experienced a craft disaster? What happened? 

Certainly, they happen all the time.  The worst was a piece of shibori dyeing that I was working on.  In this style of dyeing, the fabric is sewn together with loose stitches and then compressed by pulling the threads tight so create the intricate folding pattern.  After sewing by hand for about 1.5 hours, I completed the work.  I applied the dye and as I was removing the threads (which are very tight) I accidently cut a small hole in the fabric.  When I unfolded the piece, it was one of the most intricate designs I have ever produced, and there in the center was the hole, worthless.  Oh well, moving on..

How much do you social network? Can you link us to your personal social media pages so we can follow you?

I try to balance my needs for expanding the social networking web with the patience of my friends.  I limit my facebook page posts to one or two a week so my closest friends don’t think I am marketing to them.  I am on Pinterest as well but this too is a slowly developing project.  This is an area that I am trying to develop and I appreciate all the tutorials and hangouts that cover some of these topics.   My facebook and Pinterest addresses are on my CraftStar site.  When it comes to marketing, I struggle.  I cannot afford to invest too much in facebook or other on-line ads and I have not yet done local flyers, etc.  I have been doing a local art fair and that is hopefully getting the name out there a little more.  I realize that this is very important, but I suck at it.

What item in your shop is your favorite item or your top seller?
My favorite item in my shop is called Inner Eye Design. This is a reverse Shibori and tie dye hybrid which gave an intricate red, orange and yellow dragon face set off on a black t-shirt.

As for biggest selling items, I tend not to keep remaking the same shirts. Once they are sold, I make something else. So anything that sold, must be tied with all the others for biggest seller.

What are your 2 favorite items from other shops on The CraftStar, with links?

This bowl from DLC Glass. I am fascinated by how similar dye and glass flow. Glass work such as this piece captures the flow of the colors as a frozen moment in time. Great colors, and outstanding blending of the glass. 

This sign from Altered Hippie Art. This is a fun shop and I like many of the images here. This image in particular caught my eye. It takes an ordinary sign and pulls out the extraordinary. The appreciate the photographer’s eye.

Thanks for taking the time to join us today Steve. We appreciate you taking time out of our busy schedule so that we could interview you. Happy sales! 

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