Beginning to End

A couple of years ago I got an email from a regional business award site. They had identified Clawhammer Press as part of the manufacturing sector, and would I be interested in being considered for an award? Simply fill out the quick questionnaire. At a glance the questions were mostly structural: What’s your website, how many employees, how long in business, etc. There was just one question that asked a pointed question about current business health: what percentage has your business grown over the past five years? Is that really the only info they need to make an award?

Just because it is easy to quantify does not make growth an accurate metric for the well-being of a business. So many of us have moved to Fernie for lifestyle reasons, shouldn’t that be part of the equation? How come happiness and community engagement are not counted in the metrics? 

If you want to be an artist you have to be a businessperson, too. When I’m reasonably efficient at my communication, invoicing, planning, and bookkeeping, I might get three or four hours of actual art practice in a given day. Over the past 16 years my business has gone from one employee (me) to seven and back to one. I’ve wandered through fields of web design, print design, project management, branding, illustration, and finally settled here in the analog print world with the more recent parallel addition of oil painting. In the past two years I have downsized so much that many people don’t even know that Clawhammer Press is still a going concern (it is), and yet those same years have also been the most successful years of my career. 

In art, as in business, we can fall into the trap of growth. Sell more paintings, make more prints, get more commissions, find more galleries. We run around trying to do more rather than do better. In business, as in art, we need plateaus and crises to push us to new ways of thinking. 

This past year has been a challenge for me to tear down, clear out, rethink, and reset. Clawhammer Press is changing in ways I don’t fully understand. What I’m learning right now is that being in a state of flux is actually a very abundant place to be. The end of a narrative is rich and fertile soil for a garden of new ideas that grow into brand new narratives. I’ve been resisting the temptation to rush into something new and lose that agility until I know more about what this change means for me and my art. In the meantime I’m experimenting artistically, and structurally, with new ways of making sure both those things are healthy. 

Through these years of winding the cords of business and art together, I’ve learned to recognise these cycles as both endings and beginnings. A fresh canvas means that a painting was just completed. A new client means a project is finished and I’ve got some room on my dance card. A rejected submission means I have time to pursue an idea that otherwise would have sat dormant—time to grow better, not just bigger.

New York based artist Sara Genn says,Alone, in our room, without certainty, we must rely on our compulsion to tell the story.” For me it’s there, sitting at the easel staring at a white sheet, that all the important growth happens. There’s no question in my mind that I’m going to continue to make art. The ebb and flow of scale is simply my chance to evaluate what kind of art I’m going to make—what story am I going to tell? 

Unchecked growth, in the business awards sense of the word, is simply not sustainable locally or globally. We need to get better at understanding the value of what makes our lives and work truly worthwhile and deliberately move in that direction regardless of business metrics. Finding the right size for your business means that you and your employees will be happier and more productive. Isn’t that the true success we’re looking for?

For the record, my business growth percentage over the last five years is huge. I’m more fulfilled, more deliberate about connecting with people, and more excited about making art than ever. I’ve grown in unimaginable ways that I’ll never be able to explain. When I filled out the questionnaire I gleefully entered ‘minus 25%’ and clicked submit. I may never win a business award, but I think being off the radar is a good indication I’m on the right track.