|Most of us have heard of Ellen Million. Some of us even work with her. How many of us heard her story? I'm an excellent example of someone who didn't see what's right under her nose, until I get an unintended reminder. Gak.
The biggest problem with telling stories of ones life has always been, for me at least, where to start.
Do I start with the fact that I was encouraged to draw and create? It seems too far in the past, but it lays the foundation for everything that I am. Do I start with collecting pen pals and creating artwork for them? Or my first, faltering, attempts at story illustration and drawing story borders for the long- (and sadly-) defunct 'Moonlight Masquerade,' and the print issues of 'Queen's Own'? Do I start with my long-nurtured love of fantasy art and fan clubs? Do I start with the car accident that turned my life upside down and spurred me to live my life without waiting for tomorrow to make things easier?
The theme of this issue is Fairy Tales, so I will start with "Once upon a time, long ago and far away..."
I was seventeen, and as is the case with most seventeen year-olds, of uncertain future, bad skin and poor self-esteem. Having fractured my back in a car accident a few weeks before my senior year in High School, I was also of uncertain balance and limited mobility. Though not strictly bed-ridden, I was terribly resentful of the fact that I was not able to do much of what I was used to doing, and I was in a great deal of pain all of the time. I resorted further and further to art as an escape, and to writing letters. I combined the two, and Xeroxed (badly, I might add) some of my artwork onto plain white paper to use as stationery. The results were immediate; my pen pals loved the stuff. "You should sell some," a few of them suggested to me.
I had nothing better to do.
My first flyer was one side of one piece of paper, with 5 designs, charging $6 for a package of small stationery with envelopes. Shipping was $.60 additional. I sent it to my limited pen pal list, handed it around to some friends at school, and expected... well, not much. To my absolute amazement, I sold $80 worth of stationery at school that very first day.
I started with almost nothing. I paid to have my designs Xeroxed (strictly black ink) onto some nice gray paper at a professional copy shop and cut it to size. I tied them up with ribbon left over from some abandoned craft project, wrapped them in saran wrap, and used way too much tape. I made the flyers with tape and scissors and a copy machine, only a few dozen of them, and I mailed them with letters that would have cost a stamp anyway.
Just a short-term sort of thing, I figured. A fun, hands-on project that actually paid for itself. Then I started getting orders from my pen pals. And not just my pen pals, but dorm-mates of my pen pals, and friends of friends of pen pals who happened to pass the stuff on.
I was floored.
I was captured.
This was what I really wanted to do, this creating of something useful and beautiful that people wanted enough to pay for.
I did a lot of things wrong. On that first flyer and the second one too, I spelled stationery wrong. (It's spelled with an 'e,' stationary means standing still!) When I first got an email list going, the first newsletter I mailed off was complete with a virus. My first webpage was simply hideous. I've screwed up more orders than I can count, though I always fix them, and I've struggled endlessly with the logistics of databases and money exchanges and legalities. Don't even ask about trying to get catalogs and contracts out to deadlines.
I did a lot of things right, too. I chose to add other artists, over the well-meant advice of friends who insisted that I was only opening myself up for disaster. I wanted too badly to share that amazing feeling of accomplishment from seeing your own artwork in print, and being used and loved by other people. I offered more sizes, and colors. I added new products, and tried new ideas. I rented booths at local fairs.
There was a period when I let the business lapse. Oh, I filled orders that came in, but I didn't seek out new artists, or work on new products, or advertise, or fix quality problems that still bugged me like an itch I couldn't reach. I was getting a degree in mechanical engineering, too practical to believe that a few $20 orders every month was ever going to actually support me, too aware that there were artists out there who could kick my butt sideways. There aren't that many fantasy-art lovers in the world, I decided. It would always be a hobby. I would be a good girl, exercise common sense, get a degree in something I could get a job in; all that stuff parents always tell you. And I can't even say I regret it. Stability is not a bad thing at all. But I was brought up short.
I discovered Elfwood.
I didn't have the webpage at this point. I knew I would need one if I was going to continue to expand, if I was really serious about this business. But I just wasn't sure I was serious about it. I wasn't sure it was worth being serious about. I wasn't ready to abandon it, but I wasn't convinced it would ever support me.
Elfwood changed that. I found it in 1997, four years after I started my business. I was enthralled, completely amazed, and ... at home. Here were artists, some of amazing quality, waiting for the world to find them, and fantasy fans in the hundreds and thousands. The creativity and love of the genre, and talent and dedication was inspiring. Having a gallery in Elfwood was a magical thing, and the support and encouragement was heart-warming.
I was re-energized. My business had new meaning, and new momentum. I was geared up and ready to go again. It hasn't been all forward progress since then: I didn't get a webpage for a year and a half, putting it off for a student exchange program, and I wasn't willing to abandon my degree. I didn't have the capital to support myself strictly on business, so I've got a day job, and this summer, I'll be building a house instead of adding the new products and recruiting the new artists that I want. But I have the plans, and the dreams, and the inspiration. I have the guts and the drive.
I also have the gratitude.
Thank you, Thomas, and Mirar, and Eliza, and Gette, and Hedda and all of the other unsung heroes of Elfwood. Thank you artists, those who inspire me to improve my work further, impress me with your skill and creativity and who actively help me improve by pointing out my weak points and making suggestions. Thank you to everyone who has ever commented on anyone's work. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of Elfwood projects, or dropped a note at the LiveJournal page, or read Woodworks. This is an unrivalled, incredible, energetic community, and I am proud to be a small part of it. Thank you, Elfwood.
||Ellen Million likes to laugh and drink hot chocolate and waste time. She finds splinters irritating and insects fascinating, and would someday like to have an indoor toilet. She suffers Gette-syndrome and an inability to say no, which she is slowly curing with shock therapy.