Celebrate progress. Some friends have launched a new phase of their business. I’m launching into a new phase for mine, too. Slow, steady effort creates progress. Sometimes it is hard to see it from inside, but it happens. It should be celebrated.
Two stories are intertwined: my smaller story, my friends’ bigger story. Both take place on Whidbey. Both started in Langley. Both deal with art and unexpected directions. Neither is over. Both are just beginning a new phase.
I moved to Langley, Whidbey, a town that is willing to be part of Washington but sometimes has issues with ‘Merika. The liberals can be excused for thinking everyone’s a liberal, because there are enough of them. The conservatives can be excused for thinking everyone’s conservative, because there are enough of them. The same thing can be said for many communities of people on the island because most people move here to live specific lifestyles. I think the most impressive thing they all have in common is that they are leading intentional lives. Except for the folks who were born here, most people made a conscious decision to live here because they found a community of like-minded souls. It certainly isn’t on the way to anything, except a terrible commute.
I moved to Whidbey because I’d visited it for decades and liked the fact that it was a bit less conventional than Seattle. I liked Seattle because it was a bit less conventional than the rest of the US. I like the West Coast because it is young enough that convention has uncertain roots and is willing to grow in new directions. I miss Pittsburgh, too, because I was born and raised there, but going to college got me a degree in Aerospace Engineering and gave me a new set of perspectives to explore. Now, Whidbey feels like, actually is, home.
About the time I moved to the island I was finishing writing my fourth book, Twelve Months at Merritt Lake , the third in the series of nature essays about Washington’s Cascades. (The other two are Twelve Months at Barclay Lake and Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla.) Progress on the books led to compliments on the photos which led to requests that I sell the photos as well as the books. Okay, I can take a hint.
I was a recently semi-retired engineer. I didn’t know anything about the art world, so I visited the local printer in Langley, a small shop run by Joe and Nancy (his mom). I was so naive that I didn’t know the questions to ask, didn’t understand the technical answers, and went home to take my best guess at printing, mounting, and selling the photos. That worked well enough that I sold a few, maybe covered my costs, and learned a lot. By the end of that experience I convinced myself to get a digital SLR instead of a digital point-and-shoot, and embark upon a much more serious photographic endeavour, a five year photo essay of my new home, Whidbey.
While I was progressing, they were progressing. Fine Balance Imaging moved from Langley to a better space a few miles away in the Bayview Cash Store. They shifted their focus to fine art. I had a better understanding of what to ask and what to expect. Over the next five years they coached me from home prints on paper to professional prints on exotic materials like bamboo (because it is renewable), and satin (because it is translucent.) Feel sorry for them because they also had to teach me about file formats (RAW rather than JPG), resolution limits (especially for my low end camera), and how simple things like dust spots became too noticeable and too expensive to fix when working to the levels of fine art. But hey, I was using my camera on beaches with lots of salt spray. Water spots happen, okay? Nature photography has so many natural nuisances. (They were also nice enough to provide an online gallery for the photos.)
In those years, they grew because they found their niche and served it well. Printing fine art isn’t just hitting Print from a file on someone’s camera. There are color corrections for inks and materials. There are various hanging and display options. And there is being the voice of reason when an artist (me) wants to print larger than they should. With their coaching, I found my preferred medium, printing minimally corrected nature photos on satin that can be hung in windows where the light enlivens the colors. By the end of the five years, they’d moved into a bigger space, brought in better equipment, expanded their clients’ options, and performed one of the exemplary feats of American business, staying in business through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Now, they’re expanding. Yes, they print on paper; and yes, they print on satin and silk. They’ve had ways to print on wood and metal, but the process was cumbersome – until now. Now they can print on metal, and slate, and wood, and fabric. They can print on t-shirts, but in a way that far exceeds simple silk screens. They can print photos, or any graphics, all around a shirt, or a scarf, or a bandana covering seams leaving no white space except as designed. They just printed a softball team’s outfits with an innovative, total coverage graphic in hours instead of days or weeks. Now, I can see my next show (as soon as I finish another series) including wearables instead of just wall art. A photo of water cascading to the sea seems appropriate for a scarf draped across shoulders.
Fine Balance Imaging has progressed to the point that they needed a more national presence, so they are making their abilities available to as broad an audience as possible by launching YourPrintStudio.com. They’ve always been online and not limited to Whidbey, but this is a major step as they recognize that they can serve many more people, many more artists.
It can be tough making such a move. It takes a bit of vulnerability, but that’s necessary for anything that grows. Grow.
I’m happy because they’ve also asked me to help. They know about my consulting business, and how I am enthusiastic about people with passions and projects. At least until they get past getting familiar with the new strategy, I’ll be helping them with their message. (Though I’m doing this post for free because it is fun.) Progress like theirs is invigorating (from the outside) while tiring (from the inside).
As they’re making progress, I’m making progress, too. Consulting and writing keep me busy, but I continue my photography. There have been a few joint ventures that were sadly postponed or cancelled, but something new is happening. In September, I’ll begin teaching a weekend workshop in Nature Photography at the local community college (Skagit Valley College). I taught the class before, in a more informal setting, but my progress has proved to me an others two things: 1) I understand nature photography well enough to teach it, and 2) I have a teaching style that emphasizes demystifying processes.
The unanswerable question I have for Joe, Nancy, myself, and everyone else I know who is making progress is; “What will this lead to next?” How about a celebration?
And, because this just happened as I was about to post…