Don’t Stop the Presses

Illustration by Nate Otto

In 1989, Deborah Maris Lader had recently moved to Chicago and was looking for a studio where she could make prints and meet other artists. She couldn’t find a place like that, so she opened her own: the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. Deborah also took the unconventional step of setting up the print shop and gallery as a business rather than a non-profit. She’s learned how to run a sustainable enterprise without grants or donations, which are the lifeblood of other arts organizations, and to balance her dual roles as business owner and artist.


Transcript

WAILIN WONG: In printmaking, there’s a technique called linocut where you carve a design into a sheet of linoleum, roll ink over it, and then press a piece of paper on top, transferring ink from the raised parts of the design to the paper. I’m at a studio and gallery called the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative watching a French artist named Emilien make a linocut. There’s guest artists working here all the time, so you’ll hear sounds of Emilien making prints throughout this episode.

DEBORAH MARIS LADER: You’re going to watch Emilien pull a lino cut off the press while you’re looking at a lino cut on the wall, it’s kind of cool.

WAILIN: That’s Deborah Maris Lader, the founder and owner of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. She’s a printmaker herself, having fallen in love with the medium while she was in college.

DEBORAH: I always knew I was an artist. It was like breathing. It wasn’t something I chose; it chose me. I mean, I was always drawing and painting and doing whatever with my hands, even crafty things, it was just always part of who I was. I ended up going to Cornell for undergrad, and when I went there, I entered as a sculpture major. In high school, I was welding and I was working in wood and stone and all these other mediums and ceramics, and that’s where I thought I would focus my work. But when I got there, I took a printmaking class and that was it. I switched my major and ended up majoring in printmaking. I love the way prints work. I love making them, I love the technical part, I like the process orientation of it. And those of us who are really printmakers, who are really devoted to the medium and love the process, we’re just waiting for where we can go do that again, like getting our next fix, so it’s not like well I’ll just paint now. You really want to make prints.

WAILIN: After Deborah graduated with her printmaking degree, she started teaching.

DEBORAH: And then I got the job teaching printmaking, head of printmaking department at Indiana University at Fort Wayne. And so I taught. I was a professor. And my goal at the time was to be an educator of art. I met my husband, my fiance at the time, and he was living in Chicago, and then finally made the decision that as an artist, probably better for me to be in Chicago than Fort Wayne. So I made the move and then ended up liking for a place to print and realizing there was no place in Chicago to print.

WAILIN: Welcome to The Distance, a podcast about long-running businesses. I’m Wailin Wong. On today’s show, how Deborah Maris Lader, in her search for a place to make prints, took on the unglamorous work of running a business so that her customers could focus on their art. The Distance is a production of Basecamp. Basecamp is the better way to run your business. It’s an app for communicating with people and organizing projects and work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by email, chat and meetings, give Basecamp a try. Sign up for a 30-day free trial at basecamp.com/thedistance.

DEBORAH: Printmakers tend to be fairly social animals in that they can work together. You know, you can be a painter and never see anyone for months. Printmakers tend to be fairly social and fairly generous. They like to support each other.

WAILIN: Deborah wanted a place to print that would serve as an artists community. She couldn’t find anything like that in Chicago. So in 1989, she took over a defunct print shop on the city’s west side and called it the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative.

DEBORAH: An ad in the Chicago Artists Coalition newsletter, when it was still a paper newsletter showed up, and there was a print shop for sale for $3,000, and that’s exactly the amount of money I had after saving from teaching. I ended up throwing away most of what was in there but salvaging what I could, and this was my only press.

WAILIN: Deborah’s talking about a machine that we happen to be sitting next to. It has a large roller on it and fits on a metal tabletop. It’s called the Dickerson combination press and can handle both etching, which uses acid on metal plates to create a design, and relief printing, which is when an image is carved into a surface like wood or linoleum. Deborah opened the workshop with just the Dickerson. She also needed a press for lithography, a process where ink is transferred from heavy stone to paper, but she didn’t have the money.

DEBORAH: My grandmother passed away and she was my favorite person in the whole world. You know, the last thing you think about it when your favorite person in the world passes away is money she may have left you, I mean, it never occurred to me. And then my father called me. I had already budgeted what I needed to buy the lithography press, and that’s exactly the amount she left me in the will. So I called the lithography press Edith after my grandmother and I even have a stone named after her in the other room, it was my first big stone, and that was sort of how things got started. So I opened and I had no idea, I didn’t know anyone in Chicago so it was really just figuring, until anyone walks through my door, I will just make prints.

WAILIN: Deborah’s vision for the shop was to rent studio space to printmakers, with two tiers of membership, one for monthly members who get a key to the workshop plus a storage shelf, and one for artists who commit to longer leases for a private lockable studio. Deborah also planned to run a gallery and offer classes. It’s the way a lot of nonprofit artist coops operate too. But the late 80s were a fraught time for many American artists and nonprofits.

DEBORAH: That was the time of the incidents in Cincinnati —

WAILIN: Deborah’s referring to when Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center went on trial for obscenity charges over explicit photographs by the artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

DEBORAH: Andre Serrano and the Piss Christ —

WAILIN: In 1989, a photograph by Andre Serrano called “Piss Christ,” showing a plastic crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine, touched off a national debate about public funding for the arts.

DEBORAH: You know, the Harold Washington stuff and there were all these censorship things happening —

WAILIN: In 1988, a student at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute showed a painting of recently deceased mayor Harold Washington wearing lingerie. The work led to racial tensions and even a federal civil rights lawsuit.

DEBORAH: And I didn’t want to have a board of directors telling me you can’t show this, you can show this, blah blah blah. So I had some decisions to make. Most print shops like this are non profit. We run as a small business model. And over time, I realized that when you don’t have money sort of just coming in where you write your little grant and whatever, you get pretty creative on how you’re gonna survive and it’s not easy. But again, you come up with this is working, this isn’t working. Now if someone’s just throwing money at me, maybe I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t think people at the beginning took me seriously because I was not a nonprofit, but over time people were calling me, like how do you do that? How do you sustain yourself in the way you do without any kind of money? So the way I’ve sort of survived is you get something for everything you pay for. You are an artist, you need space, it’s very affordable but you still pay for it. We offer classes for the same competitive price as everyone else, so we’ve made it work.

WAILIN: As more artists and students came to the CPC, the business grew and Deborah was able to hire instructors instead of teaching all the classes herself. In 1999, a friend persuaded her to move the business further north, to a bigger space in a neighborhood that was filling up with independent restaurants and shops. The new building had a loading dock that Deborah made into a dedicated gallery space. But being in the new building wasn’t bringing in more revenue. In fact, it was the opposite.

DEBORAH: I was watching money hemorrhaging out of the business. It just wasn’t working. I was paying more to be there, everything cost more and I realized having a gallery that was its own thing, I could do other things maybe with the space up there to make more income and it was vital that I did that. Again, if I just had been getting a handout at the time, I might not have done anything, but because I knew, I mean, I’m looking at the bank account being drained, I knew I had to do something. So what I did was I completely filled the space with artists studios. Artists with lockable studios have a six month to twelve month lease so that’s a steady income and that’s where everything changed is I put four artists studios in that space and I could still have gallery because my workshop is the gallery too.

WAILIN: Even with all the improvements, the space was never exactly right for the print shop. So in 2014, Deborah started looking for a new home for the CPC and found a dark, decrepit antique store just four blocks north. It was called the Penn Dutchman, and it was in foreclosure.

DEBORAH: The guy who owned the Penn Dutchman just had so much stuff and because the ceiling was caving in, there were parts of the space that had lots of water damage, he had a room full of china tea cups and things like that, and when it rained it was literally like you were having a tea party, dirty water in all the teacups, it looked like you could just sit down and have a tea party. It was cold, all the pipes had burst and the upstairs had places you couldn’t walk because you’d fall through the roof into the main shop.

WAILIN: The process of buying a foreclosed property took the better part of a year and a lot of lawyers. But Deborah was in a fortunate position. Her husband is a developer and architect with experience navigating the Kafka-esque Chicago bureaucracy of building permits and inspections. She successfully applied for small business improvement funds from the city to help pay for the buildout. Deborah had always been kind of an incidental business owner, preferring to focus on her art. But as she dove into the building process, she was spending a lot more time in business mode.

DEBORAH: Literally when I wasn’t here working I was dreaming about it. I redesigned the space a hundred times or more. To be able to put so much sweat and hard work into this space that I own, is really just the best feeling because I did that at the old space and I didn’t own it, and so all the improvements we made were just left behind and that always felt a little icky. There is more room in between things to navigate a big stone lift for carrying our big stones around. We tore the roof off this place and replaced it and put a skylight in. You know, we’re doing everything right and to code for the first time ever! We have a handicapped bathroom. We have a drinking fountain, which you know, what print shop has a drinking fountain?

WAILIN: Designing the new space to be functional and welcoming was the fun part. But there were points during the building of the new space when it seemed ridiculous that Deborah was going through so much hassle just for a print shop. After all, she had started the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative so she’d have a space to make her art. Dealing with stuff like building codes was light years away from printmaking.

DEBORAH: One day I was told I needed to put a tree out front of my shop even though there’s a light pole in the way. I called the alderman and his right hand gal was awesome. She ran down to landscaping and said, “Did you actually look at this plan? This makes no sense.” And they were like oh you’re right, but they would have made me do it otherwise, and I would have been out another three grand or five grand.

I had one room that was a storage room but it got mislabeled on the plans and it said bedroom. Didn’t have a window, so they said you gotta punch a hole in the wall and I was like, yeah but it’s not actually a bedroom, and they said, I’m sorry, it says on the plan. I said, what are my options and they said you could go back to zoning, which who would do that? That’ll take three months! So we’re like, okay we’ll punch a hole, so I gotta pay a guy a thousand bucks to punch a hole in and put metal bars up for no reason. So I can’t tell you how many things like that had to be dealt with on a daily basis.

Some days it was really just easy to go home and cry or say I just don’t want to do this, it’s not worth it. There were times where I thought, I should just give up. There were times I thought I should just close. Even my husband said you know, you can just put your press somewhere and just print, and don’t worry about all these people that you take care of all the time. And so I really sat down and I thought, Icould do that, and I looked at all the pros and cons, and I realized I like what I do. Having the community of artists around me really feeds my soul and I think you can’t have any kind of small business unless you have a ton of passion because it takes way more than just having a sustained model or whatever you want to call it. You have to love what you do.

I feel like the set builder sometimes or sometimes I just feel like the janitorial staff and that’s it. You know, and other times, it’s just so great and I don’t think about any of that. But I’ve done all the handholding, all the, you know, talking people off ledges, so yeah that’s what I do. But I like it. You know, on some kind of masochistic level.

WAILIN: Deborah wanted the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative to provide community, and she set it up as a business so that her artists could work without the pressures that can come with public funding. Twenty-six years and two locations later, Deborah’s found that community and embraced her dual roles as artist and small business owner. Amid reports that President Donald Trump could defund the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the CPC and Deborah’s commitment to keeping it going are as vital as ever.

DEBORAH: If we have extra cash in the pot, we can do things for the community. We just had a free printmaking event on Sunday, cost me a lot of money to do it, it was awesome, everyone could walk in and bring a t-shirt and print images of hope and sometimes protest, sometimes, you know, in response to the electoral situation and the politics going on. I can’t say enough about how that feeds me, that someone would be willing to donate time or help out or contribute a design to something. And I think for me, that’s why I keep doing it.

The Distance is produced by Shaun Hildner and me, Wailin Wong. Our illustrations are by Nate Otto. Special thanks to Bruce Roper of the Chicago Luthiers Workshop, who introduced me to Deborah. We featured Bruce and his guitar repair business in the previous episode of The Distance, so go back and listen to that one if you haven’t already. The Distance is a production of Basecamp, the app for helping small business owners stay in control of projects and reduce email clutter. Try Basecamp free for 30 days at basecamp.com/thedistance.

Humble adobe

Illustration by Nate Otto

Santa Fe, New Mexico is home to around 200 art galleries. Even in this thriving art scene, Nedra Matteucci’s gallery stands out. The 44-year-old gallery, which she bought in 1988, is housed in an adobe compound spanning two acres, and the business takes a grounded approach to fine art. If visiting the Nedra Matteucci Galleries feels like you’re stepping into someone’s home, it’s because Nedra, a New Mexico native who got her start selling paintings on the road, has made approachability part of the overall experience.


Transcript

WAILIN: Three decades ago, when Nedra Matteucci and her husband bought their first-ever piece of art, it was a big step. They had been visiting galleries together since they were dating, but this was their first purchase.

NEDRA: It was a lithograph for $125 and we asked if it came framed, so we have come quite a ways from that. I didn’t grow up with paintings in my home. I grew up in southeastern New Mexico, uh, small farming town south of Roswell. We raised cotton and alfalfa and since then, it’s become a dairy community. And that southeastern part of the state is oil and gas too so yes, we had a little Texas twang, but it was New Mexico twang (laughs).

WAILIN: Today Nedra is an established art collector, dealer and gallery owner, but she’s kept that New Mexico twang. It’s an important part of the business she runs in Santa Fe, one of the country’s biggest art markets. A century ago, artists came to this town, drawn by the beautiful light, rugged landscape and unique cultural mix of the American southwest. They helped establish an artistic tradition that’s distinctive from the coasts. And the Nedra Matteucci Galleries, which first opened in 1972 and is housed in a historic adobe compound on two acres, stands out even among Santa Fe’s two hundred some galleries, thanks to its history, size and the way it makes fine art accessible. Here’s Dustin Belyeu, who’s been the director at Nedra Matteucci Galleries for 12 years.

DUSTIN: We don’t want people to be intimidated at the gallery. We want them to come in here and really have a good time. We encourage our sales staff and people to stand up and say “Hi, how can I help you? Where are you visiting from?” The other thing is we like anybody to be able to walk away with something from their experience here. Not everybody can afford a $100,000 piece of art, not everybody can afford a $1,000 piece of art, but most people can maybe afford a bracelet that’s $250 or a little piece of pottery that’s $75. And it’s important for Nedra, especially from her background and how she started in this business, for anybody to be able to have that experience and walk away with a nice piece of art from an institution, a place like this.

WAILIN: Welcome to The Distance, a podcast about long-running businesses and the people behind them. I’m Wailin Wong. On today’s show, how Nedra Matteucci has maintained her down-to-earth approach to fine art over a career spanning more than 30 years. The Distance is brought to you by Basecamp. The brand new Basecamp 3 helps small business owners stay in control of projects and reduce email clutter. Tasks, spur of the moment conversations with coworkers, status updates, reports, documents and files all share one home. And now your first basecamp is completely free forever. Sign up at basecamp.com/thedistance.

NEDRA: It’s a different world, you know. Bankers don’t understand it. It’s not like any other business there is. There’s not a set mark-up. There’s not set prices, you know, each object is a piece of art and it’s handled differently, sold differently. So it’s really a complicated business to explain, I’d say, but you learn every day.

WAILIN: In the early eighties, Nedra was a collector. Her first purchases were works on paper because they were affordable. Then she and her husband got interested in pieces by contemporary Native American artists and later on, historic works by artists who came to New Mexico in the late 1800s. Within a few years, their walls began to fill up. And that’s how she shifted to the other side of the transaction.

NEDRA: I had wall-to-ceiling paintings and then I’d find something I liked better, so I’d have to sell something else, started selling to girls I played tennis with and I’d gone to a boarding school in El Paso and I’d go to El Paso and sell and met people and sell on the road and worked with a small museum in El Paso exhibiting paintings, and that’s how I started representing some of the living artists, by taking their paintings to this show in El Paso, a museum show.

WAILIN: It’s easy to think of selling art as an ultra-rarefied line of work, a gallery owner meeting with clients in pristine, museum-like spaces. And there’s certainly an element of that at Nedra’s gallery. On the day we talked, she was wearing a tailored tweed skirt suit and we sat at a table adorned with a Fernando Botero sculpture selling for six figures. The front room has a small Georgia O’Keeffe painting of plums in a dish priced at $850,000. But in those early, scrappier days, Nedra was loading her car with paintings and sculptures and driving the four hours from Albuquerque to El Paso.

NEDRA: I was taking a bunch down one time and one was a stone sculpture and my husband says — he had to put in the car — and he says, “Geez, do you have to sell stone?” (Laughs)

WAILIN: Nedra’s burgeoning career as an itinerant art dealer eventually brought her to Santa Fe and its thriving art scene — and one gallery in particular, owned by a well-known art dealer named Forrest Fenn, who in 1972 had taken a run-down property and built it into a large compound.

NEDRA: I drove up here and the first time the gallery was very intimidating, so I drove back to Albuquerque. My husband said no you go back out there, and so I tried to sell him a painting and he said, “Well, why don’t you sell some of mine?”

WAILIN: That was a big break for Nedra. Forrest Fenn consigned paintings to her and she would sell them, and that turned into a part-time job at the gallery where she studied auction records and immersed herself in the art business. She eventually opened her own small gallery in 1986. And then, two years later, Nedra got a life-changing surprise.

NEDRA: My husband came home and said he bought this gallery (laughs). So he bought me a very big job. I cried every day for a month, but fortunately if I hadn’t worked here, I wouldn’t know how it operated, and I had that advantage for this.

WAILIN: The Forrest Fenn gallery had been on the market for a few years, and Nedra and her husband were longtime admirers of the building and the grounds. The space couldn’t be more different than the austere, modern white-walled boxes you might associate with art galleries. Here, at what’s now called the Nedra Matteucci Galleries, you ramble through different rooms of a sprawling adobe estate and make your way to a backyard garden with a goldfish pond and large sculptures, like an elephant on its hind legs spraying real water into the air. There’s an extensive research library, a courtyard built around a gnarly old tree, and guest quarters with a sauna and hot tub. As a teenager, Dustin Belyeu lived in an apartment above the gallery when his mother, Nedra’s sister, moved to Santa Fe to run the gallery’s finances.

NEDRA: This building, parts are over 200 years old, some of it’s 50 years old, some 70. The back room at one time had even been a foundry. It’s adobe. It’s more like I bought an institution. We have two guest houses for clients, friends. The artists stay there. It’s not just a gallery. You have a big operation.

WAILIN: Overnight visitors stay on the site for free, and the gallery staff can hang specific works in the guest house so that potential buyers get a feel for what it’s like to live with those pieces. This same idea flows throughout the gallery, parts of which have an informal, lived-in quality to it. It’s a kind of studied casualness, and part of the subtle salesmanship the gallery uses to put the art in its best light. Dustin, who worked at the New York auction house Sotheby’s for three years before joining his aunt’s gallery, decides which pieces go where, and how they’re displayed. One room used to be part of Forrest Fenn’s family home but is now part of the gallery and dedicated to the work of living artists, with some pieces resting on the floor and leaned up against furniture.

DUSTIN: That’s what Forrest Fenn did when he built this place. Instead of building it to look like every other art gallery, he wanted it to look like a home, so that you could visualize what these pieces of art could look like in your home. And then Nedra’s carried on that tradition a hundred percent and it’s one of the biggest challenges with this space, as big as it is, to hang each room uniquely but to have a feel with the art that they all fit together.

WAILIN: Nedra is especially proud of the sculpture garden. It was Forrest Fenn’s private yard when he owned the gallery, and Nedra wanted a space to display and sell very large pieces. Her interest in representing sculpture artists started when she opened her first, small gallery in 1986. She knew of an artist named Dan Ostermiller, an American known for his large-scale animal sculptures.

NEDRA: He had two big rabbits I saw him making at a big outdoor sculpture show and I called him and I said, “Could I represent you? I’d love to have those two big rabbits in front of my gallery on the corner to draw people in ’cause I’m not in a great location.” He said, “I would love to, but the problem is I can’t afford to cast them.” I said, “How much does that cost?” And he told me and I said, “I’ll find the money, so put them through the foundry,” and so we’ve grown together for over 30 years. He was my first sculptor I had.

WAILIN: Today, the sculpture garden at the Nedra Matteucci Galleries is filled with Dan Ostermiller’s pieces, and visitors are encouraged to touch them. The garden is perhaps where the idea of approachable art, which is present all through the gallery, is truly put into practice.

DUSTIN: We have one artist who lost his vision in Vietnam, a blind sculptor named Michael Naranjo, and he helped us get to the point where we want kids, we want people to engage with this art. Not a hands-off, like “Don’t touch that”, that’s something we try not to say here ever because he talked about when he was a kid, going to museums and galleries, and always being told, “Don’t touch that,” and it discouraged him and it made him not want to be an artist or around art. He wants to do the opposite, help people engage with the art, have a connection to it, beyond something that’s just there to look at. We take that a step further with most of the sculptures. We’re happy to have kids touch ’em, uh especially the big ones outside that can’t, you know, fall off a table or something and I think parents really enjoy it, you know? Because they walk in and start to do that “Don’t touch this” and we’re like “No, go to the garden, let the kids, you know, engage with these things and have fun with them.”

WAILIN: As a gallery owner and art dealer, Nedra serves as a bridge between artists and buyers, and to be successful, it’s important to cultivate long term relationships with both groups. At this point in Nedra’s career, there are more living artists who want the gallery to represent them than there is wall space. She estimates that she turns down about a dozen artists every month. Finding customers, especially new ones who have never bought art before, is a different challenge.

NEDRA: We’ve tried advertising in younger magazines ’cause when we first bought the gallery, it was already an older, established group of collectors and you have to get always find new and younger ones. And when you find someone under 40 buying, you’re just excited. That’s one reason we did more living artists at a price range where everybody can afford something and start collecting. We have living artists that you can buy a painting, you know, for $1,000, to $70,000 for instance, and you know, then you go into the deceased area, you’re looking at starting at the low end $25,000, I would say, you know, up to over a million. There’s not everybody that can do that. But we have such a good variety of paintings.

WAILIN: Nedra’s gallery has other advantages too: its history with Forrest Fenn and its unique space, which makes it a destination for the tourists that visit Santa Fe. But Nedra and her staff can’t just coast on reputation. Every sale counts, and prices can vary dramatically with shifts in the broader art market. Remember that small Georgia O’Keeffe painting selling for $850,000? That might seem high for a piece that’s only 7 by 9 inches, but an O’Keeffe just sold for $12.9 million at a Christie’s auction in May. That kind of milestone helps justify the price tag on the O’Keeffe that Nedra is selling — which, by the way, has an interested buyer. You can tell because there’s an orange dot sticker on the little sign next to the painting.

DUSTIN: It’s totally unpredictable and it’s seasonal. The summer season is when you’re busy, you know, you’re gonna sell more art than in the middle of the winter or the early spring in New Mexico, which isn’t the best time of year to be here. There’s no actual numbers we have out there we try to hit. We try to sell as much art as we can every single month and if you cover the bills that month and make some money, that’s fabulous. Some months you do fall a little short, but, um, it’s just a daily business that we every single day reach out to people, talk to people in the gallery, try to sell art.

NEDRA: Getting good paintings, historical paintings, is the hardest. There’s fewer paintings coming on the market and you have tremendous competition now is your auctions. There’s a lot of small auctions, plus the big auction houses, so we’re all going for the same pie. And you just, uh, do your best and we’re, uh, very honest. We’re very fast payers and we’re frank, and I think that is one quality that we have that stands out and has been carried on through the years.

WAILIN: Today, Nedra is thinking about selling the big compound and scaling down. This is part of a long-term plan she’s been working on. In 2002, she acquired a gallery called Morningstar, which specializes in Native American antiquities. She closed her original gallery in 2010 after a 24-year run. Her goal is to eventually consolidate everything at Morningstar, which is much smaller than the old Forrest Fenn property and happens to be adjacent to her house in Santa Fe.

NEDRA: I’m already excited about the plans I have for it and to go forward that way. So I feel like it’s not giving up something, I’m gaining another phase of my life. I know exactly what I want to do with it. And we’ll still have room for outdoor sculpture because I have property behind me and I have about an acre of my own house I can break off for the gallery to use too. I have this all planned, so I’m not worried about it in the least. The part I’m worried about is how long it’ll take us to get this all out of here (laughs). And where we’re gonna put everything.

WAILIN: The Distance is produced by Shaun Hildner and me, Wailin Wong. Our illustrations are done by Nate Otto. Thanks to Nat Chakeres for his help with this story. You can find our show at thedistance.com, on iTunes, where we would love it if you rated and reviewed us, and on Google Play Music. The Distance is a production of Basecamp, the app for helping small business owners stay in control of projects and reduce email clutter. Your first Basecamp is completely free forever. Try the brand new Basecamp Three for yourself at basecamp.com/thedistance.

Exploring Paley Studios


Our team is always blown away by the useful advice Highrise customers are willing to share with us. Here’s another we think you’ll want to hear.

Paley Studios has been using Highrise daily since 2007 to help organize various projects, information and contacts.

It’s an invaluable online resource that allows us to keep project information, for multiple projects, organized and instantly accessible no matter where in the world we are working from.

But this isn’t about Highrise; it’s a story about Albert Paley, a world famous artist, and it’s a lesson in exploration, learning, and… having a plan B.


Diversify. Learn to be good at one thing many ways.

Albert Paley is a lifelong artist. He was the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA’s highest award for a non-architect.

You might have seen his work on Park Avenue in New York City. You’ll see his massive sculptures outside of national museums, the St. Louis Zoological Park, or maybe you’ll even find piece of his unique furniture at one of your friends’ houses.

And when you see his work, you’ll know it’s his.

Why?

As the director of Paley Studios, Jennifer Laemlein shares, “you can definitely see Albert Paley design. You can see elements he uses. The combination of the geometric and the organic. The ribbons and the flow of the steel.”

Paley’s Animals Always sculpture as a gateway to the St. Louis Zoo. Photo credit Paley Studios Archive.

Nothing about Paley’s work is shy. It’s not timid. Or submissive.

Laemlein continued, “he tends to like to do large public art. We’re generally working in the realm somewhere from 50 to 100 feet tall.”

To put that in perspective, these sculptures range from 5 to 10 stories high or wide.

Albert Paley’s work is physical. It’s bold. Big. Aggressive.


So how did Paley get his start?

Albert Paley has been making things out of metal for over 40 years. Paley started as a goldsmith making jewelry.

Paley has always been an artist. His goal with designing jewelry was to do something that hadn’t been done before. It was to explore.

And he did. His jewelry was approached as a sculpture art form to adorn the human body. The oversized pieces responded to the shape and movement of the wearer.

But Paley had bigger ambitions for his work. He understood iron and transformed himself to work on larger scale projects. He embraced architecture.

In 1975, Paley described what he does as, “a lot of my work has to do with exploration. Exploration of processes. Within the metal field, there is great diversity of process orientation. I felt that with metal I had the flexibility of exploration that I didn’t have in any other medium… There is no limitation whatsoever.”

Paley’s process of designing is like his personality. It’s intense. The process is always evolving and changing shape depending on what Paley is creating.

For most works, the first step of the process is lots of sketches on paper.

Paley’s wife, Frances, claims he doesn’t know even how to turn a computer on and he has no email address.

He would rather sit with a pencil and piece of paper. That’s where he likes to work from. Very basic.

For Monumental public art projects, he starts with hundreds of drawings to build a matrix. Paley then selects what’s most important from the drawings and creates 3-dimensional sketches using cardboard. This helps with understanding angles and developing a visual vocabulary. This takes Paley to a metal model, a smaller version of the sculpture. The studio might go through 3 to 5 different cardboard and metal models before beginning to build the sculpture at full scale.

Once at full scale, Paley and his staff work in stages to complete the large sculptures. There are fabrication and forging stages that can take months to complete.

Paley going through his processes. Photo credit Paley Studios Archive.

Today, he could be described as a goldsmith, an artist, a blacksmith, a sculptor, or an architect. But in the truest form, Albert Paley is an explorer.

He is in constant pursuit of creativity. And his definition of creativity is refreshing.

So many people think of creativity in artistic pursuits. But creativity is just a fundamental human condition. You build on a vocabulary. On a foundation to build a concept or understanding,

If you’re already dealing with your understanding on an order of things, that’s something that you already know. Where real innovation comes in is getting those things that are unknown.

It comes from exploring and discovering what you’re capable of doing. And each of Albert’s projects is bigger and more ambitious than the last.

In 2013, Paley created 13 unique landscape sculptures for a 6-month exhibition on Park Avenue in New York City, the largest exhibition ever on the famous avenue.

Like Paley, this project wasn’t tepid or ordinary. This project was brash and exhaustive. It was ambitious.

Watch more about the project:

Elizabeth Cameron, archivist at Paley Studios, describes the installation process:

In June 2013, over the course of 2 nights we installed 13 landscape sculptures for exhibition on Park Avenue in New York City. Imagine the communication and permitting necessary for shutting down sections of Park Avenue overnight, while running 2 crane and installation crews at the same time as the 13 flat-bed tractor trailers loaded with 15–20 foot sculptures are waiting across the river in New Jersey. The sculptures are radioed in two at a time. There 2 film crews there, other photographers and media too. Then imagine doing it all in reverse six months later when the exhibition ends and all the sculptures have to ship to their new homes.

That’s a serious project and one that requires the help of an entire staff. While Paley started as a one-man band, his staff includes 14 people who help him toward his creative vision.

The studio is constantly prototyping or building something. And what they’re building is usually large, so any mistakes will be costly.

The staff thrives on this challenge. Jeffrey Jubenville, a foreman at the studio, confesses, “it’s very fulfilling, and that’s what is important to me. Being challenged daily. There are probably 200 items on the the floor at one time. There are pieces everywhere, all under different stages of development.”

The studio’s archivist agreed with Paley’s advice around exploring and learning to be good at one thing many ways:

Albert’s ability to create on multiple streams has allowed the studio to continue to exist during lulls in the various markets. So when public art is slow the galleries pick up, or when the galleries are slow the commissions pick up. Always have a plan B.

And keep exploring.


P.S. If you need help keeping track of who you talk to and what you talk to them about, please take a look at Highrise. It’s a simple tool to manage your communication with others. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: here.

Pulp Fixing

Piecing together a page of newsprint. (Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.)

Human history comes with a long paper trail, and there’s a company in Chicago whose mission is to preserve and restore that physical record. Graphic Conservation Company is a 95-year-old lab that specializes in repairing works on paper—anything from illuminated medieval manuscripts to personal family documents. It has undertaken some incredibly complex projects over the years, including restoring the state of Illinois’ copy of the House resolution for the 13th Amendment. Graphic Conservation can smooth wrinkles, remove ancient adhesive residue and even create new paper from scratch to patch holes in damaged items. Listen to our episode on the business or scroll down to read the transcript.

While reporting this story, I discovered a small personal connection to Graphic Conservation Co. The business started as a specialty book-binding department within RR Donnelley, a Fortune 500 commercial printing company. It’s where my dad, who immigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S. in the 1960’s to attend college, worked as an electrical engineer for his entire career. He started at Donnelley during the period that the company sold its Graphic Conservation Department to its then-managers, who made the lab into a private business. Donnelley’s legacy lives on at Graphic Conservation Co., which still uses equipment from the 1930’s. You can see some of those machines in the photo below, taken in 1935.

Graphic Conservation Co. started as Donnelley’s Extra Bindery Department, pictured here in 1935. (Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.)

The kinds of projects that Graphic Conservation takes on fall into a few general categories. There are works of art, like this 1871 Currier and Ives lithograph of the Great Chicago Fire. The piece arrived at the lab with discoloration from acidic framing materials. The conservators cleaned up the acid stains.

Before (left) and after restoration. (Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.)

Much of Graphic Conservation’s recent growth has come from individual clients bringing in personal documents like immigration papers and marriage licenses. The lab has also worked on mementos like old letters, photographs and tickets. Below is a marriage license from 1894. The document was very brittle and was rolled up in fragments. Conservators flattened all the pieces, put them together and filled in the parts where the ink was gone.

Before (right—just kidding! Of course it’s the lefthand image) and after. (Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.)

Another personal item that came into the lab was this Holocaust identification card. In this case, Graphic Conservation’s staff used Japanese tissue of a similar tone to patch the holes and stabilize the document. The goal here was repair and preservation, so the conservators did not fill in lost ink as they did for the marriage license above.

Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.

Besides art and personal documents, Graphic Conservation also works on priceless documents. The most notable recent example is the state of Illinois’ copy of the House resolution for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The vellum document, one of just a handful of commemorative copies signed by Abraham Lincoln and others, had been folded and wrinkled almost to the point of illegibility.

Vellum documents are made from animal hides. (Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.)

Graphic Conservation’s staff re-humidified and pressed the document repeatedly over many weeks to remove the wrinkles and help the ink re-adhere to the vellum. It did this project pro bono for the state.

Photo courtesy Graphic Conservation Co.

Graphic Conservation has more before and after examples on its website. If you have a document you’d like to get repaired, the company will write up a technical condition report and give you a quote for free. (The staff does need to inspect the item in person at their office in Chicago.)


Transcript

WAILIN: In 1864, a year after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a lithographer in Chicago made 52 commemorative copies of the proclamation. These were called broadsides and each one measured 18 by 24 inches, with a portrait of Lincoln in the middle and some additional illustrated vignettes.

TANNER: Visually, I just love kind of the cadence of it, how it’s illustrated on top. Then you read the first part of the proclamation and then it’s illustrated right in the middle and there’s a beautiful picture, a portrait of Lincoln front and center, and then it’s handwritten again at the bottom.

WAILIN: That’s Tanner Woodford. He is the executive director of the Chicago Design Museum and a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Of the 52 known copies of this commemorative broadside, number 28 belonged to Tanner’s grandfather, who kept it on the wall next to his television.

TANNER: I’m not really sure, honestly, how it came into his collection and I asked him several times, and each time I got a different story (laughs), so I think at some point he was just being a grandpa, you know (laughs), just telling me stories, just trying to get me excited about history.

WAILIN: There was the story about how an ancestor rode horseback across the United States burning down towns and stole the document. There was the one about how Tanner’s grandfather found it in the wall of a house he bought. And there was the story about how the family is somehow related to Zachary Taylor or Herbert Hoover or maybe both. Whatever the real story, the broadside of the Emancipation Proclamation passed from Tanner’s grandfather to his mother to him, and by the time it reached him, it was showing its age.

TANNER: There’s a big piece of yellowed tape at the bottom where there was previously a rip and somebody else had tried to tape it and put it back on their wall. There’s a very large stain that takes up, probably, what do you think, that’s an eighth of it or so? And it looks like it was some sort of a water stain at some point in time, and then there are pretty clear rips throughout the entire thing from where it had been rolled and you know, maybe carried on horseback, I have no idea.

WAILIN: Tanner wanted to look into getting the document repaired, but he didn’t know where to go. And then one day, he was giving a friend a tour of his museum and his friend said, hey, you like art history. I know someone you should meet.

RUSS: Hello, my name is Russ Maki. I’m president of Graphic Conservation Company.

WAILIN: Graphic Conservation Company in Chicago is 95 years old and specializes in repairing and protecting works on paper, anything from fine art to historical artifacts to personal documents. On any given day, Russ Maki’s team might be removing decades-old masking tape from a Matisse or piecing together a marriage certificate found in someone’s attic or preserving an illuminated manuscript from the fifteenth century.

RUSS: It’s also, frankly, the only business I’ve ever been in when I’ve delivered a product and everyone in the room has been in tears. There’s a phenomenal connection between paper and the human record and what that means to people, and we think about that a lot here.

WAILIN: Every piece of paper that comes into the lab tells a story — not just what’s on it, but the story of its own creation and the journey it’s been on since then. And now you’ll hear the story of Graphic Conservation Company on The Distance, a podcast about long-running businesses. The Distance is a production of Basecamp. Introducing the new Basecamp Three. Basecamp is everything any team needs to stay on the same page about whatever they’re working on. Tasks, spur of the moment conversations with co-workers, status updates, reports, documents and files all share one home. And now your first basecamp is completely free forever. Sign up at basecamp.com/thedistance.

RUSS: There’s no predictability to this business whatsoever. I have no idea what’s going to walk through the front door and that frankly is some of the fun of it. Every day we get something new and sometimes it’s through, you know, a FedEx pack or UPS. Sometimes it’s an armed courier. Sometimes it’s just, someone just knocks on our door and says, “I’m here.”

WAILIN: Graphic Conservation keeps a narrow focus on paper and vellum, which is a material made from animal hide. The company’s clients include institutions like art galleries, auction houses and museums, which might not have in-house paper experts or, in the case of museums, need extra help getting an exhibit ready. Increasingly, the lab has been seeing business from individuals with personal or family documents.

RUSS: Somewhere, tucked into their crawlspace, they have a marriage license that’s their great grandparents’ or an immigration paper from Ellis Island as they came over, and it’s usually in pretty bad shape. It was probably rolled up at one time and then crushed between a book or whatever, and they realize that, “Hey, there’s only one of these, and we’d like to preserve that for our future generations.” And they find us through the Internet, which is the big change in this business. So the average client ranges from an individual who has never done this kind of work before, who doesn’t know what a conservation lab is all about, to a very sophisticated, educated client that has collected art at the highest levels for their entire lifetime.

WAILIN: The work that comes into the lab can have significant financial value, like if they’re collectibles or pieces of fine art. Or they could be items whose value is measured in sentimental or emotional terms. The company once repaired a letter that a client’s father had written to Santa Claus in 1930, during the Great Depression, admitting that he hadn’t been very good that year but asking if Santa could bring him an apple for Christmas.

RUSS: We made facsimile copies of the original for each of the siblings to have in their house, and to remind them that you know, if you ever thought that you had a bad day, you really have not had a bad day.

WAILIN: Then there are those rare jobs that involve priceless works. In 2011, the lab restored the state of Illinois’ copy of the House resolution for the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. The vellum document, which was one of just a handful of commemorative copies signed by Abraham Lincoln, needed months of painstaking work, which Graphic Conservation did for free in this case. Russ remembers the day it arrived.

RUSS: When the team, along with the security personnel, left the lab, we all stood around it, the entire team. Not a word was spoken for minutes. You’re looking at a watershed moment in American history and I think the exact word count of the Article 1 of that is 35 words: that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime shall exist within these United States, or something to that effect. In 35 words, slavery was abolished. Today, that would be a 2,000-page document, right? So you’re looking at the utter simplicity of the prose. You’re looking at the magnificent calligraphy on this vellum document and you can just transport yourself back to February 1st, 1865, when it was signed and what Congress must have looked like that day as that was taking place. People risked their lives by signing that document and they knew they were risking their lives, and sure enough, President Lincoln was dead 75 days after he signed that document.

WAILIN: Graphic Conservation Company has a staff of eight people working in an 8,000-square foot lab with an expansive view of a railroad yard, the south branch of the Chicago River and the skyline, all serving as visual reminders of the city’s industrial past and present. The company itself comes out of this legacy. Graphic Conservation started in 1921 as a specialty department within RR Donnelley, a Fortune 500 commercial printing company founded in 1864. The department was originally called the Hand Bindery or the Extra Bindery because it focused on restoring fine books and making hand-tooled leather bindings. The group later moved from books to paper and was renamed the Graphic Conservation Department. In 1982, as the economy was in a recession, RR Donnelley sold the department to the managers who were running it, and Graphic Conservation became a private company.

RUSS: So we were part of Donnelley for the better part of 60 years and have been separate and apart from them for the last 34 now, and today our work — we do some work in book, but we’re one of the largest private paper conservation labs in the country.

WAILIN: Graphic Conservation still uses some cast iron book presses and other equipment, including a pencil sharpener, that date back to the 30s. A lot of the paper conservation process itself has also remained unchanged. And even though no two projects are quite alike, the lab sees a lot of the same problems over and over. They deal with rips, creases, water damage, tape residue or the telltale brown stains of acid burn. Maybe the document got so brittle that it flaked off into little fragments that have to be pieced back together like the world’s most tedious jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces that come in are newspaper pages or print advertisements or tickets, things that were never meant to last very long. Other times, something was put in a bad frame and got damaged. Russ, who became owner of Graphic Conservation in 2009 after working at a specialty paper company, doesn’t blink at much anymore.

RUSS: We had a client call us from a high-rise building. They, for some reason, on a windy day, decided to open all their windows and I think they got their art framing supplies from a big-box retailer, and they had one single hook in the wall for each of their four Warhols. Well, the Warhols flew off the walls, and unfortunately they were framed in glass. So glass shattered each one of these, or punctured each one, and we had to repair them. So yeah, we’ve seen it all. (Laughs)

WAILIN: And the lab’s conservators have fixed it all. They’re able to erase acid burns and water stains, to smooth out creases and scrape off ancient residue from adhesives, sometimes spending hours on a single square inch of paper with a microscope and a scalpel. The staff fills in holes by taking antique paper that matches the piece being repaired, reducing that paper to pulp and reconstituting it. If there’s missing artwork, the conservators can even paint in the lost image or text in a completely seamless way. The company has created new paper to fix posters, photographs and even a letter from the Boston Red Sox to Babe Ruth in 1918, agreeing to pay him a thousand dollar bonus for the season and another thousand if the team won the American League pennant that year. Russ has the before and after images of the letter framed in his office.

RUSS: He cashed both checks (laughs). So it was a good year for the Babe. (laughs)

WAILIN: I see a couple little holes, and some tape on the top left corner by the letterhead.

RUSS: Exactly. So we repaired all those areas of loss and as you can see on the right, the image post-restoration was brought back to life.

WAILIN: What are those blobs under the “Yours truly?”

RUSS: Insect damage. So insects had literally eaten away part of the paper. And you’ll see that with old documents that aren’t properly stored, frequently. It’s sad, but there are some bugs out there that really enjoy eating paper. Silverfish, especially.

WAILIN: Every job that comes into Graphic Conservation requires a series of judgment calls on what kind of treatment to use, and how far to go in preserving or repairing something. In the case of a Holocaust identification card, which arrived in extremely fragile condition, the team filled in missing pieces with Japanese tissue of a roughly similar tone, but didn’t recreate any printing because the purpose was to stabilize the document for posterity, not alter it. With the state of Illinois’ copy of the 13th amendment, which had wrinkled almost to the point of illegibility, Russ and his team discussed what to do for months before starting the treatment, which involved re-humidifying the vellum, pressing it, and slowly repeating that process over many weeks.

RUSS: Ours is a business where you get one shot at it to do it right. Again, everything we do here is the original art or the original document and there are no do-overs.

Russ’ staff members have backgrounds in studio art, chemistry and conservation. The company trains from within, hiring interns and developing them into part or full-time employees. Christina Marusich, the head conservator, started as an intern when she was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been working here for over 30 years. It’s amazing to think that interns are allowed to handle the documents that come into the lab. As a visitor, I was terrified of accidentally sneezing on something, like the Albrecht Durer print from the sixteenth century lying on a worktable that Russ pointed out on a tour of the lab. But interns need literal hands-on experience to learn how to do the work. Here’s Christina.

CHRISTIA: We work a lot as a team, so we’re working alongside each other and can — just learning how things should be touched and moved around and examined, so a very conscientious group here, very gentle and quiet, you know, no fast moves (laughs).

WAILIN: At Graphic Conservation, minor treatments cost in the mid to high hundreds of dollars, with more complicated jobs going well above a thousand dollars. But the company doesn’t charge for assessments. When prospective customers bring in something to be examined, the lab provides a complimentary condition report and outlines a proposed treatment. It also gives a quote, with a guarantee that the final price won’t go over that amount. But there’s no requirement to commit to anything. When Tanner Woodford brought in his copy of the Emancipation Proclamation broadside, it turned out that Graphic Conservation had worked on a different copy of that same broadside, and Russ was more excited to see Tanner’s version than anything else.

TANNER: It wasn’t even so much him trying to sell me on the process. It was more of him just being blown away by seeing another one, you know, just geeking out. That’s the thing I love about them, is they care so much about the artifacts that come in and they’re so knowledgable about them and it’s almost like when they fix them, to me, I get this feeling of really giving this thing back to the world. Russ was like, I just want to see it, if you could just bring it by sometime and I can give you a quote if you’d like, but I really just, I want to see another one.

WAILIN: Tanner did get a technical condition report and a quote from Graphic Conservation. He wasn’t ready to get the work done yet, but on Russ’ recommendation, he replaced his grandfather’s old frame with a better one. Tanner is saving for the restoration work. In the meantime, he hangs the document in his apartment near his television, just like his grandfather did.

TANNER: I could take the Emancipation Proclamation and put it in a flat file and keep it safe for much longer than if it’s hanging on a wall, but what’s the point of having the Emancipation Proclamation if you can’t enjoy it? If anybody ever wants to come see it, just shoot me an email (laughs). I might regret saying that, but (laughs).

WAILIN: When the time is right for Tanner to get his copy of the proclamation repaired, he’ll know where to go. And Russ and his staff are patient. They plan to be around for a long time, focusing on what they do best, and not chasing after bigger volumes or faster growth.

RUSS: To be candid, I don’t want this business to grow beyond a certain point. It’s kind of selfish on my part, but I really, I want to know all of our clients. I want to know every job that’s in this lab. I want to maintain our reputation as being absolutely sterling in this business, and if it gets to the point where we have more work than we can handle, the possibility exists that we can disappoint, and we’ll never do that. The element of trust is gigantic in our business because if you’re going to find us to have us do some work for you, more than likely, you’re sending us one of the most important things you own — important either in terms of financial value or in terms of sentimental or emotional value, and we pay a great deal of respect in that process. It’s important. So we’re not gonna overburden ourselves and we’re certainly not going to over promise.

WAILIN: The Distance is produced by Shaun Hildner and me, Wailin Wong. Our illustrations are done by Nate Otto. Special thanks to Tanner Woodford for telling me about Graphic Conservation Company. If you want to see before and after images of some of their projects, I’ve included them with the transcript of this episode. Look for a link to the transcript at thedistance.com. The Distance is a production of Basecamp, the leading app for keeping teams on the same page about whatever they’re working on. Your first Basecamp is completely free forever. Try the brand new Basecamp Three for yourself at basecamp.com/thedistance.

The first step is to start

Many people ask me, “How can I get started in web design?” or, “What skills do I need to start making web applications?” While it would be easy to recommend stacks of books, and dozens of articles with 55 tips for being 115% better than the next guy, the truth is that you don’t need learn anything new in order to begin. The most important thing is simply to start.

Start making something. If you want to learn web design, make a website. Want to be an entreprenuer and start a business selling web based products? Make an app. Maybe you don’t have the skills yet, but why worry about that? You probably don’t even know what skills you need.

Start with what you already know

If you want to build something on the web, don’t worry about learning HTML, CSS, Ruby, PHP, SQL, etc. They might be necessary for a finished product, but you don’t need any of them to start. Why not mock-up your app idea in Keynote or Powerpoint? Draw boxes for form fields, write copy, link this page to that page. You can make a pretty robust interactive prototype right there with software you already know. Not computer saavy? Start with pencil and paper or Post-it Notes. Draw the screens, tape them to the wall, and see how it flows.

You probably don’t even know what skills you need, so don’t worry about it. Start with what you already know.

You can do a lot of the work with simple sketches or slides. You’ll be able to see your idea take form and begin to evaluate whether or not it really is something special. It’s at that point you can take the next step, which might be learning enough HTML to take your prototype into the browser. The point is, go as far as you can with the skills and tools that you have.

Avoid self doubt

Many times the reasons we don’t start something have nothing to do with lack of skills, materials, or facilities. The real blockers are self-criticism and excuses. In the excellent book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the author, Betty Edwards, discusses how we all draw as kids but around adolescence, many of us stop developing that ability.

“The beginning of adolescence seems to mark the abrupt end of artistic development in terms of drawing skills for many adults. As children, they confronted an artistic crisis, a conflict between their increasingly complex perceptions of the world around them and their current level of art skill.”

At that age kids become increasingly self-critical and equally interested in drawing realistically. When they fail to draw as well as they know is possible many give up drawing at all.

This feeling continues into adulthood. We want to design a website or build an application but if our own toolset doesn’t match up to the perceived skillset we never start. It doesn’t help that the internet gives us nearly limitless exposure to amazing work, talented individuals, and excellent execution. It’s easy to feel inadequate when you compare yourself to the very best, but even they weren’t born with those skills and they wouldn’t have them if they never started.

Do — there is no try

People who succeed somehow find a way to keep working despite the self-doubt. The artist, Vincent Van Gogh was only an artist for the last ten years of his life. We all know him for masterful works of art, but he didn’t start out as a master. Compare these examples from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain showing an early drawing compared to one completed two years later:

Vincent Van Gogh: “Carpenter”, 1880 and “Woman Mourning”, 1882

He wasn’t some child prodigy (he was 27 when he started painting), he learned his craft by hard work. If he’d listened to his own self doubt or despaired that his skills didn’t compare to Paul Gauguin’s it’s likely he never would have even tried.

This is all to say that there are many things that can get in the way of the things we should be creating. To never follow a dream because you don’t think you’re good enough or don’t have the skills, or knowledge, or experience is a waste. In fact, these projects where there is doubt are the ones to pursue. They offer the greatest challenge and the greatest rewards. Why bother doing something you already have done a hundred times, where there is nothing left to learn? Don’t worry about what you need to know in order to finish a project, you already have everything you need to start.


Originally published at signalvnoise.com, a blog by the team behind Basecamp, the world’s #1 project management app. Start 2016 (and your next project) with a free account.