Those of you that follow me on Twitter or Facebook have probably seen me complain about my day job, the lack of time I have to do fun things like prop to my heart's content, and other moral whinings here and there. Over the past few weeks, I've been literally inundated with orders, emails, bills, and everything under the sun, and done my best to hold up under the pressure. Through it all, I've suffered through my day job, pushed on, and done all I can to support my wife and myself through our difficult lives. What has helped me press on are the smiling faces I see when one of you get in your very own space gun, posing there in your glory, or the many words of thanks, of encouragement, of help.
One such voice has recently been a good friend who brings such encouragement, and I encourage you to meet her. I leave it to you to pick the Paragon choice of hugging her for being such a good person, or the Renegade choice of poking her for making me talk so much. After all, it was she who suggested I write this! ;)
As I mentioned, I have a full time job that takes up nearly all of my weekdays. The hours aren't too bad, 9-6, but there's a 30 minute drive each direction. I wake up at 7:30, giving me enough time to finish the morning ritualistic amenities before I have to leave. On average I get home between 6:30 and 7, sometimes 7:30 during certain times of the year. Hooray retail. This alone eats into my days, and leaves me with little time at night to work, since I don't want to disturb the neighbors with my loud machines, and then all weekend to cram things out.
Now, don't get me wrong. I have a spectacular job. I'm doing something I've always been interested in, ever since I was a little boy. It's brought me many skills that I have used quite often in my prop making. And I absolutely love it.
I work in a violin shop.
Way back when I was young, summer break between 3rd and 4th grade, I was introduced to the violin at a concert my father brought me to. My parents surprised me with a trip to the violin store soon after, and I have been playing ever since. Admittedly, I have not been as active in it as I once was, but it has been and forever will be a large part of my life. Nearly three years ago, my brother-in-law told me of a job opening at a violin shop, and I jumped on the opportunity - the mechanics and building aspect had always intrigued me. When I was hired, I was ecstatic, and the many experiences I have had there have truly affected me as a whole.
When I first started, I was the Entry Level Repair Technician. I started out by cleaning rental returns and trade-ins, getting an overall feel of the instruments. Then I was taught how to set up the instruments (put them together, basically), and then I was in heaven. For a closer look at the process of what I do for that, check out this series in my deviantART account: "The Things we Do for Love"
I don't think my title has changed, despite working there for nearly three years, but when it came time for the Competition the boss runs every three years, he learned of my meager graphic design skills, then had me work on all the publications. Then the websites started having problems, and he had me work on those. Then rental season hit, and I had to learn to help there. Then Christmas. Then learning to run the shop on my own for days on end.
My official title may still be the same, but everyone who comes there knows me as the "everything guy".
The bills started to pile up, despite the steady job, and I started thinking of ways to earn some extra income. I'd worked multiple jobs in the past, and wanted to avoid that (what with the job market what it was), so I started thinking of things I could do to make a little extra money. I had started attending the con scene, but hadn't really had the urge to do much (especially since half the time I could only make a few hours of one day). I had always enjoyed putting things together though, like puzzles and models, so I started thinking about my skills and what I could make. Somehow, that led me to want to make guitars.
So I made one. Admittedly, it was a cheap one from an overpriced kit, but I made one. I thought, hey, if I make one or two of these, then sell it for a bit more to make up for the building time, I could turn around and make another one with the money and sell it too! It was a sound plan, and I knew it would be hard at first. I pushed on anyway, got a business license, made a website, started what little advertising I could, then waited. I even connected with a few wholesale places for little accessories and other small things a guitar would need to stay in shape. And I waited.
A full year passed with not a single sale. So, rather than try to beat a dead horse, I closed the site, ended the license, and went back to sticking with the day job, which I had planned to work at until I was making enough to sustain. But the bug never left.
I started getting more into the convention scene, and discovered Pepakura (paper craft) in October '11. That got me started on the Fallout Sledge/Armor you've seen me slowly working on here and there. I lurked at the 405th and therpf.com, then started playing around a bit with foam. That got me into my first real (and completed) costume, which I wore for the ME3 release. It was sad, it was terrible, but it was fun as hell and I loved it. I built an M8 and M3 for me, by hand, with an exacto knife, and despite the wonky shape, I loved them. So did several people at the release, who asked what I would charge to make them.
That's when I started thinking I should make these for other people, and maybe make a little bit of cash to help out our (increasingly) difficult situation. And so, Ascension Props was born.
Despite only having made props at all since November '11, people seemed to like them. My tools got more varied, my skills improved, and my already busy day started getting filled up. I got a booth at a new convention, hoping to stem some more growth. Didn't land a single sale, but it was fun and I spread my name quite a bit. Then I made a new and improved Mass Effect suit, complete with lights and colored to my own design.
That's when everything exploded. I premiered the new suit at NDK, and was asked for pictures every 3 steps. It was awesome. I had finally found something I liked, something I could do, that was fun and had a chance to bring in a bit of cash. I brought it to Anime Banzai, and had just as much attention. So much fun, so much networking, it was a blast. Because of all that had gone on, and from the more frequent views and links from outside sources, the orders poured in. I had to enlist the help of my friends for a bit, but we caught up, got everything out.
And then the orders stopped.
A month went by, nothing. Pageviews left and right, no orders. I started wondering if I wasn't cut out for this, if I had tried too hard and gotten caught up in a quickly passing trend with no chance to keep up with the many great makers out there. Soon, though, I was contacted by the wonderful guys at Mass Effect Marathon, who wanted to auction some of my stuff for Child's Play. I was flabbergasted that I had been recognized for something like that so early into my (hopeful) career, and floored when they did so well. I'm still in awe of everything over both weekends, and so happy to have helped.
And then the orders started flooding in again. I filled what I could, even set a Halloween deadline, and then a Christmas one when the orders wouldn't stop. I enlisted the help of my friends again (who now call themselves my minions), and got the Christmas stuff out. But the orders kept coming. As you may have noticed, I had to temporarily close my Etsy store and the one here on this website, for fear it'll take me a year to complete a single order - I have that many.
The biggest problem? Mass production. If molding wasn't so expensive I would go that route. I wouldn't be in the state I'm in right now, where I have to make each and every one of the orders by hand, from scratch, start to finish. I've gotten really good at the M8s, which have seen the most improvement, and overall my skill has gotten much better. None of this helps, though, for in order to finish everything in a reasonable time (and some which have very sudden deadlines), I need every possible waking hour to complete them, even with help.
I hope it doesn't seem like I'm whining - far from it. I'm so happy that everyone sees value in my work and would like a piece of it. I'm only worried of the time it will take and whether I have enough sanity to see it through.
And that was when I started asking myself whether I should go full time.
I asked myself several times over the previous months, and always had come out against it. Sure, I want out of the daily grind and away from a boss who is slowly and surely dragging me downward, but it was a steady job with great benefits. Now, I wasn't so sure. It was becoming a necessity, a requirement, that I have more hours during the day, else I'd have to work all night and lose sleep to make sure the orders weren't delayed. My emotions were strained, and everyone could tell it was starting to affect me.
I posed the question to others, and got many of the same answers I had come up with myself. If I quit, could I support us? If I didn't, would I have time and stamina to finish? The very violinist who inspired me to play was coming, and I had a chance to thank him; could I hold out 'til he got here? If I quit, could I survive another dry spell? What if I went part time at work and spent more time on props? This last seemed the best answer, but still I hesitated. This decision was not mine alone to make, and both of us were unsure. Friends, family, everyone gave support, but even now we do not have an answer.
I have received advice from all around, some of the best coming from fellow makers and from the friend who's fault it is I'm writing this diatribe. Even still I hesitate. But now, I believe I have an answer.
And only today did I realize that the same fears I had of our income are the same fears I now have as a father to be, and that is the fear of uncertainty. I have always looked to the unknown and welcomed it, but uncertainty is what holds me back every time. I don't know what will happen, and I don't know how my decisions will affect our future. This is my weakness, I suppose, though with the amazing success of these props that fear has lessened. I have such a wide variety of friends that my name can get out to places that can help me earn my keep. I have such a wide range of viewers and clients that I will never be left with a dull, boring day.
All I have to do now is keep moving, keep pushing, and make a grand entrance for our little one.
And so, despite having not fully come to a decision, I still have to thank you all for making what I am trying to do possible. Without you, this would be as dead in the water as the guitar attempt. Because of you, I have a chance to make things better and spread smiles in the meantime. Thank you all, and may this new year be the greatest, with more and better things yet to come!