How to squeeze a dollar out of a dime.

There have been several instances this month when people have asked me how the whole Crafty Chica scene came to be. I know they are thinking – “How the heck did she get all that stuff going on?”

The number of site visitors grows every month, and I know there are a lot of first-timers who don’t the details of my crafty novela. I have shared the story of my art business, Chicano Pop Art, but not “Crafty Chica”.

CPA and CC are two entirely different branches under the Murillo tree. I say “Murillo”, because both businesses are run by my husband Patrick, and myself. We’ve always been a solid team. We work together on ideas, concepts, art booths, designs, troubleshooting, everything! Patrick does all my illustrations (almost all of them, he has recently been teaching me to do some of my own!).

The chica life came unexpected. Back in 1999 (or maybe it was 2000), I was happily working as a news clerk in the Features department at The Arizona Republic. My job consisted of filing, typing, sorting and if I was lucky – writing an entertainment story. Everyone there knew I loved making Mexican folk art because I had been selling in local shops and art fairs for years with Patrick. I often donated pieces to the paper’s charity auction, or gave items to my co-workers.

Something out of the blue happened in November. Zada, one of editors from the Home section called me into an office. I was nervous! I thought maybe I did something wrong. She told me that the weekly craft columnist they had been using from the wire service had quit, and wondered if I would be interested in writing it. We did have a home writer already, but she had spent years writing the craft column previously and didn’t want to take it on again.

I’ll admit, back then, I was snobby! When I heard the word “crafts” I thought of my Nana’s (RIP, I love you!) crocheted doilies. And Plastic Canvas Barbie dresses. I told
Zada I didn’t think I was right for the column. Not only would I have to find time in my already jammed-packed clerk schedule, but I stupidly told myself I made “art”, not crafts. Even though I had been a practicing decoupage and glitter queen for years!

I told Zada I’d find her someone, but after a week, none of my leads panned out. We met again, and I told her the bad news. She asked me again if I would just try it, that she thought I’d do a great job. She said we would start with one month’s worth of columns, and see how it goes. Even my direct editor agreed! She gave me permission to remove some clerk duties from my workload so I could squeeze it in. There would be no extra pay, they offered a weekly budget of $20. for me to spend. They gave me the night to think about it.

I went home and told Patrick. He was like, “Are you crazy, mujer? Take it! You can come up with cool ideas! You’ll have the chance to try new techniques!”

I went to the computer and Googled “cool crafts”. The first site that popped up was Jean Railla’s GetCrafty.com. It was a cyber community of crafters who made cool stuff! That web site changed my life. Jean rocks!

My only hesitation now was that I definitely had my own style. As a craft columnist, you really have to come up with universal designs that appeal to the mainstream. I worried because I’ve never been a pastel girl. Or minimalist girl. Or uber-product user girl. I love recycled-type crafts. I can’t help but use bright colors, lots of varnish, and glitter. That was one of the main reasons I initially turned down the column. I worried that if I tried to be different that what I was, the projects would suck. And if I did only projects in my usual Kathy style, they would not appeal to everyone. I worried the Martha-ites would laugh at me. I’m a wimpy middle child, I can’t deal with mean people!

I thought long and hard that night. It came down to this: Here was this amazing opportunity. All I could do was give it a try. Up to that point in my life, I had sang on stage in a banana costume, had served as a road manager for a traveling Jamaican reggae band, and even hiked up North Mountain in a pair of $300 patent leather heels – and slid down on my butt!

So why not add sharing crafty ideas in a daily paper that had 500,000 subscribers?

Sign me up!

The first couple of months (December and January) were great because I planned out my ideas in advance, made them, had pictures taken, and even wrote a personal mini-essay as the intro for each column. By March, I got great news that the wires editor at Gannett News Service thought the column was cute and would send it out on the wire and see if any of the other Gannett papers would pick it up and run it. A handful did, and that was all I needed to light my fire!

Now this craft column was a big deal to me, but not as much to others. If I fell behind on my main workload, I would have to skip the column that week. Because of that, for many years, I mostly did my craft from home. I didn’t mind by this time, I loved it!

One day I was on deadline for a story, and I kept thinking about the Gannett Wire Service running my column. I thought about how great it would be if people who did not subscribe to the paper could see the column. While I was thinking about this, the name “crafty chica” popped into my head. I immediately typed in the URL – nothing. I then went to Register Fly to see if it was available. IT WAS! I bought it right then! And I made deadline too! (Err, I think I did).

That weekend I went home and looked for web hosting services. I found one that I could afford and I spent the whole weekend setting up the first site.

Here is what it looked like. Eee gads, it has come a long way!

My thinking was that I could use the Crafty Chica site to link to my craft projects that were on AzCentral.com (The Republic’s web site). That way it would drive visitors to the online archive, and at the same time it would build a platform for me in the indie craft scene as a designer. It worked! The online editor was thrilled at the extra hits my projects received and because of those numbers, she was able to make a budget for us to do craft videos and special sections.

I worked on that web site every night – posting new ideas, trading links with anyone and everyone. It wasn’t just about the craft column anymore, it was about the online community. I made hordes of new friends that I still keep in close contact with today.

All that hard work paid off. It was going so good that our managing editor of the paper took notice. She convinced me to go to night school to finish my B.A. so I could get a promotion to a Level One Reporter.

At the same time I got my first book deal. So for two years, I went to night school and wrote my first two craft books. god bless Patrick for taking over the house for those two years! The day the second book was released, I graduated with my degree. That same day – my editor promoted me to a reporter!

From there everything else fell into place.

BUT – the column was still just one (important) sliver of my workload. My editors appreciated it, but I knew anytime we had a shift in jobs and duties, it could be killed. 95% of my job was covering entertainment. The craft column was a privilege I did not take for granted, even to this day. While the site did great, and the column, and books went well, there wasn’t income to support it. My site is and has always been about giving out free ideas, tips, etc. There is no registering, no ads, just me.

It wasn’t until January 2007 that I made a proclamation. One more year, then if nothing changed, I’d quit the site and just make art to sell and relax. Inspired by the Secret on Oprah, I finally put my order into the universe that I was ready for the next level, ready to take on a challenge, shake things up. I said I was ready to do Crafty Chica full-time – I didn’t know in what capacity, but I’d double check every opportunity. Once I did that, I swear everything clicked. That’s when Duncan Enterprises came into the picture!

Thank you from reading through this! I like the saying of “squeezing a dollar out of a dime” because that is what I did with the craft column. You can do that too! Find something that you can connect to, and own it! work it! Make it fierce! Here is my advice:

– Tune into opportunities. That was stupid of me to initially turn down the craft column offer. It was a chance to help me grow as a person and artist and because of fear, I almost let it slip through my fingers. To this day, I thank the Lord for Zada, and my other editors too, for believing in a goofy office clerk like me. If someone comes in your life with an offer that will better you as a person, take it as a gift, look into it. Consider it. Think about how you can make it your own. Be grateful and show appreciation!

– No matter how small that gift is – WORK IT! I had a skinny column rail every week to present my craft idea. Sometimes it was buried in with the real estate ads. Sometimes there was no room for a photo. Instead of griping when things are not as you like – find something that IS working and go with it! I could have easily just let the column run in the paper where I didn’t have control of it, so I came up with the web site to enhance it – and that I did have control of!

– Do it from the heart. Don’t base everything on how much coinage or placement you want or think you are worth. Yes, we all want to get paid like Oprah, but we are not Oprah. All those years I spent working on my site in the middle of the night – finally now it is paying off. I never got paid extra money for the column, but I did get paid in so many other ways.

– Build your brand, anyway you can! In this day and age, platform is everything. If you want to get known as an expert, you will be judged on your online presence: how fresh your content is, how relevant it is, etc. Put up an Etsy store, or a blog and use it. Build a mailing list. Create a newsletter. Get known. Post pictures. Teach workshops. Pitch book proposals. Put yourself on YouTube. Go to craft shows. Get to know your peers. Don’t rely on one avenue, it will not be enough. That craft column is what gave me the kick start, but I built the car with all the other aspects listed above. It sounds like a lot, but you can do a little each night.

– Pay it forward. This doesn’t mean to give up everything you know to every Susie Stitchery who comes along, but it does mean to give pep talks when needed, volunteer to teach at a school or women’s shelter, share your learning experiences in your blog. I am a firm believer in karma. Make everything you do serve a higher purpose with the goal of making the world a better place. Sounds corny as heck, but it is serious stuff!

– Try for everything, something will hit! There will be rejections right and left, but don’t let that stop you from trying again. The more you try, the better the odds. If you don’t give it your all, expect to fail. Pretend that Miss Jay on America’s Next Top Model is screaming “Commit to it or don’t even go there!” If something is not working after umpting tries – take it apart and put back together different. Give it a face lift. If one book idea, audition, or job interview doesn’t sell, try again. Look to the ones that did sell by other people, and see what they did different from you. Learn from it. I got rejected for some TV I had tried for, and spent some time watching DIY shows and guests and tried to pick up the science of it. Example: Eventually the LifetimeTV.com gig came around and I had already framed my mind what how I needed to improve my demo skills. It still is far from perfect, but it is better than it was!

– Take time to chill. Let yourself step away to clear your head.

– Stretch yourself. Have you ever had an idea, or someone give you an idea and you say, “Aw, I could never do that!” but secretly you wish you COULD do that? I’ve done it a gazillion times. Let yourself go for it. Chances are you will learn something new about yourself!

I get asked all the time: “How does someone get a craft column? How can I do something like that?” I’d say read your daily paper and see who the editor is. See if they have anything crafty. Put a proposal together on yourself with a collection of your designs. Even if you don’t score a weekly or monthly column, chances are you might score a freelance article, or something else. For magazines, look at the “call for submissions” area (they always have them) and follow the rules. It doesn’t even have to be newspaper or magazine. Heck check out your neighborhood newsletter, or local Realtor and ask to do a column there. If you want to learn about workshops, check out the local art stores in your area and attend a class, learn the process and then pitch a workshop of your own. You could even do it all online! All you have to do is try!

I am going to bed now, but I know as soon as my head hits the pillow, I will think of more tips to add!

Love & light,


22 Responses

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing your story. I knew some of it but it was still cool to see it in one place! One thing I so enjoy about you is your big heart, which comes through in all your posts. Keep on rockin’!

  2. I couldn’t even finish the article before commenting on THIS gem:

    “Now this craft column was a big deal to me, but not as much to others. If I fell behind on my *man* workload, I would have to skip the column that week. Because of that, for many years, I mostly did my craft from home. I didn’t mind by this time, I loved it!”

    Priceless! I’m glad to hear more of your story.

    Just down the road in Tucson,
    Melissa

  3. Thank you for this blog entry. I always wanted to know about how Crafty Chica started. It gave me inspiration because I want to start a crafty business of some kind. It was a great blog. I read your blog every day. I love your blog, keep it up. Karen in California

  4. This post is coming at a most opportune moment for me… I recently opened an Etsy and have been unable to open a marketing avenue to it for a few weeks… I was at the point where I had to stand back for a while, I’m not REALLY sure how to proceed from here, but I know I want to make art and make it available for others, but “real” work (you know, the one that actually pays the bills?), my daughter, the household, I was having trouble finding the time and I was over-extending myself, blah… I’m at the crossroads and your story is very inspirational…

    THANK YOU!!!

    🙂

  5. As always, Kathy, your stories inspire and crack me the hell up! Thanks for helping me rediscover how much I love the crafty life (it’s my therapy) and reminding me that crafting doesn’t mean I have to give up my “art.”

  6. Thank you for the comments! I did think of one more tip! When you think of a business idea, design idea, name idea, etc – act on it quick! There are os many creative people out there, there will always be someone thinking of the same things, and you will feel awful if you didn’t act on it first!

  7. Please do not think I am a stalker, but I admit I have a whole notebook full of your blog printed out. Your information is very helpful, please keep it up.

  8. All I can say is that you inspire me. I have your books and I read your blog often. I’m working up the energy to get something going on Long Island. There’s lots going on in Brooklyn, but you can’t park there.

    I admire everything you do, Kathy. Keep up the great work.

  9. well I happen to feel very lucky because I have a piece of original chicano pop art from los murillos that i bought at a dia de los muertos event in 95. it is in my living room where i display it proudly. i have watched you grow and grow and am proud to say you are from my hometown!!!!!!! it may have taken you almost 20 years chica, but look where you are now? felicidades to you, well deserved mija!
    Love y besitos,
    La Lucy

  10. As always Kathy…..you are an inspiration to me and so many others! I’m going to post a link to this article in my blog tomorrow. I know that so many will be as motivated as i was!
    Thanks for your generous heart! Good Karma for sure!

    Love, Violette xoxo
    p.s. i posted your ellen video on saturday’s blog!

  11. You are definitely working it! I saw you featured in Redbook Magazine… that’s great! Congrats! So, I just had to stop by and check it out for myself. Great site.

  12. Kathy,
    Been following your art for years. YOU ROCK!! You should have heard the loud scream I let out when I went to Michael’s in McAllen, TX and saw your display. Everyone turned to look. I loaded up one of each and went to look for mom. While I was telling her what I found a nearby worker told us that when your line was introduced at a store meeting, she wondered who would want to buy your stuff. WOW!! I told that girl “ME” and my sister and niece in Burbank, CA and all the people who make Dia de los Muertos altar at the local museums…like my granddaughter who started when she was 10 yrs old and has been displaying altars for 6 years. We co-authored a book, we made a powerpoint presentation about our experiences, etc…we are into it big time. We make miniature altars and other items to sell at the museums too.
    We love you Kathy.
    (A transplanted Houstonian, living in San Juan, TX)

  13. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspiring! It goes to show that you just never know! I plan to share it with a friend who has amazing talent, but whenever anyone says she should do it for a living, she says it would take the fun out of it! Personally, I think it adds to the fun! I hope she’s as inspired by your story as I was. Keep up the great work and awesome attitude! Dios te bendiga!

  14. I’ve just discovered your site and WOW….I need to put a few hours aside to take my time and go through all of this utter fabulousness!

    I am adding you to my Blogroll pronto!

  15. Happy to have found this inspirational piece of advise, thank you for sharing, it means so much coming from a married, Latina mother.

    I own a copy of ” the secret” too and it’s interesting how one can feel in every bone that things are going to happen.

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Kathy Cano-Murillo

Let’s connect!

Hi, I’m Kathy, The Crafty Chica! My specialty is creative motivation. I’m an artist, author, and speaker and this is where I share my craft tutorials, artwork, articles, books, product lines, and workshops!

Let’s work together! Check out my services page HERE.

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