A Minute in the City 10/19 – King Louie

Fall, it seems, has finally fallen. And I greet it with mixed emotions. You see, I’m not a huge fan of cold weather. In fact, before I started creating artwork for A YEAR IN THE CITY, I always favored a temperature-controlled car to the out of doors. But art does funny things to people. It draws them out, it stretches their boundaries. It opens up the windows, no matter the weather.

That having been said, I took the photos for this illustration on a lovely day in May, so it really wasn’t much of a struggle. The struggle came later, when I sat down to draw our city’s namesake. It was to be my first calendar page for A YEAR IN THE CITY. January 2018.

I was excited at the prospect of illustrating sculpture. I remembered having studied a Michelangelo painting in college in which the same figure appeared twice in the very same pose, but from two different angles. It was suggested by my professor that “Mikey” was essentially painting a statue, and in so doing, he was showing off his ability to understand form. The takeaway for me was that one could make art from art.

While I had never tried it before, I had a feeling that the sculptural surface of King Louie would prove to be much more forgiving than skin or fabric for rendering. There would be less modeling, making the surface conducive to my style of illustration. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was just how dull the king’s bronze casting was going to look on the printed page.

To remedy the situation, I drew from my color theory days, hitting the highlights with warm colors and the shadowed areas with cool colors. And that worked just fine for a sunny day. But then I remembered…this was supposed to be January! I ditched the blue sky and brought in that beautiful pink one you might see in January. That’s right, I drew a sunlit Louie on a winter’s night. And, despite my aversion to cold weather, I let the snow fall where it would.

 

King Louie appeared in the 2018 calendar. He has since been offered as a print, a notecard, and a holiday card. A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars and gifts are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Down by the Station, Union Studio, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop.

 

How things work

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have much interest in the mechanics of things. It doesn’t matter to me how car engines or refrigerators or computers work… only that they do. And it is only when these things break down that I give any thought at all to their moving parts.

A few years ago, I worked with some intellectual property lawyers and a talented technical illustrator who helped them express their ideas. The attorneys would spend hours talking about exhaust systems and machine parts and shoe soles, and the artist would turn out masterful diagrams of these things that were as beautiful as they were precise. What fascinated me about the process was each party’s willingness and ability to cross the great divide between the left and right brain. I’m not sure when I’d seen that level of communication, patience, and mutual respect in the workplace.

Fast forward to last month, when I visited the National Museum of Transportation in Des Peres. I had decided to feature the museum on the June page of my YEAR IN THE CITY calendar for 2021, at least partly because I was drawn in by the intrinsic beauty of machines. I took dozens of pictures of cars, trucks, and trains that day, paying close attention to the smallest details so I could accurately represent them in my calendar.

But back home, I discovered that all those details meant nothing if I didn’t understand their functions. Without a patent lawyer or mechanical engineer to walk me through, I was going to have to simplify my art.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily think that art needs to imitate technology. And I don’t pretend to be a technical illustrator. (Probably best, given my avoidance of all things mechanical!) But I love the complexity of machinery, nonetheless. Technology can be beautiful.

Steve Jobs understood this. He was a master at disguising technology as art, introducing sophisticated machinery in innocuous-looking packages, so that artists like me wouldn’t run away scared from his invention. By hiding the brains of the Mac, Jobs began to bring together the aesthetic and the analytical. Beauty was in the eye of both beholders.

The Mac has been my constant companion for the last 25 years. Before that, I was a board-trained graphic artist, which meant that I had to ink and cut every little detail before it printed. Much of that process has been simplified by the computer, but others things have grown more complex. Now I bring my own photographs into a vector program and draw over them to create hundreds of shapes, manipulating the angles to capture the critical details. Then I start playing with colors, juxtaposing dull with bright, cool with warm, so that all these shapes play well together. Somewhere in there, I color the background to bring the subject forward. And finally, if the subject matter lends itself, I add in people.

That’s often where the magic happens. Because, for all my focus on craft, my illustrations are less about places and things than they are about people. In the case of the father showing his kids around the train yard, there is this driving curiosity about the workings of the locomotive. What does this do? What is this for?

But for his children, the technology is just a means to something bigger, something more important. Across the great divide of age, wisdom, and experience, comes a memory of a day spent with Dad.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars and gifts are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Down by the Station, Union Studio, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The National Museum of Transportation, pictured here, will be featured in June 2021, in celebration of Father’s Day.

The Forest for the Trees – A Mother’s Day Tribute

As the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day season rolls around, I have a renewed sense of just how fleeting the moment of connection is for both for parents and children. Though the days are long, as the saying goes, the years that we run to our parents – or shelter our children – are painfully short.

I tried to capture this feeling in my May illustration for the 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar, partly because of the two special days that we set aside yearly to honor parents. But also because of the fact that St. Louis actually has a Mother’s Day place!

On so many levels, Laumeier Sculpture Park is a metaphor for the family. It’s a haven, first of all – a place where we can be ourselves, but also stretch our limits, letting out the proverbial leash to discover something new. It’s a place with deep roots that connect us to one another and branches that define us as individuals. Finally, it’s a place to reflect on the beauty of creation, with massive sculptures tucked into the woods or standing bravely out in the open. Either way, the backdrop at Laumeier is always part of the picture.

When I started creating A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, I was attempting to showcase St. Louis’s favorite places. But I soon discovered that I was painting backdrops for people to live in. In the case of Laumeier, for example, I dropped this idyllic family in front of Alexander Liberman’s iconic sculpture, The Way. But then that family took over the plot. They created their own story.

The young mother in the picture is getting her day – finally! She has purchased a much-loved piece of art and is sipping a glass of wine. Her mother is patiently strolling alongside her, just grateful to have the time with her daughter and grandkids. And the children – whose job it is to be nice to Mom today – have retreated to their own thoughts. The boy is less than excited about his trip to the sculpture garden, but he’s at least gotten a yo-yo out of the deal. His sister tugs at her grandmother’s hand, ready to flee at the first opportunity.

In other words, this is a real family. And this is a normal day, because that’s what it means to be part of a family. We don’t always realize what a treasure that is.

My own mother did not require much pampering on Mother’s Day or at any other time. I always got the sense that she was just there to keep us from falling in a hole. As a child, my only obligation was to grow up – in a way that made sense to me.

And yet. I know now that Mom was standing invisibly by – a sprawling tree to my puny sapling – as I discovered my universe. I couldn’t help but think of her last Mother’s Day when I visited Laumeier. She’d have loved it. Not for the sculpture, necessarily. Just for a normal day with her normal family – those people she had watched spring up from the earth to change the forest forever.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, notecards, and prints are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Union Studio, ArtMart, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The new 2020 calendar will be available in June.

A HOUSE & HOME – Capturing a (Perfect) Day-in-the-Life of your home and family

This month, I’ll begin taking commissions for “HOUSE & HOME” portraits. These commissions look a lot like A YEAR IN THE CITY illustrations, but they are completely customized to capture a perfect day-in-the-life of clients’ homes.

Let’s face it. Every home has a story. Or a million stories. They’re those little threads that tie us to a place until that place becomes an essential part of our identity.

When my husband and I returned to Missouri from the east coast in the 1990s, we bought a little ranch house on a quiet street. Our yard was fenced, and our neighbors were friendly. We were finally going to be able to give our kids the longer leashes we’d had when we were young. Right away, our daughter “adopted” a turtle from a country road and tried to domesticate it – unsuccessfully. Our son, who was three at the time, learned to climb out of his bedroom window during naptime and toddle up the front steps to ring the doorbell. These were among the many memories that made that house a home. Unfortunately, we weren’t poised with the camera to capture them as they were happening.

A YEAR IN THE CITY illustrations have given me a way to put people in important places, both literally and figuratively. In my Citygarden print, for example, a woman sits among the sculptures reading. She’s at peace in this environment, and yet, she’s completely pulled away from her surroundings by her book. In the City Museum illustration, two “tweens” are approaching the stairs, driven as much by their friendship as the adventure that awaits them. At Powell Hall, two sisters wind their way up the stairs, the older one envisioning her future as a performer, the younger one feeling like a princess.

What I absolutely love about these “characters” is that they’re not posing, they’re not on. They’re just being themselves, oblivious to the camera. But their environments just happen to be these amazing St. Louis landmarks, and the subjects are inviting viewers in.

That’s exactly what I hope to create for my clients with HOUSE & HOME portraits, because to all of us, there is no landmark quite as special as home. In a single picture, clients can bring the most important elements of home together in one place during any time of the year. They can feature family members and friends as they look today or as they looked years ago. They can have their yards and gardens depicted as they want to remember them. It’s their call. It’s their HOUSE & HOME.

People sometimes ask me why my characters don’t have faces, a particularly valid question when you’re talking about customized portraits. The reason is that facial expressions can sometimes limit the story being told, because they dictate the emotions of each person in the picture. A HOUSE & HOME doesn’t rely on smiling mug shots, but on gestures and poses, to identify subjects and suggest a whole range of emotions. In fact, it is not unusual for subjects to be facing away from the camera, particularly if they are interacting with others. As HOUSE & HOME portraits get passed down to grown children, they will be able to tell the story from their point of view.

HOW LONG, HOW MUCH, HOW MANY? A FEW HOUSE & HOME FAQs:

How long? HOUSE & HOME portraits take between four and five weeks, start to finish.
How much? Portraits start at $500 for a single 16 x 20 framed print, half of which is collected when the first proof is reviewed.
How many? Unlimited additional prints may be ordered at cost.
How nice! Portraits are printed on heavy archival-quality rag paper.
How soon can you get on the schedule? Only one commissioned portrait is accepted per month, so your job may be scheduled months in advance.
How to get started? First, check out A HOUSE & HOME portraits at ayearinthecity.com/commissions. Then email me at jkmuhm@gmail.com. I will get back with you within a day to get you on the schedule and set up an appointment.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on a certain calendar, and – if time allows – a portrait of a little girl cradling her ailing turtle, a three-year-old escape artist climbing out of his window, and a house that became a home to me.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, notecards, and prints are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Union Studio, ArtMart, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The new 2020 calendar will be available in June.

Oh Say Can You See?

It’s back-to-school time for college students. I vaguely remember the feeling – having to trudge a mile through the snow for “Spring Term” classes, having to take requirements I’d avoided in the Fall, having to trudge back to my dorm long after the sun had gone done. Oh, poor me!

Sophomore year was the worst. I’d decided to get my math requirement out of the way, which was not the easiest thing for an art student to do at Washington U. You either had to take calculus with the Pre-meds or you had to take baby math with the hippie artists. I opted for the latter.

“Topics in Mathematics,” as the course was officially called, turned out to be a scream. It was here that I learned to mix a drink (properly), to fill in a checkerboard using three (rather than two) values, and to color a map. I breezed through all of it. And – shame on me – I was snickering the whole time.

I couldn’t wait to tell my father about baby math. Dad was mathematics supervisor for the Omaha Public Schools at the time. But his response surprised me. “That map coloring,” he said. “That’s pretty important stuff.”

Forty years later, I’ve discovered Dad was right. My illustrations are made up of hundreds of colored shapes positioned adjacent to one another, much like countries on a map. Sometimes like-colored objects touch, so I have to tweak the colors or the number of objects or both.

Fortunately, I’m not in the business of creating maps, so no need to invent new countries. (Let us be grateful for that!) But I am rendering real places and trying to represent them as authentically as I can. And “Map Coloring Principle” comes in handy. Recently I Googled it and learned that it really is a thing. What’s more, it was a very important thing when I learned it at Wash U.  Just two years prior, the mathematicians Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken had proven the Four-color theorem, refining the century-old Five-color principle. It was the first theorem proven via computer.

About the same time Appel and Haken were proving the Four-color theorem, a man named Josef Albers was being laid to rest. Albers was an artist and color theorist, best known for his paintings of nested squares. The renowned St. Louis painter Bill Kohn taught me about Albers…and so much more. I was taking color theory from Mr. Kohn the same time I was enrolled in baby math.

With the help of Josef Albers, Kohn taught me about the temperature of color. The hue, the value, the intensity. What happened to a color as it moved forward or backward in a plane. What happened to the line inferred by the meeting of two colors. Yellow could be made to look cool, Kohn taught me. Blue could be made to look warm. You just had to learn to see.

A few weeks ago, I went to the print show at the St. Louis Art Museum. I had studied so many of the artists – Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein. But what really blew me away was getting to see Albers’ nested squares for the first time since college. One square inside the other, inside the other, inside the other. Four colors that would have looked completely different were they not touching.

Colors affect one another. And so do disciplines. It is only because of the work of scientists, mathematicians, and other artists that I can make sense of the world and put it down on paper for others to see. So, to Appel, Haken, Albers, Kohn, and the poor teacher’s assistant who got stuck teaching “Topics in Mathematics,” a much-belated thank you.

Thanks also to Dear Old Dad. You were right about Map Coloring Principle. And so much more. It really is important stuff.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY is the all-St. Louis illustrated calendar. Now in its second year, it features Steinberg Rink, Kirkwood Depot, and ten other regional favorites. Available for sale at ayearinthecity.com/shop

Shopping the Shops – Part 2: Places you’ll find A YEAR IN THE CITY…and so much more

Yesterday I posted a “thank you” blog to shops that carry A YEAR IN THE CITY. Today, I’d like to tell you more about them. With Christmas less than a week away, I can promise you one of these places will have exactly what you are looking for! In the interest of brevity, I have not included locations, hours, or links for shops here. Please visit ayearinthecity.com/news to link to any of them.

Abigail’s Gift Boutique
South Hampton has always been a haven for small businesses, and Abigail’s fits right in. Abby Niebling offers lots of kitchen and bar ware, funny/snarky gifts (including a hysterical collection of socks) and a big beautiful children’s area.

ArtMart
For as long as I’ve been practicing art, Artmart has been there to inspire me AND to remind me of all that’s waiting to be discovered. This store caters to painters, sculptors, draftsmen, doodlers… you name it. But they also double – OK, triple – as a gift shop and frame shop. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, plan a nice long visit.

Boheme
Owner Lala Franklin has created a beautiful ethereal space in this Cherokee Street boutique. You’ll find both vintage and modern furniture sitting side by side here, along with other art and décor pieces. Boheme is the exclusive St. Louis source for Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan.

Book House
Where do I start? That’s what you’ll say when you walk into Book House in Maplewood. Floor-to-ceiling shelves on the main level are accessed by sliding ladder.  A large stairway near the entrance is lined with books. Rare first editions and collectibles are displayed at the front of the store. No matter what you’re looking for, Michelle and her staff can help you find it!

Bowood Farms – SOLD OUT OF A YEAR IN THE CITY 2019
Though it’s a little off the beaten path (east and north of the West End), Bowood has become a well-known secret among St. Louisans. Per its name, its main business is plants, and they are fabulous. It is also home to Café Osage, where you can enjoy “garden-infused” menu items for breakfast or lunch.

City Museum
There is so much to see at City Museum, it’s easy to miss their gift shop. Don’t. Tucked right behind the ticket counter, the gift shop carries eclectic gifts, knick knacks, and tees, so you can take part of this rich experience back home with you. In addition to the main shop, the museum also sells shoelaces and necklaces woven on vintage machines on the second floor.

Cocoon
On the western edge of Chesterfield Valley, Cocoon is all about the home. Furniture, knick knacks, artwork, you name it. This shop sells the wares of some local artists (like yours truly), so you can always find unique gifts here.

Dogtown Gallery
Cute story about this one. My father-in-law, Frank Muhm, sold his memoir (entitled Passage to 2838) to owner Jaynelle Haynes. Unbeknownst to me, he also sold Jaynelle on my calendar when it was first printed. Thanks to both of them, I have a presence in the friendly Dogtown area. Jaynelle’s gallery is proud of its Irish roots and is located – fittingly – next to Seamus McDaniel’s.

Dot Dot Dash
Like the DeMun area itself, Dot Dot Dash has an easy-going, almost European feel. Clothing and jewelry are the main event, along with shoes by a St. Louis designer. The staff is completely engaged with customers and so fun to talk to!

Down by the Station
I had long been a customer of Down by the Station before I approached the owner in 2017, and I still consider it a great honor to have my calendar in her shop. DBTS carries beautiful jewelry, accessories, home goods, barware, and stationery items, as well as a sweet array of gifts for kids in the caboose. Part of the great walkable Kirkwood shopping experience, DBTS is a must-visit.

Dunaway Books
Like a good book, Dunaway is waiting to be discovered. Three stories of stories draw in readers of all ages for hours at a time. I am personally intrigued by the library-like lower level, where you can find stacks of sheet music for all instruments. Because Dunaway is part of the South Grand shopping district, you’ll lots of cool places to eat after you browse!

F.O.B. Cottage Florals
Part of the charm of this shop is its location along the upper brick walkway of Lamp and Lantern Village. True to its name, it’s a designer and seller of floral arrangements, but its gifts are many, varied, and artfully arranged. A beautiful shopping experience if you are looking for a gift.

Gallery Furniture and Gifts
Gallery is a synergy of businesses – a leasing manager for downtown apartments, a furnisher of the same, and a gift and card shop. This much-needed business is a short walk from downtown office buildings and a great place to shop for last-minute gifts!

The Great Frame-Up
It’s not just framing. This Webster Groves shop is a one-of-a-kind, showcasing local artisans and featuring products that cater to locals. Owner Bruce Shoults networks with other STL shops to find unique gifts, cards, and prints at moderate prices. This is a real gem of a shop. If you’re looking for local, you can’t afford to miss it.

The Initial Design
I had been looking for a Wildwood shop for some time when The Initial Design opened way out west on Manchester. This is a lovely place with truly unique monogrammed items. Housed in a charming little bungalow, this shop makes you feel like you’re home.

Korte’s Framing and Antiques
A generations-old family business, Korte’s recently moved from their big brick-and-mortar to the smaller building out back. Don’t think of it as less. This light-filled space is filled with artwork and antiques, as well as their full-service framing operation…with wonderful service.

La Gallerie
This little two-room gallery features reasonably priced artwork for your walls, which makes it a great fit for A YEAR IN THE CITY. They can also frame your artwork for you. Owner Dawn Painter carries my calendar, as well as individual prints after the calendar year is through.

Lemp Mansion
Anyone who has toured, dined, or slept at Lemp Mansion seems to have a story to tell. But it’s not all about the ghosts. You’ll also find lots of history, amazing food…and my 2019 calendar in a little gift shop at the back of the house.

Looking Glass Designs
The custom-designed wood engravings of owner Andrea Heugatter are the centerpiece of this lovely Lafayette Square shop. Visit now through the end of the year for great prices on handmade items!

Main Street Books
A hot spot of St. Charles Main Street, this indie book store caters to readers of all ages and interests. Looking for a banned book? Check here first. Main Street also has a wonderful children’s/young adult section upstairs.

Missouri History Museum
Architecturally speaking, Missouri History has one of the most inviting shops I’ve seen. If you enter the museum from the south, the shop seems to spill out into the entryway, as though pretending to be a gallery. And, in a way, it is. I have found real treasures there, including a beautiful St Louis Cardinals tie for my son-in-law and books on Missouri for my father-in-law. The shop, like the museum, will surprise you. You can’t imagine how much there is to love about this big beautiful state of ours!

Novel Neighbor
The word curious comes to mind when I step into the Novel Neighbor in Webster. This seemingly tiny shop is actually “long on story” with a back room and kids’ room that will delight all. The next-door events center and bathroom have earned this shop some well-deserved press, but it is their books and gifts that keep readers coming back.

Sign of the Arrow
I’ve always been amazed at the cross-section of people who buy A YEAR IN THE CITY. And, when I say that, I think first of Sign of the Arrow, which is a needlepoint business. But the thing that continually draws me to this shop is its charitable focus. Since the shop was founded 50 years ago, it has donated all of its proceeds to charity.

Stone Soup Galleries
Making the best of underutilized space, Stone Soup operates out of Chesterfield Mall. From its bright, beautiful space at the foot of the Chesterfield Cine elevators, you’ll find the work of local artisans, including milliners, woodworkers, glass artists, print makers, and jewelers. Check it out before or after the show.

Subterranean Books
Subterranean is a jewel of the Loop with regular events and signings that draw diners and movie-goers along this iconic stretch of Delmar. Alex, Gena, Griffin, Kelly, Sarah B, Sarah T…and Teddy the dog are super-knowledgeable about good reads and store inventory. Subterranean  was one of the first shops to carry A YEAR IN THE CITY.

Union Studio
When Union Studio started carrying A YEAR IN THE CITY, its owner and manager took time to get to know me. They do the same with their customers. They understand the people who shop their store and always look for products that will delight them. Union Studio is all local, featuring the work of painters, metalsmiths, leatherworkers, and clothing designers. You simply won’t find a more personal shopping experience anywhere.

Urban Matter
Every gift shop I visit is different from the one before. But this one may be the differentest. Not only does Owner Mary have a great eye for unique gifts, she is also a master of staging. I’m particularly fond of the free trade jewelry here and some of the pottery pieces. An absolutely beautiful shopping experience in the Dutchtown neighborhood.

Washington University Bookstore
Geared toward students of all ages – including perpetual “students of life” – Wash U’s bookstore has a wonderful vibe to it. Beside branded apparel, you’ll find trendy gifts and great new titles to please everyone on your list. Parking is a challenge, but it’s well worth the walk around and through this gorgeous campus.

World News
I first discovered World News when I was in college, and I thought then – as I do now – that I wasn’t in the Midwest anymore. This place has the feel of a New York newsstand, drawing lots of foot traffic from the nearby business and the courthouse. They’re open till 10pm, which is late for Clayton, and they offer a gazillion magazine titles, best-selling books, and a few calendars, including A YEAR IN THE CITY.

Thanks again to all of these retailers for their help in getting the word out about A YEAR IN THE CITY. And to all of you reading this, Happy Shopping to all… and to all a good night!

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY is also available online at ayearinthecity.com/shop

Shopping the Shops – Part 1: How Retail Has Helped A YEAR IN THE CITY

When I was ten years old, my mother urged me to approach the manager of a restaurant where we were having dinner. “Go show him your artwork,” she said.

What Mom wanted me to show him was a poster I’d been working on – in between bites of food – so that he could gauge the feasibility of having me sell my, um… work in his restaurant. While she was always supportive of my art, my mother wasn’t the type to hawk my wares. She was just opening a door for me, and then sitting back to watch the drama unfold.

As I recall, the restaurant manager admired my poster and encouraged me, but politely declined my offer. He also laid the groundwork for my eventual experience with retailers. Decades later, I would walk into a gift shop with A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, no less scared than I’d been at the age of ten.

Now I have a better understanding of what I’m doing when I approach stores to sell my products. Retail just makes sense. Here’s why:

Retail Benefits My Company.

Online sales are great if you’re a household name. But if no one knows who you are, it really helps to have a presence in area stores. In this, my second “YEAR IN THE CITY,” I’ve tried to place my calendar in shops that are different from one another in terms of product offering and/or clientele. I’ve also been very intentional about creating a clear zone around each, so they’re not competing with one another.

Retail Benefits the Consumer.

Again, online sales are great, but the package that gets delivered to the customer’s door isn’t exactly the “whole package.” Even though my husband and I are guilty of summoning Amazon a dozen times during the month of December, it’s much more meaningful when we shop for gifts “in person.”

The retail experience rounds out the giving experience, because you’re more likely to channel your loved ones’ interests when you can see and feel the gifts you’re thinking of buying them. When I shop in retail stores, I read whole chapters of books before I take them to the register, just to make sure they fit the person I’m buying for. I try on clothes for the same reason. I envision the kitchens, living rooms, and patios of friends to make sure the cooking gadget/coffee table book/serving tray I’m buying is just the right thing for them.

I think this has to do with the fact that retail is a sensory experience, much like being at someone’s house is a sensory experience. Shopping in person taps many, if not all, of the senses and helps you understand the real value of a product. This is particularly important in the case of my YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, because they’re larger and weigh more than similar products. And the quality of the packaging is something that’s hard to communicate in an online listing.

But one of the most important benefits of shopping in stores is peripheral vision. How often have you made a beeline for the coffee tables at Crate and Barrel only to discover a table setting or throw pillow out of the corner of your eye? For every little thing we think we want or need, there are thousands more that have never crossed our minds. Retail brings that home for us. It’s all right there.

Retail Benefits the Community.

As a small business owner, retail exposure comes at a cost. Store owners do take a significant cut of my earnings. But, to be honest, it is completely worth it.

Retail stores are giving my brand exposure with an established target. They are also helping to build the St. Louis community. And that just happens to be the point of my calendar. In this way, I feel a sense of partnership with store owners and managers. “C’mon in,” we’re both saying. “Take a look around.” “Discover something new.” “Remember us next time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Sometimes it helps to imagine Mom back at the table of that little diner, watching me as I approach a boutique or book store with a fresh stack of calendars. I’m not sure if she’s proud of me, but I do think she’s swept up by the notion of building the community. For all I know, that’s what she was trying to do when she sent me on my very first sales call so many years ago.

Thanks, Mom.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars are available online at ayearinthecity.com/shop or in any of the stores listed below. Watch for my follow-up blog tomorrow on what makes each of these stores so special.

Abigail’s Gift Boutique (South Hampton)
Artmart (Brentwood)
Boheme (Cherokee Street)
The Book House (Maplewood)
Bowood Farms (Central West End)  SOLD OUT
City Museum (Washington Avenue)
Cocoon (Chesterfield Valley)
Dogtown Gallery (Dogtown)
Dot dot dash (DeMun area)
Down by Station (Kirkwood)
Dunaway Books (South Grand)
F.O.B. Cottage Florals (Town & Country)
Gallery Furniture & Gifts (Downtown)
The Great Frame Up (Webster Groves)
The Initial Design (Wildwood)
Korte’s Framing & Antiques (Florissant)
La Gallerie (St. Charles)
Lemp Mansion (Benton Park)
Looking Glass Designs (Lafayette Square)
Main Street Books (St. Charles)
Missouri History Museum Shop (Forest Park)
The Novel Neighbor (Webster Groves)
Sign of the Arrow (Ladue)
Stone Soup Gallery (Chesterfield Mall)
Subterranean Books (University City)
Union Studio (Botanical Heights)
Urban Matter (Dutchtown)
Washington U. bookstore (Washington University)
World News (Clayton)

Sometimes, it’s okay to regift

Thirty years ago, I worked for a design boutique, where I was tasked with creating promotional materials that were “too big to file and too pretty to throw away”. The logic was that, if our designs were worthy of the customer’s desks or walls, our branding and messaging would work overtime. That was our secret sauce.

As a marketer, I’m aware of the fact that a print calendar can do the same thing, because it has year-long functionality. But my YEAR IN THE CITY calendar was designed to hang around even longer than most. By trimming three inches off the bottom of each page, buyers can hang – or share – prints for a lifetime.

Just 18 months after launching A YEAR IN THE CITY, I am fortunate to have a presence in 27 St. Louis area stores. When I “shop” my calendar to a new store owner, I explain that it can be marketed even after the season has passed. Come February, I’ll collect unsold calendars and recast them as individually signed and packaged prints for the shop to sell. This brings added value to store owners and year-round visibility to my brand.

Much in the same way, A YEAR IN THE CITY gives the consumer 12 opportunities to draw more value from their calendars, because individual prints can be used to regift someone else.

If you’ve ever taken part in a white elephant exchange, “regifting” may have a negative connotation for you. But I maintain that, if a gift resonates with its intended, it is valuable, no matter the cost – or the lack of it. And I love that! In our throw-away culture, I love the idea that a print of St. Louis may move freely about – from one home or office to another, from one city to another. It may accompany a gift or a prize. It may get packaged with a business proposal. There’s really no telling where it will end up.

But with that print goes a story. And with that story, goes the brand. And with that brand may someday come another customer. Somewhere in the chain of repackaging, repurposing, and regifting, meaningful connections can be made.

Happy Regifting!

ayearinthecity.com

Creating Space…and moving into it

Up until a week ago, I worked two jobs. One occupied 40 hours of my time, the other 35. One paid me every two weeks, the other – just now and then. But I’d have to say that both fed me equally, at least in the figurative sense. I simply loved my work.

You have to hope that we all get to a place in life where we can say that…that we love our work. Isn’t that the point of deciding what we want to be when we grow up? Having arrived at the professional destination of my choosing, I’ve got to say that life is pretty sweet. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Last month, I finally came to the realization that there were only 24 hours in a day. Why had no one ever told me this? Once I figured it out, I realized that none of my resting hours up to this point had been particularly restful.

So I decided to try the balance thing I’d heard so much about. I left my full-time job to take a gleeful dive into my small business. I turned the clock to the wall during my best working hours. And I started taking a little time out to talk to the dog. Amazing how good it felt to create space in my day!

This morning, I fought the urge to reach for my phone when I woke up, instead allowing myself a moment to reenter the waking, working world. And in that moment, I was visited by a memory of my grandparents’ Tudor-style house, a place where I last set foot in 1982. The house had a little vestibule inside the front door – a kid-sized room with an interior entry, a coat closet, mail drop, and mirror – where you could get ready to go in to the party…or out into the world. It was a place to rest, to prep, to imagine with great excitement what lay ahead. Certainly, this was a metaphor for creating space ahead of a day’s work.

I’d love to be able to tell you that the artwork for my YEAR IN THE CITY calendar was designed to create that sense of space. But I’m not sure I understood it myself at the time. Now, though, I have to admit that when I “put myself in the picture” and imagine the story ahead of me, I am creating a much-needed space to prep for work. Then I move in…and start the day fresh.

I hope my St. Louis images will have the same positive impact on you and those you care about. You’ll find all 24 of them at ayearinthecity.com

Merry Business. The art of gifting clients at the end of the year.

I am excited to be in an office job as the holidays draw near. Usually, that means cookies and candy will start to show up in the break room. And even though I’ll say, “I shouldn’t,” I already know I will.

The great thing about edible gifts is that they often get shared. The bad thing is that no one remembers who sent them. I can still taste the Fairy Tale Brownies I sampled at work in December of 2010, but I have no idea which of our vendors had them delivered to our office. The next year, when I was asked to come up with holiday gift ideas, I suggested we send candy and – what else? – calendars!

This is not just a shameless ploy to sell my own calendar this year, but that is part of the message. Because, when you send your clients calendars for the holidays, you stay in front of them all year long.

Here are a few of the ways you can use A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars to increase visibility with your prospects and clients in 2018:

  • Order your calendars with a customized label. This label can include anything you want it to, including a special message, an invitation to a holiday open house, or a logo.
  • Order a custom stamp for the back of the calendar. This can – and should – include your logo to build brand awareness!
  • Have your calendars shipped directly to your clients. This saves you time and keeps the clutter out of your break room (so you have more room for cookies!)
  • Ask to have a portion of your calendar cost donated to a specific charity, and share this in your messaging to clients.
  • I will honor the first realty company, the first tech company, the first financial institution (etc.) to order two dozen calendars or more. First come, first served.

A YEAR IN THE CITY was designed to be a gift, just as the new year is a gift. I think of it as a fresh start, a quiet snowfall, waiting for us to make our mark. We may have experienced a challenging year in our city, but that’s all the more reason to remind others of all the things we love about this place. If you are looking for a positive message to send your business associates this December, please contact me directly at janet@ayearinthecity.com.

Oh, and Merry Business!