A few days ago, I got home from the most amazing experience. I was one of 70-something women—all artists, crafters, or makers in their own right—who all came together to connect, support, and uplift each other. We all knew what we signed up for, but I don’t think most of us knew what to actually expect. I knew it would be a fun weekend on Vashon Island, and that I’d probably learn a little bit about running a business. But in the end, I got way more than I anticipated.
A little bit about Camp ThunderCraft and Urban Craft Uprising
Camp ThunderCraft bills itself as “a weekend full of educational sessions” and a way “to connect with other vendors, makers, and creative small business owners while learning new ways to move your business forward.” It’s put on by Urban Craft Uprising, the group that organizes some of the PNW’s largest maker markets. They “aim to build local craft events that not only help makers build their business but [also] develop events that inspire others to create.” Basically they’re the baddest group of crafters and makers that you can imagine, and put on some of the coolest events you could ever hope to buy cool indie stuff at.
Leading up to the weekend, we were encouraged to journal about our business for a few minutes every day to identify themes we might like to focus on during camp. Over the course of the weekend, I participated in five different classes over various topics such as craft show vending, building an Instagram audience, pricing products, and more. There were different types of network events, yoga, and all sorts of fun exercises to get our creative juices flowing.
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now
I first discovered the event while I was still working full time, and owning my own business was hardly a blip on my radar. I thought it seemed like a cool, fun time, but I think it was early 2020 when I decided it was something I should really try to do when I had the chance. Of course, that chance didn’t end up coming around until 2022. I’m so glad I jumped on the opportunity when I could!
I was so excited to see it return this year, and signed up pretty much as soon as applications opened, give or take a few days. I wasn’t too interested in sharing a cabin, so I opted to bring the teardrop camper to sleep in. I saved a few dollars by doing this as well.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect
I remember trying to get to Camp Burton on time, but I missed the ferry they recommended taking (by just 3 cars! Ugh!). I sat in my car at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal and looked at the schedule. “Name tag making is for 2 hours? Okay so that will take me like 2 seconds??” Boy was I in for a shock. I had no idea just how intense crafters can get. I walked in to the main lodge and saw the tables piled high with pipe cleaners, felt, sparkly stickers, scrabble tiles, puffy paint, and dozens of other creative supplies. I gracefully elbowed my way into a free seat and got to work. At first I struggled with a concept. I eyed my neighbors to see what they were creating. After two or three false starts, it took me an eternity to get my name tag just how I wanted it. I grew frantic as craft supplies were (politely) snatched up around me, and began screaming internally as I shoved yarn through a plastic needle because the glue stick wasn’t working on the felt and embroidery fabric combo I had chosen. My fingers trembled as they worked to secure the fern frond that ended up looking more like a pot leaf than I’d hoped. I didn’t want to be the last one at the table! My hubris wouldn’t allow it. Finally, I stumbled away from the table in a daze, name tag finally slung haphazardly around my neck. It was time to head on to the next event, the one with wine and cheese. When did I last eat? Was it days ago? I was only just now realizing I had no idea what I had signed myself up for, and the weekend had only just begun.
As I sat down and ate some cheese and grapes, the world sort of came into focus again. I started having conversations that cut right to the chase. What was I proud of? How did I get here? What things were working for me and what did I hope to improve on? What resources might inspire me? I feverishly took notes during Lisa Solomon‘s amazing keynote talk on her creative journey. As the evening gave way to night, we broke out into small groups to talk about common struggles we all face as artists and makers. I joined the Imposter Syndrome table, and we all shared our thoughts and fears like we had known each other forever. I was so happy to have come.
I was constantly surprised (in a good way)
I didn’t expect to enter into such a nurturing space. I didn’t expect to have so many genuine conversations with so many different people without any prompting at all. Everybody was so welcoming. After two years of being mostly a hermit, it was so refreshing to get out and introduce myself to people again, and this time do it as an artist. Ever since leaving my design role at Disney, I feel like I haven’t really put myself out there in front of new people all that much, introducing myself as “Shelby Pothier, artist.” I spent so long as a designer that nothing else feels quite real yet. Part of me still feels sort of in limbo. But this weekend helped with that a lot. There was a show-and-tell table where everybody displayed some incredible samples of their work and a stack of their business cards. So many people commented positively on my work and some had even seen it before. Suddenly, I felt almost like an expert at my craft. I just need some assistance with the business and networking side of things, which I’ve now got in spades.
I also didn’t expect to build such a local network. Maybe I expected more people from further afield would attend, and that we would all disperse to our individual communities. I met people who grew up and live only a few blocks from me. We shop at the same stores, we hike the same trails, we eat and drink at the same places. I’ve probably bumped into them before. These are people who have been around me this whole time, and now we are even more connected.
I didn’t expect it to be so magical. There was one quiet moment where I was sitting on the beach and a woman popped out of nowhere, chatted briefly, told me to enjoy the weekend on Vashon, gave me some beach glass, and disappeared. And then the literal life-changing conversations that we had over delicious meals (seriously, the meals were so good!) all buzzed with the energy that you can only find when you get together with seriously passionate and excited people.
Just a few lessons I’m going to carry forward in my life
The practice of stream-of-consciousness journaling was encouraged as homework before camp. I’ve definitely been a huge fan of journaling my whole life, but in the last few years I’ve mostly stopped doing handwritten journaling in favor of writing on my computer or on my phone. But I dusted off an old Disney-flavored journal that a coworker gave me back in the day and started writing in it again. I had previously used the journal as a way of documenting all the steps I was taking to build my dream career. Well, here I am! Time to pick up that journal again and continue manifesting the life I want to continue to create. I picked up endless journaling prompts as well, and I can’t wait to dig into those.
I’m going to carry forward the attitude that I can do anything I actually set my mind to, because when have I not succeeded when I’ve really tried? It’s easy to remember the failures, but the successes shouldn’t be overlooked. “Not trying because I’m scared to fail” is just another symptom of Imposter Syndrome, and I’m not going to let that monster bring me down anymore! It may sound obvious, but it’s pervasive, and I need constant reminders. I also need constant reminders that I’m not alone in those thought patterns.
I am not an island. Despite being on an island when I discovered that, I’ve now got this amazing network of incredible resources to lean on when I need to. It’s easy to sit at home in the studio all day and feel alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
I’m sure there are a million more that will surface as I continue to dig into the journaling prompts from the weekend, and I can’t wait to discover them all.
One final thought… I have heard over and over for years now how important having a mailing list is. It’s absolutely crucial to building relationships with followers and fans, but I’ve always been afraid to make the leap. Well… I heard it again at camp and finally went and set it up! Now I’ve got my very own mailing list! Thanks for the push on that, Camp ThunderCraft!!