It’s Crafters Corner Time!
Welcome to a new series of articles where I interview local crafters and dish on the crafts they love to create. First up is part one of my interview with local craft masters: Steam Crow.
I have to say, it was hard not going completely fan-girl on them. Daniel and Dawna Davis are two local artists that have taken their DIY spirit and turned it into a successful business. Not to mention they are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met ( gushing, I know.) Steam Crow is known for their custom prints of kooky monsters and Cold War style propaganda. Their prints are the core of their business but they also produce small batches of hand-made crafts that ooze with steampunk fantasy (gushing again, I know.)
Recently I was able to sit down with them and ask them how they made the leap from doodling monsters to a full-fledged business.
What do you attribute some of your success to?
Daniel: For some reason Phoenix supports us. I don’t know why but I think it’s a great thing. That’s kind of the magic of Phoenix for us. People do care. People get behind us and help spread the word. If we were in L.A. or Seattle I don’t think that would happen because there are so many great artists already there.
Dawna: There are so many great artists here, I think we just were at the right time and the right place.
What made you first go from just a hobby into a business? What was the initial spark?
Daniel: For me personally, I’ve always been doing things on the side. I’ve always had odd jobs, first as a farm hand for my parents, to a baker during college and then to graphic design and designing t-shirts. I was even a web designer for a big company. But I’ve always like making weird things like puppets or stop motion movies in the side.
Dawna: Star Wars models for his toys. *Laughs* For me, my first job was a florist in high school. I started at the bottom and worked up a little bit. But I always drew and painted and always created and then I became an art teacher. I’ve been an art teacher for…seventeen years? Today was my last day of teaching for seventeen years.
What prompted you to leave teaching?
Dawna: Steam Crow. (Daniel) was always creative. We met in an art store and we have always just made things both separately and together. So we have this very DIY and creative spirit within both of us. He took me to San Diego Comic Con as my first convention ever in 2005. He told me as we were walking around the floor, “I want to exhibit here next year.” And I said “Write a book.” He had all these ideas and was designing these shirts for a Cafepress store so he wrote “Caught Creatures” our monster Haiku Book within the next two months. He started writing it at that convention and then two months later it was done. He got us into shows because we needed to start selling our book. We did everything for the book even self published it. So we knew we had to sell it.
Daniel: It turns out that making things is the easy part. Selling things is the hard part. We spent all this money and time on this book, I knew we had to find a way to bring it to market. I did t-shirts for myself, we made t-shirts to try to sell through our bands.We had a tile business for five years making arts and crafts tiles, sculpted ceramic tiles. That business kind of ended when we moved here but it never really bloomed like Steam Crow did. We had to develop our glazes from scratch, learn how to do the process, and once we got done with that it was still very difficult. So when we did Steam Crow it seemed easy. I know how to draw monsters, I love monsters.
Dawna: And clay is heavy. We were working with another couple and we both interrupted the process of making that business bloom by having kids. So both of have babies and I can’t mix glazes any more because the elements are toxic, things like that.
Daniel: The good news is that you can learn from every experience and any job. From the tile (business) we learned how to display things and how to sell things and how to talk to people. I was terrible at first. I was really shy. I didn’t really talk to people and they would go away so I just let Dawna do all the talking. She was friendly and nice. So when we started Steam Crow we wanted it to be a successful business. We knew that right from the start. I was thirty-five when we started this, and looking around I felt really old. Like there are a lot of younger people that were super talented and went to great schools that were doing this too. I was like “Man, I don’t have time to mess around” so we really strove from the beginning to be successful at this. We failed at a lot of things, we made a lot of mistakes but we also didn’t believe in a lot of the things you hear at cons.
Dawna: We did it all wrong *Laughs*
Daniel: A lot of folks in the artist alley at cons will say “You have to do fan art and you have to sell it for very little.Breaking even is the best you will ever do.” We didn’t believe in any of those things and we’ve only had three shows that were failures, out of 170 some odd shows. So we didn’t take that as a possibility and we made sure it didn’t happen that way.
I know you two hosted Keen Halloween last year. Is that your creation entirely?
Daniel: Yeah last year was our second year and it was so much work and so much time.
What was the hardest part of hosting that event?
Dawna: You’re planning a huge event that has to be successful. And you’re not the only ones, you want you vendors to be successful. The hardest part was keeping it organized.
Daniel: There’s a lot of people to please, your vendors, your attendees, the volunteers. You gotta make all those people really happy and its hard.
Dawna: We do shows, but planning a show is a whole other monster in itself. We enjoyed doing it and the experience was absolutely wonderful but it took us away from doing what we are best at. Our core business is being in our booth and being the brand and making people happy. So we were running around doing a whole lot of things and it was just hard. Finding the right venue turned out to be the hardest thing of all.
Daniel: For now, the show is on hiatus, we want to bring it back. But we can’t do it again this year. I wasn’t drawing anything new for five months and that’s why I’m alive, to draw monsters. We are passionate about Halloween and the show itself but we only had a few people help with the planning. We had a couple of people help with the website and a few help with the event but other than that it was just me, so it was rough. We really want to do it again, we had a really good time. I’m glad we did it.
Stay Tuned for Part two of my interview with them where we discuss what goes into the process of making their custom prints as well as their favorite iconic villains. If you are interested in their work check them out at www.steamcrow.com or stop by and see them at Phoenix Comicon, booth #779.