Saturday, December 19, 2009

Special Edition - Interview of Rebeca Mojica from Blue Buddha Boutique

A while back I asked Rebeca Mojica, owner of Blue Buddha Boutique if she would be so kind as to answer a few questions in a blog interview. She graciously agreed and I'm thrilled to share her answers.

A great bio and other information about Rebeca and Blue Buddha can be found on the Blue Buddha Boutique website. Rebeca's Artist's Statement is also an inspiring read. Here's a snippet from the "About" page:
Blue Buddha Boutique, a diverse line of chainmaille supplies and finished jewelry, was launched by self-taught artist Rebeca Mojica in 2003. First operated out of Rebeca's spare bedroom as a one-woman business, Blue Buddha has grown to a staff of six full- and part-time employees, with interns and guest contributors helping the company thrive.
Again, thank you Rebeca for the answers below and for sharing about the fascinating art of chainmaille!

1) Was the transition from making chainmaille for yourself to owning a chainmail business easy or challenging? How long did that take? What things made it either easy or challenging for you?
Turning my hobby into a business was definitely challenging, but one thing that I've realized, is that I thrive on challenge. It makes me feel alive. So even though it was difficult, in some ways, I loved (nearly) every minute of it. Shortly after I started making chainmaille, I began teaching it at a local bead store, and realized I wanted to try to make a living at it. I put myself on a 5-year plan to make it my sole source of income.

At the time, I had three part time jobs. Over the years, I slowly let one job after another go, once I'd reached the point where my chainmaille income could replace that job. Four and a half years into my plan, I'd succeeded and hired my first full-time employee!

The hardest part was the relentless, never-ending work. I would go to a party, come home at 2 am, and feel the need to work on my website or number crunch for a few hours before going to bed. I started my business with $20, a pair of pliers and a bag of rings, and built everything from that. This meant that every time I sold something, I put it back into the business.

This also meant that I was totally the proverbial "starving artist." For several years I stayed away from places that charged money for entertainment--restaurants, movies, travel, clubs, bars, arts performances. Basically, I stayed away from many of the things I love. That was certainly one of the most difficult sacrifices I had to make.

Another challenging aspect was the fact that I had no education in business. Some days, I felt like I was completely winging it. Almost like the blind leading the blind. Yet somehow, it all managed to work out.

I think that what made it all bearable was the fact that I really loved what I was doing. I am right- and left-brained, and so being a business owner stimulated both sides of my brain. As I said, I love challenges, so every day I woke up excited about the possibilities of what I could accomplish.

2) What is the most satisfying thing about teaching chainmaille, and what's the most frustrating?
Most satisfying is definitely seeing the "Ah-ha!" moment--the exact second when it clicks in a student's head. Immediately after that, they are so much more relaxed, and they can simply enjoy the process, rather than struggle with trying to figure out what ring goes where.

Not too much about teaching is frustrating for me. If a student doesn't get a weave right away, I could definitely see that being frustrating to some instructors. However, it just makes it more challenging and interesting for me, because I'm determined to find the right words and the right demonstration tool so that they DO understand. It's my mission! So that's not really frustrating for me. I suppose what would actually be most frustrating is stuff that has nothing to do with teaching per-se--students trying to talk on their cell phones, or trying to cut me off without really hearing me.

3) Do you have plans to teach outside of your immediate geographical area in the near future, and if so, where? Where would you most like to hold a class but haven't had the opportunity?
When my book is released in 2011, I plan on spending about a year traveling to bead shops and shows to do workshops and book signings. Priority will be given to areas requested by Blue Buddha fans--so far there's really good support for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta and Boston.

Sadly, there are more cities than I can possibly travel to, but hopefully I can squeeze a LOT of different states in! My dream location for holding a class would actually be the Internet. I have not yet done a streaming class, but would love to carve out the time to do that when I'm done writing the book. Now that we have Skype, so much more is possible!
4) Is there a chainmaille professional organization or community? If so, what is it like when it comes to designs and 'ownership' - are there professional standards and rules? For example, When you invent a new weave, is there a place to register it or check it against other designs to see if it's actually original? If not, is there something more informal out there?
There is no official guild or anything of that sort specific to chainmaille. However, Maille Artisans International League (M.A.I.L - is widely recognized for its library of chainmaille weaves and many maillers submit their weaves there for archival. They also have a forum, gallery, articles and plenty of other chainmaille-related information.

5) In your "about" statement you say "When she is not weaving maille, Rebeca enjoys cooking (especially baking bread *), learning languages, and contemplating quantum physics and fractal cosmology." A lot of my friends are fans of Science Fiction (as am I) and I'm very interested in your thoughts on contemplating quantum physics and fractal cosmology - what lead you to an interest in these areas, how does it (or does it?) relate to your art?

OK, now you've really opened the floodgates. :-) My interest in the universe started when I read A Brief History of Time for my 11th grade English class. (Yes, English class!) I was instantly fascinated. Within a few years, I was volunteering at the local Planetarium and reading every lay book I could about astronomy and cosmology.

It is so interesting to me, that the world we live in has so many layers. Everything is absurdly complex, yet somehow it all fits together so elegantly. I feel like a detective, trying to explore the science of the world we live in--the biology of cells, and beneath them, the chemical reactions that make biology work, and even deeper the physics within atoms and molecules. I hope I live to see the day when we discover whatever "particle" is smaller than quarks.

I believe that the universe/multiverse is a fractal (a hyperdimensional fractal, actually) and so we will never discover what the "smallest" particle is, nor will we know the span of the complete universe. We can only keep exploring and try to discover as much as possible. But that's so exciting! It means we will never run out of stuff to learn.

I often turn to the science and math around me for creative inspiration. Whether it is the structure of chemical compounds, the shape of crystals, the golden rectangle, or the fractals in trees, for whatever reason, those types of things are really exciting to me. When science stimulates me in this way, my creativity is unleashed! I feel as though I can create anything, do anything.

The Japanese Bulls Eye weave was one of the first patterns I created, and it came about while trying to create a fractal-based weave. I have plans for a fractal necklace, and plan on someday developing an entire collection of pieces based around mathematical concepts. (Though I suppose you could successfully argue that all chainmaille patterns are mathematical!)

6) What would you say to a person who is interested, but somewhat nervous about getting started making chainmail creations and isn't able to take a live class to learn it? What tools & first types/sizes of jumprings to get, what first project would you recommend trying?

There are a few very basic projects that you can try to see if you like chainmaille. We have some free instructions on our website (Shaggy Loops and Double Spiral for example), and M.A.I.L has dozens and dozens of free instructions. Some other good beginner projects are Celtic Visions (bracelet OR star) and European 4-in-1. These a la carte kits/instructions are good for beginners, because it doesn't require a large financial commitment, and allows you to test one project at a time.

If you're more inclined to want to test out a few different projects, or you learn better from watching, rather than reading, I highly recommend Spider's DVD. I've known Spider for 7 years--she's a fantastic chainmaille artist and a marvelously patient, meticulous instructor. We have do have kits that have everything you need to make the DVD projects, which means that beginners don't have to sift through charts and figure out ring sizes/ring counts.

If you just want to pick up some rings and play, my favorite size would definitely be our H18. This is 18 gauge base metal (0.048" / 1.2 mm) and H is the inner diameter of 3/16" (12/64" / 4.8 mm). This size is very versatile, and is one of my favorites for European 4-in-1/Mesh.

Some people mistakenly think they can use the same size ring for any weave, but unfortunately, weaves are picky. Only a select number of sizes will work for any weave, and only one or two sizes are ideal. (Just because a size works, doesn't mean it works well--it could be too loose, or impractically stiff.)

(interviewer's note: the Base Metal Stats page is a great reference for investigating ring sizes and gauges, with recommendations on which weaves work best with specific rings)

Also, note that by H18, I mean our H18 in non-precious metals, such as Aluminum, anodized aluminum, copper, or brass. Steel and bronze are also non-precious, but they are tougher metals to work with, and not appropriate for most beginners.

H18 in sterling is different, too, because sterling runs on a different gauge system, and 18ga sterling is actually thinner than 18ga base metal. I know, I know, it's a confusing world!

If you insist on practicing with an expensive metal like sterling, H17 SILV is a good substitute because 17ga silver is nearly the same as 18ga base metal.


OK, on to the tools: You don't need expensive pliers when you're starting out, but if you do a lot of chainmaille, you will most likely want to move to more expensive pliers that do a better job of preventing repetitive stress injury.

I prefer to use two flat nose pliers. Those pliers give a better grip on the rings, because they cover more surface area. I also like to coat my pliers with Tool Magic. It allows me to work faster and not worry about marring the rings. Our tools page has a lot of information about what pliers we like to use for what applications.

(interviewer's note: please check out my review of Wubbers. They were graciously provided for reviewing by Blue Buddha Boutique and while Rebeca didn't call them out, I can certainly recommend them.)

We are actually working a special "mini website" within our larger website that will answer many of these questions in great detail, and will even have some 1-click shopping lists for various budgets. There is SO much information about chainmaille, it's difficult to try to answer all the possibly questions in just a few sentences, but hopefully this part of our website will make great strides in increasing people's comfort level with getting started.

7) What about chainmaille challenges you most - a particular weave or 3-dimensional work or ?
Lack of time to create all the intricate design ideas floating around in my head.

8) Has social media impacted the way you market your business? If so, how? (I can either list the sites, like Twitter or Facebook, myself or you can share your links in your answer)

Oh yes, most definitely. Our presence on Twitter and Facebook have allowed us to bring a personal touch to our business. Folks can get to know us better. It drives home the idea that we are real humans behind the business.

It seems as though people are more comfortable doing business with real humans, rather than hard-to-relate -to, faceless corporations. These platforms are a place for us to post photos of our activities right as they happen, making customers six states away feel as warmly welcomed as if they were standing in our studio. It has also given us a big picture idea of which ones of our customers know each others, which ones have Etsy shops, etc. Basically, it's made the world smaller!

It has also been good for me personally, as I landed a book deal after with North Light Books after one of their acquisition editors found me through Blue Buddha's page on Facebook. I had submitted proposals to several publishers, but was happiest with what North Light was offering, and so I signed the contract. I may never had made that connection if the business didn't have a page on Facebook!
9) Chainmaille, chainmail or chain mail? I want to fix my online spell check and get it right!
I, like many others in this field, choose to spell chainmaille as one word, or shorten it to maille, both with an "le" at the end. This is mainly to distinguish this craft from chain letters and spam, but also because the English word evolved from the French maille (mesh). When I've gathered enough press clippings that use this spelling, I will submit them to various dictionaries in the hopes that they will deem "maille" an acceptable alternative to "chain mail."

Thank you so much, Rebeca, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to so thoughtfully answer these questions! I hope my readers find learning about chainmaille as fascinating as I do and can't wait to try it. I know that I've learned a thing or two just from your answers and will be pouring over the information at Blue Buddha Boutique and other sites you've recommended so I can incorporate more maille ideas into my work in 2010 and beyond.

I know that usually I have a Supplier Sales Saturday post, but with the Christmas holiday coming I'll probably take a day or two off from posting later in the week and I really wanted to share this as soon as possible. Supplier Saturday will be back next week.

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Blogger Lisa Crone said...

WONDERFUL INTERVIEW! I sure hope the internet streaming classes become a reality. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. Hurry! :)

December 20, 2009 at 5:29 AM  
Blogger Dawno said...

Thank you, Lisa. I agree, the internet classes are a great idea. There are a number of good technologies already out there - my company uses WebEx technology but there are many others.

December 20, 2009 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Blue Buddha said...

Thanks, Lisa. The online classes will definitely become reality. The past two years have been a whirlwind--we've been so busy just trying to keep up with the company's growth and build all our systems up from scratch. Now that we have a better handle on things and are starting to integrate our databases, we can seriously start to look at doing things like online classes. We can't wait!

Also, I'm silly. I noticed that I mistakenly wrote "golden triangle" instead of, of course, golden rectangle. D'oh!

December 20, 2009 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Dawno said...

Thanks for dropping by Rebeca! I'll be looking for those classes, too.

Also, I'll edit the phrase so it reads correctly.

December 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM  

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