It would be a tough row to hoe if I had to do something I didn’t want to do – something I truly do not want to do – just for the money. Whether it’s a style thing, a standards thing, closed-mindedness, or elitism, I do what I want, and leave the rest on the table. There are many reasons to work alone. Filtering out everything else that doesn’t resonate is at the top of the list.
In recent years a number of folks in the trade, and from my peer group, have become comfortable saying no. According to my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Framebuilding is a creative process and often an independent pursuit. Most of us are one-man shops working from order to order. No one wants to catch up and fill that last commission, so it’s important to stay interested, hungry, and innovative. The innovative part of the equation can’t be overstated. Having clients ensures that the commerce will continue, and that the path we’re on endures as a profession and career choice, and not some silly artistic itch that needs scratching. The demand and a queue allow us freedom to refine our designs and techniques, and that we won’t have to make the same unit over and over again.
For the working framebuilder interested in growing a business, saying no, or sticking to convictions, is an asset. On one hand, if he lives to make what others want/ask for, then defining a style or creating a signature will be difficult – maybe impossible. All the cats I know feel better about their work when left to their own devices. If a client intercedes too much, or if design elements and aesthetic details stray from a maker’s comfort zone, it’s hardly a pleasant situation when the order is completed because it was filled for the money first rather than for the craftsman. We didn’t choose this road so that we can be told what to make, either by phone, from a napkin sketch, or being linked to what someone else has done and then asked for our version of it.
More than anything, we want do exactly what we want to do, on our own terms, and without being second guessed. It’s near impossible to carry this out when others are trying to be part of the process. We know what goes where and how to make it happen. When the job is finished, someone will ride that next bicycle and become part of our long running story.
I hope all those who stand at a bench each day get to make what they want to make rather than what they have to make. The independence, the creativity, and the lifestyle normally associated with the trade are kinda’ sorta’ pretty accurate. If the work is forced or carried out just to cover a utility bill or pacify a needy customer, it would be worse than a job. Many in the niche left jobs just to have what they have and listen to their own voice. It would be a shame if these voices were drowned out by excess noise.
It was Gabrielle Chanel who, in summarizing her place in the fashion trade, wrote:
With these scissors I cut away everything that was superfluous in the creations of others.
Say no often. It’s a safety net, a security blanket, and a filter. Make your bicycle, not someone else’s. Own your ideas and your brand. Leave everything else that doesn’t resonate with you on the table.