KEN BROWN’S LONG HISTORY WITH LETTERS…SO FAR…IN 5 SHORT PARTS. Part Three

TO THE LETTER!

A short history how a fifteen cent pen launched a career over 50 years ago.

Part Three

A brief rewind to television.

EARNING WHILE WE SLEPT

While at the tv station…about 7 months in….I lettered DESIDERATA and had 100 copies made on parchment paper at a funky little commercial printer in west Dallas.  Gail and I gave them as ‘Christmas cards’ in 1969, my first Christmas at WFAA TV.  Response was gratifying and convinced Gail and me the idea had legs. That single step toward reproduction of my Calligraphy started the process that caused me to eventually leave tv.

As quickly as I was set up for full time Calligraphy in our townhouse apartment in Irving, Texas, near Dallas, we began doing other pieces that included her pen and ink and charcoal sketches.  Inside of 30 days I made contact with a small mom and pop craft shop near where we lived.  He loved the work and told me nothing at all like it was available in the arts and crafts industry….anywhere in the country!  That built a considerable fire under both of us.  In the coming months we had sold the little shop 1000 each of 8 different quotes I had lettered with Gail’s accompanying artwork.  I was selling them so cheaply that the little retailer was selling them in bulk to several wholesalers/distributors who were, in turn, selling them to other retailers all over Texas.

Through my naiveté in how pricing worked, I was virtually giving them away and still making a profit.  The little dealer was getting them so cheaply, he could wholesale to the wholesalers! Through my blundering into the crafts business with no guidance…and no hint from the little shop what was happening…we had amazing distribution of our art and Calligraphy all over Texas!

 

A COUPLE OF ANGELS

Then came one of the most amazing and important events in our moonlighting-turned business, selling our designs.  Gail and I went to a regional crafts show at Market Hall in Dallas.  As we hurried through the show we stopped at a small booth that had wooden purse boxes displayed on several tables.  Each was decorated….DECOUPAGED…with paper designs.  All hand-crafted, and we later learned they were a big hit in the crafts world.  We stopped and looked at the display and the owner/creator of the designs introduced herself.  She asked our names and about our business.  I had a small folder with me that had all 8 of our first designs in it…eight parchment prints with my lettering and Gail’s art.  She asked if we had a business card.  We didn’t.  She asked if we had a brochure.  We didn’t.  At that point, I opened the folder with the 8 prints.  She looked and was obviously, quite seriously impressed.  She began to ask questions about how they were done, where we were selling them, etch.  Those designs would be perfect when torn and made into a collage to be glued…decoupaged…onto her purse boxes.  And that was only ONE possible use for them.  They could be framed, glued on boards, fashioned into greeting cards.  Endless uses for what we had created.

She asked where we were advertising our line.  I told her we had just become full-time artists working out of a spare bedroom and there were no funds for advertising.  I did tell her of our windfall at the small dealer who was getting them spread around.  Told her what she saw was what we had!  Our entire conversation was not much longer than that.  She asked for our address and wrote it down since we had no card.  Just before we left her booth, her husband returned from lunch and she wanted him to see the prints.  We showed them, spoke briefly, then moved on.

About a week later we got a letter at our apartment.  Inside was a brief letter from the couple at the craft show; their business was in Edmond, Oklahoma.  The essence of their letter was this.  “We loved meeting you and seeing your beautiful and unique presentation of what you do.  Your work has enormous potential in our industry and since you have no advertising funds, here is a check for $150.  We gladly give it to you with two stipulations.  First, you cannot repay us.  It is not a loan, it’s a gift intended to be used to purchase an ad in the leading trade magazine for the arts and crafts industry.  Second, we ask that you help someone, sometime, when you see a need.  Good luck in your new venture.  Warmest regards, Hal and Jean”

When we came to our senses and realized what a godsend it was, we wrote a gracious note of appreciation for their gift.  Then I got busy thinking about an ad and what we’d put in it.  The best trade magazine relating to the arts and crafts industry was PROFITABLE HOBBIES in White Plains, NY.  I called the owner and told him I had $150. to spend for advertising.  He told me we could get three consecutive months with a small…about 4″ x 5″…ad at $50. per ad if we provided the camera-ready image.  We decided on the months, I created the ad using WHY GOD MADE LITTLE BOYS as the focal point and the ads ran as quickly as he could get them scheduled in three consecutive issues.

When the first issue hit the streets our lives began to change dramatically.  Although we only had 8 designs to offer and the ‘brochure’ began as a single sheet listing the prints with thumbnail photos of each, we were peppered with requests for more information from all over the U.S.!

to be continued…..

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