Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chimps and Humans

I just read a very interesting article in the May 2009 Scientific American called "What Makes us Human?" . Chimps and Humans are almost 99% genetically identical, which is a familiar statistic to a lot of people. Its used to humble humans on one hand and promote the protection of our closest living relative on the other hand.

What made this article unique is that it focused on the 1% that makes us different and tries to explain how such a tiny change in our genetic code could make such an enormous difference between our species. Based on the tiny, harmless mutations that build up in our genetic code at a predictable rate over time, it looks like humans and chimps shared a common ancestor about 6 million years ago.

Other areas of our DNA show accelerated rates of change, over and above the random background changes that build-up slowly. Those are the areas that provide some evolutionary advantage and were naturally selected and preserved in our genetic make up. Geneticists are just identifying those areas now and are trying to work out what they do.

According to the article, the two areas that show the most change in Humans since we split with chimps are genetic sequences that affect brain development and bone development in our thumbs and wrists. Almost half of the accelerated sequences in humans have something to do with our brains. Over the same 6 million years our brains have tripled in size and in the last half of that time period we started making stone tools.

The oldest stone tools in the world come from Ethiopia and are over 2.5 Million years old. The changes in our hands made us more dextrous tool makers and the changes in our brains meant we could plan more complex tasks, like creating more sophisitcated tools.

That's one of the things that appeals to me about flintknapping and got me hooked. My knapping teacher back in Calgary, Don Hanna, used to say that we've been flintknapping longer than we've been human. Its research like that reported in Scientific American this month that really drives that point home and makes me feel like I'm part of something much bigger than myself.

Photo Credits: all found by googling

Photo Captions:
Top: Tarzan's Family Tree
Middle: Scientific American, May 2009
Bottom: Kanzi flintknapping

Monday, April 27, 2009

Storage Solutions: I got none

An opportunity came up to deliver a wholesale order ahead of schedule on Friday, which is a bit of a relief. This week is probably going to be hectic. I have a large Historic Sites Association order due in 9 days, at least one CCNL meeting to attend this week, and who knows how many bank or lawyer meetings to go to for the mortgage re-financing. So getting that order delivered earlier was a good thing -- it takes some pressure off.

I also found a stack of "From Beer Bottle to Arrowhead" booklets that I had printed last fall and forgotten about which will save a bit of time in filling the HSA order. I found the booklets when Lori and I launched a big attack on the basement on Sunday.

We hauled everything out of the back half of the basement into the yard. Lori cleaned the back room and I assembled shelves. Then we brought everything back in. The shelves made a big difference (believe it or not), but we still need at least one more day to compress boxes and purge unwanted crap. We want to get rid of the big pile of junk in the middle of the floor so we can put the treadmill there.

I might post more photos when we're done, but I'm not going to pretend to offer advice on organization. That big rock metaphor is as far as I can get my head wrapped around organizing myself. Here's a friend of a friend who can help you get organized.

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Half our basement out on the lawn
Middle: Me build shelves, Lori mop floor
Bottom: Basement Progress!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Labrador and Ulus

I didn't have a very productive day yesterday. I made one brief trip to the workshop and then wasted most of the rest of the day. Earlier in the week I finished up all of the knapping that I need to do for the big wholesale order that I'm working on and shipped a box of product out to Norton's Cove.

I think I'm distracted. I've been talking to people that I've done work for in the past about some possible contracts that will bridge the gap between the end of the spring wholesale season and the start of the fall/Christmas retail season. I've been doing up quotes and working out a schedule, but that work is all still up in the air and the uncertainty is distracting.

I've moved into dusty work in the workshop. I have 4 ground slate ulus on the go and I want to finish them all before Monday. The ulus I make are based on artifacts that have been found in Thule Inuit sites in Labrador. The dates for the Thule arrival in Labrador have always been a bit vague, but sometime around AD 1400 seems reasonable. Ground stone tools are made differently from flintknapped tools. Slate breaks apart along flat planes and is too soft to flintknap, but it can be ground to a straight sharp edge.

Sometimes the way slate breaks is beneficial. Yesterday morning I was working on 3 ulus - one of them was chubbier than the other two. Part way through grinding it, the thick one seperated right down the middle into two ulu shaped flat sheets. Each half was thick enough that I have 4 ulus now!

I'm glad to include ground slate ulus in my artifact reproduction repertoire for museums and universities, but to be perfectly honest, I wish there was an Inuit or Metis craftsperson in Labrador making ground stone ulus for the wholesale market. There is a small niche market for replica stone ulus, and an archaeologist who makes artifact reproductions is one way to fill that niche, but I think an aboriginal craftsperson would probably be a better fit. I'd buy one.

Maybe we'll see some soon on the Labrador Craft Marketing Agency's brand new blog! Check it out and give Jim some support.

Photo Credits:
Top:Tim Rast
Middle: Newfoundland Museum
Bottom: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Elfshot Ulus in progress
Middle: Ulu image from the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website
Bottom: Labrador Ulu on display in The Rooms

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2009 Fine Craft and Design Fair, St. John's

One of the big rocks in my annual schedule is the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador's Fine Craft and Design Fair, held in St. John's each November. When I first exhibited at the show in 1998, It was held at Memorial Stadium, which has since become a supermarket. We had an eight year run at the Convention Centre from 2001-2008, which I enjoyed, but they have continued to raise their costs and we've been seriously searching for alternative venues for the past several years.

In 2009, we have the opportunity to expand the fair to 10 days at a new venue at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's.

This wasn't an easy decision, but the CCNL executive, the Craft Fair committee and staff have gone over all the options and polled everyone who has been involved with the fair over the past several years before concluding that now was the time to make the move from the Convention Centre and try something new at the Arts and Culture Centre. We had options to drastically raise booth fees, move to a smaller venue, or shorten the length of the fair. Those weren't popular choices with the majority of the members.

We chose to expand the fair to 10 days, with a break in the middle to allow a switch over in booths. Some boothholders will be there for all 10 days, while others will be there for the first half or the second half. The ACC has over 460 parking spaces for shoppers, we'll have additional promotion through the ACC, and we'll be within walking distance of the University, Health Sciences Centre, the Confederation Building, and CBC. As an organization, the CCNL has a much better chance of breaking even running this event -- which is crucial to guaranteeing that it will be around in the future. People who participated in CCNL craft fairs at the Arts and Culture Centre in the 1980s recall groups of shoppers wandering down from the government buildings on their lunch hour just to shop.

I had a busy summer and fall last year, so I wasn't able to participate in the 2008 fair. I'm going to plan to attend this year, no matter what comes up. Sales are an important part of the show, but what I really missed was interaction with my customers and other craftspeople. The Fine Craft and Design Fair is where I field test new products and its the one time of the year where I crawl out of my cave and feel like I'm part of a community.

Knowing that its there is a big comfort to me. I'll talk a bit more on Friday about some of the big rocks that are falling into place for the summer, but once they are wrapped up I can look forward to the fair in the Fall, then Christmas, then next year's wholesale season and I know that I'll be okay for at least the next 12-15 months. There are little jobs and pots of money to pay the bills on the horizon for as far as I can see into the future and that's very important for getting a good sleep at night.

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: The Elfshot Booth at 2006's Fine Craft and Design Fair, St. John's
Bottom: Lori demonstrating the correct method for purchasing a Spindrift moose flap cap.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Big Rocks First

A couple big pieces of my yearly schedule are falling into place this week and it reminded me of an interesting piece of Spam someone sent me a long, long time ago. It stuck in my head because it has some good solid rock packing advice in it. One of the important events that I need to schedule for 2009 is a rock run to collect more material before next winter.

Anyhow, the Spam -- I'll paraphrase it:

A motivational speaker is in front of an audience to talk about time management techniques and he has a big glass jar and a pile of fist-sized cobbles sitting on a table. He takes the rocks and puts them in the jar one at a time until he can't put any more in, and asks the audience; "Is the jar full?"

Everyone says "yes."

He pulls out a bag of gravel and pours the pebbles into the jar and they jiggle down between the big rocks and he asks again; "Is the jar full now?"

The audience is starting to catch on and say "um.. no probably not..."

Next he pours sand into the jar and shakes it until the sand fills it up to the top. He sets a glass of water on the table and asks the audience; "How about now?"

Everyone says "No!" and he pours the glass of water into the jar, filling it completely.

When he asks the audience what this illustrates, someone says "If you really look, you can always find more space to fit something in."

And the speaker replies, "No, it shows that if you don't put your big rocks in first, you'll never get them in."


I think that's good advice, and you can apply it to all sorts of things in your life that need planning. I'm probably biased towards rock-based metaphors and the reason that I haven't forgotten it is that I'm always packing or repacking boxes of rocks. But as an analogy, its a useful way to visualize any problem that needs a bit of planning, from setting up a booth at a craft show to planning your annual schedule. Sometimes its good to stop and think about what the "big rocks" are in your life and make sure that you've made them the priority.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thanks for Visiting!

Thanks for stopping by, let me put the kettle on...

I started Elfshot: Sticks and Stones about 2 months ago and I really appreciate all your feedback and comments. I'm starting to find my groove here so this post is a little housekeeping post about the blog.

Posting Schedule: For the people who check in regularily, I've penciled blog updates into my schedule for every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I'm going to try to stick to that routine as much as possible. My posts tend to be on the long-ish side, so three a week is plenty.

Followers: Thanks for following! The follower gadget was a default setting when I started the blog and I'm glad I kept it. It helps me gauge who is watching the site and what topics might be of interest to them. I also use it as a shortcut between different sites. Its a really good way to browse blogs of people with similar interests to your own. If you have a blog, I recommend adding the follower gadget. If you've visited my site more than once, please consider adding yourself as a follower. It will help you find your way back here, navigate to other similar sites, and let me know that you are out there reading.

Comments: Thanks for commenting! So far it seems like the most commented on posts are the ones about running a craft business. And Lori. Again, the comments really help plot the direction that the blog will take. I have heard from one reader using a government computer that they can view the site, but can't post comments. I've made the commenting options as wide open as possible, but it doesn't seem to help. Which sucks, but given some of the IT restrictions that the Government puts on their own computers it doesn't really surprise me.

Thanks again for reading, don't forget to "follow" blogs you enjoy and I'll see you on Monday.

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Dorset Palaeoeskimo reproduction soapstone lamp and pot
Middle: Maritime Archaic Indian marine hunting reproductions
Bottom: Lori's ear.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Workshops, Beer, and Vikings

I'm still plugging away at glass points in the workshop for spring jewelry orders.

I got a phone call yesterday from a fellow who attended a flintknapping workshop I did at L'Anse aux Meadows in 2007. He stopped by this morning to pick up a few flintknapping kits. It got me thinking about workshops again -- I've been intending to do one in St. John's around Father's Day for a couple years now but I haven't been able to follow through on it. Maybe if I put it in writing here it'll remind me to sort out the details. The Geocentre or The Rooms seem like good spots to host something.

The L'Anse aux Meadows workshop was a good day. The participants were social studies teachers who were touring historic sites across the province. In a workshop, I start with a demonstration, which runs 45 minutes to 1 hour. I show everyone how a spearpoint can be knapped out of a large rock using stone and antler tools. The second half of the workshop is hands-on. Everyone gets a flintknapping kit that includes a copper tipped pressure flaker, a leather palm pad and an instruction booklet called "From Beer Bottle to Arrowhead". The first point that everyone makes is a beer bottle bottom point. A flat bottomed beer bottle is the ideal raw material to learn to flintknap with. You can find them everywhere, glass is a little easier to chip than flint or chert, and the bottle bottom is already the right thickness to make an arrowhead. In a class of 12-15 people there are always a couple people who get done the beer bottle point and move on to make a second or third chert or obsidian point. The hands-on portion of the workshop averages about 2 hours.

The L'Anse aux Meadows workshop sticks in my mind because that evening Lori and I tagged along with the teachers to their Viking feast in Parks Canada's reconstructed Norse sod houses. Interpreters in costume prepared food from the period and told stories from the sagas. Birgitta Wallace, who spent years excavating at L'Anse aux Meadows was there as well. It was one of those smoky blends of oral history and archaeology that I really enjoy. Bjorn the Beautiful would answer questions in character using extracts from the sagas to illustrate his points and Birgitta would address the same points with decades of archaeological research as her references. It was a fantastic experience.

Flintknapping Kit: $18.40

Photo Credits:
Top & Bottom: Tim Rast
Middle Left & Right: Lori White

Photo Captions:
Top: L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site.
Middle Left: Flintknapping Workshop in the Park
Middle Right: Bjorn the Beautiful entertaining guests
Bottom: Elfshot Flintknapping Kit

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eggs, Rocks, Bunnies, Spirits, Books

"In Japan, flint and obsidian arrow-heads are regarded as the weapons still in use by spirits. The popular belief there is, that every year an army of spirits fly through the air with rain and storm; when the sky clears, the people go out and hunt in the sand for the stone arrow-heads the spirits have dropped."

From Flint Chips by Edward Thomas Stevens, 1870

I found that quote the other day in a book digitized by google books. It has several pages dedicated to Elfshot and Thunderstones.

This is the second time in two weeks I've seen something fantastic on google books. A few days ago, John sent me a set of illustrations of 19th century Greenland Inuit clothing, toys, and tools from Meddelelser Om Grønland.

"If flint arrow-heads were regarded as "elf-darts," stone hatchets were equally believed to be thunderbolts. In Greece they are known as astropelekia, or axes that fall from the stars. So early as the time of Pliny they were known as thunderbolts."

From Flint Chips, 1870.

Photo Credits:
Top; Tim Rast
Bottom; Erick Walsh

Photo Captions:
Top; Surveying a sand blowout in Labrador
Bottom; Elfshot reproduction of a flint hand-axe or "thunderbolt"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stones and Bones

I think today is going to be an inside day. I'll spend most of the day wiring and carding necklaces in the basement with breaks upstairs in the office at the computer. I'm feeling a little beat up after a few long days in the workshop.

I've had a good run in the workshop this week - I finished another 58 glass, obsidian, and chert points yesterday. (archaeologists call arrowheads and spearpoints "projectile points" so we don't have to decide what kind of tool they were actually used on in order to talk about them.) I also had a good run on the road after work. After running on a treadmill in the basement all winter it was nice to finally get back outside again. Although I really noticed the difference between running on the ground and running on a shock-absorbing treadmill. It felt like the ground was reaching up and punching my feet everytime I took a step.

I get a pain in my left shoulder if I do a lot of small work on tough stones. I can partly avoid it by bracing my hands better while I'm pressure flaking, but it still hit me yesterday and I should probably take a break from knapping for the weekend. Once it comes on Advil/Ibuprofen helps. Alexis Templeton recommended that to me - parts of her job can cause repetitive stress injuries as well. If I recall correctly she said that she gets it in her thumbs when she's putting a lot of handles on mugs.

I'm sure craftspeople must leave behind some pretty unique skeletons.

Photo Credits:
Top & Middle: Tim Rast
Bottom: Erick Walsh

Photo Caption:
Top: Translucent Obisidian Point
Middle: Glass, Obsidian, and Chert points in the workshop
Bottom: Burial 34 by Lori White (2005). Lino-cut print inspired by the Maritime Archaic Indian cemetery at Port Au Choix, NL, dating to 4400-3300 BP.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pop Cultural Products in Clyde River

I really need to learn a new word. I'm starting to annoy myself with cultural product this and cultural product that. All I really wanted to do was post a picture of my Spiderman hat and its turning into another cultural products post.

I bought this hat last September at a small craft fair in Clyde River, Baffin Island, Nunavut. When the cruise ship I was working on pulled in to town, the residents of Clyde River pulled out all the stops. The impression that Clyde River gives is a vibrant community that embraces the new alongside the traditional.
A teacher gave us a tour of the new cultural school, the first of its kind in Nunavut. It's a fantastic new building with bilingual Inuktitut and English computer labs, a state of the art wood shop and courses dedicated to teaching children traditional Inuit skills. It merges western curriculum with Inuit culture. The school also provides breakfasts for more than 1/3 of the community every day - children and adults.
In the community centre the town put on a show for us. There were demonstrations of traditional Inuit games followed up by a hip-hop performance by local dancers. It might sound like an odd combination, but the movements and athleticism required in the Inuit games led seemlessly into the high energy dancing of the hip hop troop. As we left, there were kids on ATVs selling narwhal tusks to passengers.

In that context, my Clyde River Spiderman hat means much more to me than just being a really cool hand-made object. The web design on the hat is actually a traditional Inuit snowhouse pattern (an igloo). But the knitter bent that design, did the snowhouse in red and black, and added the signature Spiderman eyes to create a completely unique product. She combined a traditional design with a 21st Century pop reference in a very cool Andy Warhol kind of way that perfectly sums up Clyde River for me.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top Right, Clyde River Spiderman hat
Top Left, Inuktitut and English poster in the Nunavut Piqqusilirivvik Cultural School, Clyde River
Middle, The computers in the school lab had keyboards with Syllabic and Roman letters
Middle Right, One Foot High Kick demonstration
Bottom Left, Alaskan High Kick demonstration
Bottom Right, Clyde River Hip Hop dancers

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wholesale versus Consignment

I had a really good day in the workshop today. I finished up my Recent Indian points for my spring wholesale orders. I have yet to pair them up to see if I have enough sets of earrings, but I should be set for necklaces. In Newfoundland, Recent Indian refers to the ancestors of the Beothuk who start to appear in the archaeological record sometime before 1000 years ago.

When I was in the office I was answering e-mails. I got some good feedback on the Ivvavik reproductions that I made last spring -- apparently they are being used "and people LOVE them", which is great to hear. I was also e-mailing with Vicky Taylor-Hood about wholesaling. I'm a big fan of wholesale over consignment.

I've thought for a while that it would be interesting to have a pair of articles in the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Newsletter, one pro-wholesale and one pro-consignment. I have a pro-consignment writer in mind, but I've never actually talked to her about writing her side of the story. The pros of consignment include a better percentage of the sales going to the craftsperson - usually between 60 and 75% of the retail price, greater control of what product is sold in a particular store, and its easier to get stores to carry your product because there is no risk to them if it doesn't sell.

Wholesale, on the other hand is usually a 50/50 split between the producer and the shop. Which means less money in the pocket of the producer. So why go for wholesale?

The downside of consignment, I believe, is the time it takes to keep track of your product and sales in multiple shops. With a few notable exceptions, my experience with consignment was constantly monitoring stores carrying my product and periodic reminders and requests for payment of product that sold. With consignment you get paid as the product sells and you are responsible for the unsold product at the end of the season. As your business grows the amount of time it takes to monitor consignment orders eats into the amount of time you can spend in the studio creating new product. The more you are selling, the less time you have to make it.

When you sell wholesale, you get paid for your product when you deliver it. You are in contact with the buyer when they place the order and again when you deliver it. After that, selling it is their concern. Obviously, you still need to build a good relationship with your customers, but wholesaling your product puts much more of the day to day selling of your product in the hands of the shop owner, which frees you up for all the other aspects of your business and life that need attention. Wholesaling cuts down on the administration side of the business. To me, 10-25% more time spent in the workshop is much more valuable than the 10-25% more money that I could make on a consignment sale.

From the shop's point of view, you might be a bit more of a risk as a wholesaler, because they are stuck with your product if it doesn't sell, but selling wholesale means less paperwork and a higher percentage of the sale stays in their register. For every one store that walked when I said "I no longer sell on consignment" I picked up 2 or 3 new ones.

As I got busier, I also found it difficult to keep consignment shops adequately stocked. A consignment order is a potential sale and it has to take second place to an actual sale. If someone is placing an order and they are going to pay for the product when you deliver it, they have to take precedence over creating excess product to sit on a store shelf, that may or may not sell, and that you may or may not get paid for.

I realize that the numbers don't work for all craft producers. The cost of materials and labour on some one-of-a-kind pieces is too great to allow for the 50% mark-up necessary for wholesaling. Everyone's business is different, but I'm happy with the decision to choose wholesale over consignment.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Photo Caption: Recent Indian projectile point reproductions, ready for necklaces and earrings.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Working at Home, Living at Work

So I have a brand new hot water boiler and a house full of in-laws this morning. In between all the boiler and family excitement yesterday, I assembled and carded a few obsidian and glass necklaces and earrings. I also had a good chat with a woman in Corner Brook looking for a few complete artifact reproductions as well as pieces suitable for a sandbox dig. This is another opportunity to make use of Cultural Products seconds.

Lori's mom was staying with us a couple of nights this week and noticed that our hot water was a slightly more yellow color than our cold water. Our hot water boiler is 7 years old and Lori has been keeping an eagle eye on it for the past 3. We finally got some discolouration in the water so we decided to replace it before it completely let go and flooded our basement.

Lori's parents have a good friend in the plumbing supply business and he gave us a deal on the tank and set us up with a reliable, cheap plumber to install it. Lori's dad was in town with his truck, so he could pick it up for us, no problem. Unfortunately, when he went to restart his truck after popping into the warehouse to get the boiler it wouldn't start. His official explanation was that water from the car wash must have shorted out the starting motor. This was controversial enough for his wife to hear, because she thinks he has a carwash addiction and doesn't need to wash the truck multiple times a week. Later in the day, when Lori's mom was out of the room, he wondered if opening up the hood to shampoo the engine and blast it with the pressure washer might be the real culprit.

So, the truck is in the garage and in-laws are in the basement.

That pretty much sums up the pros and cons of working at home. Its convenient to be able to be around when the plumber needs to show up. But the distinction between home life and work life is pretty blurry. To people on the outside it can feel like you are always at home, while to you it can feel like you are always at work.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Photo Caption: Obsidian jewelry from Elfshot.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Adding Paypal

I'm currently working on adding a Paypal shopping cart and check-out options to my website.

A lot of craft producers in Newfoundland have been using Etsy to sell their product, with a lot of success. I debated setting up an Etsy shop, but decided against it for a number of reasons. First, I already have a retail website. It needs updating, but the framework is there and people do use it to place orders already. I think that I should focus on making my existing virtual storefront easier to use instead of creating a whole new space. Starting an Etsy shop would mean a third source of online content to update and promote in addition to this blog and Besides, there is already a flintknapper on Etsy selling under the "Elfshot" banner. He does good work and seems to have independantly developed his own flintknapping business called "Elfshot" in Arizona.

Anyhow, the Paypal set-up seems straightforward enough, but there are enough steps that I'm going to take it a little bit slow to absorb everything. I've signed up for a merchant account and have started the process of linking Paypal up to my Scotia Bank business account. I've started making the little "Add to Cart" buttons. You do that through the Paypal website for each product that you sell and then they give you a bit of html code to copy onto your website. I don't know the exact number yet, but I'll need to do that for about 100 different products. It will be time consuming. The directions on the Paypal website are very clear, but you do need to know a little bit about html in order to add the buttons to your page.

I'm starting with the products already listed on my website. I have a couple years worth of new product to add to, but I'll do that in a second step after I get Paypal up and running.

I'm not sure yet how the final check-out page works, ie., whether that is something that I have to add to my site or if it is created for each order on the Paypal site.

I'm hoping that in a week or two I'll have the shopping cart up and running.
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