[Warning: If you don’t have a healthy appetite for doors, or at least enough time and patience to digest a long blog post about doors (lots of them), you best not continue. Reader be warned…]
I spent a good part of 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 obsessed with doors. There are a lot of subjects one can obsess about, and I think doors are particularly obsession-worthy. Why? Because doors awaken our imagination. They invite us to envision what might lie beyond their hinged glory. Now let’s be clear, not all doors can be referred to as “hinged glory.” I’m not talking about those doors.
(Thank you, Popular Mechanics for your 13 ugliest doors in America post.)
I’m talking about doors that have withstood the test of time. I’m talking about doors that have swung open year after year, decade after decade, as generations of families crossed their thresholds into the warm glow of home: kids bundled up and returning from a snowy day of sledding as hot chocolate simmers on the stove top, carriage-loads of relatives converging on the homestead for a Thanksgiving feast, mom and dad bringing new baby sister home from the hospital. I’m talking about doors that have been lovingly cared for, painted, seasonally decorated, and set off with a pot of tulips in the spring and jack-o-lanterns in the fall. I’m talking about doors that reflect the character of their owners, proudly displaying their patina as a badge of ageless honor.
So I started taking photographs of doors. While walking my dog. And while riding my bike. And while driving (which was particularly dangerous at times…). And thus was an obsession born. And then I thought that I should do something with my photographs other than endlessly organize them into folders on my hard drive with Picasa.
What does one do with pictures of doors? One creates a brand, that’s what one does. As it turns out, “Doors of Portsmouth” had been tried out at least twice in the past decade by fellow photographers. There were at least two prints floating around Portsmouth showing various doors, but neither of them were actively being sold. So I saw my opportunity.
I started with a 2012 Doors of the South End calendar, created using Vista Print, an online print shop. The South End is the neighborhood in Portsmouth in which I lived at the time.
The 2012 calendar set the tone for future calendars, with each door being seasonally appropriate (January door in upper left corner and December door in lower right corner, with the other months in order in between). I made sure the early months had their fair share of snow, that spring sprung early with tulips or daffodils, that July always had an American flag, that late summer showed full bloom, that fall had mums or pumpkins or hints of harvest, and that the December door was appropriately festive. (A big shout-out to Ellen, who provided hours of feedback on door selection and placement and patient counsel on which flowers bloom in which season.)
In 2013, I decided to up the ante and create my own template in PowerPoint. This gave me more flexibility with layout and the holidays I wanted to include. I also wanted to go local, so I found a Portsmouth printer.
Here’s the July, 2014 page (the dog in the lower right corner was pure luck):
I really like it when calendars show the prior and previous month, and by creating my own template, I had the flexibility to do that (upper right corner).
Here are the covers for 2013 and 2014:
This is the unedited crop of doors that would have been painstakingly sifted through had I decided to do a 2015 calendar (clicking on the first door will take you to a slide show):
To expand the appeal of the calendar beyond Portsmouth, for 2014 I created a New England Doors desk calendar with doors from New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. I marketed it to real estate agents in the area, thinking it would make a good holiday gift for their clients. My biggest sale was 45 calendars to one agent. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My dream of funding my retirement on calendar sales was coming to pass, so instead of reveling in having sold half my calendar stock in one shot, I naively printed another run. And was stuck with unsold calendars at the end of the year. Sigh.
The 2014 New England Doors desk calendar:
Apparently the calendars weren’t enough to sate my obsession. A 12×16 print soon followed. Countless hours went into playing around with various doors, paying attention to the distribution of colors and shapes, trying out different doors from the calendars collection.
Then came a box set of note cards, again with countless hours going into the selection and placement.
And then came holiday doors, with eight different doors to a box:
I marketed the calendar (and later the print and note cards) to local Portsmouth shops.
At the first shop I went to, I met with the owner who sat across the counter from me thumbing through the calendar. He said he liked what he saw, but didn’t think people would pay $20 for it (which was my recommended retail price). As if on cue, a couple walked up to the counter and asked the owner if he carried a wall calendar. He looked at me, looked at them, looked at the calendar in his hands, and handed it to them. They asked him how much it cost. He looked at me, looked at them, and said, “20 dollars.” They handed him two $10 bills and walked out with calendar in hand. He looked at the bills, looked at me, handed me the bills, and said, “I guess I was wrong.” He ended up carrying both my calendars and my note cards.
I set up an Etsy shop and sold the products there, too. I also outfitted myself with supplies for a booth and attended several craft fairs. I had visions of people scrambling to buy my calendars like hot cakes. While I always got a lot of compliments, my sales rate hardly matched my hot cakes vision. Each fair ended up being an incredibly uncomfortable experience. I’d sit in my booth pretending like I couldn’t care less whether people stopped by or not, while inside I was dying a thousand deaths each time someone walked by. If they did stop, I faced a new dilemma – engage them in conversation or sit in feigned indifference while they examined and analyzed my wares. It was actually a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, with the ego shouting into my head: “Who do you think you are?? Calendars?? Really?? Why don’t you go learn how to knit – you’ll make more money selling Santa sweaters and reindeer ear muffs, like that women in the booth over there being overrun with customers!!”
At my third fair (the Kittery Craft Fair) I decided to make myself useful. I pulled out my painting kit and painted the scene spread out in front of me as I sat at my booth. Yes, I definitely preferred “Sophisticated and Indifferent Watercolor Artist” to “Craft Fair Pimp.”
I spent the next couple of years managing my local accounts, maintaining my Etsy shop, designing new calendars, boxing up note cards, etc. I donated a portion of the proceeds from the calendar to the Portsmouth Historical Society as a goodwill gesture to an organization that was doing its best to preserve the physical and cultural heritage of Portsmouth.
And then I got tired of it all. I loved the creative work, but managing the accounts and boxing and shipping product drained me of my creative energy. In order to lower the price of production for the calendar, I would have to do a pretty large print run. And then I’d spend half the year trying to get rid of them. Calendars have a shelf life, and what doesn’t sell by February goes to the recycling bin. Too much pressure.
This past year I let things lapse. Several people have asked me where the 2015 Doors calendar is. I was sorry to disappoint fellow doors lovers, but it’s nice to be free from the calendar retail ball and chain. If you feel that reading this post has given you indigestion from consuming a few too many doors, welcome to my world. But I still love ’em.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, which will make sense of why I’m writing about photographs of doors on a blog about learning how to paint.