When I designed ornaments for D56, I heard, "You should come to Asia to see how these are made!", every year.
It was not until I started my own manufacturing company that I bought a ticket and went to see for myself!
That year I was met by serious faces on artisans diligently molding and painting our ornaments and gifts. But after I asked if I could take a picture, I would hear giggles and see wide smiles. I was delighted to hear them laugh. I take their work seriously and was happy not only to discover that they take their work seriously too, but that they were having fun doing it!
Our ornaments are made in homes, back yards and in two very small, primitive workshops. My "agent" and has become a sculptor and a painter in her own right working right along with all of us.
She has brought my drawings to life for 15 years and knows me and my brain.
The first time I met her, she said, “Your greens are never just green. They are first a layer of yellow and then
a layer of different blues, different greens mixed with a tiny bit of red. We layer the paint in the same way, to make it glow.”
A woman after my own heart! She knows where to find painters and sculptors with an eye for deciphering my artwork and mimicking not only the shape the form, but even the illusion of shape and form.
I now know the serious faces were a "here comes the boss lady” effect. It wore off quickly in the Philippines where we let everyone know how much we appreciate their efforts. They now know that I am looking very closely at everything, but am well aware that we have to get it right together.
For the first few years, my husband and I were very wet behind the ears. We had major shipping issues to figure out. There was a monsoon and our storage warehouse was flooded. Reindeer were floating down rivers that, hours earlier, had been streets. My agent and her sister were stranded four stories up in a building with water up to the second floor with no food or water other than what was brought to a window by a boat for several days.
As it is everywhere, weather in Manila is getting worse.
In our warehouse, there is always a mountain of packing material. Shredded, recycled paper is formed by hand for each and every ornament while packaging . One year, we had a fire in the middle of the night, due to a MIA watchman and the perfect kindling.
The entire place, all our product, but worse, all our molds and wooden sculptures went up in smoke!
The process of making these ornaments it is wildly intensive and complicated. Not one thing is done by machine other than the printing of the packaging. But, even then, the labels and stamps are applied by hand.
I have been asked to delve a bit into this process of making our product.
After brewing for four or five months, I create some ideas and eventually a pile of drawings in full color and in various views. I send over the drawing the sculpting process begins.
Special wood is purchased and, for six or seven months, the sculptors create beautiful wooden versions of the art. Most of the pieces today are done by one man, but, there is a support team of three or four apprentice sculptors each year. Each piece takes several days to several weeks depending on the size or complexity. We communicate and work on changes needed in shapes and details via e mailed photos.
When the sculptures are perfect, the mold making process begins. A wooden piece is placed face up in a specially shaped bed of polymer clay to create a platform to make a rubber silicon mold. Once that is formed and dry, the other side of the piece is done by placing it now, face down to mold to create the other half of the rubber mold. Some of my ornaments require many molds, maybe 2, 3 to 7 or more just to make the parts needed to assemble ONE ornament. Once the rubber molds are made and dry, wet stone resin is painted by hand into the molds very carefully with little brushes to avoid any air bubbles, insuring every tiny nostril and digit will be perfect.
Eventually you have a white blank which is going to be sanded and prepared for paint
Then we go through the same correction and adjustment process with paint and the glitter. Then details like gold and silver leaf, wired stars, tulle, or feathers are added. Looking at lots of photographs, we revise until the pieces are as close as possible to the original art and to what we want to send to our customer.
When I make the trip around the globe to Manilla, I will find pieces in all stages of development. Some will be almost finished, some will need tweaking, some will still be in the molding stage, some in the painting stage, some will be an unfinished wooden sculpture. Those we attack right away, with sharp tools and warm clay to get them finished as time is of the essence. The sculptor continues work on the tougher pieces, I might add and remove clay, my agent does fine polishing and refining in preparation for the molds. We are all adjusting color and glitter, tutus, hanging ribbons, structure and packaging. All this just for the very first finished piece.
Finally that one finished perfect piece is ready to be made into a few samples and then, eventually, production! That, my friends, is a story for another day!