It is always an immeasurable pleasure when you meet a person who is equally talented as they are nice-- Robert Mahar is very talented and very nice! That is why I am so excited to introduce you to our 2016 Master Maker presented by CreativeLive.
The Master Maker is someone we choose who we can hold up as someone to emulate. Robert has had a generous and devoted career to creativity-- building communities, teaching his craft(s) and supporting other makers at every opportunity. I hope you read on and are inspired by one of the finest people in our community.
Q: Tell us a little about the backstory and history of your business and creative endeavors.
A: I’ve had a few careers/creative lives starting with thirteen years as an appraiser of modern and contemporary art. Having studied studio arts and art history in college, this was a good fit right out of school – allowing me to spend days with my nose in art history books, develop research skills, see amazing work and really hone my aesthetic eye. I loved this work but after more than a decade I started to feel the pull to do something more hands-on creative and perhaps stretch my entrepreneurial wings.
In 2005, the worlds of craft and e-commerce were just beginning to intersect in a significant way – it was the year that Etsy launched and the year I threw my hat into the ring with an online shop called Mahar Drygoods. I branded my site an emporium of vintage and artisan crafted curiosities for children and over the course of five years collaborated with more than 50 artists, designers and craftspeople to create a kid-friendly product line that encompassed everything from limited edition toys to furniture, costumes for imaginative play to wall art. It was the collaborative nature of the site that really helped me begin to develop roots in the craft and maker community and even after I closed my shop in 2010 the relationships I built with fellow creatives have continued.
My next adventure continued on the web, but in the realm of video tutorials. I was approached by a digital entertainment company to produce DIY content for their YouTube channel – succinct, beautiful videos that covered a wide range of crafting projects. What began a strictly behind-the-camera position soon morphed into a position where I worked as a hybrid talent/producer – allowing me to develop projects, present them on-camera and produce these short format videos. The response from online viewers has been overwhelmingly positive, opening doors for me to teach longer format video classes as well as in-person workshops at a variety of venues including the studio I share with my artist friend Molly Meng in downtown Los Angeles.
Q: You have had so many different “creative lives” since you first began, what do you think has given you longevity?
A: I think my “longevity” is in large part a reflection of my passion for creating clever, thoughtfully crafted projects and products. It’s what I love.
Q: How has your craft evolved since the beginning?
A: When I was an art student I remember feeling a certain amount of pressure to declare an area of specialization. Successful artists, in my mind, were those who focused in on one specific medium (be it painting or sculpture or printmaking, etc.) until they developed their artistic voice. I tried this approach but kept getting distracted by the possibilities of what projects might be contained in that box of markers or that bolt of fabric or that aisle in the hardware store. I think the most significant evolution in my craft has been my acceptance that I am a generalist. Ignoring the idea that I have to be solely a painter or sculptor or printmaker has given me permission to explore and create in whatever medium inspires.
Q: What are your favorite materials to work with?
A: Honestly, it depends on the project I’m working on. I love pouring through vintage how-to, hobby and rainy day activity books, finding a project that appeals to me and then working to make that project my own through modern materials and updated techniques. That being said, I do have a certain affinity for paper.
Q: When was the first time you realized that your business was going places?
A: I think when you’re a maker and really passionate about product you’ve created - that first sale or press mention can be ecstatic. I remember my first holiday season with Mahar Drygoods, Real Simple Magazine included a collaboration I was particularly proud of in their list of holiday favorites. I was over the moon and sales were pretty amazing. It was a total rush!
It’s worth mentioning though that those high points have been tempered with plenty of moments where I wasn’t sure my business was going anywhere. In fact, some days I still feel that way. But I continue to believe that if I do good work and move through the world with a certain amount of gratitude and kindness – amazing new opportunities will continue to present themselves.
Q: Where do you see your business going in the future?
A: I am incredibly excited to be working on some new collaborative product development projects this year. I think it may be time for a more experienced and seasoned me to reenter the retail world.
Q: What is the best piece of business advice you've ever been given or learned?
A: When you run your own business you often wear several hats (product developer, salesperson, customer service rep., publicist, etc.) - especially when you’re first starting out. I think there is great value in recognizing the roles in which you excel and feel most comfortable so that as your business grows you can bring people on board with strengths that balance out your weaknesses. Always hire people who are more talented than yourself.
Q: What is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given or learned?
A: I’m a huge fan of the artist and educator Corita Kent (1918-1986) and a list of “rules” she developed while teaching at the Immaculate Heart College Art Department in Los Angeles during the late 1960s. Contained in this list of 10 guidelines for students and teachers is, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.” I love this so hard. You can find the complete list here.
Q: Where can people find your stuff online?
A: My online home base is http://robert-mahar.com/ which includes links to all of my social media outlets, including Instagram – which is my current favorite.
We can't wait to honor Robert and 14 other makers at our awards show on April 23 in Downtown LA. Be on the lookout for more information about nominations which open on February 1 by signing up for our newsletter below. Also, we'd like to say thanks to CreativeLive for making this award possible. They have been extremely kind and generous with their sponsorship and we've got special treats in store for you from them!