One of my very favorite Jack-of-all-crafts people is Academy of Handmade Master Maker Robert Mahar. He is crazy talented and and any deserves any success that comes his way! Recently he collaborated with stationery brand Knock Knock on a line of vintage and crafty gifts. So we asked him how that happened and all of the behind-the-scenes to bring his vision to life.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your business.
A: My name is Robert Mahar and I’m an artist and designer based in Los Angeles. I often describe myself as craft driven, design inspired, vintage obsessed and cake possessed. It’s all true. One of my primary pursuits over the last several years has been working as a content creator - developing, producing and presenting online DIY and craft tutorials.
I’ve built up a catalogue of more than 100 short format videos in partnership with KinCommunity.com - initially created for YouTube and subsequently edited down for other social media platforms. I’ve also developed a series of longer format, more in-depth craft classes for CreativeLive.com.
My more recent collaboration with Knock Knock has been a natural offshoot of this work - developing ready-made products and craft kits. Some of these products have been influenced by projects I’ve developed for on camera instructional videos and others were inspired by favorite crafts I’ve come to love over a lifetime of making.
Q: How did your Knock Knock collaboration come about?
A: In many ways, I feel like the Robert Mahar for Knock Knock collaboration was the result of being open to new opportunity along with a healthy dose of right place - right time. A dear friend and former colleague had been working at Knock Knock for a few years as a writer and editor. She and I used to work in the crafty trenches of Paper Source together and after we’d both moved on to other pursuits we continued to get together with other creative former co-workers for monthly potluck craft nights. One of my projects ended up on her desk at Knock Knock and sparked a conversation with the company’s founder. This led to an invitation (a happy miracle in my mind!) to come into the offices and talk craft.
Q: What did the nitty gritty of making it happen actually look like?
A: I absolutely love brainstorming product ideas! Knock Knock initially asked that I come to the table with a dozen concept ideas. There weren’t many parameters placed on what I presented - they just wanted to see what I might dream up. I wrote up descriptions and drew sketches and pitched my ideas - and based on our conversations those twelve products were narrowed down to three. Once those three concepts were reworked and presented again, their product development team researched material and production options before making me an offer to officially create the product line. That’s when the real work started!
The contract outlined my design deliverables and a time frame, along with an agreement to participate in the promotion of the products once they were available to retailers and the public. My editor and Knock Knock’s editorial director were great about establishing a calendar of when each component of the various products needed to hit milestones of development. The goal was to have each product in production well in advance of sending out the company wholesale catalogue to retailers. I created mock-ups of each item to help us establish scale and construction techniques and submitted multiple design rounds as we refined the designs and color palettes. Our first collaborative season yielded two Paint by Number Postcard Kits and four Personal Award Paper Ribbons - and entailed a tremendous amount of back and forth via in-person meetings, email and Dropbox. As we’ve continued to work on seasons two and three, the sheer volume of correspondence has lessened tremendously as we’ve all got a better handle on how we work and what needs to be accomplished.
It was such a pleasure to feature the work of illustrator Hannah Berman on the Paint by Number Postcard Kits. I had been a fan of her work for years and she became an integral part of this particular product. I developed a variety of themes and images for the postcard designs and with the aid of my Knock Knock partners narrowed it down to Classic Sweet Treats and Classic. We submitted our wish list of images to Hannah and let her work her magic - and with minimal revisions she delivered the paint by numbers of our dreams!
We’re now in the thick of promoting the first season and Knock Knock’s crackerjack marketing team has been fantastic about establishing a plan of attack. My role has involved promoting the products on my social media channels (including week long Instagram Stories and giveaways), participating in online interviews and helping to identify industry influencers that might assist us spreading the good word about our new collaboration. Right now we’re in final preparations for a festive launch event at the end of June!
Q: What was surprising or unexpected about this process?
A: Whenever you enter into a new venture there’s a learning curve - with aspects that are often surprising or unexpected! I had no idea when we entered into talks what the time frame might be - and from our first conversation to signing contracts was well over a year. I had been a long time customer and fan of Knock Knock and knew that the company was solid, so I saw my patience in this initial phase as an investment. It allowed us time to get to know one another and make certain that we were a good fit as collaborators.
As an entrepreneur, I have often worn all of the hats when getting previous projects off of the ground - development, marketing, sales, order fulfillment etc. What was wonderfully surprising about working with a more established partner was getting feedback from various departments that specialized in each of these areas. They know their customers and were able to provide specific information to help me design smarter - everything from color ways that had been well received in the past to how many DIY steps might be too many for a project.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
A: When you’re collaborating it’s often a wise and prudent move to check your ego at the door. It’s 100% expected that you’ll have an unique design direction and aesthetic point-of-view (it’s likely why people want to work with you!)- but know that flexibility and compromise are often key to a successful collaboration.
Q: What advice would you give to other creatives looking to do a collaboration like this?
A: It’s often said that when you’re looking to invest your money that you should invest in companies that create products you use on a regular basis. I think this can also be applied when considering a potential collaboration. You want to invest your time and talents with a company that has a track record of creating great stuff. Once you’ve identified that company - do your homework, ask questions! Know other creatives that have worked with them in the past? Reach out and ask them about their experience. Like any business partnership, you want to enter into a collaboration well-informed and eyes wide open.