On their first date, Andrew Barnes asked Katie Noonan if she would draw a portrait of his roommate’s chihuahua. She had never drawn a portrait of an animal – much less a chihuahua – but she gave it a shot, and it turned out well.
So after getting married and moving to St. Louis, Barnes and Noonan decided to turn pet-themed art into a business. And even though Barnes has only been at TechShop since October 2016, he’s already learned to use a vector graphics editor and laser cutter to transform his wife’s animal drawings into wooden ornaments and brooches.
“It’s always really pleasing to be able to turn out a product in a small amount of time,” Barnes said. “We sold about 130 of our ornaments during this last Christmas season.”
Now that they’ve had some initial success, Barnes said they want to create more designs and refine their production process. There might not be a huge market for the kinds of specialty goods they create, but Barnes said there’s also not much competition.
“I’ve spent a lot of effort in refining these and making them look really good in subtle ways,” Barnes said. “I think it would be hard for competition to come and do what we’re doing right away. Because not only would they have to have drawings, but they’d also have to laser etch them.”
When Barnes first considered joining TechShop, the thought of taking a class to use industrial-grade equipment seemed daunting.
“It was a little intimidating at first,” Barnes said. “But I just learned so much. I thought it was cool to walk away from a class having made something physical, and I think that helped me envision how I could come back and make something else.”
Although Barnes was inspired by the TechShop classes, he said prefers to do things on his own and learn from his mistakes along the way. Still, getting help from TechShop staff and other members has proved invaluable.
“I really didn’t get my ornaments looking good until I sat down and talked with a Dream Consultant,” Barnes said.
Barnes plans to use other aspects of TechShop so he can improve his production process.
“We’re just barely scraping the surface,” Barnes said.
What drew you to TechShop?
Mostly we were interested in the laser cutters. People always buy our items as gifts and we knew it would be a great idea to expand our product line to include laser cut wooden brooches, ornaments and coasters. TechShop offers us an opportunity to not only expand our product line but to experiment with packaging design before we invest in producing packaging.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at TechShop?
After much experimentation and a lot of trial and error, we’ve come up with some great pet portrait brooches. Through the process, we learned that even if you “manufacture” you can create a unique item with a handcrafted touch. Our laser cut dogs and cats are very unique, not only because they have Katie’s drawings but also because of the settings and techniques that we’ve developed on the lasers. This gives our items a one-of-a-kind feel among all of the other laser cut designs out there.
How do you plan to use TechShop going forward?
We are always expanding our designs. For instance, we are starting a line of backyard animal designs for urban farm enthusiasts. We’ll also be developing wholesale packages for stores that include fixtures made to display our items.
Where can people find your stuff?