My freshman year of art school was a shock to my wallet. Books are no joke, but art supplies are EXPENSIVE, y’all.
I made it almost to the end of my first semester of college before I ran out of money and had to find a job. A friend of mine found a temp holiday job at Richmond Camera in their darkroom lab, making holiday cards, and I jumped on his coattails enthusiastically, with no skills or knowledge of what I was doing. My supervisor, Larry, was a kind and patient older man whom I managed to push to the outer limits with my constant mistakes.
For each card, there were three templates that had to be set: one for the photo; one for the card design they had chosen; and one for their personal greeting. We were instructed to set up the templates and run one sample card before running a whole batch of 25, 50, 75, or 150 cards and wasting a lot of paper. I did this, yet somehow nearly every card I created was wrong.
Templates would be backwards, crooked, or have the wrong greeting. I would load the paper, which came in large rolls like industrial toilet paper, backwards, too tightly, or too loosely, causing it to print wrong or not at all. The light-proof paper bag I used to transport the exposed paper from the holiday card machine to the printer sometimes got a miniscule hole in it, exposing all of the paper to light and ruining it. Sometimes the inner curtain that wrapped around the holiday card machine like a voting booth (which I stood inside) wouldn’t close completely, and someone would open the outer curtain, letting in light and exposing the paper. Despite my best efforts, I was a hot mess at this job.
There was lots of pressure to get work done quickly (holiday card deadlines) and the lab would almost always get backed up when I worked. Larry never fired me, but I’m sure he was counting down the days til Winter Break, when I would leave campus for home and no longer be on his staff.
I tried. And I learned some lessons, too. I learned humility, as making mistakes over and over again in front of people you know is terribly embarrassing. I also learned persistence and determination, since I wasn’t allowed to leave the lab until my runs for the night were finished and correct, which meant sometimes staying in the lab until 1am.
That very short-term job taught me that craftsmanship counts, that details matter, that mistakes have costs, and that you’re way better off doing something right the first time. Those skills have stayed with me and are super handy when running my own business.
I actually worked with Larry again a few years later, and we both had a good laugh at my darkroom ineptitude while sitting behind the retail counter in Richmond Camera Carytown. And now, so many years later, I’m still grateful for the supervisor who never yelled at the incompetent college freshman for making a mess in his lab, even when he wanted to.
Next time, I’ll write about my retail ineptitude and the patience of Joan, my retail manager at Richmond Camera Carytown. In the meantime, contact me to talk about something I’m actually good at.