As a part of the design business class that I am taking this term with Jill Bliss, we are visiting various design studios, galleries and stores to pick professional brains about how they have became successful running their own businesses. Today we went to the Grass Hut Gallery in Chinatown, owned and curated by Bwana Spoons, the infamous creator of hundreds of strange toys, crazy paintings and wondrous drawings.

Bwana Spoons teaching us kids how to succeed and achieve our dreams

He talked about his life leading up to being able to work for himself, and I learned that he went to City College in San Francisco for one semester before getting on his skateboard instead one morning, riding into the sunrise and never looking back. He says it took him 20 years of working various day jobs (most of them related to toy manufacturing or distribution) before he was able to finally quit and begin working for himself. I learned a lot about how licensing is different from freelance or contract work, because the artist can collect royalties over time and can often negotiate being paid in product (in Bwana’s case, this means shoes, skateboards and toys!)

The Grass Hut is a magical wonderland filled with toys, comics, paintings, and awesome zines

His toys are limited edition, collectors items that are only produced small quantities- sometimes only 100 at a time- and many are hand painted by him, making them completely one-of-a-kind. Grass Hut was full of tons of independent comics and zines that I had never seen before. Everywhere I looked I found more inspiration!

(images from here)

I thought it was interesting that he said that his marketing strategy for years was “constant yet gentle harassing”– he just kept doing art, giving people zines and promos, finding the people at companies that were the decision-makers and calling/mailing stuff specifically to that person. He said that while the person might not remember you the first few times, if you keep meeting them and keep giving them promos and zines they will eventually remember who you are and that can lead to work someday. It was very inspiring to talk to Bwana Spoons about design business and marketing stuff and see how Grass Hut supports so many independent artists and freelancers. He also really inspired me by saying that one of his friends, Scrappers, worked at the Vanguard newspaper too!

-EHT 02/08/2012