Today’s installment in the Doing What You Love series features Calli Beck – Co-Owner of The Smith Factory
I first met Calli when I went out to give my dog a bath. We struck-up a casual conversation and, this being Brooklyn after all, it turns out Calli has a high powered laser cutter she at her studio in Bushwick.
I was immediately drawn into the conversation because –
- I could tell from the way she was talking about her work that Calli really loved working creatively with the laser cutter
- There’s still an electrical engineer floating around inside of me and I like lasers 🙂
We started talking more and I shared an idea with Calli about a lid for a Chemex coffee pot that I’ve had bouncing around my head for a while. She told me she could produce the prototype with the laser cutter.
I sent her a few sketches and Calli replied to me with a very professional 3D rendition of the lid, ready for production! This was pretty fantastic for me, since it was clear that her knowledge of the production process could actually help me make the idea a reality, which I’m hoping to do very soon.
Anyway, enough about me and on to the interview with Calli!
You can read more about Calli and find out how to contact her in the bio at the end of the interview.
1 – What is it you do that you love?
This is hard to sum up into a single sentence, or even a cluster of words. I could say that I follow my passion, but that’s vague.
I love building things. I love watching people’s faces when they have their mind blown by an experience or when they learn something new. I love making dreams come true. I love showing people worlds they never knew existed. Opening them up to the possibilities of things they’d never considered before. I love putting my mind and hands to work to make this happen.
To make this tangible: I make things. I’m a trained tailor, and a clothing designer. I’ve worked in wearable technologies and at Levi’s.
I’m an artist and builder. I work with my partner Dave running an art and prototype fabrication studio. We have a big CNC driven laser cutter and make things for people all the time. I’ve also worked in the festival scene in California for the last 10 years as a stage manager and environment designer, creating spaces for people to experience collective human-ness together.
2 – How and when did you realize what it is you love to do?
It all started when I was 23. I was trying so damn hard to fit in. Job, insurance, dog, white picket fence, boyfriend with marriage potential. I was being all grown up and I was…. very bored. I don’t really remember the sequence of thoughts that brought me to this conclusion, but I knew I had to get out. And I didn’t really know how.
So I packed a bag, sold all my stuff, gave my dog to my mom and left. That’s how it started. And somehow (a very long) 2 years later, I landed in San Francisco and lucked out: connected into a group of very intelligent, very educated, and very different people than I’d ever met before and they convinced me to follow my dreams.
3 – When did you decide to make a commitment to doing what you love? What does that commitment look like, e.g. full-time job, part-time hobby, etc.
Doing what I love has meant redefining what it is that I need to get by. I let go of any concept of insurance for 10 years- only picking it up now due to the new Healthcare laws. I haven’t owned a car since I was 23. Sometimes it’s meant food stamps, sometimes it meant road tripping (being homeless) in between jobs, for a while it meant putting myself through art school. Sometimes it’s meant 1 full time job and 2 part-time jobs.
But this year, it’s meant building an art studio out of a 40 ft shipping container in Bushwick, investing my meager savings and my partner’s savings into the tools we need to make art, sacrificing opportunities to travel and play and be with friends and committing to developing a business model that supports the way we want to live: Making things and thriving as people who makes things.
4 – How long have you been doing what you love?
It was during that first year in San Francisco, it had to be early 2005, when I promised myself I would
- Never take work that I wasn’t passionate about
- Only pursue what I loved, and somehow figure out exactly what that meant
Burning Man had a lot to do with it- 2005 being my second year there… it blew me wide open to all the possibilities that I never knew about.
5 – What was the toughest decision you had to make when making a commitment to doing what you love?
The most heart-breaking, difficult realization I’ve had happened last year. I’d spent 3 years struggling to get by as an independant fashion designer supplemented by part time jobs, 4.5 years in school learning how to be a better fashion designer and then another 2 years trying to make it all work.
In December of 2013, I realized San Francisco wasn’t the place to make any of that happen for me. Meanwhile, my passion for making things was morphing out of fashion design and into something else, while the place that had been my home for close to 10 years was getting more and more expensive and less supportive of my talents. I had to leave San Francisco and I wasn’t sure what that meant.
6 – Was there a time that you had doubts about doing what you love? If so, how did or do you overcome those doubts and keep doing what you love?
When I hit that crossroads in 2013, everything came to a head when I was laid-off a very intense role as a lead fashion designer for a wearable technologies start-up and stiffed on payment for a couple festivals I’d built projects for. I was burnt out in a very big way and I really didn’t know what to do.
So I packed a bag, sublet my room, and flew to a very small remote island in middle of the Caribbean to stay with someone I’d fell in love with at Burning Man that year. It was crazy, but I was so creatively depleted, I needed space and time to figure out my next move. It only seemed logical.
It took about 5 months of sitting on beaches, snorkeling with sea turtles, and volunteering at a very small, overburdened humane society to focus my energy on the next steps of my life. During this time my love for Dave grew much deeper and we began searching for ways to live our lives together with a commitment toward doing what we both loved: Building things and having fun.
Over the course of the time we spent in the Caribbean, we hatched a plan to come back to New York and start a fabrication company that specialized in art and prototyping. Putting his knowledge of business and furniture design together with my multiple talents, we founded The Smith Factory and have been working together to make it a functioning business that allows us to follow our passions at the same time.
7 – What are some of the things you enjoy most about doing what you love?
The challenge of it.
Most of what I do now is move the ideas of other people from the aether to reality. Every project is different, different materials, different designs and concepts.
One day I’ll be laser cutting cork, then plywood for some rapid prototyping project, then I’ll be laser engraving images onto leaves or liquor boxes, and then cutting sheets of paper to build a 3-d human skull, and then cutting apart a pattern to be sewn into something.
I’m never bored by what I do, and I’m always challenged. That’s what I love about the current iteration of my passion to make things.
My favorite part of the whole process is making people’s dreams come true, or breaking open their brains to the reality of the things they never thought were possible.
8 – Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with making a commitment to doing what they love, even if they know they want to make the commitment?
I think I’ll leave that one to Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
9 – Is there anything else you’d like to add about doing what you love?
The last thing I will add is I believe the most important thing anyone can ever do is fail. You learn so much from failing. You learn your limits, you learn about what you need to improve on. But don’t give up. Take a different angle. Walk away and eat some food and sleep and let the project marinate in your subconscious for a while, then come back to what you’re doing with fresh eyes. And try again. Always try again.
Here’s Calli’s Bio –
My name is Calli Beck. I come from a place in this country where it’s odd to leave your hometown. It’s also odd to go to college or make it past 19 without being pregnant or actually enjoy what you do for work. I’m one of the weird ones that never fit into any of the statistics.
My roots are set deep in the culture of Colorado and Idaho and I come from a long family history of farmers and ranchers. My inspiration often develops from a strong interest in utilitarianism and history. I have a strong desire to understand the world around me and have cultivated a multi-disciplined lifestyle that allows me to cultivate creativity from a multitude of sources. My inspiration is often Americana circa 1900-1950, mixed with a strong sense of modern design and style.