Like many other things he’s made, Chris Gardner built his own dream job as a full-time DIY, craft, and woodworking blogger by himself. Read about how he went from searching for projects online to writing them up as the creator of ManMadeDIY, editor-in-chief of Curbly, and contributor at BobVila.com.
Hi Chris! First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a full-time craft, design, and DIY blogger. I spend most of my time as the editor-in-chief of Curbly.com (our Pinterest account is: pinterest.com/curbly), a DIY home decor website. I also run ManMadeDIY.com, a craft site for men, and I’m a regular contributor to BobVila.com as well as other freelance work. I became involved in the craft and DIY blogosphere as a reader. I moved into my first apartment to go to graduate school, and it was late a 70s place - generic, atrocious, and I hated being there. So, I logged on to some early sites exploring DIY decor for ideas to improve it on the cheap. One of those sites was Curbly, where I eventually became a contributor, and now am the editor, managing all the content for the site.
The idea for ManMade came from being a reader, and just waiting for someone to begin applying the “handmade revolution” and indie craft scene to men, and share projects that weren’t, you know, girly. It never happened, so I figured if no one else was going to do it, I guess it had to be me. Six months after ManMade launched and taking an expanded role at Curbly, I was able to quit my full-time job working with college students and try blogging full-time. That was in the summer of 2010, so I just celebrated my two year anniversary. I love working from home, and being able to make stuff and write about it for a living. It’s my dream job, and I achieved it before I was 30.
What are some of your favorite DIY projects you’ve worked on?
I like to craft with power tools. My favorite projects are those that I use in my daily life: so I love the pieces that hang on my walls, the home accessories, and those that solve a particular need or serve a function. I really like to work with printmaking and type, as well as blend digital design tools with traditional craft and woodworking media and materials. One favorite example is the Valentine’s Day gift I made for my sweetheart last year: it’s a stylized blowup of our actual fingerprints. I took a few prints (no-questions-allowed), and then scanned them at a high resolution and edited them with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Then I created some hand-cut letters and added those.
So, that project has all my favorite elements: bold, graphic imagery with a contemporary but handmade feel, some typography, and mid-century colors. The actual piece is a high-resolution laser print, but if I’d wanted to make more I would have screen printed them, and perhaps even made my own frame from wood.
Where do you find inspirations and ideas for upcoming projects?
I love making things from scratch, but I prefer to use easily accessible materials from the hardware, craft, and art supply store. I spend hours wandering the home improvement center for little bits and fittings and pieces of hardware that I can hack into something else entirely. And I spend plenty of time on design blogs during my daily work, so I’m always surrounded by great images. I love to go to museums, art and otherwise, any chance I get, and I spend a lot of time at the public library. I’m pretty sure my design taste came from watching a lot of episodes of The Jetsons and reading lots of cool, vintage picture books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I don’t have any formal training in the arts or design, so I think a lot of my inspiration just comes from seeing something and asking, “How do they do that?” and then learning about processes. I like visiting handmade and craft shops when I visit a new city, and browsing Etsy to see what makers are producing. And Pinterest, of course! Pinterest is simply full of amazing ideas, for both techniques and aesthetics.
We’re fascinated by your "Modern Manliness" board. In your opinion, what makes a man “modern”?
That board is directly inspired from my ManMadeDIY.com site. In my work, I try to avoid making generalizations about what “being a man” is, so I’d say a modern man is one who’s defined by the specific interests and the things he gets excited about. There certainly are things that are the mind of every guy so I do use the “Modern Manliness” board to share ideas about simple truths about being a guy in 2013: dealing with shaving your face or having a beard, for example, or being a partner, husband, boyfriend, son, or father. Then there are some simple life skills - like being able to launder and iron your own clothes, keep track of your finances, things that relate to every guy, simply because he’s trying to make his way in our current era.
Without going into a treatise, I feel like a lot of men-focused content is too abstract. It appeals to generic virtues, as opposed to contextual ethics, and is almost always nostalgic, looking back to the men of yesteryear as the goal, rather than as a means to being a just and loving person. I think it’s fascinating and really powerful to be the inheritors of a tradition of great men and leaders, and I’m proud of that. But the world looks really, really different than it did for our grandfathers. Young men growing up now need to translate those principles into their specific contexts, and more importantly, relationships. Classic idioms like “men should provide for their family,” or “men are tough,” or “men build things with their hands,” are absolutely still true, but they’re not always as meaningful or motivating without exploring how that works in an individual’s life. These days, providing means so much more than just working and putting food on the table; you also have to seek to honor the emotional needs of your family and friends, and develop healthy and clear communication skills, and if you don’t, you’re not being the best husband or father or partner or friend you can be. Men who hide behind a lack of emotional awareness, or that they don’t know how cook or shop for gifts, for example, are just boring. It’s simply not true anymore. Those things don’t make you feminine, they make you a better person.
So, I feel like the current generation of men should be encouraged to follow their specific passions and embrace the things they’re excited about, and to find real ways to make meaning in their lives, whatever they are, as long as their not destructive or aggressive. The explosion of blogs and web content proves that men have passion and preferences, and in the era of obsession and curation, a modern man is someone who won’t just say, “I’m a man,” but “I’m a man who loves ______ or tries to do ______.” ManMade is a website for guys and girls who seek to do that through creativity, design, art, craft, and making the things they use everyday.