THE STORY starts out like something you'd read in a women's magazine. Young rebellious girl gets married out of high school at 17, has three children while in college ("one every three semesters"), then gets divorced and has to make a living. She can't type and hates to work in an office. So she decides to sell what she does best - decoupage boxes. And just like the women's magazine stories, this one has a happy ending.
She married a man who helps with the decoupage.And she made money.
Not a great deal at first. "I did starve for about three years; then, when we established credibility, things just caught on." They caught on so well that Leslie Linsley and her husband, Jon Aron, have written 12 craft books in seven years.
Linsley is now traveling around the country hawking her newest book, "Fabulous Furniture Decorations" (Crowell, $14.95). The book reflects her rules for writing on crafts: "The project should be easy to do, with clear and interesting instructions. Pictures should show each step and there should be points on how to fix up the project if the paint dries funny or if you do it wrong."
But most important - the project should be cheap and fast. Linsley gets bored if the job takes more than a weekend to whip together or costs more than a store-bought replica. And what she is intolerant of, she thinks the readr is also. So sh holds your hand through each project to make sure you do it right.
One of her designs, a hand-painted tile parsons table, looks expensive and time-consuming. But the stained-wood table, paved with large bathroom tiles (10 cents apiece), took an afternoon to make and cost under $60. The painted Art-Deco floral design she copied from Dover Publications' "A Treasury of Design for Artists and Craftsmen," which she cites as an excellent source of ideas.
Linsley uses enamel hobby paint to color the design and says, "The paints are pemanent once applied, so the tiles don't have to be fired." Not taking anything for granted, Linsley explains explicitly how to enlarge the design on a graph and then how to transfer it onto the tiles. (The graph enlarging transferring method usually scares off the timid, but she sneaks it right by you so you miss the anguish.)
Another of Linsley's striking projects is a patch-work-covered blanket chest, made out of paper from wallpaper-pattern books. She confides, "It is not difficult to obtain all the wallpaper you need. As wallpaper designs are discontinued, the sample books become obsolete; they're perfect sources for this project. Wallpaper, hardware and paint stores usually throw them away if they are not used. . . . Go into several stores and ask for their old sample books. If you can acquire two or three, you will have enough variety to do any project with patchwork pieces." The patchworking, which is essentially a cut-and-paste job, makes a warm and horney heirloom out of a basic wooden box.
Linsley has her home in Nantucket stocked with projects she has designed from her books, and she wouldn't think of suggesting you make anything she has not. In her other books, if she is writing about a task she hasn't personally done then, "I practically move it with a person who has."
All of Linsley's and her husband's designs in "Gabulous Furniture Decorations" are specifically for unfinished or raw furniture. She buys hers through the J.C. Penney's catalogue, but there are many other stores in the area that carry raw wood furniture. Shop around and compare prices because if you are going to cover it with paint, material or paper, the quality of the wood really isn't important.
And if you want to make a living selling the off-spring of your creativity, Linsley has a few tips:
Don't sell anything on consignment. If a store doesn't put money into your craft, they're not going to care whether they sell it or not.
Don't mess around if you want to sell - go to the top, to gift shops or department stores.
Most important: Shop around and see what the competition is doing. You're at an advantage because big department stores will be looking for an original item. Most everything mass-produced is going to be in all the major stores, so give them something unique.
Don't despair. Nobody gets paid what they should for handmade things, so be realistic. You should get about half of what it sells for. "That works out to about 50 cents an hour," she says, grinning.