An Interview and Giveaway with Chris Williams of ATELEIA Craft and Design9 April 2015
I reviewed Chris’s brass pen a little while ago and loved it. While it won’t suit everyone, Chris has made a pen with a unique and beautiful style. That’s not all he does over at Ateleia Craft and Design, as you will be able to tell as you read this interview.
Of all the interviews I’ve done here, this is one of my favourites.
Tell me a little about your background. What led you to working with leather, and then to make a pen?
I’ve been making things with my hands my whole life. My grandfather was a furniture builder for many years, and my father worked for him, so I grew up around tools and inherited an affinity for making products for myself instead of buying what’s available.
In 2007, I began running a non-profit bicycle shop for a local community development organisation – the goals were to run a successful small business, teach youth how to work with their hands, and encourage community members to start businesses of their own. We got to know other small businesses in our area, and there just so happens to be a leather supply shop across the street from our non-profit. We took our youth to the leather shop to do craft projects from time to time, and I enjoyed the process and just took to it quickly. Over the years, I began making products like belts, wallets, and watch straps for myself as old items wore out.
In 2012, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and the prospect of becoming a father pulled out of me many deep-seated ideals of the type of father I wanted to be. The ATELEIA Journal and Pen were born out of a desire to find a few heirloom goods that I would use everyday and would become part of my children’s association with “Dad”. I made the journal cover to house a new notebook I was starting during the pregnancy – and since it would likely take several years to fill the notebook, I wanted a sturdy cover that would last, and look better as it aged. Natural vegetable tanned leather was the perfect choice for this, precisely because it ages so well. Fitted with brass hardware, it was pretty visually stunning, and I felt it wasn’t right to use a disposable plastic pen to go along with it. I had backed the Kickstarter Pen Type-A (Hi-Tec-C) pen and wanted something similar, but made out of brass and that had a cap. The Kickstarter pen projects were still fairly new at the time, so there weren’t nearly the options available that are around now. I tried a few pens out, but found that most were either too light or too heavy for my tastes. I drew a few early designs and took them to a local machine shop. It cost about $150 to get the first 2 prototypes made, so I decided to make a few more to try to sell or use as gifts to recoup some of the costs.
After a few months, I started getting compliments on the journal and pen and eventually decided to reach out to a few people. I traded Mike Dudek of the Clicky Post (we live about an hour away in Arizona) a pen for one of his walnut blocks – he loved the pen, asked to do a review of it, and within a week or two I had sold all of my stock. From there, it wasn’t long until I was gearing up for the Kickstarter campaign.
How central to your work is the idea of the small community business?
As far as ideals go, the small community business is about as central as any other target I have in mind. Through my work in community development, I have grown quite passionate about bringing others along with me on the path of business development. I love the notion of the small business owner, who knows his employees and their families, who gives his employees a stake in the profits of the company and thereby creates a community within the business, in which all the participants want to create the best product possible.
I have learned over the years, though, that ideals don’t keep the doors open – you have to earn the right to keep your business running through sales and proper management. We have a long way to go; thankfully there are several good examples to follow.
How was Kickstarter? Do you have any tips for other small businesses who might want to try a Kickstarter campaign?
The ATELEIA Kickstarter campaign went well. I was hoping to sell a bit more product to offset start-up costs, but I can’t complain about a successfully funded campaign. I think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites (I’ve run two Indiegogo campaigns for the non-profit) are great for start-ups, but they aren’t necessarily the best fit for everybody. If I could have slowly increased my production of the brass pen to match a growing demand, I probably would have chosen that path. The only way to make the pen profitable, however, was to have a batch of at least 500 made on automated machinery. I wasn’t able to bank roll an order that big, and even if I had access to the money, I needed more than 15 potential buyers lined up. These specific circumstances are what pushed me to do the Kickstarter campaign for ATELEIA.
From my experience, those who have (and need to keep) a day job (myself included) aren’t always best served by crowdfunding campaigns. The whole process (pre-launch, live campaign, and product fulfilment) takes a huge level of energy and commitment. Some do well enough on a campaign to justify quitting their day job and focusing on the business full-time. Most don’t sell enough product to make that jump, though, and get stuck balancing a day job with an overwhelming influx of new orders. In turn, all these new customers end up having to wait longer than initially promised and their first experience with your business is a negative one. It’s not always the best way to get things off the ground.
If you already are beyond the early start-up level, though, it might make more sense. Also, Kickstarter tends to work well for repeat campaigns, once you’ve established a reputation of being able to deliver a quality product.
How do you use pens and pencils day to day?
I mostly use pens on a daily basis for journaling and personal notes. My original leather journal and brass pen is saved for monthly mentoring sessions, or posterity-type entries. On a day-to-day basis, I carry one of the ATELEIA Large journals (with a grid-lined Decomposition Book) and use the Chronodex as a tool to help organise my time and keep track of ‘To Do’ lists. I have circle template and draw the Chronodex out by hand – I’d love to have a stamp made up, but haven’t done that yet. I’ve found the Chronodex to be instrumental in getting through the last year or so. I had never before been able to adopt a day-planner or daily scheduling system. The Chronodex has been an awesome tool that is flexible enough to tailor to my needs.
Pencils are used a lot less frequently – mostly in the shop, plotting out sketches or on woodworking projects.
Apart from your own, do you have any particular favourite pens?
I am growing more and more partial to the Pentel EnerGel needle points. I’ve only been able to find the .35mm EnerGel in a non-refillable plastic shell – so I keep a few of those around in accessible places. In general, I like anything with a needle point – it feels more precise and I love that it offers a unique look over and against traditional conical point cartridges. The Karas Kustoms’ designs are really great – I have a brass Bolt – I love the look of it, but find it a little too heavy to use for extended periods of time. I also have a Mover/Shaker set from Tactile Turn, again I love the design, but find them to be heavy for extended use. I put the Itoya Gel needle point in the Shaker, and I’m digging that cartridge quite a bit, although it’s dry time is a little slower that the EnerGel, so I get more smudging. I’m excited about the new d.caston.design bolt action – the overall design is gorgeous and the weight should be favourable with the metals used.
I’ve tried a couple fountain pens, but they don’t work for me, as I prefer to hold the pen almost perpendicular to the page. As an alternative, I have a few brush pens – I absolutely love the expressiveness of the lines they lay down, but I am not even close to having a handle on how to use them well … oh well, practice, practice, practice.
What do you feel makes a good pen and what were your prime considerations when designing the ATELEIA Brass Pen?
For me, a great pen properly weds beauty and functionality. I prefer a solid weight, but not so heavy that you feel inertia from the pen starting and stopping – which, for me, inhibits the writing process. I also love ink that flows smoothly but also dries fast.
But at the end of the day, I think a “good pen” comes down to considering how any pen’s merits or limitations apply to the intended uses of that pen. For instance, even though I don’t like the way ballpoints write, the best pen to keep in my car glove box is a Fisher Space Stowaway, because it’s portable, affordable, and I know it will always write. Or, on the go, even though I don’t normally like click pens, I always keep one or two in my bag because they are the best option when I just need to jot something down fast or let someone else borrow a pen.
With the ATELEIA Brass Pen, my main goals were to create a pen with a very simple aesthetic, a brass body, and a removable cap. It was designed to be a companion to the leather journal, so I wasn’t particularly worried about a pocket clip. All in all, I wanted it to fell like the kind of pen you reach for when you have something important to write.
Are you planning new products? And if so, is there any chance you’ll say what they are??
Yes, I have several plans for new products, in fact, I’ve already made and sold a few of them, but I withheld them from the Kickstarter campaign to keep the production process manageable. I have a laptop briefcase that is quite labour intensive (production will likely be limited to 5 or 6 a year) but I really love the finished product. I’m planning on adding a smaller notebook cover, featuring hand-stitched edges, instead of the envelope folds and rivets of the first model. These covers will likely fit the midsized Doane Paper, Field Notes, and Rhodia notebooks and include a pen holder. I have a near-final design on a more traditional billfold wallet. And I am also working on a few designs for new pens that will be better received by the tactical/EDC community.
Chris is very kindly giving away a Brass Pen and matching leather sleeve (hand-cut and hand-sewn) to one lucky reader.
To stand a chance of winning, leave a comment on this post saying thank you to someone you know. I don’t mind who or why as long as you’re thanking someone you actually know. I did this a little while ago for another giveaway and it was so lovely reading all the thank yous. People can be so lovely, when they’re not on anonymous internet forums.
The closing date is 9am GMT on Sunday 19th April 2015. The entries will be numbered in the order received and random.org will be used to pick a winner.
Thank you so much to Chris Williams for spending the time to give such a wonderful interview and for giving away such a fantastic prize.
I’d like to thank my brother for letting me be who I am… Thanks for the giveaway!
Thanks to both my parents… I’ve inherited my father’s love of pens, electronics, and other tech geekery, and my Mother’s arts&crafts hobby that’s influenced me to be the creative person I am today.
Good luck to everyone in the giveaway!
I’d like to thank my coworker Amanda, who shares my love of stationery. We enable each other when it comes to buying pens and paper!
I want to thank my wife, more fascinating, kind-hearted, tough-minded, and loving than anyone I expected to meet, let alone wed. My life with her is better in unguessable, uncountable ways–but I’m sure I’d be a sadder, smaller, and more foolish man without her.
I’d like to thank my daughter for last sunday. We were walking in the park near the place we rent, happy to see all that snow melting. Regularly, she was looking at me and smiling to me. I was feeling calm. She’s eight today.
I’d like to thank my friend Susan for gifting me her father’s vintage Parker Vacumatic. It is in good hands, writes beautifully, and will always have a special place for me.
Thank you, daddy, for giving me this lovely Waterman when I was 11. And thank you to have taken if from me just few months later, when you realized it was an overpriced gift. Since that, I’ve allways loved fountain pens :p
I’d like to thank my Mother who was never without a pen and notebook for which I am convinced started my love for all things analog.
I’m thankful for my older mentor/adviser/counselor (whatever you want to call him) for his guidance and insight. I’ve learned and grown in many ways, many thanks to him for helping me along the way.
I would like to thank two people. Firstly I would like to thank my dad who started my love of stationary. He worked in and partly owned a small stationary and printing shop and I have many childhood memories of sitting in the back room playing with any of the stationary I could (sneakily) get my hands on. My other thank you goes to my aunt. She keeps alive my love of good pens and handwritten letters. I treasure each letter she sends. Her illness does not always allow her the ability to write, therefore making each letter I receive even more special.
I’d like to thank my husband for being so supportive, positive, and an all-around awesome dad!
I’d like to thank my best friend Lorraine who has always been there for me – even through the dark times
I’d like to thank my doctor for keeping me alive the last five years.
i’d like to thank my wife for making my life that awesome. love you.
I want to thank a stranger who gave me their unopened bottle of water when my toddler was crying for some on a hot day. Even though I thanked them, I was more grateful than they will ever realize. A small gesture to one person can sometimes be a miracle to another!
I want to thank my friend Chris Williams for making this amazing pen and all the other quality products he makes. You are a real inspiration for so many in the community. Thankful for knowing you my friend.
Hope I win!!!
Every day I thank my mom and dad, now both gone several years, for the many, many gifts they have given me. I still miss them as much as ever.
I would like to thank my mother for her love of good penmanship, which led me to appreciate good pens and good stationery.
Thanks to my parents. I’ve had reason to think very hard about what it means to be a good parent as of late, and find that I keep coming back to my parents as an example. Not because they did everything perfectly (such is not possible imo) but because they have always been very open to me and to others. It’s helped me be open and honest and definitely has shaped the way I communicate (pen and paper included).
I want to thank my wife for putting up with my pen and paper addiction (among other interests). My “collection” always seems to be growing, and she doesn’t think I’m completely off my rocker.
And thanks for the opportunity Ian!
Thanks to @dowdyism for letting me know that I’m not a weirdo for being a pen addict!
I’d like to give thanks to my lovely bride Lai Yee as we celebrate our 23rd anniversary this year. She puts up with my foibles — of which there are many!
I’d like to thank my sister for being my roommate and friend.
I’d like to thanks my Mom for always believing in me and standing up for me. She’s also been a lovely inspiration for me to go back to school, even though I’m old. I watched her go back while I was in in HS and when she graduated a month before I did, it was a proud moment.
I want to thank my wife, for being just awesome.
I would like to thank my family for always being so supportive and present whenever I need them to be.
Thank you to Ed and Lesley of the Colorado Pen Posse for all the work they do to keep the group informed and organized so we can spend time discussing pens and ink. Thank you also for organizing the Colorado Pen Show. It is a wonderful event for pen lovers and future pen lovers. You two are the heart of the pen community of the Rockies.
I would like to thank my family for always being there when life doesn’t go as the way you want it to be.
ChrIs, thanks to you to return to the local business as a way to do comunity.
I’d like to thank my baby brother for having just graduated from uni and always being there to hang out with me and bring me along to plays and gigs and all those artsy things that we both love
Thanks to all the pen addicts for letting me know that I’m not a alone in this obsession.
I’d like to thank my children for teaching me so much about life (unbeknownst to them) and for providing me with much-needed perspective.
I want to thank my wife for putting up with my kooky habits and idea. She is the one that encouraged me to stop working my butt off in a litre paying job and go back to school at 30 so that I could have the rewarding career I do now. I would be much less than I am without her!
I’ll thank my wife for starting and supporting my pen habit. Happy birthday.
I would like to thank my Friend Victor Reis (same name, lol) who introduced me tho the world of fountain pens.
Thanks to you and the rest of the pen/paper/stationery community, who keep my entertained on a faily basis
I would like to thank Deborah for being there, even when life has been challenging.
I want to say Thank You to my wonderful husband for all the thoughtful little things he does for.
Thank you to my facebook friend Debbie for encouraging my creativity and being a fun lady to know!
Thanks to the Pen Addict podcast and Slack channel for encouraging my latent interest in pens and stationery products in the last couple of months.
Thanks mom for paying for college.
I’d like to say thank you to my daughter, who is 3, for changing my life and putting that which is truly important in perspective. She’s not old enough to read this yet, but if she were to find this online one day, I’d like her to know this:
You are the love of my life; the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. All the things that life has thrown my way and I have chosen to take for granted, you re-imagine them in a most marvelous way and it is my privilege to see life through your eyes – fresh, exciting and new. Though I strive each and every day to provide for you – physically, mentally, and emotionally – I often find it is you whom also provides for me. You are the keeper of my heart, and you’ve done a fantastic job of caring for it and nursing it back to health. I love you with everything that I am. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.
I want to thanks my family for always supporting me in my decisions!
I’d like to thank God and my wife for being there on Feb. 28 when I suffered a minor stroke. If not for them I probably wouldn’t be able to type this and it make sense. I have one of Chris’s first pens and a KS and both are great writing pens in weight, balance and of course coolness factor. Thank you…
I would like to thank my son for giving meaning to my life, love to my heart and peace to my soul.
Thanks to my family for putting up with my shenanigans.
I would like to thank myself for finally giving myself permission to love myself and follow my passion for art.
I want to thank you best friend, Hyemin for being so lovely and always encouraging me to create beautiful things. 🙂
I’d like to thank my parents for their unconditional love and dedication despite not being a person easier to carry. They had many mistakes and successes, are human and no one teaches you to be a father, but I think they did a good job with my sister and me and taught us to be good people.
Good luck to everyone in the giveaway!
Hi Ian, I would like to thank my wife Caroline for not making a fuss when yet another pen shape package arrives in the post for me. I enjoy reading your blog very much and many thanks for organising this giveaway
I would like to thank my two kids who inspire and motivate me in ways I never thought was possible. Their energy is endless, their fits are dreadful, and their hugs and kisses have given me a satisfying joy I never expected.
I would like to thank my son Aaron for following his dreams and always staying true to who he is and never changing himself to just fit in.
I would like to thank Jesus for his grace and for a loving wife and daughter
I´d love to thank my roommates. They are awesome and make me smile everyday!
[…] Giveaway-ATELEIA Brass Pen and matching leather sleeve (hand-cut and hand-sewn) […]
Thank you to my partner who is always there regardless the weather.
A huge “Thank You,” to my wife of 37 years. There have been so many highs and lows on this journey called life. The past several years with my health have been especially demanding. But you are still with me. Still looking for and enjoying the fun. Especially the celebration of the birth day of each of our 12 grandchildren.
I want to thank my husband for being so supportive!
I want to thank my cousin; we’re more like sisters. She’s always there for me and I love her so much!
I’d like to thank my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Sellew for instilling in me the art of penmanship and manuscript. I’ve had a love affair with writing utensils and supplies ever since. And thanks for the giveaway!
Thank you to my hubby, who always put ups with crazy me!
I would like to thank my former boss, Paula. Without her I would never have met my husband, without her I would never of met this wonderful, caring family that I have been part of for the last 23yrs.
I came from a totally different family, & thought the ‘Gwilliams’ type family was something you read about in books.
After 9/11 Paula became a nurse, she is a “fitness freak”. But she is not pushy about it, she is a very positive person to be around
I want to thank my wife Carol for being so supportive and helpful as I recovered from my back injury, even while she was under tremendous stress in keeping up with her tax practice.
Thanks to the anonymous lady who paid my utility bill last month!
I would like to thank my best friend Celia. She is always there for me and knows what I need. Love you C.
I would like to thank my girlfriend who has been incredibly supportive over the past months during the write-up of my PhD. Usually this can be a very isolating experience but she helped me through it.
Thank you for the opportunity to win this amazing pen!
I would like to thank Ian for another interesting interview and great giveaway! I enjoy reading your reviews and seeing your exceptional artwork.
I’d like to thank my second college roommate, Andy, for saving me from a second semester of living with my first roommate. That was over 20 years ago and I am still grateful when I stop to think about it.
I’d like to say thank you to my grandfather, Amauri, for giving help to our family and relatives when we needed it. Every now and then we needed your pat on our backs. Ever since you went and gone up there, we seemed to need it more often than before. Thank you, Lolo Mauri, for everything.
I’d like to thank my aunt and uncle. Without them I would not be where I am today. 🙂
I want to thank my father for supporting me through my whole life. My mother has never supported me in my education. Thank you for helping me in turning my self from a student that refused to care about homework, into an honors student that is getting ready to go to Columbia university.
I want to thank my best friend, who has been nothing but a support, a shoulder to cry on and a wonderful smile to laugh with. His wonderfully wicked sense of humour has helped get me through the really dark times in my life. I want to thank my lover, who adores me more than I deserve, yes it is my husband of (wait for it!) fifty four years! And IU still get butterflies in my tummy when I see him unexpectedly…….He also gave me my first beautiful fountain pen, which is worn round the edges, like us, still going though…….would love to give him this giveaway if my number comes up !
I would like to thank my brother for being always there when I need him. Even though we are about 2000 km apart we still feel so close.