YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – About seven years ago, Michael Nyers was at one of the lowest points in his life, following a series of personal problems and struggles with his mental health.
While scrolling through Pinterest one day, Nyers came across “blackout poetry,” a form of poetry where words are selected from printed text and the background is filled in, creating an artistic poem. Although he didn’t know what it would turn into at the time, Nyers says he began creating pieces himself.
“It was just so fascinating to me,” he says. “What I discovered is creating those blackout poems helped me to express myself and what I was going through.”
Nyers says he quickly became passionate about creating these poems and it became almost therapeutic to him. With that in mind, he turned his newfound hobby into a small business with the intentions of helping people going through similar situations.
“I wanted to shape my life up to helping and encouraging others,” he says. “It really lets me share that and let other people know that they’re not alone.”
In addition to his poetry, he says he began creating other work from upcycled books and materials like jewelry, ornaments and prints. He also started hosting workshops.
“I felt the need to share [making blackout poetry] somehow,” he says. “It started out of the pavement and people got interested, and it really grew.”
Nyers says he went on to befriend a publisher who found his work on social media. After commenting on one of his posts, Nyers says he told him his work would look great in a book and he “knew a guy.”
The “guy” Nyers says he was referring to was himself and he helped him publish his book “Finding Light in the Darkness: A Collection of Blackout Poetry.”
Although he has seen a lot of success in creating his business, Fade into a Blackout Poetry, it hasn’t come without challenges. Over the course of the pandemic, he says he had lost three studios because of closures and had to cut back on traveling.
A SMIDGEN OF EVERYTHING
Sarah Drabison says she started her business, A Smidgen of Everything, in part as a reaction to the challenges she was having.
“I actually started with handmade cards and it was something to fill my time,” she says. “It started off super small but it’s really grown into a bunch of different things I make.”
Drabison says her handmade cards became surprisingly popular, but when people began to ask for re-creations of previous ones, she realized they would be impossible to replicate. She started to digitalize her work to make it easy to reproduce. And now, her main item is no longer cards.
“I can’t focus on just one craft,” she says. “I like to find things that are functional. A lot of the crafts I do have some sort of purpose. So it’s not just something pretty or something cute.”
Crochet has become her main craft. She crochets ear warmers, scrunchies, face scrubbies, dish scrubbies, soap savers and earrings. She also began working with polymer clay, creating clay earrings and barrettes.
Aside from her small business, which functions mostly online and at flea markets, Drabison is a high school English teacher.
“It gives me some type of creative outlet,” she says. “This is just something I do for fun. I am a teacher. So it kind of gives me that time off where I’m able to explore something new, learn something new – and it really connects me with different parts of the community.”
Drabison’s work can be found on Facebook, Instagram and her newly opened website.
Some creative people practice their art for years before starting a business.
Kevin Swadener, owner of Ashen Relics, worked with leather for 10 years but didn’t get serious until last summer.
“[Ashen Relics] started in October,” he says. “We did a show and I got one sale and I was so happy about it. I loved just doing it and I loved sharing it with people. So I decided that’s what I want to do.”
With the help of his wife, Swadener began creating leather armor and arm bracers for renaissance fair settings. His work evolved into making several other things, such as welding guards, although he specializes in making journals.
“I am always trying to learn how to make new things,” Swadener says. “I always loved myths, especially Norse mythology [and] Greek mythology, and I thought maybe there were some other people out there that would enjoy this.”
He uses leather as a canvas for art inspired by themes from mythology.
Swadener does work on commission and also sells on his Etsy shop.
His work can also be purchased at Youngstown Flea, Artists of the Rust Belt markets, Sarah’s Ceramic Studio, and Her Primitive Ways in Youngstown.
ARTS BY MALORIE
Malorie Martin has had to navigate difficulties in running her business, Arts by Malorie, in which she creates and sells a variety of art in eco-friendly packaging.
Martin says money is often an issue for small businesses and makers like herself.
With that in mind, she plans to open a studio in Struthers and then open it to other artists and help provide them with necessary tools.
“I am hoping to get artists tools like a printing press and heat press, a really nice printer, and open a space up for other low-income artists to use,” Martin says.
“Once you graduate art school, you lose access to a lot of tools. It gets harder to create art.”
Martin says she met a very supportive community in the area, and her favorite thing about being a small artist is meeting all of the other makers online and in her travels. “I feel like this community is really driving,” she says.
Martin’s work can be found on her social media accounts or on her website.
Pictured at top: Malorie Martin plans to open a studio in Struthers.