By JENNA FEAR
When Tewsdae Craven became a stay-at-home mom, she got bored fast. Taking care of her 10-month-old girl and the two other babies she cares for regularly is a lot of work, but she also needed something to do that she enjoyed outside of chasing babies around her house in Old Monroe.
That’s when she started designing cups. She had always loved things that were personalized with her name on them, so a few months ago she bought a cup at a craft fair with her initials on it. She paid $45 for a simple design, and she thought the price was a little outrageous. Since she was looking for a hobby to keep her busy at home anyway, she decided to try it herself and she fell in love with the craft of designing and creating the cups.
Designing custom drinkware might sound simple in theory, but her technique for creating them is an elaborate process: these are no ordinary cups, after all. It took a lot of practice to get her process down to a T and to get good at it. Craven says her first cup was awful, but she liked doing it so much she kept at it, and now she creates beautiful designs on stainless steel tumblers she can customize to be whatever her customers dream up. Some of her favorites, though, are ones she came up with herself, and she loves them so much she hasn’t been able to post them for sale yet.
“I’ve never been a very creative person,” Craven said. “But when I started making the cups I just started getting ideas from everywhere.”
One of her favorite cups has the colors of a sunset behind the silhouetted decal of two deer. It looks like a mural on a cup. She got the idea from a photo she saw in a magazine, she said. This is her favorite cup and one that she hasn’t been able to part with yet.
She remembers another time she was driving down the street and saw a farm scene that captivated her, and that gave her the idea for another design.
She values the creative process in creating custom orders too.
“I like being able to do whatever people want,” she said. “They can give me an exact shade and I can go to the store and find that exact color of paint for their cup.”
It’s important to her that she gives her customers a quality product that meets their expectations exactly, so she always lets the customers see her design before moving ahead to finish the project. She knows that this is how she’ll continue getting business—many customers have already returned to her to buy cups for themselves or as gifts because they were so impressed by the product the first time.
Craven has only been making and selling the cups since August of this year, but already she’s been plenty busy fulfilling orders. Her customers have mostly come in through word-of-mouth, she said. She said when she first started, people were asking her all the time where she got her cups, and she would write down her contact information on scraps of paper. She decided to get business cards at that point, and all of her family members and friends are now equipped with them to give when people ask about their cups. She’s also gotten into the social media game with her Facebook page AJ Sparks Designs.
She’s been averaging about 10 cup orders a week since the holiday season started, and each cup takes a full two days from start to finish.
Her process begins with sanding a stainless steel tumbler cup to give it a texture that paint will better stick to. She then spray paints on the base coat of paint, and if the cup includes glitter – as many of her designs do – she adds an adhesive and sprinkles the glitter on. The next step is to mix together a two-part epoxy and coat the cup. The epoxy takes 12 hours to dry and 24 hours to set completely, so she waits a full day to add details. Then, she adds decals and designs and covers it in epoxy a second time. After that, if it isn’t smooth enough, she adds a third coat of epoxy.
It’s a long process, and Craven says she works on about three at a time. She’s able to work a bit during the day while watching the kids, but at night when she puts her daughter to bed around 8:30 and her boyfriend is busy playing video games, that’s when she really gets down to business.
“I just sit in my craft room and work on cups with music on until midnight or one in the morning,” she said. “I don’t even notice the time going by, it’s just so much fun.”
Right now, her cup-making serves as a way to fill the time doing something she enjoys and to bring in some extra money. It helps get clothes and toys for her daughter, and she said it will come in handy this Christmas season.Beyond the holidays, she hopes to expand her business and customer base and continue doing what she loves.