Show Me What You Got

 Not too long ago we mentioned taking a step back and changing the way we approach things, and that statement still stands. A few people on the GeekHack forums speculated that we had hinted at expanding KeyKollectiv, and, well… I’m going to out and say it. You guys were absolutely right, though we are still not entirely sure what that means. Kudos and I have reached the point where we can no longer keep up with the pace we have set for ourselves, especially if we intend to not be beat out by others with the similar (if not the exact same) ideas we have had--particularly ones utilizing methods only previously successfully executed by KK—but yes, we are keenly aware this won’t last forever. We do not own these methods(or the color ways), just as surely as Bro does not own robots and Clack does not own skulls. One look at even the most skilled artisans out there, and Kudos can easily deduce the methods used within minutes (such as the new K3 flag caps 😏). I’ve developed a pretty good eye for it myself. Here’s the thing, though, this applies to our methods as well. And that’s just something we have to be totally okay with.

     Personally, I believe that in such a small community it’s even more of a faux pas to infringe or duplicate someone's style, but naturally, it's inevitable due shared influences all around. Were this a large conglomeration that were, in any way shape or form, incorporated, then I don't believe the point of origin would be nearly as easy to pinpoint and perhaps, arguably more acceptable (it’s still ethically iffy, but inevitable and can also promote creative growth as well). But given just how small this community is, and how few artists currently exist, there are plenty of vacuums should they desire to fill them. However, it’s worth noticing what is already in existence. If there are, say, 20 artisans, and they all have their own particular signature style, YES there is by all means room for more artisans. Many, many more!! But not ones doing the exact same thing already being done. Maybe utilizing the same methods--sure--but they should at least be utilized in a creative way, in my humble opinion.

I get it. This happens inevitably when things are produced in mass, and we all turn a blind eye because it's out of our hands. A recent example of this that I've seen (on a larger scale, obviously) was about a year or so ago--Starbucks blatantly began turning their business model and marketing into a practically indistinguishable version of Intelligentsia. They even made an artisanal, small batch coffee subscription service and changed their website (as well as packaging) to reflect a distorted mirror of their competitor. As a longtime supporter of Intelligentsia, I admit, this rubbed me the wrong way. But I immediately began playing Devil's Advocate against myself, rationalizing that perhaps it is not as blatant as I thought, and if it worked for them, naturally competitors will follow suit. Surely nothing can be done or said at that level; these corporations are untouchable and we as consumers tend to believe this is simply “the way things are,” or worse (which I am also guilty of) that there is nothing wrong with it. But I would argue that--at the VERY least--on this small of a scale, the more diversity the better. If only a handful of artisans are on the market, why not try to make something completely different? It's so much more fun that way anyway! I can honestly say I truly look forward to seeing the things people come up with, especially when you can tell there is a lot of love and passion behind their ideas.

With that said, I wish any and all new artisans the best of luck. And:

With love,

🐨🍵

Artistic Integrity

With every sale brings a new challenge, and with every wrap-up: relief tinged with regret. Today is the first time I've felt like writing since we began this sale, so let me start by saying, without further ado: orders ship Monday and you should likely receive them before the week is over. Kudos was left with a sprained wrist, and me? A broken heart. Was it worth it? No, but I'm glad to have shared this endeavor with you guys. Closure usually doesn't come until pictures are up and everyone is happy, anyway.

Hubris will always get the best of you.

And I don’t mean this in the way you might expect—if only we were as cocksure as people assume we are! The fact remains, we are scared sh*tless. We are two people pursuing our passion, and whether or not we want to believe it, it’s dog eat dog out there. Even in such a small community as this one, perhaps even moreso for that exact reason. Right now I’m less interested in updating this blog, and vastly more concerned with churning out all the ideas I’ve been resting on this last year (in hopes of eventually "getting around to it”). However, as I mentioned in the last post, it seems we are always in production. So this has become less and less feasible, and more and more heartbreaking.

In other keyboard related news, I am dying to get my hands on one of Rama's stunning new numpads. What do you guys think?

With love from the chinchilla cave,

🐨🍵 (and Mog)

Growing Pains

Courtesy of Andy over at Keychatter.com

For those who have been with KeyKollectiv this whole time, I’m sure some have noticed that I haven’t had much of a presence online. My blog posts are few and far between. Comments on our sales thread are sparse and brief. I’m sure some of you have waited days for a response to emails or PMs. I assure you, this isn’t intentional.

Firstly, I wanted to apologize to all the supporters who may feel ignored. It sucks. It brings me no joy to read a message only to find that I forgot to respond. Nor is it acceptable to disappear in the middle of a Slack conversation. And though my bandwidth has grown significantly within the past few months, it is still no excuse for seeming detached or aloof. I’m sorry.

I want to assure you that your words do not fall on deaf ears. The heartfelt stories we receive are meticulously read and shared between Koala-T and I. And requests are often kept in the back of our minds. In the event that opportunity presents itself to fulfill them, we will always go out of our way to accommodate. 

It wasn’t long ago that I would wake up and read every message that came in. We’d have long correspondences with our supporters. I knew you all by name. I knew if you were CONUS or International just by your usernames. It was easier to connect with you then. 

Luckily, Koala-T has been here. Filling the space between my appearances. Through her, KeyKollectiv remains “human”. Not some faceless cap factory -- but as people. People like you. People who are passionate about their hobbies and want to share their work. 

The past few months have been a blur. We’ve watched KeyKollectiv grow to something we never imagined was possible. I remember being excited seeing “[W] KK caps” on mechmarket for the first time. Nowadays, it’s a normal occurrences. We are grateful for all the new fans who have discovered us and hope we can share our work with you soon.

A while back, I wrote about the emptiness I felt after the last sale. Since then, I’ve spent considerable time trying to figure out what the crux of those feelings are. KeyKollectiv has grown so quickly in the past year. Demand increases yet our team remains the same. PMs and emails pile up but it’s still only Koala-T and I. We, as people, have not grown at the rate that KeyKollectiv has grown. At times, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

Often, I remind myself that we are only experiencing growing pains -- that these are good problems to have. We are grateful for the support. And for you-- fans, old and new. It all matters to us. Every email. Every post. Every photo. It all matters.

-Kudos

The Niche of Niches

As per usual--time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin', into the future. March was one of the busiest months Kudos and I have had outside of KeyKollectiv in a while, so once again, our apologies for the radio silence. Luckily, despite not having much of a presence online besides Instagram, we have also been busily working away on yet another masochistic endeavor in the lab: Topre Modifier Sets. That's right! Beautifully reinforced topre modifier sets, chock-full of thocky goodness.

Sunset Sherbert HHKB set; I think it's more of an apricot color--what do you guys think?

I was recently listening to an episode of the Pen Addict (which you should absolutely check out if you’re interested in pens and haven’t heard of it already—thanks Kudos!) and one of the hosts mentioned that their podcast--only within the last month, mind you--was named one of the top 25 most obscure podcasts.

       That got me thinking. If THEIR podcast, which is already nearly on its 200th episode, is considered that niche, then where do mechanical keyboards—or even stranger still—artisan keycaps rank on a list like this? What is the actual demographic size? The community spans and overlaps several notable communities, such as gamers, writers and programmers. But that by no means is an exhaustive list. I was recently speaking to one of our good friends Retro (of Retro Caps aka /u/retrochick) about the economics involved in artisan keycap-making, and she remarked that in some ways we've created our own micro-economy within this community. And she's totally right, especially when you consider the current perils of the aftermarket. But for me, this begs the question: What do you guys think the longevity of something like this is?

       So many new artisans are popping up, and while this is exciting for many reasons--fueling creative competition as well as more variety of artisans available for starters (great for those of us who haven't found "the one" yet)--it is also a little bit concerning (if not slightly overwhelming as well). Typically when any kind of market becomes saturated, quality can deteriorate; prices may drop, which makes it a little more forgiving for people who are not as committed as other "collectors", but is that necessarily a good thing? Quality--or perhaps more accurately, attention to detail--in my humble opinion, is often what separates artisan caps from mass-produced ones.

       Luckily it seems there is still a high level of emphasis placed on quality/originality, and I have a lot of confidence in some of the most recent up and coming artisans. However, with prices on the rise and artisans aplenty, this emphasis on quality can occasionally feel like an excuse to justify charging too much--all the worse while maintaining the narrative that it's for some greater cause, like the integrity of the art. Let's be honest, for some people it's not. That's okay! It doesn't have to be. But it's good to be aware of it as this community continues to expand. Especially because in consumer based societies such as ours, we speak mostly with our wallets. Value is largely perceived, so remember not to let anyone determine that for you! (including us<3)

With love,

🐨🍵

The One That Got Away

Leopold 660M photo by Massdrop

Leopold 660M photo by Massdrop

Kudos warned me this day would come. I remember seeing these beauties on MassDrop last year around the time he was building my "Strawberry Milk" board: a modified Poker II with cherry MX clear switches for a little extra resistance (in truth he was buttering me up for my HHKB, which was still a little too "elite" for me), and a beautiful pink pexon chord to match. He asked me time and time again, "Are you sure you don't want this one instead?"
"You're sure sure?"
"You're absolutely positive?"
While I don't think I ever responded particularly emphatically, I was pretty excited about the concept he'd hinted at for my Poker, and that likely showed through my ambivalence. I also knew I didn't need yet another keyboard, especially if my sole reasoning was the case. (that's what mods are for anyway, right?)
In hindsight, maybe I just wasn't as into keyboards at the time as I am now. I was still intimidated by it all, afraid of getting too "in the sauce," as Joe Rogan says.

Baby steps.

My Poker II sat largely unused for quite some time, despite being genuinely smitten with it. Unfortunately my workhorse at the time was a clunky old Macbook (that I used to use with "boot camp" back in our D3 & FFXIV days--what nightmare!) and the LED backlights on the board sucked the already sorely-lacking battery reserve to something like 2 hours of unplugged time. That was enough for me to tough it out on those gummy stock keys a little while longer.

💕🐨🍵💕🐼☕️ 💕 🐨🍵💕🐼☕️💕

Of course, once you've had a taste of the finer things in life, it's that much harder to go back. This is a reoccurring theme in adult life for many of us--the natural progression suggests you go according to a sliding scale; when you're young, you drink Natty Lite (aka crap, and no, I'm not really worried about offending anyone by stating that as a fact). As an adult, maybe you drink Stella Artois or Blue Moon. Perhaps you even work your way up to micro-brews and artisanal selections (like all things, you can get as Gung Ho and/or pretentious as you'd like). Whatever your cup of tea is, chances are there is some kind of community surrounding it.

Keyboards were a bit like that for me. Kudos would tell me the cost of some fantasy rig he'd dreamed up for me, and initially I'd snub my nose in an attempt to avoid falling down yet another rabbit hole--but secretly? I'd fallen for it, too. Slowly but surely the excuses I made for myself grew stronger, more convincing. The line between need and want began to blur, and here I am, so deep in the throes of it that I am retroactively experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out). Because sometimes you can only delay the inevitable, and as a former English major, we were a match made in heaven from the start.

💕

What boards have you guys missed out on only to obsess over months later?

🐨🍵

Post Sale Blues

Ending a sale has always been a bittersweet process. It’s not that KeyKollectiv doesn’t have a plethora of new releases planned out, it’s a matter of choosing what to follow up with. Unfortunately, anything following Kosmonavt just feels like an opening band doing a set after the headliners. 

As I’ve mentioned back when we wrapped SnacKeys Series 1, “you’re only as good as your last release”. I suppose, in hindsight, that my doubts were shortsighted. Well, at least that's what I remind myself as we ramp up for production on our next collections. But no matter what, I can’t seem to make sense of this malaise that washes over me. 

In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome”. It is characterized by a lingering and persistent fear that, despite external evidence of success, one will eventually be exposed as a “fraud”. The high-achieving individual is usually convinced that they do not deserve the success they experience and bury themselves in work to prevent their peers from discovering that they are “imposters”. These thoughts embody the doldrum that I struggle with currently. 

It is, in times like this, that I must remind myself that success is measured over a long span of time, rather than by individual events. I find that watching other artists/crafters keeps me on my upward trajectory. Here’s one that I am particularly fond of:

A Year in Perspective

Apollo and Gemini Kosmonavt

Apollo and Gemini Kosmonavt

March 18th marks the one year anniversary of KeyKollectiv. A milestone like this certainly warrants reflection. I have to admit, this past year has been such a blur that I haven’t had the luxury of sitting still -- let alone, contemplate the progress that KeyKollectiv has made. 

A year ago, I scoured the internet reading every bit of information I could find. I read and reread Booper’s and Binge’s posts. Fought the temptation to reach out and ask for help. A year ago, I took a hacksaw to my first pressure pot. I posted my humble attempts at casting stock caps. I raged at every failed cast. When molds fell apart, it broke my heart. A year ago, we chose to spend our money on more resin to finish a sale rather than pay off our bills in a timely manner. We walked hand in hand into the unknown bleeding money and scratching our skin raw.

Today, we wrapped the Kosmonavt sale and the lab has been eerily quiet. This morning I dug out a stray sprue lodged in my foot. We haven’t taken the time to tidy up yet. My work desk littered with the corpses of failed Kosmonavts. I suppose now would be a good time to catch up on sleep. If I was lucky, maybe do something nice for Koala-T-- for me, even. But I feel no sense of accomplishment, no tranquility. Rather the calm merely exposes the lingering uneasy thoughts that I have yet to earn respite.  

Sure, KeyKollectiv has come leaps and bounds from our beginnings but for us, the world of resin casting remains a craft shrouded in mystery. Every development lifts the veil slightly but never enough to see what’s under. I admit, when I first delved into casting, I greatly underestimated the complexity of the process. Failure has humbled me since then and the prospects of, someday, piercing that veil seems closer than it did a year ago.

So what is on KeyKollectiv’s horizon? Isn’t that the question that begs to be answered? Without divulging too much, we are happy to say that 2016 will bring V2’s of some of our favorite collections. Expect some interesting and exciting collaborations and projects. And most importantly, expect that we will continue to push the envelope to explore the possibilities of what this craft has to offer. Lastly, I’d like to leave with an excerpt from one of my favorite Robert Frost poems. It has significance to us as it resonates a mantra that we’ve adopted this year:

“The woods are lovely,

dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep."

Kudos

Kollab: Earth Below Us

When we initially conceptualized KeyKollectiv, our hope was to establish a platform that promoted collaborative projects between artisans. Of course, in its infancy, KeyKollectiv consisted only of Koala-T and me. However, we hoped that over time, KeyKollectiv would create a name for itself and appeal to some of the more prominent artisans in the scene. 

From the very beginning, Booper was an artist that we admired. Like Binge’s guide, Booper’s thread on GeekHack served as a blueprint for us as we embarked on the journey to learn resin casting. We saw her monkey, cosmonaut and Lilith as incredibly well executed designs (and the cuteness certainly appealed to Koala-T). For us, she was an ideal candidate for us to collaborate with. 

Conception

As we wrapped Key/Kill-Wala, we felt the weight of our one year anniversary looming over us (March 18th). With nearly 10 sales under our belts, we set our sights on making a real impact for our next project. They say that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. For us, that chance would present itself when Booper commented on how cool the Kill-Walas looked. I jokingly suggested a collaboration and surprisingly, she agreed. This exchange would set, in motion, a series of events that would lead to the creation of Kosmonavt. 

We reached out to her about the project immediately. At that point, Booper already had her hands full with life obligations. We knew, going into this collaboration, that we would need to invest considerable time into development. For KeyKollectiv, the prospects of being part of the first artisan collaboration was well worth the investment in time and effort.

Inception

What we created needed to showcase both of our talents. It needed to maintain the aesthetic identity of both KeyKollectiv and Booper in a cohesive manner. Up until that point, Furt was becoming an embodiment of our encapsulation techniques. Though unintentional, our identity was shaped by this creation and it lent itself well into projects to come. We felt that Booper’s flagship, cosmonaut, gave us an ideal template to work with. Luckily, she agreed with that approach. And with that, the countdown started.

Conceptually, Kosmonavt was the easiest project KeyKollectiv has taken on. The idea was to have a “lost in space” theme. A dead astronaut drifting off in the vastness of space. However, from a technical standpoint, Kosmonavt would prove to be our most difficult project to date. In hindsight, we could have easily painted a translucent cap to simulate the visor. But Kudos don’t play that. We would push ourselves again. No artist has ever improved by taking the easy way out. 

Our previous releases (Furt, Schrodinger, Kill-Wala) involved a casted object encapsulated within more resin. For Kosmonavt, we aimed for partial encapsulation. We needed to develop new methods to pull this off. By utilizing built-in locking mechanisms and multiple molds, we were able to achieve this effect eventually. Step one of development was completed in three days. Little did we know that the most difficult part was still ahead of us.

In order to execute Kosmonavt, KeyKollectiv would need to take this process even further. We would need to go deeper. Encapsulation within an encapsulation. Keycap inception. SnacKeys showed us how to suspend objects in resin but those were seeds. This is a skull that should be the same size of the visor. In theory, it should be a relatively easy process to achieve. But if history has shown us anything, pulling off an effect is simply not enough to create a final product. The ability to reliably replicate results is paramount to success. For the next week, I would lay awake at night working out this structural puzzle in my head. In the end, to create Kosmonavt, the solution involved a 3-step process consisting of 5 silicone molds and 18-24 hours. 

Perhaps even more difficult than working out a consistent casting method, was keeping our mouths shut. The sheer excitement was palpable at the KeyKollectiv Labs. For those who are close in our social circle or our lovely (relentless) stalkers, the collaboration was imminent. But to the general populace, little was known about what KeyKollectiv had up their sleeves.

Columbia Kosmonavt MX

Columbia Kosmonavt MX

Transmission

As we approached completion of our first proof of concept, Koala-T and I sat down to discuss how we would reveal this release. After much deliberation, we felt it would be fun to debut the launch with a series of cryptic messages and puzzles. The plan was to slowly roll out a series of numbers which corresponded to dates of space missions disasters. We made sure to select tragedies that involved astronaut fatalities. GeekHack picked up on it immediately. The assumption was that they would take a few days to put the puzzle pieces together but we couldn’t get anything past them. We had a few close calls where people speculated about a potential collaboration. Efforts to deflect and misdirect proved ineffective in stopping the community from delving deeper into the mystery.

As our countdown approached launch date, KeyKollectiv and Booper discussed the prospects of a video teaser. I admit, my video editing skills are not up to par so Booper took on the task. By the end of the day, the video was complete and ready to go. But before we did, I had one last puzzle for our hungry fans. By taking the word “KOSMONAVT”, we reversed the order, matched each letter to a number, converted to roman numerals and translated it to Morse code. To our amazement, a handful of people were able to crack the code. For their efforts, we will be sending them one-offs of Kosmonavt as a reward.

X-15 Kosmonavt

X-15 Kosmonavt

All in all, though production has been a harrowing experience, the “! X KK” collaboration project has been the most rewarding and challenging launch for KeyKollectiv. We hope this joint effort will be first among many (another one lined up after). We’d like to thank Booper for giving us the opportunity to work with her along with the countless friends who helped to make this project a reality. Kosmonavt marks our one year anniversary as KeyKollectiv and we wanted to show our gratitude to the community for supporting us along our journey. Without you, we would not be where we are today. Until next time, kudos and godspeed.  

Check out Booper’s website at: omniclectic.com and sign up for her newsletter!

Read a brief interview that we had with LivingSpeedBump and Booper over at: keychatter