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ALAN TURNER — Entrepreneurship: it’s not just for the young



While in Arizona recently, I spent some time with Dennis Shurtz, a retired Navy machinist who provided encouraging proof that starting a small business is not just for the twenty-something generation.

Dennis got the idea for his business after admiring a handmade pen that was owned by a neighbor.  That’s how his business, which he calls The Ink Splat, was born.

“I thought the workmanship on the pen was just beautiful, and it occurred to me that, hey! I could do that,” he said.  “As a machinist, I know how to create items that must be exact, so I decided to look into the process of making pens.”

The more he looked at the possibilities and researched the field, the more excited he became, and before he knew it, he was creating a line of pens of his own.  He joined the International Association of Pen Turners (bet you didn’t know there was such an association), and interacted with others in the field.  He found that there’s quite a trend toward handmade, quality items.  And that’s exactly what he does.

Each of his pens is essentially a unique creation.  He crafts pens of all sizes, shapes, themes.  He uses a wide range of materials, from exotic woods including ebony, koa, spalted pecan, olive wood from Israel, as well as quality acrylics that he obtains from artisans.

The results are stunning.  I looked through his current inventory of pens, and finally selected one for myself that I just couldn’t do without.  Actually, I would have liked to buy a half dozen, but I can always put more on my Christmas wish list.

What motivates Dennis?

“Well, I was inspired by the famous Michaelangelo quote where he said that he saw the angel in a block of marble and carved the stone until he set her free.  I feel pretty much that way.  When I look at a piece of wood, it sort of speaks to me, and I just take it from there,” he said.

I ask him if he follows a pattern in his creations.

“Nope,” he said.  “As you can see, I do things in all sorts of sizes and shapes….I tend to like curves and flowing designs, and once I start the process, it just seems to take on a life of its own.”

He also said that he could make a custom pen for someone, if they can explain what they’re looking for.

Dennis Shurtz_400px_rgb“I’m not interested in being a big company or a conglomerate,” he said.  “What motivates me is to create something unique that people will love and enjoy for years to come.”

At present, he has focused primarily on ball pens, but he’s now in the process of crafting his first fountain pen, which is an entirely different market.

“After a while, this becomes more of an addiction,” he said.  “I just love working with beautiful things.  From my point of view, older folks need to focus on something like this, something that can be a passion and that they can take pride in.  Heck, life isn’t over when you hit retirement age.”

He’s also considering making other unique items, such as seam rippers and duck calls.

“Once you get bitten by the creative bug, it’s hard to stop,” he said.  “And you’re only limited by your imagination”.

I asked him what the most unique material he has worked with has been.

“Hmmm, maybe that would be the pen I made using old denim as a cover,” he said.

Currently, he’s working on a website – the url WILL be TheInkSplat.com.  He plans to showcase his pens on the site and engage with others who are interested in handmade creations.

“I’ve really discovered a new purpose in life with this,” he said.  “It’s great to get up on a beautiful morning, head out to my garage work area, and concentrate on making something really nice.”

Does his wife Linda support his entrepreneurial passion?

“She does—most of the time,” he said with a smile.

If you’re looking for a unique gift this Christmas for someone special, this might be a really good option (hint, hint).  And hopefully, Dennis will have TheInkSplat.com up and running soon.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.


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