It’s Small Business Saturday y’all! I love that there is a day to celebrate shopping small, though I wish every day were a day to recognize, and make a conscious effort to support small businesses.
Sometimes the products that we sell cost more, because we source our materials differently, trying to ensure they are produced with care or fairly, humanely, that the workers who create them or harvest them are paid a fair wage etc. Sometimes we are making our products by-hand, or making them here in the United States, where labor costs, commercial space, utilities, and the cost-of-living is significantly greater than developing countries, and thus, our products cost more. So if you can still support us with your shopping dollars, we appreciate it!
This holiday season, I am introducing new pieces to the Hieropice product line, Botanical Magnets! They are miniature landscapes designed to attach to any metal surface, and come in a variety of styles. I will have them at my upcoming art markets at the Old South Church Christmas Craft Fair on Saturday, December 3rd, and at the Etsy Artists of Boston chalet at City Hall Plaza December 16th through 22nd. I love making them. Tiny, perfect ecospheres preserved in time. Yay, nature! And yay, handmade!
I am expanding the Hieropice product line, after a couple of years of awesome responses to our terrarium ornaments. I used to do a lot of glass-etching in my youth, and started incorporating etching into last Winter’s ornaments. During the holidays, I offered ornaments with etched designs and pressed botanicals. I am now expanding my etched pieces to bud vases, lanterns, cruets (those dispensers for oil, wine, etc.) and more, that I offer at art markets and online at Hieropice.com and hieropice.etsy.com. The pieces feature the thematic elements customary of Hieropice, ferns, orchids, and bits of nature I fall in love with as I explore. I create original drawings and etch them onto reclaimed glass, and, in the future, will create some pieces that incorporate more glass techniques (mosaic, stained glass, painted glass, etc.). I hope you enjoy these new pieces, I am really enjoying creating them!
FYI, if you’re in Greater Boston, you can still register for one of my glass-etching workshops taking place on August 4th and August 27th, at the Presentation Foundation Community Center. Pre-registration is required, and the registration link is here: http://bit.ly/29ztFz6
The folks at Etsy reminded me it’s wedding season! While my appreciation of weddings is primarily relegated to drooling over bouquets, head-pieces and gowns, I did remember serving as a bridesmaid in several friends’, then my sister’s, wedding. I got my dress together, my shoes, my makeup, my hair, and then, despite being a jeweler, found I had no clue whatsoever what jewelry to wear.
The weddings were all fairly traditional, with bridesmaids in similar, if not identical dresses, and I wondered if I’d blow up the whole cabal with some off-kilter embellishment. And if you’re thinking, why worry about such a thing? I hand you the following anecdote.
Standing in the chapel doorway at my best-friend’s wedding, I went to take the arm of my assigned groomsman, a gentleman I had just met, before we walked down the aisle. I was wearing the pre-selected bridesmaid uniform, marcasite post earrings and a feather fascinator. He leaned over to me and whispered, “Now, we don’t want to take any attention away from the bride, now do we?” Ahem! So, people notice these things!
Accessory-shaming aside, I thought, there should be tasteful, customizable jewelry pieces available, preferably that a bride can select and purchase for her bridal party, that she could match to their dresses. The bridesmaid would’t have to worry about selecting appropriate jewelry for the occasion, and the jewelry would double as a gift from bride to bridesmaids as a thank you for supporting her on her special day.
I have just listed a set of gold and semi-precious gemstone drop earrings in my Hieropice on Etsy shop, customizable, of course, for exactly this purpose. Earrings are available in turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral, and malachite, and other colors are available upon request. The set comes with four pairs, but more, or fewer, are also available. Happy wedding season, everyone!
There has been a bit of upheaval, of late.
With the invitation to outside investors, Etsy invited a lot of scrutiny, which led to some of those same investors realizing, rather late in the game, that Etsy hosts a rather large number of sellers who vend items that infringe upon the copyrights of well-known companies, like Disney, and Sanrio.
I’m talking about that Hello Kitty necklace and that baby blanket featuring Elsa from “Frozen.”
Yup, unless the vendor paid to license those characters from their parent companies, they’re likely infringing on a copyright/trademark by utilizing that imagery on their items (with some exceptions).
And once some of the investors who purchased Etsy stock at $30/share and watched it tumble to $16/share shortly after “discovered” these items in the Etsy marketplace, suddenly they became a problem.
Of course, you can purchase the same infringing items on Ebay, on Alibaba (where many vendors openly rip-off reputable Etsy artisans and imitate their items/infringe upon their copyrights), and a million other sites, but the rip-offs are a bit less visible when they’re being pumped out by the thousands by large overseas manufacturers tacking-on fake designer labels than an independent artist illustrating an homage to a character they love from a film. And then, there’s also not a share price drop to think of with those other companies, either.
The lawsuit is a loser, as a basic Etsy search would’ve given these investors all the info they needed, and no one can make up for your unwillingness to do your homework.
But the kerfuffle did bring into focus this whole issue of manufacturing, and the role it plays in the business of art-making.
Many of us, who hand-make our art, whether we’re willing to vocalize it or not, envision these massive, overseas sweatshop-style businesses, that have zero interest in quality, running ginormous machines day and night, spitting out replica after replica of meaningless, rip-off junk, paying dozens of workers pennies to put sloppy finishing touches on before the onslaught of under-priced garbage floods our marketplace. And then our work, that we slave over, that takes us forever to complete, that we actually care about, that we’re already under-pricing because if we priced it correctly it’d never sell, gets buried in that market, because these manufacturers are getting better and better at faking it.
But the reality is a bit different. I’ve done the math, many of us have. I know, to make a living at what I do, to sell my pieces at the prices I do, to make enough pieces to sell, to achieve any of the goals I have for my life, to buy a home, to travel, it is simply unrealistic to continue hand-making art, one-by-one, and selling at affordable prices. There are some artists who are exceptions, I imagine, who transition seamlessly from doing crappy art-school paintings to selling individual pieces regularly for $500,000 apiece, with no selling-out in between. I know a guy. But they’re exceptions. And they also bypass the mass-marketplace and go straight to high-end; their work is reserved for the rarefied few who can afford “aaahhht.”
Any artist who starts to achieve some success at their chosen medium has to figure out how to do what Etsy calls “scaling up.” I will define it as, “making/selling your stuff in a way that allows you to make enough money to live, but not to go insane/die of exhaustion, but also, achieve your goals.” And it looks different for every artist.
I recently heard an interview with Jonathan Adler, of ceramic vase fame, on NPR, and he was talking about how he made it as an artist. It was a good story, of landing his pots in Barney’s early in his career and taking off from there.
I literally watched Jonathan Adler “become.” I used to watch him on Martha Stewart’s show, showing off his vases, how he made them, etc. And now he’s an industry, with stores everywhere, and his name is synonymous with “style.”
But his interview was bullshit. Because Jonathan Adler probably hasn’t made a freakin’ vase in years. He probably hasn’t touched a single object in any of his stores in years, he probably doesn’t even know what they sell. He has a “design brand,” now. He’s not a famous artist, though he sold himself as one, in this interview. He’s rich, he’s famous, he has indeed succeeded, but is he a successful artist, if he doesn’t actually MAKE any art any more? If his success hasn’t come from his art, but from his merchandising, his branding, his expansion into other arenas?
And that difference struck me like a brick. Because I went into an online artists’ group recently, during a period where I was working through a ton of online orders I’d received on the same day, many of them for the same item, and so I was making almost the same item over and over, my hands were cramping and I was sick of seeing this piece I once loved the design-of. I wanted to smash it and refuse to make it again. I was just weary of making things for other people, that felt like they had nothing of me in them any more. I was satisfying my customers, but not myself.
And I asked if these other artists in this group ever felt like they were one-person-sweatshops, and just didn’t want to do it any more sometimes. And several of them totally could relate, but several said, “oh come on, that’s a great problem to have!”
I literally made ‘sad-face’ upon reading that.
A great problem to have?! I knew what they must be thinking, that to have people wanting the things you’ve created, to be willing to spend money on them, and to have steady business is indeed a good thing for an artist. It’s often the goal when you’re in art school, to “make a living as an artist.” Huzzah! Success!
But I also realized, a person who could see this as a “good problem” is not an artist.
I hadn’t realized until that moment, that perhaps not all of us who are making things and selling them are, in fact, artists. Or would even call ourselves such. Our motivations may not be the same. Some are creating because they enjoy the act of it, and are selling as a bonus. It’s a pass-time, or a hobby.
Some are creating because they’re simply able to, they may not always enjoy it, but it brings in income. They could stop tomorrow and move on to something else they find more interesting.
Some are creating specifically to make revenue, and will, whenever possible, remove themselves from the creative process. Making is a means to an end, and they are looking for the best possible way to monetize it.
I’m creating because I feel I’m an artist, it’s my identity, not my hobby or my job. The urge was there before I sold a thing, before Etsy or craft shows. I don’t really have a choice whether to create; in fact, I tried majoring in Psycho-Pharmacology in college, but ended up spending all of my time doing artwork instead of reading my textbooks. Because creating is my passion and the thing that drives me. I don’t really care whether I sell things, I very much care about the integrity of what I create, its originality and quality, and I also very much care about whether I enjoy doing it. So when it feels rote, repetitive, and divorced of my creativity any more, I don’t want to do it.
So if I’m honest, I’m fearful of reaching that Jonathan Adler moment. When I realize I’m not going to achieve the success I want if I insist on my own hands touching each piece of artwork that is sold with my name on it. It’s very well-accepted in the fashion industry; you know Versace didn’t sew a stitch on that dress you bought, but it still commands the price. But I still despise the idea of not creating my work with my hands, and I don’t see the manufacturing process as a part of Hieropice‘s future.
When I began, I envisioned working with Maasai women in Tanzania in creating the Maasai-beaded line, and I hope to still see that come to fruition, one day. I wanted to improve upon the technique, build up the visibility of my Maasai-inspired pieces here in the West, and head back to TZ to train a small cooperative to create the pieces with me, using fine materials and my designs. No machines, just women, hand-beading with a (modified) technique that originated in their own community, bringing revenue back into that same community. That’s about as far away from my own hands as I’m ever willing to go, I think. Not far.
*Disclaimer – I actually love Jonathan Adler’s stuff, no hating here! Props to you, Jonathan Adler.
Guess what? Hieropice is now Hieropice™!
We are officially trademarked baby! Yeah!
So, in my last post, I had to be a bit cagey about what was coming up, as we were in the “quiet period” (who knew that was a thing?) of the Etsy IPO! I was honored to be invited to Etsy headquarters to participate in the IPO celebration, along with a small group of Etsy sellers from around the globe. The group included Etsy vendors who have successfully
completed the Craft Entrepreneurship Program as well as educators from the program, members of the Etsy Manufacturing Advisory Board, local Etsy Team Captains/vendors working on activating their teams, like myself, and vendors who are successfully scaling up their Etsy businesses as they continue to sell on Etsy. I mentioned in my previous post how hard I’m working to try and get our local team, Etsy Artists of Boston, all the access/tools we need to be successful artists/entrepreneurs, and so I was really thrilled to be recognized and included in this opportunity!
I had a marathon trip to NYC, and was so excited to see Etsy headquarters, in particular, the “living wall.” After a delicious dinner with the other sellers and Etsy staff, I high-tailed it to the Hudson Guild to take a BollyX class (which was free, score!) before heading back to the hotel to call it an early night. Had to wake up early to get to the NASDAQ building on time!
The IPO “Sellerbration” took place in and around the NASDAQ building in Times Square in Manhattan, New York City, where Etsy staff and sellers gathered with CEO Chad Dickerson to announce Etsy’s public stock options, ring the opening bell of the stock exchange, and offer an amazing outdoor Etsy market. I’m basically penguin-height so was blocked in many of the photos, but I rang my bell like a champ and was glad Etsy let me take it home! Chad’s son was the cutest thing ever, rolling on the NASDAQ floor in all of the orange/white confetti (I would’ve done that too if I were a toddler!)
Fourteen vendors, including Supayana (Canada), Shlomit Ofir (Israel), Little Hero Capes (Massachusetts, USA), Malam (France), and others set up adorable little mini shops in the middle of Times Square for the afternoon, selling childrens’ clothing, modern gold/pastel jewelry, iPod/iPad docks of reclaimed wood, screenprints of original illustrations, knit scarves and hats, and more. I can’t imagine a market like it ever occurring again, with these vendors from all over the world, it was great to see some of these faces I’ve only seen in avatars, in person! Alas, my overnight bag was small, so no shopping for me, but I was happy to be there. I loved seeing the tangible version of Etsy.
I wished, though, that the small, single-maker, dual-maker, and family-based shops were better-represented. I know that Etsy’s business-model has changed, and I understand
that keeping up with demand requires that some businesses utilize manufacturers. And that’s fine for those businesses. But my admiration for Etsy, my attraction to it, came from the concept of honoring small makers who were making things by hand in their homes and studios, not in factories. And I don’t want that concept to lose its place-of-pride, and I worry about that vision changing. But, I’m not the CEO! You can read more about Etsy’s IPO, the Sellerbration, etc., on the Etsy Blog.
Post Sellerbration, I took the opportunity to check out the Bjork exhibit at the MOMA, as I’ve loved her since I was 9-years-old. I realized, there, there were music videos of hers I’d never seen (Triumph of a Heart, what?), and I want an Alexander McQueen dress of my very own! The “Black Lake” piece commissioned by the MOMA was heart-breaking to watch, and discovering the back-story of her break-up that inspired it made it even more painful. Bjork’s a talented lady. But don’t bring your children to the exhibit. Or your grandparents. Unless your super-comfortable with each other. So, so NSFW. An older couple sat next to me for several of the videos and I felt like I should be apologizing to them for all of the nudity. And sex. And self-abuse. Again, NSFW!
Then, it was back to Boston, on another marathon shlep! Thanks to some lovely friends, I discovered my terrarium necklace was in the Etsy Finds e-mail, which was a lovely surprise, and I prepared for our Etsy Artists of Boston meeting on Copyrights and Trademarks, which was very informative. Due to the overwhelming response to the Finds e-mail, I am too overloaded to participate in the opening day of SOWA Boston on May 3rd, but I wish my colleagues the best day ever! It looks to be fantastic! I intend to participate next weekend on Mother’s Day. If my mom allows it!
Spring is actually starting to show itself here in Massachusetts after Snowmageddon. I can’t wait!
I’ve been remiss. I know.
It’s so easy to lose track of time, forget to keep up, forget to post!
I’ve been all over the place!
In short, over the past months, I’ve been building Etsy Artists of Boston, our local artists/entrepreneur team, meeting monthly to improve our skills as vendors/artisans and offer each other support. It’s good to have a community that understands the unique thing that you do, and it can be so isolating to be an independent business-person, particularly an artisan, who spends a lot of time working very quietly, very intensely, at a craft, and is ultimately solely responsible for the outcome/success of the work.
I envisioned Etsy Artists of Boston as a community where we could create connections, for those moments when you hit a roadblock in your work and don’t know how to get past it, or have a technical issue you don’t have the knowledge to solve but are certain someone else does, or just need to vent! I, (perhaps selfishly!) wanted an environment in Boston where artists/business-people could exchange ideas and artistic services, crowd-source concepts, and just socialize with other creatives who get it!
And the group has grown past what I could’ve envisioned, with our membership expanding exponentially, we’ve held an incredibly successful team selling event in December, 2014, the Etsy Artists of Boston Winter Bazaar at the Arsenal Project, and had some fantastic group meetings, last month hosting reps from the mobile app Cinch Polls, and this month, an attorney from Lovrien Law to educate us on the finer points of trademark, copyright, patents, and related issues. We’re looking forward to our upcoming Etsy Craft Party in June, and I’m working on getting more of our membership to take on leadership positions, to ensure we all have a voice! Looking ahead, I see exciting opportunities for our Boston-based community!
I have to also express gratitude, for my consistent customers, who’ve been so supportive, and kept me going. In January/February, I traveled to Costa Rica and Belize, as I was contemplating a bit of a change in my product line at Hieropice. I was seeking inspiration for landscapes, and a bit of a pause from business-as-usual. It gave me an opportunity to focus on new work, taking a pause from creating existing designs. I’ve got some ideas percolating, but I want to keep them under-wraps until their ready to introduce! So, stay-tuned for some new pieces!