I’ve done an interview on “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley,” about trends in handmade, the current handmade marketplaces, and Etsy Artists of Boston. You can hear it here: “Connections to Nature, Artists Transform Handmade Crafts into Trend.
Excited to announce that I’ve added a couple of new workshops to my August roster, in addition to the upcoming glass-etching workshop on August 27th. I’ll be teaching two workshops on terrarium-building on August 14th and 23rd! These two classes will focus on how to create sustainable tropical ecosystems under glass, with step-by-step instruction and tips on keeping your terrariums beautiful long-term. Attendees will get to personalize their terraria, and we’ll use truly unique glass vessels (no fishbowls here!) to build in. Very excited to offer this class at the Presentation School Foundation in Brighton, as previously, I’ve only offered it and Brookline Adult and Community Education and Newton Community Education. If you live in the Greater Boston area, or will be on August 14th or 23rd, join in! You have to pre-register to attend, register here.
This Sunday, I’ll be exhibiting at SOWA Boston, debuting some new pieces. I’ve created new terrarium ornaments, botanical-gilded lanterns, terrarium shadow boxes and botanical-etched decanters. SOWA is open from 10 AM – 4 PM on Sunday, and is free to attend (it costs $10 to park, but you can use the parking voucher at any of the vendor booths!)
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.
Friday, August 22nd will be the final Arts on the Arcade show of the Summer, and Hieropice will be there! Sponsored by the City of Boston Office of Arts and Tourism, this series takes place right at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, and features a select group of local visual artists and bands.
For the 22nd, Hieropice will have a bunch of new items JUST added to our collection, including a line of golden nautical jewelry pieces, lanterns with whimsical moss landscapes, and Ancient Egypt-inspired semi-precious pieces. Come visit, 11 AM to 5 PM, at the intersection of Congress Street and North Street, in Boston!
Changes are afoot! But change is a good thing, right?! Sometimes…
I launched my website, Hieropice.com, in November. It was an exciting venture, to create a website that was truly my own, that I could design, tweak, make. It is a venue accessible to anyone, whether they’re familiar with Etsy, or Hieropice, or not. I can include features there that I can’t on Etsy, like images from Polyvore, where users have styled ensembles with Hieropice pieces, as well as my local craft-show itinerary, links to my blog, and a gallery of custom pieces I’ve made in the past. I get to control the look and feel of the site, and make it match my brand.
While making Hieropice items available to customers from a variety of venues is good business sense, it wasn’t my sole motivation for opening Hieropice.com. At the beginning of November, handmade, vintage, and supply site Etsy, which had been Hieropice’s primary online home, made some changes to the site’s policies which were…difficult for me, as a handmade jewelry artist.
Shortly before my older brother passed away recently, he asked me, “what’s the big deal about handmade anyway? I don’t get what could possibly be better about something someone’s making with their hands versus a machine.”
I get his inquiry. Machine-made things are not only great, but they’re sometimes essential. I expect my car to be machine-made, my electronics, my appliances. I know these items often have elements of human assembly, but I feel comfortable with the fact that a machine manufactures them primarily, making each one identical to the next, precise, solid, consistent.
But for things that I connect with in an intimate way, handmade matters. When I go out to eat at a restaurant, I think about what I’m consuming, where things were grown, even what the creatures I’m consuming consumed when they were alive! I think about how a dish was prepared, how the surface it was prepared on was prepared, what herbs, spices, fats, proteins and vegetables went into it, the manner in which it was cooked. Most of us have thought more about these things as our knowledge of the effects of food on our bodies and our environment has grown. We care where our food comes from, and what’s in it, as we care about what it does to us, to those around us, and our environment. And we appreciate being able to ask the people who grew it, prepared it, cooked it, served it, questions about it. And knowing that someone is accountable for it.
Handmade, in whatever form it may take, is valuable for these reasons. When I create a handmade piece, you can ask me anything under the sun about it. What is this made of? Where does the material come from? What’s the history of this technique? And I can tell you. (And if I don’t know off-hand, I’ll certainly do my research!) I’m accountable for what I make, so, it matters to me what it’s made of, where the materials come from and if they were acquired responsibly, whether the piece stands the test of time, whether a buyer is happy with it. A machine simply doesn’t have an opinion about any of those things, and when it’s pumping out thousands of one thing at a time with a focus on speed and quantity, it becomes difficult to even determine where issues may arise, where flaws may be, and who’s accountable for them.
For example, there are materials often used in jewelry, like coral and diamonds, that have controversial histories. Some diamonds originate in areas where violence and exploitation play a major part in their acquisition, and some coral is harvested with methods that destroy environmentally-critical coral reefs. (The coral used in Hieropice pieces is sustainably-harvested) For me, as a handmade-maker who is accountable, I could never be comfortable with selling pieces that include materials with those origins. Because I value my work, and am focused on its quality versus the monetary gains it might provide, and I know that my customers would also expect me to make my pieces responsibly, I try to ensure that my work reflects my values. And if, at any point, I discover a material I’m using has origins I cannot support, I have an obligation to discontinue using it. Like most handmade artisans, I am a singular, accessible artist. There’s no corporation for me to hide behind with an endless labyrinth of communication barriers, no machinery that must be re-designed or dismantled in the event of a production concern, no “bottom line” I’d have to consider before removing a questionable material from my work. There’s just me!
A handmade-maker offers a potential customer the ability to collaborate, though they may not be an artist themself, and have a concept they’ve only imagined realized. Buying handmade allows you to customize a piece, and have something unique and one-of-a-kind created. I like knowing the handmade piece I own is the only one in existence. Or the piece I’ve designed for a loved one was created with them; their specific preferences, wants and needs, in-mind. Some of the most fun and creative pieces I’ve made have been custom requests, like the miniature terrarium necklace I created for a woman to give to her sister, who loves pigs and grew up raising them on the family farm. The manufactured items in my home are useful, no-doubt, but I’m pretty sure a million other people have the same laptop and bookshelf I do… Handmade items have a “special-ness” that mass-produced items just don’t.
When a person receives a handmade piece, they get something that someone has connected with, labored over, that contains the artists’ imagination and vision, the benefit of their years of study and practice, their skill, their unique method. You know how groups of people go to those trendy painting parties, and they all try to copy a known painting, and every participant’s painting comes out looking totally different at the end of the evening? Every artist creates differently, and interprets differently, and infuses their distinct perspective into what they create. While other artisans can imitate pieces that I create, I try very hard to ensure that my pieces are truly my own, and that only I could create them, the way I do, as they are.
And there’s always a story behind a handmade piece, which in itself, has value. I have always loved nature, and when I learned how to make full-size terrariums; natural environments encased in glass with soil and charcoal and plants and moss, I was SO excited to share them with people. But while friends, family, and customers appreciated the beauty of those terraria, they expressed fear that they’d be unable to keep the plants lush and green and alive! So I came up with a concept that would allow fellow nature-lovers to keep an encapsulated natural environment with them, without the maintenance. And building the miniature terraria allowed me to imagine more and more tiny environments, some that I’d never be able to capture in nature, like the Winter White Terrarium Necklace. And so my obsession continues! With a handmade piece you get a story, about what inspired it, why the artist made it, how they made it, and their vision for its use. You get a tale to recount to friends and family when they ask “where’d you get your necklace?” And there’s a certain measure of pride when you can say, “a local artist made it, because…” I’m not sure if my tea kettle has an interesting story behind it, but I certainly can’t ask the machine that made it!
So, that’s why handmade is great! I wish I had answered my brother this way when he asked. But it was difficult to articulate. And all of those things, the accountability, the customization, the uniqueness, the artistic vision, the story, have been a part of buying on Etsy, the biggest online handmade marketplace in existence. But, their policy, as of November 1st, 2013, now reads “Etsy’s new policies allow you to partner with manufacturers to produce your designs. A manufacturer is any outside business that helps make your items. For example, you can work with a foundry that casts jewelry you’ve designed, a studio that fires pottery you’ve thrown, or a factory that cuts and sews clothing you’ve created. Handmade items must begin with the imagination and creativity of the member operating the Etsy shop. Sellers can use the help of other shop members, or outside manufacturers, to bring their visions to life.”
Hmm. Reading that gave me pause. Etsy administrators held a “town hall” where they explained how this new version of Etsy would function, with sellers now able to send designs overseas to be manufactured, to have items shipped from other locations directly to their customers. For some of my Etsy friends, this means wonderful things, like they can now sell books featuring their original illustrations on Etsy. But the policy change also means that a person’s hands don’t actually need to participate in the creation of the items they sell on Etsy. Items can be manufactured by machines, and by their essence, not handmade. The shop owner has to participate in the creative process of their items, but there’s no definition of that participation. For some, that could be simply choosing the color chair or dress they want made out of a manufacturer’s catalog. And when the items I make contain all of the tenets of handmade I described above, and are in a “handmade” marketplace alongside items that are being pumped out by a factory, it troubles me. I know that major designers do this typically; Karl Lagerfeld and Diane Von Furstenburg don’t sew a single stitch on the garments that bear their names. And it has honestly always bothered me! It seems to be the mark of becoming majorly successful as an artist, to become increasingly disconnected from your work. At the same time, major designers aren’t selling their items in a “handmade marketplace,” nor claiming they hand-make them themselves. Etsy has made its name as the preeminent handmade marketplace. But when items are losing multiple essential elements of handmade; the hand-labor, the uniqueness, the story, the accountability, etc., they no longer meet my expectations of handmade. So, while I’m keeping Hieropice on Etsy open, I’ve created Hieropice.com to honor true handmade, and all that that entails. Etsy is a fine marketplace, that still contains a great deal of truly handmade items, and still deserves your patronage. There are many dedicated artists who sell on Etsy, including me! But Hieropice.com will be a handmade venue exclusively featuring my work, and I hope that you’ll support it (and true handmade), as well!