My Pacific Northwest home is surrounded by old growth maple, cedar and fir. We share these woods with many wild creatures, including a family of owls. For whatever reason, they’ve been far more active (and interactive) these last few months. They sing us to sleep at night, and in the mornings we often find evidence of their hunts. Not surprisingly, owl imagery has been cropping up in my work more and more.
Here’s a little preview of some of the leather owl feathers that I’ve been working on lately. They’ll become hair accessories, and you’ll find them (along with other new work) in my next shop update on Monday 8/21.
Two custom bird masks, winging their way to their respective owners. Both were cut using a Glowforge pre-release unit, which freed my hands and time so that I could focus on the detailed work that I enjoy most. The black one also features a laser engraved vintage glass cabochon.
I know, I’ve been super quiet lately. Two months ago I was given the (incredible!) opportunity to test a pre-release unit of the new Glowforge hobby laser. Since then, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of lasering all the things.
Here are a few examples of my early experiments. I’m still learning, and still figuring out how I want to use this amazing tool, but one thing’s for sure… it’s a huge game changer. This is the first time in many years that I have been able to work without pain. I’d become so accustomed to working through the aches and pains that I didn’t even realize how much it was holding me back. I am so excited about the possibilities ahead!
Again, these images reflect early experiments and drafts. They’re not final projects, and they’re probably not significant indicators of how I will ultimately use this tool in my work. For the time being, I’m just learning slowly and translating all of my existing leatherwork patterns to digital files.
It’ll be a while before I’m 100% confident of the direction that I want to go, and begin designing new work with the laser. For today I’m giving myself time to go slowly, take risks, make mistakes, and just enjoy the learning process. I’m having a lot of fun with it, and looking forward to creating some larger, more elaborate works.
Glowforge production units are starting to ship now and based on my experience with the pre-release unit, I can heartily recommend this product. If you’d like to order one, please consider using this referral code for a $100 discount off your purchase. In the spirit of full disclosure – I’m not being paid for this endorsement (I am a very satisfied user) but if you do use the referral code that I just linked, it’ll give me a bit of a discount on my order too. Win-win.
I’ve updated the site with a handful of new beaded semiprecious stone necklaces. Several feature labradorite, many have lunar themes (which I’ll be exploring throughout the year), and a couple give a nod to Bowie. From left to right, as seen in this photo, they are:
“Serious Moonlight” (sold) – a pair of simple yet beautiful gemstone layering necklaces. These are less intricate – and thus, more affordable – than a lot of my beadwork, and they were fun to make. I’ve already had requests for more like these, and will do my best to comply as time allows.
“Snow Moon” – Bone and amethyst necklace inspired by the February full moon
“Sage and Seafoam” – Labradorite necklace with amazonite and Peruvian Opal
“Blackstar” – Labradorite and sterling silver with charcoal glass beads.
“Owl & Moonstone” – A carved leather owl on the wing, with Welo opal and moonstone.
“Eclipse” – Labradorite, hematite and freshwater pearls, set in dusky blue seed beads.
Oh – and I’m trying something new with this update, and including tidbits about symbolism and folklore. Over the years I’ve come to realize that many people wear jewelry as symbols or reminders of ideas that are special to them (mothers’ rings, for example) so I’ve included some of that info. Believe it if you need it, if you don’t just pass it on.
There are a few stragglers that still need finishing touches and/or better photos, so they’ll be added as time allows. I’ve needed to rebuild my jewelry selection for months now, and this feels like a good start!
This is one of my most often copied designs. Like most original works, the design process took considerable time and effort, evolving over the course of many experiments and iterations.
The concept began in 2009, as a mistake that I liked and decided to explore further. Over the next year, I created several variations before settling on this version. Since then I’ve created various renditions with different color schemes and embellishments – but they’re all based on this one. These masks are attractive and affordable, and they’ve been good sellers for me. I’m certainly not getting rich off them, but over the years those sales have added up to pay my mortgage and they’ve fed my family many times. Please don’t mistake this as “money for nothing” – it’s the fruit of hard labor. I’ve been a working artist for nearly 30 years, so I’ve invested quite a bit of time and energy into honing my skills and developing my own style. Even after all these years, it still thrills me that the work of my heart and hands can not only feed my soul, but feed my family as well.
Sadly, this mask has been copied more times than I can count. Some do it for personal use – and while I certainly dislike that, and wish they’d respect, support and credit my work if they enjoy it so much – what really irks me are the copycat vendors! Over the last many years of selling this design, I’ve seen it copied by at least 8 other “artists”. These people misrepresent their crappy knockoffs as original work and then sell them alongside mine – often at wholesale or less. Between the cheap pricing and the fact that the design no longer seems original, it becomes harder and harder for me to sell it anymore.
I’ve also found people teaching this design. One class was offered at a popular leather store just a couple of hours away from me. It’s not clear whether the teacher offered the design, or whether a student asked them to help reverse engineer it – but that detail is irrelevant. An honorable teacher won’t show you how to copy something off Instagram (or Facebook, or Pinterest, or Etsy), because to do so is counter to the spirit of good craftsmanship. If your instructor can’t offer original designs, find a new teacher – not only for the ethical reasons I’ve already described, but because it demonstrates a lack of knowledge and experience.
After that fiasco, I considered discontinuing the design and offering the pattern free for personal use only. I imagined this as a sort of ceremonial letting go; not only letting go of the design, but of all the drama and trauma surrounding it. Then my husband pointed out that with so many unethical creeps out there, offering the design for free might be seen as an invitation to copy all my work. Perhaps humanity is better than that, but based on these experiences, I’m not sure I’m willing to chance it.
Unfortunately, the saga of the stag mask doesn’t end there. Last fall, I was studying SEO and checking my keywords when I noticed an Etsy listing that looked oddly familiar. Upon further inspection, it was yet another copy of my design, and this time the copycat was from China. These guys were offering it for $19.99, which was a new low. In addition to stealing the design, they were using my photos to sell their counterfeit works. These photos came from a photo shoot that my daughter modeled for. So just to drive that point home: they were using photos of my child to sell bad copies of my work, for less than 20% of my price. “Pissed off” doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of my feelings about that!
I filed a complaint, and Etsy quickly removed the counterfeit listing. A month later I found the same design – once again with photos of my daughter – listed by a Chinese seller on eBay. Additional photos shown in that listing lead me to believe that they purchased one of my masks and flattened it out in order to reverse engineer the pattern. Once again, I was able to get the listing removed … but not before finding two more. These other sellers offered my stag mask along with several more of my designs – also using my photos. These last several months have been a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. I get one listing removed, and another crops up. It’s frustrating, time consuming, and costly… because all the time and energy that I’m spending to get these listings removed is time taken away from creating and selling my work. While this is definitely a business, it’s hard for me to detach emotionally from my creations (and my kid!) so this has really slowed down my creativity as well. That’s especially sucky, since this is my actual livelihood and not just a side hobby.
By early 2017, I thought it was over. Then friends began discussing the pros and cons of a well known overseas wholesale site, and I foolishly looked. Damn it, why did I look?! The mask is there, now offered in a variety of colors of laser cut felt. It looks terrible, and just when I thought it couldn’t be cheapened any worse, they’re wholesaling knockoffs of my mask for 79¢ each. Sadly, I’ve seen this happen to other artisans too – these knockoffs end up in cheesy party shops and dollar stores. So much for selling my masks as handcrafted art.
So, I’ll renew the battle and pray that I don’t find my design at Value Village come Halloween. In truth, it’s probably a lost cause at this point – between wanna-be artists, bad teachers and now Chinese knockoffs, I’ve lost my heart (and any future profit) for this design. But it’s the principle of the thing – I’ve been a working artist for more than half my life. In that time, I’ve aspired and succeeded at creating original, high quality work that feeds my spirit and pays my bills. I just can’t let these lowlifes exploit that effort without putting up a fight.