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The Return of Wednesday Inspiration (featuring Mermaiden Creations)!

Those ofBrown velvet tricorn hat you who follow my blog (all two of you) may remember way back when I used to do this thing called “Wednesday Inspiration”. It served two purposes: one was to celebrate and promote other artists that I admire, and the other was to give myself a writing prompt in hopes that it would get me to blog more regularly. So every Wednesday (or every other Wednesday… or as often as I could find the time) I would share images and links from artist friends and strangers who inspire me to be more creative.

butterfly wing earrings
“Waiting on the Eastern Glow” earrings

I’m bringing that back – in part because I’m trying to post more often, and partially because I realize that I fret and complain too much about copycats and jackasses. While the latter concerns are real and should not be swept under the rug completely, there is GOOD stuff happening in the creative community too. I’d like to make a greater effort to celebrate that. My motivation for this is summed up nicely by this quote: “Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate”.


So without further ado, today I’m sharing a few pieces by Mermaiden Creations. My friend Julie creates work that”is the stuffs of fairy tales and legends; curious offerings of nature, weird beauty, wild and fey-inspired organically imperfect designs”. She moves fluidly from jewelry design to millinery work, to hair accessories and home decor.

Sterling and labradorite ring by Mermaiden Creations
“Midnight Moon”labradorite ring

Her work is imaginative, dreamlike, organic, untamed… and skillfully crafted. I own a few pieces of her jewelry and one of her scarves, so when I attest to the quality of her work, I am speaking from affection and experience. I’ve showcased a small handful of my favorite pieces here, but I encourage you to visit her Etsy shop or to follow her on facebook in order to see more of her beautiful work!

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Featured Artist – Aaron Silverman

Aaron Silverman of Silverman Workshop is a fellow mask maker. He was one of the winners in the recent “Mask of Death” contest over at the Leather Mask Art group on Deviantart; his entry is shown below:

Bog Mummy by Silverman Workshop
Bog Mummy by Silverman Workshop

In his own words: ‘I chose to model my mask after a picture I saw of a bog mummy named, “Tollund Man”. It amazed me how well his face was preserved! He looks as if he just laid down and fell asleep. I can even see ancient stubble that grew on his face. Because of his remarkable preservation in a Danish bog I would consider his face a mask of death.’

When asked for a bio, Aaron said “I’m not professional by any stretch of the imagination. I mainly just consider myself a tinkerer of sorts. I think since I’ve started about 2ish years ago I’ve really been trying to find a style of my own. Emotion is really what I’ve been wanting to convey in my mask making. Like the one I made for the contest and I made another like it a while back called the crying mask.

Really though, my collection of mask styles have been pretty diverse. I was enjoying making Mardi Gras or carnival masks just because they are outlandishly decorated and historically rich.

So yeah besides that I’m very much a hobbyist, though I’m not one to turn down a commission.”

I’ve just liked his facebook page, and I hope you’ll do the same. Between his innate talent and his willingness to explore and take risks with his work, it’ll be fun to watch him develop his style and skills. On that note, please enjoy these images of Aaron’s work:

The Crying Mask by Silverman Workshop
The Crying Mask by Silverman Workshop

He posted a very cool back story on this piece over on his DA page.

Royal Jester by Silverman Worksho
Royal Jester by Silverman Workshop

 

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Questions for the mask making community

A recent bout with copycats made me realize how many other artisans struggle with this issue. While it may seem like a personal problem, I think the long term effects are problematic for the whole community. Hopefully, prompting a discussion can also prompt solutions …

In the last few years, leather mask making has become wildly popular. What was once a fairly obscure craft is now a rapidly growing niche, with an abundance of newcomers. It’s great for the art form – new blood brings fresh ideas and energy, and established artists can pass along their techniques, ensuring that they won’t be lost over time. What’s not so great is that many hobbyists aren’t taking time to develop their own style before they start selling. Instead, they replicate established artisans’ work and sell the copies at discount rates alongside the originals. This practice is counter to the spirit of good craftsmanship, and it’s damaging to everyone involved: A flooded market decreases uniqueness, quality and value, and it confuses customers. Experienced artists are forced to compete with low quality copies of their own work (often priced at or below wholesale) and the copycats barely get paid for their materials, let alone their time.

I’m really feeling the impact of this and sadly, I’m not alone. Some mask artisans no longer show their work online, while others have simply given up the craft in frustration. It’s hard to feel excited or inspired when your ideas and livelihood are copied before you’re finished exploring them. That may sound like a whole lot of whining, but really does go deeper than that. When talented artists stop showing their work or leave the field completely, it’s a loss for the whole community. While experienced artists are giving up, there’s an incoming crop of artisans that aren’t actually learning to create. They’re hungry for (and sometimes demanding) free tutorials and patterns, yet they seem afraid to experiment on their own. A critical facet of creativity is being willing to take risks and make mistakes. How will the art form grow if everyone just plays it safe and regurgitates what’s already been done?

Let me clarify that I’m not hating on beginners. We all start somewhere. Some of the newer mask makers are creating outstanding work. They’ve used tutorials as a springboard for their own ideas, with innovative, high quality results. What’s more, they acknowledge their teachers, graciously showing appreciation and building community. With this mutually supportive approach, artisans of varying experience can build each other up and expand the art form. And why not? There’s enough room at the table for everyone, as long as we’re all being authentic and respectful. If you’re a mask maker, you’ve probably made (or will make) a dragon, skull, fairy, cat, owl, wolf or Anubis mask at some point in your career. This overlap is inevitable, but it shouldn’t be a problem if each artist is exploring these themes using their own vision and style.

So if you’re still with me, here are my questions:
How do we foster a healthier community?
Is it possible to share while still maintaining good boundaries?
Is there a way to teach skills and techniques, while also teaching ethics and craftsmanship?
How can we encourage people to refine their skills and personal style before jumping into the market? Likewise, can we encourage respectful competition?

Please forgive the length, and know that I’m not out to preach or put anyone down. I’m sticking my neck out here in an attempt to spark discussion and positive change.

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Seattle’s Edible Forest

photo via http://beaconfoodforest.weebly.com/

It’s not beady or leathery, but I’m very inspired by Seattle’s new “Edible Forest”. As their website describes:

 “A Food Forest is a gardening technique or land management system that mimics a woodland ecosystem but substitutes in edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  Fruit and nut trees are the upper level, while below are berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals.  Companions or beneficial plants are included to attract insects for natural pest management while some plants are soil amenders providing nitrogen and mulch.  Together they create relationships to form a forest garden ecosystem able to produce high yields of food with less maintenance.”
Their goal isto design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem.” What an exciting way to integrate ideas of permaculture, sustainability, urban landscape and community!
From what I have read elsewhere food will be harvested on the honor system, and eventually, garden plots will be available for local community members to lease at extremely affordable rates. There’s a great article here from NPR, and of course you can check out their blog and facebookpage.
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My top 7 tips for selling on Etsy

Over the years, many people have asked me for tips for selling online. While I’m certainly not an expert, I have learned a few things along the way. I made this list because I kept hearing the same questions — hopefully my experience (and many, many mistakes) will be helpful to my friends who are just starting out.

For a bit of background info, I started selling my work at west coast art shows and festivals in the late 80’s. This enabled me to hone my skills and style, while learning some basic sales skills in a real world environment (no small feat for an introvert). My online selling adventures began on eBay in the mid 90’s. For many years that enabled me to be a stay at home mom while still earning a livable wage. That was before they hiked their fees and changed their policies to be a bit less seller-friendly.  These days, I find that I prefer selling on Etsy. To be fair, I haven’t sold on eBay in a few years – so I may want to check back and see what it’s like these days – but generally speaking, I find that Etsy’s fees are more affordable and it has a stronger, warmer sense of community. In addition, Etsy customers seem to be more appreciative of hand crafted work, as opposed to many of the eBay bidders who seem to be willing to overlook quality in favor of a “bargain”.

YMMV, and depending on your product and/or personality you may find that you prefer selling on one of the many other venues, such as eBay, Artfire, Dawanda. Some of these tips will probably translate to those venues, but they’re primarily geared toward Etsy, since that’s the venue that I like and am most familiar with right now. So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for selling on Etsy:

1) Learn to take great photos: I don’t feel that my photos are “great” yet — but I’ve definitely improved and I can see a direct result in my sales. Whenever possible, use all 5 photo spots, and try to show the piece from all angles. If you can, include some close ups/detail shots as well. People can’t touch your work online, so you have to bring those details to them through the images that you provide. Simply put, you should always strive to provide excellent pictures. If you don’t know how to take excellent photos, it’s well worth the effort to learn. Here are a few links that I’m finding helpful in my quest to build better photography skills:

Small Object Photography

A great post about using a light box

Etsy’s Guide to Photography

The Beginner’s Guide to Product Photography

(I purchased that last one & felt that it was well worth the price)You could also just skip the above & enlist the help of a talented photographer friend, but I feel that there’s value in knowing how to do things by and for yourself.

2) List often: After my first attempt to sell my artwork on Etsy, I almost gave up. I listed 6-8 items all on the same day and then waited for them to sell, wondering why nobody seemed to notice them. I sold maybe one or two items over a four month period, and it was so disappointing that I didn’t try again until nearly 2 years later.

My second time around, I spaced out my listings and listed one or two items a day over the course of a couple weeks. I added new items to my shop as often as possible, and if I didn’t have anything new, I “renewed” older listings so that I would always have something coming up in that first page or so when people search for the types of products that I sell. It only costs 20¢ to renew an item on Etsy, which is cheap advertising IMO. I saw a tremendous difference when I did it that way. Since then, I’ve made an effort to list as often as I can – because I see a huge difference in my sales when I am listing frequently, compared to times when I am not able to list as often.

3) Use clear and detailed titles and descriptions: Too often, I see people trying to get artsy with their titles, without offering enough specific information to make viewers want to click. For example, a title like “Blue Journey” is just fine for an item that’s displayed in a local coffee house where the customer can touch the item and see the connection between the product and its title – but it just doesn’t play as well in an online search. It doesn’t tell the viewer what the product is or does (“Blue Journey” could just as easily be the name of a shirt, a painting, or a pitcher) and customers are probably unlikely to search for abstract titles like this. Instead, think of keywords that shoppers might use if they were trying to find products like yours, and work those into your title. You don’t have to forego your creative title completely, but try working in some concrete information that will help potential buyers to find your products. For example, “Blue Journey – A Hand Painted Silk Tank Dress in Aqua and Cobalt – Size Small” gives the reader far more detail, and is more likely to be picked up in a search.

When it comes to item descriptions, it’s definitely a good idea to try and be succinct – but make sure that you’re including all of the pertinent details! As I said earlier, it’s important to remember that the viewer cannot hold or see your wares – you have to bring the details to them through excellent pictures and detailed descriptions. Don’t assume that the viewer is already knowledgeable about your product. Educate them a bit by including a brief background on how it’s made as well as the materials that you use. Other important details include size, fit (if applicable) color and texture. You might also want to mention if it is a one of a kind item, or something that you can re-create in other colors and sizes.

4) Follow YOUR heart: It might be tempting to find another seller whose style or success you admire, and simply try to imitate them; but really, such behavior is quite hurtful. Knock offs often flood the market and undercut the original artist; but even if copying another seller doesn’t hurt their business, it will hurt you. Why? Because stifling your own individuality and creative expression in order to mimic someone else simply isn’t conducive to inspiration, joy, or success.  And while those terms may sound flighty and flowery, they do hold value — after all, most artists create because they love to. Because they need to. It’s an important part of how we experience and process life. You can’t get to that if you don’t trust in your own creative voice.

Unfortunately, there is no blueprint, no cookie cutter method for success with creative work — so there’s no point in trying to follow in someone else’s footsteps. It is helpful to notice how others market and promote, but reproducing another artist’s product line is unlikely to reproduce their success. You just have to tune in to your own muse, and have the courage to forge your own creative path. I know that sounds esoteric and vague, but please trust me on this one. Respect yourself enough to be yourself — it will shine through in your work, and in turn, in the way that others respond to your work.

5) Check out the competition: I know, I know – I just told you to tune into yourself, and now I’m telling you to look around at everyone else. It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. It’s a good idea to look up from your workbench now and again to see what else is going on in your little niche. Pay attention to listings for similar items. Be respectful of course, but try to notice what’s happening in your field.  I find this helpful on several levels…

One is that it give me a reality check on my pricing. Just to be clear, I follow a set pricing formula that ensures that I’m getting paid for my time and covering my business expenses. Many people who sell online are hobbyists or just looking for side income, so I’d never just blindly follow another’s pricing. Still, I do like to make sure that my prices are not unusually high (or low!) compared to similar items of comparable quality.

Studying the market can be a great way to spot trends (is that an up-and-coming style, or a niche that is quickly becoming over saturated?) and it also helps me to notice the details that can separate me from the herd. For example, a lot of mask makers use pre-fab beadwork that can be bought by the yard. While it’s pretty enough at first glance, that stuff is mass produced in third world countries using inferior quality beads and questionable labor practices.  It’s not my intent to be rude or put down their work; but I can use these differences to talk mine up! For example, I could make a point to mention the rarity and quality of the beads that I use, along with the fact that I hand sew all of my original bead embellishments. Some customers won’t care about details such as this, but many do. That being said, studying the competition can help you to illuminate the details that set your work apart.

6) Join a street team: I joined a local Etsy street team for Seattle artists, and it’s been a huge help. From what I hear, this group is bigger and more active than most — but I would still recommend joining your local group even if it is small. It can be so empowering to network with supportive people in your area — my group has taught me about local shows, credit card processing companies, community events, SEO tricks and much, much more. I also belong to a street team for Fantasy artists, which is very fun.

While I connect with the EtsyRAIN people on general topics and local events, the Fae Team people share similar inspirations and creative focus. I’ve never been a “joiner” but I feel like I get a lot out of these communities. These groups inspire and inform me in ways that my friends and family cannot, and that comradery really helps to keep me focused and motivated about my business.  Self employment can be very isolating, and it really helps to connect with like- minded people with similar goals. The teams are free, and most let you participate as little or as much as you want. I’ve met some really nice people and learned SO much! You can look over the list of teams here: www.etsy.com/teams

7) Etsy Newsletters: I signed up to receive email updates for a couple of the Etsy blogs that are aimed at sellers. I don’t always have time to read or implement everything they send, but they often have great advice on topics like product photography, SEO optimization, goal setting, marketing and more. They have several blogs to choose from, depending on your interests. Personally I would recommend “Etsy Success” and “Etsy Finds”. You can find more here: www.etsy.com/mailinglist/

So there’s my list. It’s not an exhaustive resource, but hopefully it’s a good starting point. My learning curve has been pretty steep, so I’d love it if this info can make it a little easier for others. If you find something here that is useful, I’d love to hear about it. By the same token, I’m still learning and striving to improve, so if you have any great advice to share about Etsy, I would love to hear it!

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Peeking out from my cave…

At one time, I was very active in the internet beading community. The various bead forums introduced me to many talented artists and ideas. I formed treasured friendships, and took part in some really special projects. Being so “plugged in” kept me up on all the latest stuff, and for many years it was very inspiring.
Somewhere along the way, I hit a state of — oversaturation. As much as I enjoyed the many groups I’d become a part of, I found myself spending more time talking about art than creating it. I needed to step back and reconnect with my own creative voice. 
Today, I tend to be somewhat of a hermit. This isn’t entirely bad — solitude can be conducive to creative work — but I think it’s time to balance that out a bit. It’s easy to get lost in all that quiet thought, and I really miss connecting with other creative folk. Hence, this blog. My hope is that it will provide a positive means to:
* chronicle my creative pursuits and mishaps.
* reach out & learn what other artists are up to
To start, my goal is to update this thing (at least)bi-weekly bi-monthly. I hope to share my own work, as well as some of the people and things that inspire me.

Wish me luck! 🙂