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Thank you for understanding…

via http://pearleden.deviantart.com/

This little gem has been floating around Facebook recently. I shared it on my fan page, but I’d like to elaborate on the concept a bit…

Sometimes I’m surprised by the random people that write asking for (deep!) discounts, even though we’ve never met. I’m tempted to reply sarcastically, and ask them to give me the equivalent of half a day’s work too — you know, just because.

Similarly, I’m puzzled when folks ask for — or even demand — patterns and detailed construction information. While I don’t mind sharing certain tips with  friends or peers, I’m not in the habit of giving my business away to strangers.

Worse yet are the ones who just take without asking — this year alone, I’ve caught three different “artists” selling direct (and bad!) knockoffs of my original designs. Not only did these people duplicate my original works, but they opted to sell in the same venues that I do and undercut me! I swear, that is the mark of the copycat — they always seem to sell their reproductions for less than the original. I suspect it’s because they know what they’ve done, and feel ashamed — but that’s an entirely different rant, so I’ll save it for another post. Bottom line: when you take something off of a store shelf without paying, it’s called stealing; please don’t kid yourself — helping yourself to my hard work is no different.

My point is that many people do not seem to value creative work. There’s an expectation that it’s easy or effortless, or that it’s some sort of cute little hobby and not a real job. If you believe that crap, please allow me to disabuse you of your misconceptions — I work my ass off! For reals. I have invested decades into learning my craft, honing my skills, and developing original products. I’ve also poured an amazing amount of money into tools and supplies. In addition, I devote countless hours to “invisible” tasks such as SEO, photography, writing copy and so forth. This is my livelihood — what I do to pay my bills.

via the talented Valorie Wilson of http://www.valoriewilson.com/

 As this sketch illustrates, professional artists also generate a host of business expenses in the course of creating and selling their work. My pricing is structured  to cover such expenses and provide a livable wage. So when you ask me for discounts, tips and freebies, you aren’t asking for an intangible bit off fluff that I dreamed up in my “spare time”; you are asking me to work for free. I might like you better if you at least offered me a trade — how about a free meal at your restaurant, a one hour massage, free teeth cleaning, or whatever it is that you do to support yourself?

I try to be generous with my work by offering sales throughout the year. I also donate a lot of my creations to charity, trade with other artisans, give to friends and family (and even the occasional stranger who touches my heart); but I don’t simply give my work away to everyone off the street. Can you think of any sustainable business that does? I apologize if this post sounds ranty or bitter — but I see so many of these rude “requests” and outright thefts that it’s hard not to get that way. I’ll back away from the soapbox and leave you with this request: please approach me (and my work) with the same basic courtesy that you would show any other professional.

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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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When life hands you lemons…

“When life hands you lemons, say — I like lemons, what else you got?”
~ Henry Rollins

I’m back from my trip to sunny southern California. It was beautiful, and I had a wonderful time with my friends. The show that I was planning to do did not pan out as expected …. apparently, there were permit issues and the event was cancelled moments after we arrived to set up. I was beyond let down, as I’m not really in the position to take extended vacations like that unless they’re working vacations. In addition, this event took place on Mother’s Day weekend, which is typically a big day for craft shows and festivals. With that said, this last minute cancellation translated to a pretty big loss for me.

Village Grind, Wrightwood CA

Fortunately, my hosts have connections! Allison creates wonderful handcrafted soap and polymer clay jewelry, which she sells at a local coffee house called The Village Grind. She gave them a call to see if they’d let a few of the displaced vendors set up our wares on their deck, and they graciously agreed. It just so happened that they had an event planned for that day — their “Hedonist Days” event, which was a full on toga party.

They had singers and bands, and even a bellydancer. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the friendly, tight knit community showed up in full force. I had a few good sales (which at least helped me to recoup a portion of my travel expenses) and I met so many great people! Seriously, I cannot say enough about our kind hosts Greg and Linda, or about the people of Wrightwood. It is a beautiful town with a friendly, vibrant community. If you’re ever in the area, I strongly encourage you to stop by and check it out for yourself ; and if you do, be sure to pop in to the Village Grind — they have fun events and music all the time.


As you can tell, I quickly fell in love with this beautiful mountain town and the awesome people who live there. I’m considering heading back down in July for their Mountaineer Days Festival. I’m undecided at the moment, but the event that I’d originally gone down for has been relocated and rescheduled around the same time, so it could work out. I would certainly welcome the chance to visit this town again.

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California I’m Coming Home…

“Day of the Deadheads” Calavera Mask

Hopping on a plane tomorrow to go visit one of my oldest friends down in southern California. Kim and her daughter are crafty too — Kim makes beaded jewelry and really cool wine bottle decor, and Alli does a little bit of everything (poly clay, gourds, henna, soap making) — so we’re going to share a booth at one of the local festivalson Mother’s Day weekend. The show is called “Dead on the Mountain” and it’s a great big hippie fest with tons of Grateful Dead cover/inspired bands.

I’ve been beading a lot the past week or two, which is a nice change of pace since I’ve been so focused on leatherwork for the last several months. So I’ll have plenty of beaded jewelry for this event, as well as a good selection of leather barrettes, fascinators and hair slides. Not sure how well the masks will do, but I’m bringing a bunch for good measure. Hopefully, we’ll do well there as I’d love to have a reason to visit more often. I miss the sunshine, the redwoods, the ocean and mostly, my peeps. I’m very excited for a chance to see them!

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Canterbury Faire – November 6th

Saint Dunstan’s Canterbury Faire is this Saturday, November 6th from 9:30 – 3:00 pm at 722 N. 145th St.Shoreline WA 98133. 

This community event features a variety of local vendors. It’s a great chance to take care of some early holiday shopping, and support local artists. We’ll be downstairs in room 5 – please stop by and say hi!

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EtsyRAIN’s Pre-Holiday Show at the Intiman Theatre

Seattleites, I’d like to encourage you to get out and enjoy this beautiful weather today … if the weathermen are right, it’s quite possibly the last of the season. I’ve been curled up on the couch with a flu bug all weekend (Grrrr!) but if I could move, I’d be visiting the EtsyRAIN pre-holiday craft show at the Intiman Theater.

It runs from 11am – 5pm today, and it’s a great way to support local artists and get a jump start on your holiday shopping! The first 50 shoppers will receive free “swag” bags stuffed with goodies, treats and samples from some of the over 850 etsyRAIN member artists and craft makers residing in the greater Puget Sound area.

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Formative work

When I was little, I dreamed of being a professional artist like my father. I had this vision of myself as an artist (ahhtist?) — hair blowing in the wind, heart brimming with inspired, mystical energy that would move me create exclusive masterpieces in my large, brightly lit studio.

While that’s a lovely vision, it really doesn’t jive with my reality as a working artist. Putting food on the table via my craft means working as efficiently as possible. It means being disciplined and working every day (even when I’m not particularly “inspired”). It means balancing creative time with administrative time — and it means doing some degree of production work.

When I started selling my handwork, the mere mention of production work bothered me. I dislike repetition and the idea of assembly line art. “Producing” seemed counter to “creating”.

My dad had a different take. Rather than production work, he viewed it as formative work. He saw value in those little projects, and the way that repetition hones your skills.
As I grow older, I realize how much I agree with him.

Many of my simple designs remain popular — but I still enjoy (and learn from) creating them. Each time I make one, it calls me to focus on shape, color and detail. It challenges me to improve my existing ideas, and to explore new lines that are more graceful or expressive. This study, these skills become the building blocks (and often the inspiration) for my larger/more involved work.

I’d love to tell you that every time I sit down to my workbench, a brand new design masterpiece just leaps off the table — but that’s not how it works. For me, “inspiration” is most often a gradual process that evolves from simple (and consistent) work.

When I was a kid, I imagined that this lifestyle would be far more glamorous than it is. What I could not have imagined, is how much satisfaction I would find in the ‘boring’ parts ;o)


This is a sample of what my worktable looks like right now:

(okay — my worktable isn’t really this tidy, but it *is* piled with masks!).

At any given time, I usually have several masks & crowns in various stages of completion. The ones shown have been sculpted & painted with a base coat; they’re now awaiting finishing details like accent colors, glitter, beadwork & feathers.