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Competition, Community, and Respect

leather raven feather ponytail holder or shawl pin

Had a rough day today, contemplating an unsavory situation. As luck would have it, I came across these words that I wrote last year. It was a timely reminder of where to focus my energy. While the lame situation still needs resolution, I’d like to pause from my pissed-offedness for just a moment, to acknowledge the good:

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy griping about those unethical competitors who copy, undercut, and just generally slither around the internet. It’s true – they are many. But perhaps I haven’t spent enough time acknowledging the friendly and ethical competitors who have treated me kindly. There are many of you as well. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀                                                                                      ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to know countless artists who’ve helped me to hone my craft and to learn the ropes as a vendor.

Despite the fact that we’re “competing” in a similar market, you’ve treated me with integrity and respect, helping me to learn and encouraging me to grow. We’ve empathized with each others’ struggles, and celebrated successes.

These positive professional relationships have endured time and trends, and many have grown into genuine friendships that enrich my life. Thank you for this! It proves that “competitor” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. We all choose how we conduct our businesses (and ourselves) and we CAN lift each other up without detracting from our own goals. In this way, we all thrive.
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So yeah, the jackasses are out there – but so are the good ones!

I’m grateful for those of you who choose to take the high road (even when it’s not the easy road) and I promise to treat you – and your work – with the same integrity and courtesy that you’ve shown me.

Raven feather ponytail holder © 2010 Andrea Adams/ Beadmask

photo courtesy of Priya Alahan Photography

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The saga of the stag mask

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.

Antlered Stag leather mask

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 (if you enjoy my work, please respect, support and credit me) 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 off the internet, 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.

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A word (or three) about my pricing…

handcrafted leather hair accessories

I was recently asked why the prices of my hair accessories are higher than those of a copycat competitor. It’s difficult to find a polite answer that doesn’t sound defensive or snarky, but I’ll give it my best attempt … First off, I can’t tell you why another artist charges as much – or as little – as they do. What I can tell you is why I charge what I do:

My original designs have evolved over many years of trial and error – so my work is not only beautiful, it’s functional. I actually use these products in my own (thick, waist length) hair, so I have a good sense of sizing, comfort and durability. My designs have been refined by my own experience, and the knowledge that has been shared by my customers over the years. As such, my work is the evolution of many years of experimentation and experience.

My pieces are made using top quality supplies, because I can see the difference and the results are worth it. I strive to create heirloom quality work that will make you feel beautiful and elicit compliments whenever you wear it. So when you compare my pricing to those of other artisans, please be sure that you’re comparing cost and value. My work uses premium tooling leather and high quality dyes, as well as artisan quality acrylic paints and sealer. Color is applied in many layers, and sealed to be water resistant; this process takes more time and materials than a quick dye job, but it also results in richer, more complex color that won’t bleed if it gets wet.

Similarly, I like to collaborate with artisan woodworkers and wireworkers who create high quality, handcrafted sticks. While their work is pricier than some of the simple sticks out there, it’s also sturdier and more attractive. Even my low end hair toys use well made commercially crafted wooden sticks, which work nicely for fine hair, partial updo’s and/or ponytail holders. Please consider this when comparing my hair slides to those that simply use sharpened pieces of dowel or flimsy metal sticks from China, which are not sturdy or good for your hair.

Last but not least: in order to keep producing high quality craftsmanship, I must pay myself a livable wage. This is not a hobby for me, it’s my livelihood. If I want to be able to continue creating this caliber of work, I have to pay myself a fair wage that reflects my time, expenses and skill level.

With that said, I understand that my prices are higher than some of my competitors’. Please trust that you get what you pay for! When you purchase my work, you are empowering me to keep creating and expanding my craft; in return, you’ll receive a well made item that is beautiful, functional, and worth every penny.

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Wednesday Inspiration – Baked Alaskan Designs

baked-alaskaMy friends Phil and Julie are a couple of hippies who live up in Alaska, in a house that they built themselves. Now some of you might react by thinking “ewww, hippies!” but rest assured that they’re the cool kind of hippies; they are homesteading, homeschooling, organic gardening, child rearing, chicken raising, art making hippies who make the world brighter just by being in it.

Julie is a beadworker, and Phil helps with her small business, Baked Alaskan Designs . As you can see
from the photos, she creates gorgeous, heirloom quality bead baked-alaska3embroidered barrettes. Her “Stealie” barrettes are very popular, though I’m especially fond of her rosette style barrettes. They remind me of the type of beadwork that I used to see at Pow Wows – bold, elaborate and carefully crafted. Recent instagram posts from Julie suggest that she may have some new tricks up her sleeve as well. I’m excited to see the new ideas that she’s working on; so far, they look stunning!

She opened their Etsy shop a little over a year and a half ago and quickly found her niche, not only in terms of her work, but as far as community. She gravitated baked-alaska2toward groups of artists that network and encourage each other, and she clearly strives to support her fellow creatives. Julie often shares tips and info with me, and she shares my work (and the work of her many creative friends) on social media. Those things may sound small, but they’re actually HUGE. Making a living as an artisan is no small feat, so it means a lot that Julie not only  focuses on trying to make her business successful, she actively tries to bring others with her on that road to success.

With that said, I’m inspired by Julie’s art AND by her attitude. Thank you for being one of the good ones, may it come back to you tenfold <3

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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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Holiday Sale!

In addition to free US shipping, I’m offering 10% off all orders of $25 or more from now through Monday December 1st — just use the coupon code “Thankful” at checkout.

Please avoid the malls and the madness this weekend — instead, support independent artists, small businesses and local shops. The gifts you purchase will be more unique, and the money that you spend will make a difference in the lives of real people.

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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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Caring and Sharing

As an independent artist, here are a few things that I really appreciate. While some points are admittedly ranty (my apologies, it needs to be said) this is a sincere attempt to educate. Much of it is basic netiquette, but the last one is an extra bit of kindness that just rocks my world:

1) If you share my work on pinterest, facebook, online forums, etc, please retain my links. To do so, simply share the link rather than downloading the image from my site and uploading it elsewhere. This way, when people discover my work through your posting, it leads them back to my site. I can’t tell you how many customers have found me via social media. Those links really help IF they retain the artist credit and contact info!

2) If you do share my work, please don’t alter my images or remove my watermark, logo or copyright information.

3) If you’d like to use images of my work in your workshop, tutorial, flyer, character description, or anything else … please ask first. And again with the credit. Really, it matters.

4) At this time, I don’t sell kits, patterns, tutorials or DIY components. If I change that practice, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. Until then, please do not disassemble, alter, reverse engineer, spin, fold or mutilate my work.

5) Please don’t reproduce my stuff. If you insist on doing so, please contact me to discuss a design fee. If you’re unwilling to compensate me for creative design or writing services, I suggest that time spent studying or duplicating my efforts would be better spent at your own workbench, developing your own style.

6) If you enjoy my work, please SHARE it and tell them where you found it! This helps to make my work visible to a wider audience, which is a HUGE help. Even if you can’t afford to buy anything, respectful sharing is an awesome way to support artists that you like!

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10 Things not to say to an artist or crafter…

10 things not to say to an artist

10. “I’ll just get my friend to make me one of those.”

9. “You know what you should make . . . ”

8. “Do I get a price break if I buy two?”

7. “I can make that myself.”

6. “Why does it cost so much?”

5. “How do you make this?”

4. “Will you donate your artwork to our event? We can’t pay you, but it will be great exposure.”

3. “My nine-year-old makes this kind of stuff too.”

2. “Kids, this is what happens if you don’t go to college.”

1. “I can buy that at Walmart for $3.99.”

via the California Arts Council