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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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Peacock Moth Mask v6

© 2014 Andrea Adams

This is the 6th version in this series of masks since 2009. Each one is a bit different, but they’re all made from the same pattern. This one is a gorgeous electric blue, accented with peacock, parrot and pheasant feathers in shades of blue, green and bronze. At the forehead is a shimmering green beetle wing, set in a bezel of glass seed beads.

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Day of the Deadheads V2

“Day of the Deadheads” leather mask © Andrea Adams 2013

I haven’t been doing much custom work lately. I’ll probably start accepting commissions again in late spring or early summer; but for the time being, I’m trying to focus on some larger creative projects of my own. As such, I am guarding my studio time preciously, and seriously limiting the number of custom orders I accept.

With that being said, here’s a recent custom piece. It’s the second variation on my “Day of the Deadheads” mask. A fun little pun, made especially for an old friend from back in the day 🙂

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Thank You!

Sugar skull fascinator © Andrea Adams 2012

Whew! Another Halloween has come and gone, and man was it a whirlwind. I had a lot of fun, and met some truly amazing people. For whatever reason, “serendipity” seems to be the keyword in my transactions this season, which makes me incredibly happy.

I have been doing this for many years now, but I still learn something new each time around. This year had quite a few lessons, and there are several things that I intend to do differently — hopefully, better — next year; but overall, it was quite a successful Halloween. Many, many thanks to my fabulous customers for that!

Entries for my annual costume contest are due tomorrow. If you haven’t already submitted a photo, please send it soon! I’m excited to see everyone’s costumes, and to be able to give a little something back (the winner gets a $50 credit at my Etsy shop)

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Photo project

Photo © JustALittleMore Photography

Photography is simply not my strong suit. I’ve worked hard to improve, but overall, it’s just not something that comes naturally to me. Add to this the fact that my house (and surrounding grounds) are heavily shaded with VERY low light, and it becomes extra challenging for me to get good photos. So this year I decided to reach out to a few photographers and see if they could help me on this front.

Photo © Priya Alahan Photography

Three people responded to my request, and it was very rewarding to work with ALL of them. Each brought her own unique vision and personality, and I learned a lot from every exchange.

I’m thrilled that I can now show several of my mask styles being worn, as I’m sure it really helps customers to visualize how the masks will fit on them. While I do have mannequin heads that I can use in a pinch, they tend to run a bit smaller than a real human head and sometimes this can really prevent you from imagining the true fit.

Photo © Michelle Masso 2012

Beyond the practical considerations of fit, the photos just LOOK better than the ones that I take. These ladies have the proper equipment, training and talent to get clear, beautiful shots where I fall short. While I certainly can (and will) invest more time into learning how to take better photos myself, sometimes it’s just nice to hand the job over to a professional and know that it will be done right. At least in my case, it freed me up to focus more on mask making, where I feel my energy was better spent.

With that being said, I wanted to take a moment to thank these ladies for their time and talent. It helped me immensely, and I’m extremely grateful. In no particular order, the photographers were Priya Alahan, Maureen of JustALittleMOre Photography, and Michelle of Kramer Studios. These artists were very generous with me, and I highly recommend each one.

I’m probably going to hibernate for awhile after Halloween, but once I’m rested up, I hope to try this again. These experiences have given me a clearer sense of my own needs, as well as what to expect when working with others. I’m sure there is still much to learn in that regard, but at very least, I don’t feel like I am totally flying blind anymore.

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Featured in FAE Magazine!

Summer 2012 issue of FAE Magazine

OMG! The fact that I have not posted about this yet is testament to how insanely busy and exhausted I have been lately. Please allow me to correct this absurd oversight …

One of my masks is featured in the summer issue of FAE Magazine!! Per their website, “FAE – Faeries and Enchantment Magazine has faerie art, faery fashion, folklore, fairy news, views, events, music, films, meditations and much more. Every issue has more exclusives than you can shake a faery wand at! FAE is a full colour glossy wonderland-sized faerie lifestyle magazine printed and published quarterly in the UK on FSC accredited paper and is 100% carbon neutral.”

The cover of this issue has a gorgeous photo of Charlize Theron, in her role as the evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. The mask (well, technically two masks) included in this issue is my Autumn Greenman mask, which is layered with my Lady of the Leaves mask. I am not sure exactly which photo is included, but I know that it is one from a photo shoot that was taken last fall.
Photo © Janna Prosvirina

The model is the lovely Janna Prosvirina, who is as talented as she is beautiful (follow the link above to see some of Janna’s gorgeous fantasy art!). I am so grateful to her for supplying these photos. She submitted them for my virtual costume contest this past fall, and they ended up being perfect for this opportunity with FAE magazine!

If you’re interested in one or both of these masks, you can find them on my website which is the very best way to buy directly from me. They are also currently listed in my Etsy shop. The “Lady of the Leaves” mask (which is the bottom layer) is available here and the “Autumn Greenman” can be found here.

I am eagerly awaiting my copy of the magazine, and I am deeply grateful for this wonderful opportunity!

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Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

A pile of leather masks & wings in progress…

School has been taking a lot of my focus and energy of late, so my creative time has been very limited. It’s somewhat uncomfortable, since being creative is really how I process the things that are going on in my life. I tend to think a lot (sometimes to the point of over thinking) so making is a very soothing process for me; my hands get moving and my mind begins to still. It helps me to relax, to sift out my ideas and to find solutions.

Without this outlet, I get a little high strung. That feeling has been hitting critical mass lately, and I’ve been out of sorts. Irritable, restless and generally feeling unproductive and uninspired. I was really starting to get stressed out about this, when I took a second look at my studio.

I began to realize that I haven’t stopped being creative, I just haven’t been able to complete as much with the limited studio time. I’m able to peck away at a variety of projects here and there, I’m just not finishing as many of them. As you can see by the photos here, I have quite a lot of  pieces “in progress” that are piling up. The masks above and the hair toys below represent just a fraction of the projects in my studio right now.

Assorted hair toys awaiting completion

A quick count tells me that my unfinished projects include at least 12 odd masks, 7 pair of wings, 6 or 7 crowns and headdresses, and more hair toys than I can count. That’s not even counting beadwork or leather jewelry (let’s not even go there). It’s typical for me to have several projects going on at once, since I tend to group things in “stages”. For example, I’ll cut out several patterns at once, then shape, then paint, then embellish them in “groups”. Groups of this size are unusual, though. I’m thinking this may be where some of my restlessness and dissatisfaction is coming from.

It’s ironic how often the state of my studio parallels the state of my head and heart 😉 I think that the clutter in my creative space is cluttering up my head! So I’m making a commitment to whittle this pile down by at least half within the next month. It’ll clear up some work space, and hopefully open up room for some fresh attitudes and ideas as well.

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Random Favorites

I was organizing photos and came across some from Halloween. These are posted in the costume contest album , but I feel like sharing them here too.

I love this one — the headdress looks awesome with her beautiful wavy hair. I love the fall leaves all around, and way that she stands out against them. I was pleased to hear that she loved these pieces.

This one rocks my socks because his expression perfectly matches the personality that I imagine for these little imp masks — sly, mischievous and well, impish. Maybe even contagious. At least, I busted out in a huge grin the first time that I saw this photo.

That’s all. No long monologues today — just wanted to share stuff that made me smile 🙂

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Season’s close…

Wow, what a great Halloween season! I know it sounds weird to call it a “season” since Halloween is really just a “day” — but I prepare for this far in advance, so it feels like a full season to me. 

This year, I got to work with some of the coolest customers ! I also learned a lot. I’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, and there have been quite a few years where Halloween kicked my ass and totally wrecked my hands, too. I love the flurry of sales, but it’s still harsh when I’m bandaging my wrists and alternating heat and ice packs on my hands by the end of October; and of course, my family doesn’t enjoy seeing me babbling incoherently amidst a pile of leather scraps and glitter. They may find it amusing, but they don’t enjoy it.  I guess I can get a little mean…

With that said, I was determined to pace myself this year. For the most part, I think I did a pretty good job — as evidenced by the fact that I am even capable of writing this. There’s still room for improvement,  and I see several things that I can do differently next year. So there was a learning curve, but it wasn’t as steep as years past. I’m extremely happy about that.

My customers were amazingly positive, patient and encouraging, and I cannot express my gratitude enough. The closest I can come is to offer you all a 15% discount off all orders in my Etsy shop from now through Friday, November 4th, 2011. To take advantage of this offer, simply use the code “thankyou” at check out.
 
I’ve posted a few of my awesome customers’ costumes here. If you’d like to see more, please visit my 2011 Virtual Costume Contest on facebook (don’t forget to vote for your favorites by “liking” them!) 

Now that Halloween is over, I think I’ll take a brief respite from mask making so that I can focus on hair accessories and beaded jewelry. My beads have been calling to me for months now, and I’m more than ready to listen. Beadwork is slow and meditative — perfect for winter, and for unwinding after the bustle of Halloween madness.
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Fall Flurries

My world has been crazy busy for the last few weeks! The pace is intense, but I am grateful for it — and for the most part, I actually enjoy it. Over the years, I have had to learn to pace myself… while a truly bustling Halloween season is great for my wallet, it can be murder on my hands and my stress level. So despite the flurry of activity, I am trying to be conscious to take time out to relax and take care of myself too.

Today is a movie day with my sweetie, and if I can talk him into it, maybe a drive to the country to enjoy the fall colors. I’d love to say that I’ll take the whole day off, but that’s unlikely. There are a few custom orders that I’d like to peck at, as well as some fun designs that I want to play with… More bat wings, more sugar skulls, and another variation on the headdress pictured here. Yeah, that’s a slow day at Casa de Beadmask this time of year 😉

Oh! And I’ve also created a new Artfire shop, just to check out what that venue is like. I don’t have a whole lot listed there yet, but I’ll probably add more stuff in the coming week. Cause y’know, I just don’t have enough on my plate already 😛