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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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Water is Life

blue kyanite and sterling silver pendants
blue kyanite and sterling silver pendants

When I learned about the stand off over the proposed pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation, my heart went out to all of the good people fighting for clean water. I fantasized about going out there to help – and really tried to find a way to do so – but at the end of the day, that’s not really a viable option for me. Not only would that put a financial strain on my family, but even if I could figure out a way to get there, I’m not in good health. They need able bodied workers and warriors who can pull their own weight, anything less is a drain on much needed resources.

When I finally realized and accepted that fact,  I tried to think of something positive that I could contribute. I’d already donated what little money I could spare, so I decided to donate my time and creativity instead. I remembered that I had these beautiful kyanite beads that I’d been hoarding for several years, and that I bought them because they reminded me of sparkling water droplets. I spent an evening wrapping these stones with sterling silver wire, and praying for the people of Standing Rock – and for all beings who need clean water to live. I strung the pendants on some sterling chains that I’d been hoarding (yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder – this is the nature of beadworkers) and hoped that a few people might be willing to buy them for a good cause.

I listed the necklaces here on my website and then shared their story on social media… and I was completely blown away by the response! The pendants sold out within 3 hours, and I received several requests to make more. I made a second batch over the weekend, and those sold out in less than half an hour after being listed. That’s a sign of how much people want to be able to help. All told, we raised $400 to help support the folks at Standing Rock! In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge sum of money … but I’d like to believe that what we did together was about more than money. I mean, yes – money is important too. The people out there on the front lines need food, water, shelter and all that good stuff, and the funds that we raised will help them to keep doing their good work. But we also raised our prayers; I sincerely hope that every time you wear your necklaces, it reminds you that water is sacred and to live in a way that reflects that. I hope that these pieces will be beautiful and special enough to prompt questions, so that you get the chance to tell people why you wear them. In this way, our prayers and hope can ripple out and help to raise more awareness about what’s happening out there in North Dakota, and at similar waterways around the globe.

This effort is certainly not over, and the water protectors have a long cold winter ahead. They’ll need our support – our prayers, voices, and resources – if they’re to succeed. I vow to keep praying, to keep calling our elected officials, and to keep sharing information and raising awareness. I’ll also make another effort to raise funds, though it may not be as much as last time (sorry, I’m just not in a financial position to give as much as I’d like to!). I hope that you will join me in any way that you can.


love water not oilMost First People have chants or songs about the sacred nature of water. Water is even used for baptism in Christian religions. I hear that even the waters have their distinct songs as they journey toward the oceans.

We live on a single globe of water, all of it one entity. It is alive, this elemental force, this yearning sacred creation, longing to reach an ocean. This is our body, and perhaps we are a part of its soul. It is always moving away, traveling and then returning, in its glorious circle. And we know that when we sing for water, we sing for ourselves.

~ Linda Hogan

 

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Be honorable

"Venetian Bird Mask"
“Venetian Bird Mask”

I designed this original leather mask in 2013. It’s part of an ongoing series that began in 2001 – each one is unique, but shares similar lines and details. It would seem that the design has recently been copied by another artist, who is marketing it as his own.

Sadly, this stuff happens daily. If it was an isolated incident, I might be more able to let it roll off my back – but it’s not. It’s extremely frustrating, but I try to keep my mouth shut, because everyone tells me to take the high road. To “be better, not bitter” – and honestly, I want that too. Unfortunately, there are so many of these copycats these days that the “high road” is starting to feel like a lonely ledge… and it gets harder and harder to make a living doing what I love (or to love what I do for a living) from that place. 

This really hits me where I live, and I don’t know how to put a “positive” or “professional” spin on it. To my fellow aspiring artists, I cannot encourage you enough to be respectful of your peers (and yourself). Be honorable, be original, and don’t steal.


This gallery showcases many (but certainly not all!) of the designs that I’ve done in this series. It’s included to give you a sense of the time that I’ve spent honing and evolving these designs, and also to show how many people have commissioned these signature pieces from me over the last 15 years. Please be respectful of my art, my livelihood, and the wonderful people who have helped to support that process.

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2015 Holiday Curmudgeon Sale

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I’m extremely annoyed by holiday marketing this year. That is not to say that I’m anti Christmas (or against any of the winter holiday traditions) – it’s just the marketing that sickens me. I’ve been getting “Black Friday” emails since before Halloween, which seriously freaks me out! Personally, that doesn’t inspire me to shop; it just stresses me out.

As a retailer, this is doubly challenging. The various selling platforms and marketing blogs that I subscribe to are just as urgent in letting me know that I’m supposed to be sharing my story! And making! and slashing prices! And holding giveaways! And tweeting and gramming and facebookering and worrrying about blackfriday, smallbizsaturday, cybermonday or selloutsunday …and OMG, now I just want to hide under the covers until the New Year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and the bottom line is – I really don’t want to do all that stuff. I don’t want to participate in the hypermarketing, super commercial, over the top holiday blitz that is designed to promote consumption; it stresses people out, shifts the focus away from peace and goodwill, and really just benefits the big box stores. Because seriously? Independent artists don’t have the profit margin to give you HALF OFF OF EVERYTHING IN YOUR FACE the way that giant retailers do. More importantly, I hate the way it makes me feel and I don’t want to do that to my customers or myself; I respect us too much for that.

Instead, I will offer the following specials for the remainder of 2015. These offers are good for the rest of the year, so please relax, focus on the ones you love, and shop when you’re ready:

* All US domestic orders of $40+ are eligible for free first class shipping.
On my website, you’ll automatically see the free shipping option when your cart reaches $40
On Etsy, you’ll need to enter the coupon code “shippingfree” at checkout

* All orders of $75+ are eligible for a 10% discount. 
To receive this discount, use the coupon code “happyholidays” at checkout. That coupon code is the same for my website as it is for Etsy. Please note that this offer applies to ready made items only, not custom work.

(pro tip: on Etsy, you can only choose one of these offers; on my website, you’ll be able to combine the two offers to receive 10% off AND free domestic shipping!)

* In the interest of generating more peace and goodwill, I’ll add a little something extra to at least one order, every week through the end of the year. The recipient will be chosen at random, and so will the gift. You don’t need to fill out any forms or share things on social media – it’s just a little bonus giveaway for my customers, because I really do love and appreciate you all <3

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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 – Raffle for Cecil

Amanda Edwards Mosaics' Raffle for Cecil
Amanda Edwards Mosaics’ Raffle for Cecil

I’m sharing the information about this raffle in part because I love this artist’s work, and partially because I admire her spirit. When she learned about the recent killing of a lion named Cecil, Amanda Edwards decided to raffle off a piece of her art and to donate the proceeds to the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University. This organization studies lions in hopes of aiding in their conservation.

It struck me as such a loving and hopeful response to a terrible situation, and it reminded me of the many ways that art can heal. I donated for a chance to win, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same: just click on this link and donate to get a ticket(s). Doing so offers the opportunity to win a beautiful work of art, and the ability to participate in a very kind response to a tragic situation.

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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

 

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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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Do your own work…

© 2009 Andrea Adams

Copycats have become increasingly problematic for me in recent years. I try to ignore it and stay focused on my own thing, but the problem is getting really out of hand. Last night, I encountered two more of them in a span of 30 minutes (one small biz, one large scale manufacturer). I’m still furious, so I’ll hold off on saying much more until I’m capable of being civil. In the meantime, I’d like to offer this food for thought:

 
1) This is an excellent lecture for online artists and crafters of all skill levels. It’s 45 minutes long, and WORTH EVERY SECOND. If you’re teaching, offering tutorials, selling your work online, or even just thinking of selling your work online, please listen to this and consider the author’s points.
 
© 2006 Andrea Adams
2)  If you’re selling copies and/or derivatives of my work, please stop. It’s not my job to design your products or to write your product descriptions or policies. I have my own family to take care of, and I never signed on to fund your adventures at Burning Man, Con, or whatever it is you’re doing this for. If you want to be an independent artist on any level – hobbyist, pro, or something in between – you’ll need to spend the time, take the risks, and do your own work.