Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reproductions vs. Originals

I've been writing for another blog about the benefits of buying handmade. Tara over at Scoutiegirl had a wonderful blog post about why she buys handmade:

"... but I feel pretty good when I walk out of the house wearing something that no one else in my county has in their closet. No amount of Louis Vuittons or Chanel suits or t-shirts plastered with chain store logos make up for the sameness that the rest of the world lives in." - Tara from Scoutiegirl

Well said! Do you like to be 100% original? I get tired of seeing the same things everywhere. I hate walking into someone's home and seeing the exact same print that was available at Pier One, or Pottery Barn, or Ikea, or, or, or. Trust your instincts, be yourself, have an opinion and be original!

So what is the difference in between a print and an original painting? Well, a print is a reproduction of a painting. Virtually all of the artwork that you see available in chain stores are prints. This means that at least one other person, if not hundreds of other people, have the exact same thing hanging on their walls. On the positive side, if you absolutely love a very popular artist and their artwork is super expensive, prints are an affordable way to have something of theirs hanging on your wall.

An original painting is exactly what it says that it is - original. You can smell the paint, feel the texture, see the brilliant colors and brush strokes in a way that is impossible to capture with a print. You can feel the hard work and energy that went into creating the painting. Sometimes you can even see the process that the artist had in creating the painting when you look at the original. Many of the Great Masters even have brush bristles that got caught in the painting. Can you imagine having a brush bristle from Monet?!?! (But then again, I can't quite imagine owning a multi-million dollar painting by Monet either).

Perhaps the best part of owning an original is the feeling that nobody else has the same thing that you have. You, and only you, have that one piece of artwork, and you don't have to share. Others may like that artist as well, but no two will be exactly the same.

Photo Courtesy of Shelby from BS Art Studio. You can visit her website @ www.bsartstudio.com or her Etsy site: www.bsartstudio.etsy.com

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Handmade Guide to Glass

As the first article about buying handmade, I would like to introduce Annie Howes of Annie Howes Keepsakes.  She posted this on her blog, and it has some wonderful information about buying handmade vs. manufactured glass pendants for jewelrymaking:

If you’re purchasing clear glass pieces for your creative projects, the two basic types of glass you would encounter are float glass and rolled glass. Most of the economically priced glass available is made overseas in China by large manufacturing companies that produce thousands of glass tiles each day and is made from float glass. Float glass is made by floating molten glass onto molten tin, hence the name. It's a process that imparts some of the metal properties into the glass sheets which can discolor or dull the glass. And while that glass may be hand cut and kiln fired, it’s 99.9% likely the glass isn’t hand cut and kiln fired by the seller. Just because the seller claims the glass is handmade, and I’m sure it is handmade by someone somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s handmade by them. 

Similarly, glass that is stated as “designed” by the seller doesn’t mean the seller made the glass. It just means they placed an order with a manufacturer in China who makes glass tiles to order. It’s a rather deceitful way of not being straightforward about who makes their glass because they want the customer to assume they made the glass themselves. For example, if you place a custom order with me for glass and I cut and fired your glass, would you claim you made the glass? Probably not. You gave me dimensions of the size you wanted and I cut and kiln fired the glass for you. The glass, however, is still handmade. Did you design the glass? If instructing glass to be cut to a 1” square is called “designing” then I suppose you did.

Why should you be concerned with any of this? Because there are obvious visible differences in the glass you’ll most likely receive if you purchase glass not handmade (ie. not hand cut and kiln fired) by the seller (float glass) vs. glass handmade by the seller (rolled glass). If you are spending your time and talents on creating beautiful jewelry or other pieces of art, wouldn't you want to use the most beautiful glass available?

What is the difference between the glass types? There are basically two different glass types available for glass pendants: float glass, and fusible glass. Float glass is typically used for tiling your kitchen or bath and architectural installations. Thin float glass is also used in soldered charms, and the glass you put your photos behind in a picture frame is also float glass. The float glass sold for use in glass pendant making is a low-iron glass. Low iron means the amount of green (iron) in the glass is reduced or removed. I, too, offer this economical glass as an alternative when high quality glass isn't important. While the glass is clear and colorless, it lacks the spectrum of light that you would see in crystals. It’s dull and flat and lifeless. And cheap. 

The alternative to dull and lifeless glass is called rolled art glass, which is the type of glass used primarily in glass fusing. This is the good stuff, and not just because I said so. Rolled glass for fusing has such high clarity that it’s very much like crystal in its appearance. It shines, it sparkles and is alive with all spectrum of light. It’s breathtaking by comparison. Each piece is a work of art. Rolled glass is the same type of raw glass used in large fused glass platters, and glass vases, and such. It's art glass and is specifically created for use in fine art pieces.

How can you tell the glass you’re buying is quality art glass handmade by the seller? First, you can ask. I believe most sellers of glass tiles for jewelry and crafting are decent honest people and will give you an honest answer if asked outright about the glass they’re selling. Ask what type of glass it is, if it’s rolled glass (high clarity, used for fusing) or float glass (low clarity, lusterless used for architectural installations). Ask if it’s imported glass, or if they cut and fired the glass themselves on site. I don’t think anyone would be offended by these questions and most glass artists are more than happy to discuss their craft.

If you still suspect the glass is not handmade by the seller, ask if the artist can custom fire glass to meet your specifications. If they don’t make custom cut glass and only offer specific sizes, they probably are importing their glass and you should continue your search for quality handmade glass elsewhere.

If you have purchased glass and are concerned that it's not the quality of glass it was advertised to be, check to see if the glass is smooth on both sides of the piece. If so, the glass is float glass and was most likely not handmade by the seller.

Support true handmade supplies made by the artist who created the products you're purchasing. Your finished pieces will radiate with life!

Thank you, and next week is Handmade Guide to Art: Prints vs. Originals

- Shelby of BS Art Studio

Friday, May 14, 2010

Three Tips on "How to Make Money on Etsy" by Muyinmolly

Last week I had a phone interview with Inc.com for a post on "How to Make Money on Etsy".The reporter Lindsey Silberman talked to a few Etsy sellers for this article and included a few pointers from me on running a successful Etsy business. Overall I think she did a very good job quoting me, but I would like to add a few words not mentioned in the article.

If you are interested in starting a part time or full time business on Etsy, be sure to check out Etsy seller tips on Full Time Etsy Crafters Team blog as well as my blog. One of my favorite posts is the post written by Susansheehan.

Back in 2007, after selling on Etsy for 6 month, I wrote a blog post on "Three Pointers about Starting on Etsy". A new Etsy seller SalvageNation told me that her shop took off after she followed my tips religiously. However, now that my Etsy shop is almost three years old, I feel the need to revise the tips I wrote two and half years ago.

If I am asked again to give you three quick tips on running a successful Etsy shop in the order of their importance, this is what I will tell you now..

1. You must have a niche, a special product

No matter what you sell, you need to do it well enough to stand out from the crowd. There needs to be something special about your product. This "something special" can be your design (e.g. a special color combination, or a special size), can be the material you use (e.g., a special fabric for purses), or can be a different skill (e.g. if you are extremely good at something that others cannot do as well as you), but it should not be being able to price your items lower than others.If you are able to give customers a very reasonable price for your products, that is always a bonus, but it should not be your goal to price your items as low as possible.

[cricketscreations] -- gorgeous color combinations

[jpatpurses] - her fabric selection will blow you away!

[BSArtstudio] -- "mixers" original art paintings.What a concept!

[nicholasandfelice] -- hard to find shawl pins with amazing wirework

2. You must have excellent, clear photos, and if they are stylish and show your personality, that is even better

In the Inc.com interview, I mentioned "Etsy-style photos". What does that mean? You may notice a lot of successful sellers shoot their photos from a different, interesting angle, with a special background, on a mannequin or display..etc. You will notice while every seller does them differently, successful sellers always have great and consistent photos that show their personality. On Etsy, the photos of your products are part of your products.This is important for all online venues, but on Etsy it is even more important.

We all know that since online shoppers cannot see and touch, or smell (if that applies) the products before buying them, you need to help them see, touch, and smell your products with your photos. Give them a sense of the colors, measurements, sizes, styles, fragrances, and functions of your products with your photos.

[pinkquartzminerals] -- help customers feel the texture of your products

[daisycakessoap] -- help customers smell your products

[muyinmolly] - life size mannequin helps customers gauge the sizes

People buying handmade like to feel a connection with the artists.Treat your Etsy shop as a big, 24/7 online craft show, and your photos are your booth. What would you do with your booth when you go to a real craft show? You do not just set up a tent, lay out your products on your tables, right? You dress up your booth.You arrange your products nicely on your tables. Or maybe you have some special displays on your table. People going to in-person craft shows like pretty booths. People going to online craft shows like pretty photos. Some sellers (including me) include photos of themselves either working at a studio, or wearing/using their products.This also helps customers to connect with the artist behind the lovely products.

[papercutsbyjoe] -- Joe holding his own papercut

[ileaiye] -- Cherylline modelling her hand knit

You do not need a fancy DSLR camera to take great photos.The styles and clarity of your photos are more important than the model of your camera. Practice with a decent digital camera and study the manual (they are all pretty good nowadays). Understanding your own camera is the first step to great shots.

3. Clear and SEO friendly titles, descriptions, tags and the whole shop set up

Now that you have the products and great photos, the next step to help shoppers find you by providing them the right search keywords in your titles, descriptions, and tags. If you are still wonder what SEO means, I would urge you to do a little research in the Etsy forum or Storque. I am not personally an SEO expert, but just "happened to be doing a few things right" from the beginning.

Even if you have great products and great photos, if shoppers cannot find your listings when they type in a keyword search, they are not given a chance to click your photos, not to mention making a purchase.

While listing consistently is a way to keep your items at the top of the search, you need great titles, descriptions and tags to keep your products on the RIGHT search pages. Other than product titles, descriptions and tags, your shop title, shop announcement and section names are also very important for SEO.

If you do these right, you should start to receive decent traffic from search engines, and, hopefully, sales. Do not blame Etsy for not making your shop SEO friendly -- YOU are the person who needs to make your shop SEO friendly, and you can.

[sudlow] - high search ranking on both Etsy and search engines lead to a continuous sales flow

[anniehowes] - high search ranking on both Etsy and search engines lead to a continuous sales flow

It took me more than two years to realize everything I wrote in this post, and I hope you find them helpful. Remember -- selling on Etsy is hard work. Everything I mentioned was easier said than done. I am always doing research on my category and developing new products. Most of my photos have been re-shot multiple times. I am always working on my SEO. In sum: I am always working.

Every once a while I would receive a convo from artists telling me they just lost their job and would like to try to make it full time on Etsy.While I always wish them good luck, I know how difficult this can be and how lucky I have been. In my interview with Inc.com, my story may sound like a fairy tale to many of you because I "made profit after selling on etsy for one month", but please do remember...

1. I had a year of online selling experience on Ebay prior to opening my Etsy shop, which gave me a small customer base plus a lot of chances to practice my photography.

2. I did not quit my day job until 10 months after I opened my Etsy shop, which means I saved enough money to float me through slow times. I did not start selling on etsy full time until my business was fully established and making consistent sales. If you are just starting, be prepared it will take you a while before you can make this a full time job.

Shortly after I became a full time Etsy artist, I started the Full Time Etsy Crafters Team. While our team is meant to be a support group for established full time Etsy artists, I often receive membership requests from brand new Etsy sellers wanting to join the team to learn how to become as successful as us. Now, I believe I have just shared my success secrets with you within this one single post. However, you will NOT become successful just by reading this post. You need to work on these tips I gave you.You need to work on them, work on them more, and then work on them even more.

If you are "trying to make Etsy full time" and have not read this "Ten Things I Learned the Hard Way" post by Piddix, you really should. Corinna shows you what it takes to succeed.

best wishes to you all,

Mollie, aka muyinmolly

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Buyer's Guide to Handmade

When we were 7 we were getting in trouble for doodling in the margins during class. Our feet were tapping, dreaming about getting home and opening up the craft closet to make friendship bracelets, crocheting, collaging - just creating - anything. Some of us took a detour through the corporate world, others figured it out earlier - but we all have learned to make a living doing what we love. It isn't easy, a thread running around our email chain is currently talking about how one of our members works from 12am-12am. Last time I checked, that was 24 hours. Another member counts it a lucky day when she gets 1-2 hours sleep. Me? I'm starting all over again, so the challenge is getting my store back up and running. Almost from scratch.

We do this full-time because we love it. We would have it no other way. If we were back in the cubicle, we'd be getting in trouble for doodling in the margins again. Daydreaming about creating when we should be filing a TPS report.

Handmade. It is what drives us.

So what makes handmade stand out from mass-produced items? It has to do with the individual vision of the maker. The care that goes into the entire process, from design through crafting, the hard work that we put in to ensure our product is made with the utmost care and quality. We don't ship our idea off to someone else to complete. You won't see our items in Target or Ikea or in every other person's house. That is a totally different market.

And yes, there are some casualties of things being handmade. But there are casualties of things manufactured everywhere. (Chinese drywall anyone?) Over the next few months I'm going to be working with the FTEC team to help educate everyone on how to be a smarter buyer - how to tell the good from the bad, the original from the mass produced.

But in the meantime, I'd love to know - why do you buy handmade? What is the value you see in it?

By the way, the image above is one of my teammates whose work I am currently drooling over - JPatPurses

- Shelby from BS Art Studio
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