Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All this takes effort, you know.

I mentioned in my last post about pricing- and value. I've talked about this before but in a rather mystical way. This time I want to talk about it in more practical terms.

There's a lot to say on the subject of pricing, but I want to focus on a subject that often gets left out, so let's make this first post about 'effort'. Merle and I have been back-and-forthing in my inbox about pricing and if there's (more than) one thing we agree on it's that people don't realise the effort that goes into a handmade product.

Most of us factor in price of materials and time taken to actually make the product, but what about all the driving, walking, rummaging through baskets, sifting through filthy boxes full of rusty junk, getting lost on the way to garage sales, getting up at the crack of dawn in the middle of winter to go to the car boot sales, admission prices to junk markets, food while you're out there, your partner moaning they're tired/bored/hungry, kids harassing you and touching all that delicate china that people seem to need to display within grasping distance of a 3 year old...all that is effort! Sometimes fun, but always effort.

To use an example, I'll show you a typical breakdown of what goes into every wrist cuff of mine:

1. Find vintage lace and hardware - This isn't very easy here in Australia- flea markets and antique malls are few and far between, and what there is of them is often mostly 'obvious' stuff- the kind of things that people can obviously use or admire (read: the kind of thing that's worth money). Stall holders (bless them all) don't really understand why anyone would want an old ledger that's been written in, faded funfair tickets or broken jewellery- let alone scratched buttons and rust-stained lace! So I have a few options:

+ Buy things online: Upside is there's a lot of great stuff! Downside is that due to the currency conversion and high shipping costs it can be expensive, and therefore makes my end product higher in price. There are Australian sellers on eBay but due to the rarity of this stuff here bidders come out of the woodwork (often in the last 10 seconds...grrr) so it can be a real bloodbath!

+ Out on the streets: Thrift shops are the best bet since flea markets are pretty much non-existent. You can get lucky in thrifts (a Georgian heart pendant for $1 is my greatest achievement so far, and that's mine forever!) but it's getting harder and harder to find legitimate vintage/quality jewellery (I don't use plastic or cheap 'five and dime' stuff). Junk/antique shops are the next contender; I very luckily have just found a place locally here, run by a lady who's husband restores old sewing machines so she has a lot of stuff that comes in the drawers of his acquisitions. The down side to these places is they only sell 'shiny' things- it's rare to find worn out things the way I want them.

2.Cleaning, sorting, 'harvesting' - Once I've found my bits and pieces it's time to prepare them- very rarely do I get something I can just dump on the desk ready for use. After cleaning (and some stuff can really reek!) necklaces have to be taken apart, beads un-strung, sequins un-threaded from clothing etc. In the case of finding bags of mixed goods they need to be sorted through into piles of wanted and not wanted (to go on eBay- selling off part of what you buy is a good way to recover costs!) and from there the cleaning and harvesting continues.

3. Fabric preperation - To get the unique look of my wrist cuffs I dye fabric trims and laces, often in very experimental ways using methods I've developed over time. Adding 'corruptors' to the mix, using cold water when hot is required, minimising water use so that the dye is stronger etc...all of this has been developed over time by me. Some of these processes can take up to 3 days to complete depending on the weather- one bucket actually took a week as I was experimenting with soaking fabrics in expired dye. My fabrics and laces all have tiny variations in the staining level that although it might look flat brown from first glance, closer inspection reveals purple patches, streaks where the dye didn't get under folds because I didn't stir it enough or I sat objects on the lace etc. It's these deliberate methods that give the uneven result that really makes the lace more special than an ordinary brown dyed piece.

In line with my eco policy I don't use the washer or dryer for my dyeing- it's all buckets and sunshine -and sometimes rain! Soon I'll be implementing eco dyes and that's going to take more effort than things now, but it's better for the planet. Also it's now nearly winter here and the sunshine is on low supply, so my days of dying lace are much less likely than a few months ago, and it's likely my stores will drop as the winter deepens.

After factoring in cost of dye, I have to think about this lace and fabric as an end product- not only have I found this stuff and probably stripped it from clothing, but I've just dyed it as well. I could sell it as is and still require a profit for all that work!

3a - There's a sub-plot to fabric preparation that involves the other handmade elements of my work- paper backed glass pendants, book scrap buttons, polymer clay details... (Ahh..a new element, images coming soon!) For a lot of you out there it probably means collaging for slide pendants, stamping and moulding PMC, making bezels etc. All these things that we could theoretically sell as handmade supplies, yet we make them so we can further put them in other things we make! We must be crazy.

4. Building the cuff - Now it's down to business! Laying out fabrics and laces, ripping bits off other bits, layering same or contrast colours, digging through cases and boxes and scrap containers for that 'perfect' bit. This can take hours and is surprisingly harder than one might think. I often do 4 or 5 at a time to keep my hours down (reduce labour costs) but sometimes that can hamper you if you end up losing your temper over a cuff that won't get with the program! (There's always one.)

This brings me to an element that we often omit more than effort. Talent. I'll talk about it more in another post but talent- real talent- is a rare thing. I'm talking about the ability us artists have to look at something and see it in a way that's different enough from the norm to make it our own. I'm talking about (cliché time) 'unique vision' -not just following guides in DIY books. (Though believe me, there are a lot of people that can't do that either. I could tell you a story about a woman I met a few months ago who didn't even have the skills to wrap a gravy boat in some newspaper for me, but let's leave that for the 'people are *this* dumb' posts!)

Talent is just as much a valid aspect of your pricing as materials and labour. Keep that in mind.

6.The sweat This is the bit that involves many hours of sitting around staring at the TV or the wall of the studio. This is the bit where you're tediously stitching and stitching, tangling your cotton, stabbing yourself in the finger, etc. Not just stitching together laces and fabrics, but sewing on buttons and buckles and God knows what, and backing the things and finally adding snaps or elastic loops.

7.Afterwork - No it ain't done yet! Just because your product is finished, doesn't mean time and effort is. Now you have to photograph the bugger, which means setting up your props and table and tripod and etc outside or near a window with plenty of natural light. (The flash is your enemy, I'll do a post on good photography one day!) When that's done there's always a certain amount of post-processing your images will need- colour adjustments most likely since I've never met a purple I can shoot accurately, no matter how fancy my white balance.

Don't forget - and this might seem obvious to some- to factor in the time it takes for you to list your work on Etsy (or where ever you sell), the fees that it costs to do so AND the fees it will incur once you've sold it.

8. Because one day... some obviously deranged person comes along and falls in love with your work, and lo- they pay the price you asked for it! MADNESS! But the work isn't over. Now you have to package the piece as well. This is a tricky game which deserves it's own post- packaging is just as much a part of your business as the actual item is- and it costs time and money to find a style that works for you and represents your business- and then source all the stuff!

See? By now you might have realised that there's much more work in your work than you thought. In fact even more than you thought- half of this came to me as I was writing and let me tell you, I didn't realise how much I slave for this 'art lark'! It is a very pleasurable slaving though.

But that's the thing- finding the middle ground between pricing yourself out of the market and doing it for the love is hard, but it's there, and once you find it everything else will be easier. You can say 'oh but listing it all like this makes it look like such a bother, but it's not.' And you're right- to us it's not. It's what we love, we do it every day because it's inside us and needs to come out. But to other people it would be a bother- they don't have time to put into what we create, that's why they buy it from us.

Let's sum it up- if someone wanted me to make them a wrist cuff; find the materials, clean them up, dye them, lay them together so they looked good, sew them together, photograph it, list it, process the order, pack it in an envelope and take it to the post office. And all for $50. I'd tell them where to stick their $50, and you'd do the same! But I do it now. The most expensive cuff in my shop right now is $US32, and that works out at $AU50. Considering all that above, that should be the cheapest.

As a gift to someone you love you'd gladly do it for free, but that's a gift of love, not a means of income. Because you're also running a business. Aren't you? Is that what you're in it for, in the long run? Do you eventually (if not now) need this art lark to actually pay the bills, put food on the table, clothes on your loved ones, a roof over your head? Sure there are other means of income for artists- holding workshops, publishing books, writing magazine articles and being featured in the latest issue of Artful Blogging... *cough*

Look- I know this doesn't make it any easier to price your stuff, in fact it might just make it harder. But it might also help you concrete that your stuff really is worth what you secretly want to charge. And that's the biggest hurdle of all- to convince yourself that you are worth the price. Your time, effort, materials, labour, packaging, hours spent swearing over a red hot lightbox...all these things matter but none more so than your own talent.

I can spout on about this all day (and by the length of this blog post, I feel like I have) but I have just as hard a time pricing my stuff than you have with yours. Maybe we should price each other's stuff! But see- even that would be difficult, since we don't know how much goes into the little steps. Only you know what your stuff is really worth- and you do know, deep down- and once you have the confidence to believe it there are plenty of people out there who will agree -and pay it.

Now go and raise your prices. :P

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Big Show

Well- I mentioned waaaaaay back in the shadows of the past that I had some big news, but that I didn't want to tell you until it was all go. Well it's going! My darlings, my dears...I am in the Summer issue of Artful Blogging!

Sooooo exciting! I've never seen a copy of this magazine in the flesh before, they're pretty rare over here and cost rather a lot due to the currency exchange. But oh my, how soft the cover and how much treasure lies within. I'm going to enjoy reading this gorgeous magazine before bed tonight!

As a special treat, anyone who buys anything in the Little Brown Sparrow shop from today until the 3rd of May will get 50% off their purchase. Yes- 50%! All you have to do is write 'artful blogging' in the message to buyer section of the Etsy checkout and I will refund your 50% within 24 hours of your payment. Pretty nifty huh? As a little extra incentive I shall tell you that my prices are going up a wee bit when the new shop launches- I've been doing some costing exercises (which I shall share with you next post- they're excellent) and am selling myself a little short. I've made a pledge to myself to value my time and talent more, as we all should.

Now I'm off to update all the shops- I tidied my desk today and found an embarrassing amount of items that are finished and need to be listed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Phoenix ashes

Take one box of fabrics and lace, specially reserved for a certain occasion and a stack of cheap dime store canvases rescued from a friend's bin...combine and rescue.

Some of them I've done traditionally, some of them I've stretched reverse, with the intention of painting on the back of the canvas, leaving the wood stretcher as a kind of frame. I've always admired the backs of paintings especially old one, and I just couldn't resist making a focus of the lovely dottiness of the blue-black tacks against the soft vintage sheeting. The dots on the inside is a vintage chiffon scarf I layered in with the cotton.

And so it was that with a great rip, fold, sew, hammer and stretch...6 canvases were born, ready for their robes of paint. Bedsheet so faded it's pattern is all but a secret, the lining of old cushion covers, hospital pillow slips...all well worn and washed 1000 times. I especially like the ones that have mending in them, which I shall show you at a later date, along with my sketches.

I thought the idea of having three shops was going to be a nightmare for me inventory wise, but I'm really loving it. I haven't updated any of the shops for a number of days now and I do apologise for that- I'll get some done tomorrow. I just haven't found the inclination for it. I've been enjoying making things like there's no tomorrow, but the mechanics of listing has recently left me cold.

altered book I'm working on

I've been taking lots of walks in the wilderness to clear my head and move past whatever hurdle it is in my mind that keeps me wanting to do anything else but make stuff. It's fantastic to have such artistic drive again, but I need to balance it with business things too. Otherwise no one except my housemates get to see my work!

This Phoenix needs to burn. Is it my Aries way to always want the new? I seem to say these kinds of things a lot- that I'm bored, I need new things, new ways, new everything. Maybe I'm just cursed to never be content. That's not such a bad thing though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ghost Girls

This post could alternatively be titled 'I used to be a painter'.

A few weeks ago I salvaged some small canvases from a friend who was going to throw them away- they're slightly smaller than A4 and currently wrapped in cheap black canvas.

Milkdrop by Emily Martin

But that's about to change- I bought some carpet tacks (so Dickensian in their cobblestone blue-grey sheen!) and I'm going to re-stretch them in some fabrics I've set aside for just such a thing.

Mark Ryden

I've been meaning to get back into painting for a very long time now, and have been eyeing my drawing archive alot. All my 'Victorian lowbrow' scribbled magic of the last 10 years sleeps quietly in a large paper bag under my desk, and in the darkness of sketchbooks hidden on the lowest shelves of my bookcase.

Mervyn Peak

Shall I wake it up?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Wreck Stops Here

The old shop is having a sale and the new shop has some items listed, with more to come this weekend. This week has been a bit of a car wreck, I'm glad it's over! Weekends hold new meaning for me now- not ever having a proper 9 to 5 job over the years has meant that Saturdays and Sundays were just another day. Now however the two day free-zone means I get a break from that small panicked voice in my head that says 'oh god, should I be going to the post office!?' :D

I've discovered Tumblr recently- it's magic! The only thing that annoys me is that many of the blogs don't have image credits, so I can't explore further or give credit when i re-post here.

If anyone knows where any of these originally came from, please oblige.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Hands

On one hand I am feeling good- finally finished a commission piece today, also finished a project that I'm doing for someone else (not telling) and I've a few wrist cuffs nearly ready for the new shop.

On the other hand- Paypal decided to rule in favour of the buyer in a dispute I recently suffered with. I'm no bitter betty- I appreciate that the seller lost money and I don't begrudge them their dues. I even offered store credit to them instead of a refund.

What I do find offensive is that Paypal would only give me a win if I provided a photograph of the parcel, addressed to the confirmed address and stamped with the shipping companies confirmation stamp. Unfortunately here in Australia we use the Post Office to post things- they don't give you any more proof beyond a vague receipt unless you insure and track, and they don't stamp until they take your package to a big sorting warehouse. Tracking and insurance costs an extra amount that I don't like to charge everyone (but now I'm thinking I might). WHY on this EARTH would I have a photo of a parcel I sent out 2 weeks ago with Post Office processing stamps on it?!

It seems the seller never wins a dispute unless they use a US-style shipping contractor with all the receipts and sundries you can think of. I can't refuse to give a refund, so as a seller I'm robbed every time someone decides to request a refund- legit or not. Way to go, Paypal.

What I also find offensive is that Paypal told me I had 72 hours to respond to the next step (the photo of the shipping stamps). Less than 2 hours after they sent that email, they sent another to tell me the case was closed and they refunded the buyer. So I didn't even get my 72 hours of chance! What's more is that the website won't even let you appeal properly- the links are broken!! ARG.

I blog the shadows. :/

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mice and Men.

a finished brooch sits on the lid of a Regency period writing box found on ebay last week

Sometimes in order to keep my brain in the swing and not on overdrive, I make lists for myself- I call them battleplans, make detailed run-downs of what needs to be done, and set dates by which I mean to get things done. On the matter of Sparrow Salvage I have told myself (rather neatly) that I will start it up in the winter and in the meantime I will continue to plod away on Little Brown Sparrow.

'Plod' is the word I should've headed as the warning. It's not a word one uses when one enjoys something. Might I have said 'potter' or even 'merrily amble' I might have been safe. But plod came out instead, and this shows a very important thing.

I've stopped identifying with Little Brown Sparrow.

last years leaves in the backyard

I mentioned some time I ago that I've ceased to think of it in terms of a business name, but I didn't realise until the other night how much that has affected the larger whole. I don't put much energy into it, from the practical like listing items to the ethereal like thinking of it often, visualising it being successful etc. (I am a big believer in magic and energy control/visualisation, part of my paganism -which can wait for it's own entry!)

I am now preoccupied at my desk with either the Faery shop or the 'new' developments in my proper work, that is the Sparrow Salvage stuff.

I'm finding myself turning to the faery shop as a point of production rather than a therapeutic break. I keep thinking of things I could do for the shop, like watercolour prints (I draw as well, did I forget to tell you?) or shadow boxes or faery photography. The faery shop was initially supposed to be a sideline, something updated every now and then and not to put too much focus on. That's how it went on the battleplan.

Inspirational pile of ingredients on the studio table

Merle and I were talking recently about the path of art, and that sometimes we may think we're in charge but in actual fact -the art is! The way you see things, hear things, notice things...all that is in charge, you're just pulled along for the ride. I can't predict (or control) what art I make, when it will come to me, how it will express itself. All I can do is make it.

A bowl of unfinished 'proper' wrist cuffs sits in the corner of my desk and I have no interest in them. They've stopped becoming something I want to work on and instead are mouldering leftovers of an old skin, already shed and cast away. Most likely they'll be pulled apart and their elements used in other things, but for now I use their presence to remind me; what is left behind in our journey only serves to make our burdens lighter. The more you leave behind, the lighter your walk.

All this means, more importantly, that a shifting of shops is in motion, and Sparrow Salvage will commence to operate by the end of the week. I have already began to make pieces that are stripped back and more pure -some of them seen in my last post as works in progress; a finished brooch seen here. I'm looking forward to getting them out there in the world. Why let them sit sleeping in a box till winter, just because my plan said I would?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pure thoughts and stripping back

Trying to get to the bones of what I do, what I want. All thinking, all churning in my brain. Faeries pull at my mind, making this path seem all the more harder.

But this is a good thing. Some struggles are sweet for the strength they give.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bare Bones

The Dark Woods is open! Only 3 things listed but all in good time...

Despite needing to focus on more stock for the faery shop, I've been thinking more and more about the new direction I want to take when I move to Sparrow Salvage. As well as expending the range into clothing, hats, bags etc, I want to narrow my colour field quite alot, down to black, grey, white, cobalt blue, muddy brown and a few dusty pastels. I'd like to simplify as well, and utilise more found objects.

Fear not for them, the faery shop is where fluff and folly will go, but Sparrow Salvage is sparse, utilitarian, industrial. Perhaps very early Victorian/late Georgian with maybe a scrap of 1950s modernism and slight Art Nouveau leanings. (Or perhaps more accurately Arts and Craft movement). It was my initial intention with the shop, and although I am heartily in favour of letting your art take you where it wants to go, I also believe you can wander too far from your path.

There might be a bit of Steampunk if I can rightly interpret it in my own way. I don't want to resort to goggles n' cogs- I do have a definite Steampunk edge to my style, judging by the trillion skirts I thrifted for my birthday to make industrial Victorian wardrobe essentials for myself.

Let's visit my Etsy favourites for some inspiration...