Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where to now with craftiness???

This is an article I've been thinking about writing for a while. It is purely my own thoughts (many of which change from day to day). I'm really hoping to enter into some dialogue here and hope people will contribute. I don't have all the answers or any particular visions of the future, just wondering aloud...

I've been involved in crafting since I was young but it's only the last couple of years that I decided to take the advice of people who said 'you could sell that' and go for it. Since then crafting as a creative outlet has extended into selling. It's been an interesting ride. I'd had some things sell really well, whilst some things have been dissmal failures. I've received some great positive feedback but also had some which was not so good, even to the extent of having some stock returned unsold from a stockist interstate as it was considered unsuitable. I've had some things copied and sold by others. I've learnt alot. It's a different creative process when what is made is judged in terms of whether people will buy it or not.

What sells vs what emerges

I was thinking the other day that if I saw another fabric covered button hair band or laser cut brooch I'd scream.... I went to visit some of my lovely stockists and saw that some of them were selling the same stuff. There's nothing at all wrong with this, but I wonder if the desire to sell our goodies can stiffle our creative processes? What we create often seems to sit in different spheres: Frankie friendly, kooky, clever hipster design, pastel wearing or what have you.....seeing things that relate a bit to ours can be like a kind of validation. This of course, is influenced at some level by craft blogs, shops, magazines etc. We fit the market. We receive a nod. It's easy to get a bit stuck in this groove.

I find selling things means that I have to make the same things more than once (no brainer obviously). Retailing requires repitition unless you are making some kind of one off goodies which are costed enough to warrant the creative process (time, labour, materials) which each entails. Repitition is not necessarily conducive to creativity in my experience. It can be quite stifling, like wearing a old jumper which was a favourite but not is a bit too small and uncomfortable but you keep it for sentimental reasons...

I have a gocco machine I haven't even got around to unpacking and a shelf few of crockery waiting to be upcycled into something wonderful. Most of my 'craft time' is spent working on current stock. I rarely get time anymore to just create for the sake of creating. This depresses me incredibly! I'm making some changes in my time to give me more time next year, but it's a few weeks away yet.

Money changes everything

The realities of a small time crafter is that small successes can be more stressful than no successes when faced with the tyranny of time. Leisure time is not necessarily relaxing when it's spent working to deadlines trying to get orders and consignments done. I spend alot of time afterwork saying no to various social invitations, spending my time crafting in front of the telly (with a glass of wine). It can be wonderful getting a plug or positive press but then stressful when you actually have to find the time to make things (let alone source materials which can take even longer). It's hard when you aren't at the stage when you could work full time in creative pursuits. It does impact on your relationships. I've met quite a few crafters lately who 'outsource' for want of a better term, designing their products and getting other people to make them before they are retailed. I'm not sure how this sits with me as it seems kinda removed from the handmade ethos. But of course there are only so many hours in the day and there's enough of us working like one person craft sweatshops to know that there must be a better way somehow.

I make enough funds for an overseas trip each year and a little spending money, but not enough for a consistent part time wage where I can claim expenses. Of course, any money made that covers costs or beyond is a bonus when it could have been spent on other activities like gigs and booze or whatever your fancy. But it's hard when so many people measure success with money. Seeing yourself through a monied lens is not always a pleasant or positive experience and can make you feel positively dismal! If I liken this to IT or Design work (both very valuable pursuits) the crafting economy looks a little vulnerable. I wonder how much of this is because the primary creators of craft are female, and prone to underselling their work and undervaluing their skills? Plus, I know I don't really like the idea of competing for sales and I think some sectors of the craft community tend to work this way( etsy anyone?), even some of the markets...

To market to market

I'm going to risk raising the ire and admit that I'm starting to wonder if there are too many markets in Melbourne. Of course, not all markets are equal. Some like, Northside Maker's Market are facilitated by fellow crafters genuinely interested in crafting as an expressive act in itself rather than merely a profit generator. Others are more aiming at the big bucks. I'm not trying to proportion judgement here (as I do believe people should be paid for their labours), but craft materials+ labour + Stall fee + sitting time + food and drink-sales -/- does not always equal an experience leaving you feeling valued and your creative efforts validated.

So where to from here?
I'm intent on spending my christmas holidays relaxing and crafting for crafts' sake. Making things to make me happy (I really don't make enough things for myself in reality!). Trying new things. Failing and trying again. Maybe selling some new successes and abandoning old ones... who knows, that's part of the appeal...


GemmaJoy said...

Thinking of what to write.... will write tomorrow. Thanks for this post - its a lot of what ive been thinking lately

Betty Jo said...

All good and completely valid points.
I have touched on a few of these here and there, and totally agree we are on a path to consumer craft overload if quality and uniqueness fall by the wayside.
Every craftsperson who's hobby has morphed into a small business is in danger of losing the quality of their product. Those new and innovative ideas or skillful and well executed items that drew people to them in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with expanding your business but if it means you have to send out for a thousand laser cut brooches or covered buttons, where is the pleasure in that?
Speaking of Craft markets,I thought I might give them a go this year. Us Melbournians are spoiled for choice. Too spoiled I reckon.But my expectations won't be high. Just last week at a market some one thought I said a brooch was $14, but they walked away when I said it was actually $40! Is this normal?
I hope things stay NICE in the world of Crafty selling.Retailers treating the makers respectfully, customers treating the makers respectfully, and makers treating makers respectfully.
As I've said before,the rewards in the life of Creative Women can not always be measured in monetary terms.
Thankfully there are many different rewards that make the hard slog worth it!

Cath from chunkychooky said...

Very well thought and out and intersting read Ms. I do think the creative process is stifled by crafting for money. The moment I flipped back to crafting because I love it - where I orginally started- I have been a lot happier. I agree that pumping out exactly the same thing over and over is boring and not good for the soul. As for the outsourcing- is it truley handmade??? I don't know. this is a big one for me and I blogged about it a while ago to a huge response... at what point is it not handmade??? Do you get cudos for being the deisgner? Maybe??? I don't know.
I have also learnt a lot over the last 18 months and have come up with a few rules for myself.
1. all orders pay 50% up front before I even start
2. remaining payment before I post which they also pay for.
3.consignment- I agreed to this in the early days and it was a nightmare trying to get money owed... it needs to be really special circumstances for me to do it again. and I want a contract and very strict terms. I don't know if I would ever agree to it again.
I have probably lost a few contacts because of these terms but now the people I do deal with I love dealing with because I know hter are no dramas.
It is a rocky ride... but in the end I love doing what i do and i still get excited about every single sale.

Little Waltz said...

Interesting points that I have started to raise myself ... especially on the topic of markets.

I started compiling a list of markets available to us in Melbourne, and at my last count (and I'm nowhere near done I believe), my count was at 56 markets.

Sure feels to me like markets are the flavour of the month. With a new market opening up every other day.

It's a bit late so I'm going to come back and finish up this comment when I can think coherently. But I just had to respond now and say , thank you for writing this.

CurlyPops said...

What a fantastically relevant post at the moment (after arriving home from my last market for the year yippee).
I love making things and I love that people will actually part with their money to buy something that I made with my very own hands. But, it's hard to sell for a decent price when others are undervaluing their hard work. There were things being retailed tonight that I wouldn't sell for that same price wholesale.
I think that we may be far too spoiled for choice with the sheer quantity of markets at the moment as well.
One thing that I have learned this year, is that I won't force myself to make anything that I don't want to make, and I won't undersell myself.

lisa said...

I'm not a crafter but can relate to your thoughts about when hobbies or relaxing pursuits become work, no matter how pleasurable that work may be. I think crafting, like indie publishing perhaps, is something that we start because it appears fun and who doesn't want to be doing what they love? But the realitieis of running even a very small biz is that a lot of that fun can be leached away by trying to professionalise. Fantastic post :).

Polka Dot Rabbit said...

Thank you all so much for your thoughts and contributions, it is appreciated.

I think a few people have been thinking about these things, have a look at this great New York times article

Gina said...

If I'd read this post before I'd written my most recent one, I would've linked to you! Dang.

I'm a crafter who chooses not to sell, precisely for the reasons you have identified (also I learned somes lessons about all this stuff as a freelance musician a decade ago!) There is temptation there because people say 'you could sell that', and money means, well, MONEY, plus I think that people are seeking some kind of personal validation in selling their things that is felt to be lacking if they are 'just an amateur crafter'. But when it means having to mass-produce small, unsatisfying things (I too am going to kill anyone trying to sell me a fabric-covered button soon!) in order to make enough money to justify selling crafted items, then what's the point?

I think the reason the craft scene is getting so very flooded is precisely because people are discovering that they can make nice stuff - but therefore want validation from selling it! Then someone like me walks up and thinks, 'hey, if she's selling, I could too because I can make stuff like that', and so it goes on.

Personally, I'm really enjoying my journey of being creative for myself and pursuing all sorts of different things. Sometimes I feel a bit like I'm treated as a second-class crafter/blogger or simply a consumer of other peoples' handmade products, but still it's very satisfying.

Anyway, sorry for big 'blah' comment... and I look forward to hearing your revelations and resolutions about all this stuff and where you're going with it. Good luck.

Chrisy said...

Oh yes you've echoed many of my own thoughts...sadly many etsy sellers seem to morph into mini sweatshops...and markets well they're just not worth the time and effort that goes into them...just my's too short and precious to not fill it with activities that give you joy...

willywagtail said...

All thought provoking and undoubtedly true. I am lucky at the moment that I can just make for the fun of it and if it sells that is a bonus. I've tried working to order or by the tablefull and, as you say, my creativity just walks out the door. Thankyou for letting us know we are not alone. Cherrie

ninainvorm said...

I think this is such an interesting post and yes, it strikes a lot of chords with me as well. Money & behaving 'businesslike' is such a nasty thing sometimes. I guess being realistic about what you can and want to achieve is really important. We often hear the (probably few) financial success stories, I recently read this article about people that make a lot of money on etsy by selling their crafts (as much as a lawyer), though the other side was that they were working day and night on it. Well, in a way I also work day and night on my creative stuff, but I definitely don't make a good living of it and I'm not sure I ever will.
I agree with Gina that in a way selling things feels like validation: wow, someone likes what I do and is willing to pay for it. But selling your stuff isn't just receiving compliments: it means working hard as well! I still sometimes find it hard to find the balance between feeling sort of grateful that someone (or a shop) wants to buy/sell my stuff and the other side, which has to do with asking a reasonable price, keeping the work interesting etc.
The strain can sometimes definitely take away the joy. I hope you'll have fun enjoying your 'non-business-crafting' during these days!

Anonymous said...

Such a well-expressed post on a topic which really needs to be spoken about more readily and freely, I think.

I have frequently wanted to blog about the non-rosy aspects of creativity being used to pay the rent/bills but have felt fearful of being percieved as "not passionate enough" about what I do. The thing about selling handmade items is that you are selling more than just the item, you are also selling the fantasy of the "creative lifestyle". In my experience of selling at markets, this is a very powerful pull for buyers. However, as I am standing at my stall, exhausted from weeks of 12 hour+ working days of creating multiples of items which I loved designing and refining the first few times I often feel fraudulent. As customers gush at how great it must be to "do what you love for a living" I wonder about the personal and creative sacrifices required to "get by" financially...

We all have different reason for combining creativity with business. My transition from creativity as motivated purely by a desire for self-discovery to a means of supporting myself has been an ambivalent one. A string of unsatisfying part-time jobs propelled me to seek out a way to escape drudgerous employment for greater freedom and creative autonomy.

The thing about creativity, however, it that is requires time and space, experimentation, failure and more experimention...and it's pretty hard to maintain a life which is conducive to these prerequisites when most of you time is taken up with working as a one-woman sweat-shop to try to have enough stock to sell to support yourself.

I don't know what the solution is to this creative/life/financial balance or if such a balance is achieveable for me...

but I think it a really good thing that it's being discussed.

alex sunday said...

i've been meaning to come back and comment on this post for a while. i have nothing to add (you've covered it all!) but really enjoyed the content and comments. thank you!

alex sunday said...

ooh, and i'd just like to add a link to this article about markets, over at australian design unit (i brilliantly informative site, by the way).

Meaghan said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog and for this great post! I think in the next week or so I will write more about creating repetitively and how it stifles creativity in the end. Reading this made me feel not-so-alone in my experiences and feelings about crafting. I am also very pleased to me you! :-)

-- m