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Archive for November, 2005

The word “craft” elicits many images in peoples’ minds, from plastic canvas and popsicle sticks arranged into predictable objects of dubious originality and bead kits assembled into Christmas ornaments to expertly knit socks, hats, and mittens, jewelry and home decor wrought from metal, and wood turned, shaped and polished in such a way that the bowl appears to have been captured in the wood from its beginning and released by the endeavours of the craftsperson.

The very fact that craft encompasses this wide of a range of skills, materials and artistry, from the expert and elite to the low-quality and inept, is the reason for which I no longer call what I do craft. I have no real problem with the word “craft”, as most of the work of highly skilled professional craftspeople fits that definition. No, the reason for which I eschew it is its overly general nature. I don’t think craft is a specific enough word to describe the highly skilled and refined nature of the work turned out by members of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, we make craft. No, a word that describes what people do with kits purchased from Wal-mart is not adequate to categorise our labours.

Fine craft is a step in the right direction. The additional word not only raises the expectations of quality in the eyes of the public, but also correspondingly makes them more aware of the skill level involved, the artistry present and hopefully the professionalism of the craftsperson.

“Craftsperson” is another interesting term. For some reason, the lowering of “craft” to its current level of expectation hasn’t completely dragged “craftsperson” down with it. I suppose it has to do with the fact that people “do crafts” as a hobby, but craftsperson is quite evidently doing their work on a more time-consuming basis. That said, I actually prefer the term artisan. It’s basically French for “craftsperson”, but the inclusion of the word “art” effectively enhances the emphasis on creativity and originality, while retaining the flavour of craft through the creation of something with a practical application. An artisan endows the practical with beauty. While it’s certainly true that many expert craftspeople or artisans do work in traditional materials and patterns, preserving the cultural heritage of a region or people, they continue to make modifications and variations within their work. A good artisan or craftsperson can’t help but continue to improve and create, regardless of the strictures of the framework in which they craft their creations. While fair isle patterns may look similar to the casual eye, the possibilities of colour and design are virtually infinite in the hands of a craftsperson. Combine that eye for design with technical skill and adeptness and a sweater evolves into a wearable work of artistic beauty.

Within each field, of course, there are variants of terminology. Some people might call me a quilter. I rarely use that term because I often leap back and forth across the boundaries of the definition of “quilt” on a given piece of work and, frankly, I don’t want to have to defend myself against people who say, “that’s not a real quilt.” I’d rather be able to do whatever the piece dictates with impunity, answering only to the question of, “does that technique hold up artistically and structurally?” I do make “real” quilts, but most of the time I’m a fibre artist.

These nuances occur in various fields. Woodworking, pottery and ceramics and metal working all have subcategories that reflect a more specific style of shaping a medium.

If you’re thinking of turning to making money as a craftsperson, stop and think first. Are you “crafty” or a “craftsperson”? Is what you do of a high quality and skill level? Is it original? Are your materials of good calibre? If you make a solid, good product and are keen on developing it for sale, be honest about what you want to be. Don’t sell yourself short as a maker of cheap crafts, if indeed you are of artisanal quality. At the same time, don’t call yourself a craftsperson if you make Christmas tree ornaments from kits at Wal-mart.

If you are set on refining your work as a professional artisan, seriously consider joining your local Craft Council, arts council or craft-specific guild. Many have Standards of Quality for individual fields that provide guidelines for what constitutes “high-quality” in your chosen field. Before you decide to produce en masse, enter fairs, solicit shops and market your wares, work through the standards provided. Submit pieces for examination by those who assess such things. Listen to their feedback and reflect upon suggested modifications to your techniques, materials and finishing/packaging.

Next entry on crafts: Standards of Quality and how to use them!

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I’ve had a couple of favourable responses to my previous post about pricing crafts, responses which have inspired me to write blog entries on the process of designing, creating, and marketing craft. There will be smaller topics, of course, broken down by subject matter. Before I start, please be advised that don’t profess to know everything there is about the craft business; I’m still working through much of the process myself. This is simply an opportunity for me to compile information, share what I have learned and hopefully clarify my own path. In doing so, perhaps a few other folks will tag along for the ride and make use of the information.

My inspiration is multi-fold. Firstly, I’ve been hoping to include some realy content in this blog so that it is not only helpful to friends who are wondering how my life is going, but also useful to those on a path similar to mine. Secondly, I read Craig Welsh’s recent string of excellent posts on presenting onesself to the media as an artist (visual, literary, dramatic or musical) and really liked the idea. Thirdly, I really need the opportunity that this would allow me to compiled business information for my own use and reference, especially websites of note.

More to come in the next couple of weeks. Until the 21st, I’m more or less out of commission as the craft fair and its ensuing chaos is on until then.
Stay tuned!

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Every year I shilly-shally around with numbers, re-evaluate my pricing schemes and decide if I’m in the right ballpark. Taking the thorough approach, I calculate materials, wastage, product development time and materials amortised over my expected number of product for the duration of the product’s run, labour, overhead, and all the other good things that go into figuring out pricing. This article on pricing crafts gives a fairly good run-through of how it looks.

When I develop a craft piece, I generally clock myself on making a batch at a reasonable pace after becoming proficient. I use this as a gauge of how much labour to charge (and no, I don’t work for minimum wage. Would you?). After I add all the materials, labour and extras that go into making a piece, I add a profit margin. If ever I have to farm out some of the labour, I’ll still make money. Then I tweak the price, if it’s a product that will sell through shops or galleries. The cost of consignment and sales is added to the final price.

This is not a popular thing to do amongst craftspeople, but it is what all other manufacturers do the world over. Craft has a strange sort of niche. To quote a paragraph from the article to which I linked above,

The making of handcrafted objects has the status of a leisure-time activity in our society. One segment of the buying public believes that making the item gives you great pleasure, and uses time that would otherwise be wasted. You may contribute to this notion by not placing value on your time and talent. (Mary Saylor, Related Arts Specialist, The Pennsylvania State University Cooperative)

A large proportion of society is guilty of this assumption. People think that anyone could do it. They assume that, given a needle and thread, they could just as skillfully turn out a beautiful quilt as did that artisan charging $1200 over there. They might be right. If they took the years to learn and dedicated the time, patience, attention and had talent to start with. What some folks fail to notice, though, is that even if they can reduce a crafted piece to something achievable by mere mortals in their own eyes, they still could not make that exact piece. Each craftsperson has their own vision, their own style and often develops their own techniques. Sure you could make something as beautiful as that quilt, but you couldn’t make that quilt because that combination of materials and labour is someone else’s vision and creation.

By the time I actually get to pricing items, I usually know what I should be charging. The things I wrestle with at this stage are:

  1. Should I do that $19 instead of $20 thing? Does it actually make a difference? I’m thinking of putting up a sign saying “no sales tax” instead, because I frankly can’t see how people could quibble over a dollar.
  2. What kind of packaging can I use to make products look more visually appealing and seem more luxurious than they look on their own?
  3. How much time I am wiling to put into giving pieces sexy names, writing additional information on labels and otherwise providing additional colouring/packaging/signage and how much good will it do? Too many details and the eye gets overwhelmed. Too few and people assume that things are machine stamped in China.

But it’s the first one that always gets me. $1 is not a huge cut to my profits, but it seems to me to be such a transparent gimmick. Not to mention that I don’t really have any direct competition at the fair anyway – all the fibre artists are sufficiently different so as to have their own markets.

I’ll work through pricing the art pieces at a later date, as that’s more ethereal.

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I know how she feels

Ended up taking yesterday evening off (except for two hours of driving all over town only to find out there is no heavy-duty stabiliser in town to be had for love or money) and going to sleep early. It was really nice. Except for the 6am greyhound, which was not so nice.

The weather even seems to be behaving itself today. Lately it’s been so windy that I really couldn’t go anywhere with Katherine. Fishing a flying child out of a tree is one thing, catching a plane to Ireland to retrieve her is quite another. So it’s down to normal levels of breeziness around Torbay today, which means I might just get her out for a wander. There have even been flashes of sunlight here and there. Very odd.

Anyway, back to work….

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Thank heavens the weekend coming is a long one. Three days sans kid obligations will likely finish things up nicely for the fair. Not to mention that Hannah has kindly volunteered to help me put tags and strings on things, stuff items into bags and do any other odds that her back will allow her to do. In exchange, I’m helping her to make a quilt for her father for Christmas (after the fair, of course). Fair deal.

So I’m chugging along steadily, not feeling particularly panicked (which may be a bad thing), just working solidly and consistently and progressing in leaps and bounds.It’s an odd way for me to work, actually, as I tend to do better when I feel the pressure of deadlines and their incumbent jolt of panic to the central nervous system (or is that coffee – hard to tell the difference sometimes). John’s the “slow and steady” one in the family. I’m the whirlwind procrastinator. Between us, we get things done.

Been ruminating on my upcoming gallery show as I churn through the myriad of smaller stuff I make for fairs. After I get the artisanal part of my life squared away (November 20) I can return to the artistic component of my job.

No time to get into this now, but I promise an entry on exactly what the show is and how things are going.

Keeping fingers crossed that this year’s craft fair is better than last’s. Last year I almost threw in the towel.

Back to the spice mines now…..

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Sink or Swim

Just a brief note to say that, yes, I am still alive and no, I don’t have time to write much. In point form, then:
– good weekend
– got a full night’s sleep Friday for the first night in weeks
– got six hours to myself with no kids, dogs or husband on Saturday morning. Did three weeks’ work in those six hours
– we now have a fenced dog run out back, so no more freezing outside, holding the leash, with dogs that need to pee
– got a little time on Sunday to work. Did mostly fencing of dog run, which should pay off well in the next couple of weeks
– no groceries
– John must have done laundry. I have underwear today.
– Katherine’s now asleep for her nap

Entries as I can scrape together time and energy. Fell asleep on the sewing machine the other evening. Glad it wasn’t the iron….

A week and a half to go. Luckily, this coming weekend is a three-day weekend.

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… until the Christmas Fine Crafts Fair. I’m actually within striking distance of it, have most smaller stock either done or largely done. I did a quick review of last year’s sales and reminded myself that 50% of my sales were $20 or under and the other half was stuff priced between $20 and $50. So having mostly lower-priced items seems to be the ticket, but I’m still working on finishing off a couple of medium-sized pieces. Not only do they visually fill the booth nicely and are easily visible from afar, but you do get the odd person who is looking for a larger item, be it as a Christmas or wedding gift or for their own use. So things are going reasonably well, as long as they keep going! That’s my problem now – getting through A Day Of Many Things and finding the energy to work into the night.

What I have left to do for the fair:
– printing some business cards, brochures and labels
– finishing off the design of workshop brochures (mostly done, just needs tweaking)
– finishing the edging/cording on small, round ornaments
– attaching threads for hanging and labels with prices – delegatable (is it a word?)
– finishing off medium-sized landscapes – layouts, layering, edging, etc. (this is the area in which I’m the furtehr behind)
– layer, quilt and bind two or three medium-sized pieces
– work some more on booth layout
– do any other pieces that strike me as useful, if time allows

Other stuff with the same deadline, but different destination:
– Comfort & Joy piece
– finish bell ornaments for annex gallery shop

I seem to be past the feeling of being so overwhelmed that I can no longer remember what I have and have not done, which is a help. If I can get the ornaments out of my hair by the end of tomorrow, I’ll be able to rest easy.

Must get back to it now….

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