Revisiting and Intensifying

Some time ago I painted my ‘La Donna’ series of silk scarves. Two of the five colour combinations I created didn’t really chime with the contemporary trends, however they both sold quickly. Then the green version was purchased as a gift and it was duly shipped to Singapore. It had been my favourite of the series. It is one of those oddities, for me anyway, when I take over 300 photos during a shoot how often the single best photograph turns out to be my current favourite piece.

Returning to this series as a whole the lilac and pink versions have not been successful colour combinations. I am surprised as generally any of my scarves with a fair amount of pink have sold well not least as the softer pinks are a complementary colour for wearing near the face. Mind you looking at the photographs of the lilac scarf I can see it looks more dull and dreary than restrained and muted. Although I do have to mention that lilac, in a similar way to red, isn’t accurately captured in a photograph and as with most of my work the scarves do look better in real life. Anyway, it was time to jazz up both the pink and the lilac and I think make the patterning more complex.

Firstly, I tackled the lilac one. I repainted the lilac area adding a deeper mauve that together with the new fuchsia highlights has resulted in an overall brighter, more zingy appearance. Also, I think building more complexity into the black and white areas has balanced the overall feel of the scarf.

As usual with photographing colour the resultant image always varies with the light, but happily this daylight shot (below) is a fair representation.

La Donna lilac

Next I turned to the pink scarf, but felt this one already had enough pinky pinkiness about it and it didn’t need the background changing. It just needed an overall pulling together of the different design components.

This has been achieved by adding more patterning to the black and white areas and at the same time integrating the blue patterned band using a zigzag magenta border.

I had always been pleased with the design of this series and I did like the original pink interpretation, nevertheless I am much happier with this intensified more vibrant version.

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Who is out of step with whom?

Every-inch-hand-paintedEvery inch of my silk scarves are hand painted by me. It’s obvious, I know, but that means like other artisans who craft all their own pieces, I can’t compete with mass-produced work. I’ve written several posts about my experiences of selling on Etsy and last May commented on the relationship between crafters and Etsy. More recently it has been reassuring for me to read that I am not out of step with many of my fellow artisans who like me have found that Etsy is no longer the platform for their work.

My-work-on-frameInterestingly, earlier this week, the American business magazine Forbes interviewed Gil Luria, director of research at the investment firm D.A. Davidson, concerning the state of the online marketplace Etsy. And, in his commentary he opines

. . . . .  the biggest change in the run up to Etsy’s 2015 IPO — [was when] the company removed its requirement that all goods sold on the platform had to be handmade. This gave big manufacturers access to Etsy’s loyal customer base. When Etsy started listing $10 bracelets from Chinese factories right next to $100 bracelets handmade by homemakers in Wisconsin, the homemakers could no longer compete.

Initially you may think that perhaps hand painted silk is not as easily copied and mass-produced as some jewellery appears to be, but a big manufacturer simply takes original artwork for a scarf, scans it and then laser prints it onto silk over and over. This state of affairs doesn’t merely affect solo crafters. Within the luxury brands sector companies often have their work copied, and, as I am sure you have noticed, fake versions are found at street markets all over the world. One feature which frequently adds value to handmade work is when there is only one of its kind and consequently even a limited ‘print’ run is unacceptable let alone approving mass production. When Etsy permitted mass-produced stock to be listed directly side by side with handmade they effectively undercut and devalued handmade and at the same time diminished and diluted their own brand!

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Returning to a bird theme

Cora-in-progressJust added to my online shop another flat silk crepe silk square working with a stork motif placed within a stained glass window frame.

Cora-Jewel-1

Since I last worked with a stork motif it has greatly changed. Somehow it’s reduced in size and morphed into various stylised shapes of beaks and feathers!

However, I think the stained glass influence is still obvious.

It is surprising how effective the final addition of green over the various soft golds has lifted the design.Agne-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Cora-jewel-tied-WP

Me and Etsy – The End of the Affair

Over the last couple of months or so I’ve spent a fair chunk of my time revamping my Etsy shop in preparation for their latest online changes. I know that plenty of folk are resistant to change if change appears to be pointless. What’s the expression ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ However, considering making changes can prompt you to dispassionately scrutinise the status quo. The Etsy new look for their shops has certainly made me tidy up and redesign the look and feel of both my Etsy outlet and my own online shop.

Agnes-iPad1
My Agnes Ashe online shop homepage as seen on an iPad.

Okay, so that was all well and good, but then, on the back of a few other gripes, came the final straw. Etsy introduced an easy to use template for a shop’s policies. Just bear with me here for a sec. Etsy has ‘found’ that customers don’t like reading lots of words, particularly about boring issues such as time to send out goods, delivery details, buying from another country, insurance and what happens should wish to return an item. Yes, I agree, I don’t want pages of legalese, but when I’m buying I do want to know what to expect especially if I’m buying a special gift for someone and time is crucial.

Agnes-Ashe-on-PC
Homepage as seen on a PC.

Etsy has been around for over a decade now and should know that the ‘world of handmade’ is not a homogeneous place where ‘one size fits all’ solutions are going to be the answer. Like many of my fellow Etsy artisans who create one-off pieces, I spent sometime writing my policies to give my customers as much information as possible. As Etsy sellers, who are not all based in the US (Etsy is a US listed public corporation), we are subject to our own, quite specific, national trading laws regarding online commerce. I would have thought that this fact alone would suggest that a policies template for everyone was going to be inappropriate. It transpires that you don’t have to use the new template, but there’s a hint that if you don’t comply you are less likely to be ‘found’ when customers search on Etsy.

So, is it time I left the Etsy platform – the end of the affair? I’ve only been an Etsy seller since 2013, a relative newbie, but during this time Etsy changes have meant a broader acceptance of work for sale that is neither vintage nor handmade. Of course, digitally printed silk scarves spring to mind – what can I say! This issue, coupled with a general race to the bottom pricing as some crafters flood the Etsy market with cheaply made offers, means I feel that perhaps it’s no longer the place for me. Remember the film depicting the short reign of Anne Boleyn, ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’, well I’m ‘Agnes of 947 days’.

Update – I have now closed my Etsy shop.  All my hand painted scarves and textile art is available from my own Agnes Ashe boutique/gallery which is run through a professional eCommerce platform based in the UK (most of my sales are to UK customers). I may have left Etsy, but I do still ship internationally to Europe, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and accept major debit/credit cards.

That’s it – end of the moan and end of all those boring . . .  words.

Agnes-on-mobile-phone
Logo on homepage as seen on a mobile phone.

Minimising waste – reusing and upcycling

Cut-strips-painted-silkI’m just embarking on another longer term project with the aim of making use of the silk offcuts that I’ve collected over the years. Not all the scraps are the colours I want for this new textile hanging, so I’ve been busy re-dyeing batches using a stovetop dye bath.

I suppose it’s not surprising that the colours I’ve been putting together are reflecting the fresh yellows, bright greens and varying pinks brightening up my back garden, and that’s despite the recent unseasonal hail.

Once I’ve re-dyed enough silk I will cut long strips ready for hooking. Then whenever I need a break from standing at the computer or standing at my painting frame, I’ll sit, dip into my box of silk strips, and hook a few more inches. It’s a time consuming process, but a few inches each day will eventually, eventually  . . . . .  result in a finished wall hanging.

Close up of a very pale yellow daffodil
The late and the last daffodil still standing. A resilient bloom enduring this disappointing cold, wet and windy April 2016.

 

 

 

Who buys handmade in times of austerity?

Agne-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Valeria-black-pink-clup1 copy

“Who buys craft in times of austerity?” The answer, according to the UK  Craft Council, who produced a report in 2010 just two years after the global financial crash, is older, educated women. Below is an extract from their report giving more details about the types of people who buy craft.

Consuming-Craft-Report-2010-buyers-of-craft
From UK Craft Council ‘Consuming Craft’ report 2010.

You may have noticed I sneakily switched from ‘handmade’ to ‘craft’ in my opening questions, which then begs the question “What is the difference between craft and handmade?” Now this report is essentially concerned with what people consider as ‘craft’ as opposed to simply handmade. Obviously, you can have handmade pastries, but I think most people frequently do consider handmade and craft to be interchangeable. However, if you dig a little deeper ‘craft’ appears to suggest a range of connected perceptions. This intriguing radar (spider) chart below shows how different words are more or less associated with craft particularly with relation to art and design.

Consuming-Craft-Report-2010-Perceptions
From UK Craft Council ‘Consuming Craft’ report 2010

And in the chart we see that the term ‘handmade’ features strongly as does ‘workmanship’ which is hardly surprising, but  also ‘rural’, which, in the 21st century struck me as rather odd. Handmade ceramics, handblown glass and handwoven textiles are all very popular these days and don’t necessarily call to mind a rural aesthetic. For me, it transpires that my painted silk, though handmade, is often not considered craft. Also from my own experience it is not ‘older, educated women’ who are my customers in these times of austerity. Interestingly, it appears to be their husbands, sons and daughters who are buying my work as special presents. It’s heartwarming to know that even during these challenging times mums are still regarded as exceptional and merit a quality, genuine, handmade gift.

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Catching up

At the end of last summer I started working on a mini collection of square scarves based on birds with a hint of stained glass in the design. At the time I posted a few photos of the work in progress.

Stained-glass-plus-bird

Of course, in the intervening six months, or so, I’ve been very busy creating similar but different ‘art’ and exhibiting the work at last month’s Art Fair in London.

But now, finally, following the initial steaming, more painting with dyes and a second steaming, the scarf ‘Cora Mahogany’ is finished.

Cora-Mahogany-bird

 

If you look carefully you can see the original bird of the first layer – just. It’s beneath the mottled brown.

 

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And, to conclude, the scarf has been photographed and added to the shop.

 

 

A golden doubling up

Two-pieces-at-once

Last October three metres of crepe de chine arrived to be painted for a blouse. Three metres will take me about two weeks to complete, but before I begin such a project I take the opportunity to make some samples and often a scarf to establish that I’ve interpreted the brief as expected.

Here are a few photographs as the work progressed.

The finished scarf after steaming showing the colours just that little bit brighter.

Cora-gold-hanging

And, half way through the three metres of crepe de chine – last autumn.

Cora-by-the-metre

Fast-forward to February 2016 and the silk has been made up. I’m always thrilled to see my work transformed into garments.

Now-a-blouse

An agreeable feature

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Portia-apple-clup copyEarlier this week I had a pleasant surprise to find that one of my scarves (Portia apple) had been selected and featured in an Etsy festive ‘Editors’ Picks’. Apparently, there are over 30 million items listed on Etsy so I’m genuinely surprised and very grateful to have something selected for the ‘Under £100’ gifts category.

Etsy-Editors-pick-feature
One of my scarves featured by the Etsy Editors in the ‘Gifts under £100’.

I must be a bit thick as I only found out my work had been featured when I kept seeing referrals for this scarf on my stats page coming from ‘Editors’ Picks’. Well, anyway, thank you to the Editors!

Make-it-British-Christmas-newsletter
The Make It British Christmas newsletter.

And, also thanks to the folks at Make It British who also included one of my scarves (Hilda ruby) in their Christmas newsletter.

Oh yes, and whilst I’m spreading the love, today (3 Dec 2015) sees the arrival in UK bookshops of ‘I Belong to No One’ written by fellow blogger Gwen Wilson. Congratulations to Gwen and hopefully lots of sales!

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-scarf-Hilda-ruby-box copy

 

Less than a month to Christmas

Christmas-decsMy daughter’s birthday is in November and I’ve often thought how close it is to Christmas giving rise to the possibility of giving her one, extra large, special present to cover both occasions. In truth that’s never happened and like most families, especially those with birthdays on the 25th December, we’ve always kept birthday and Christmas separate.

Of course today it’s Thanksgiving in the United States and rather belatedly it has occurred to me that here we have another special celebration day only a month before Christmas.

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It’s all a bit like London buses, you wait for hours then they all come at once!

Thinking-of-Christmas

Amazon versus Etsy – handmade does not equal cheaper

Handmade-Amazon-Etsy-artisansThere was once a world before Amazon. I remember having to hurry to the university bookshop to get a recommended textbook before they sold out. If I wasn’t fast enough I’d have to wait, sometimes a couple of weeks, for my local bookshop to obtain a specialist book for me. Amazon and the Internet changed all that. Naturally, in this ‘Age of the Internet’ there have been plusses and minuses. There have been some winners and, unfortunately, some losers, not least those who make a living from cultural production. Musicians, writers and photographers have all had to find new unique interactive ways to sell their work to their respective markets. We’ve seen the rise and rise of live music events, literary festivals and even some professional photographers moving to live shows to exhibit their output. Authentic experiences are valued and traded which is perhaps one of the underlining elements fuelling the renewed interested in original handcrafted work.

Article-Sunday-Times-Style-magazine

The world moves on and you know an alternative trend has gone mainstream when a company like Amazon sets up an online retail service called ‘Handmade’. And, it’s already old news at the point when the UK Sunday Times Style Magazine publishes a feature on the new Amazon Handmade offer as a challenge to Etsy the online marketplace for artisans. There’s been quite a fuss in the world of artisans and crafters on various forums discussing the pros and cons of changing one’s selling platform, but not much discussion about why an enormous, global company such as Amazon thinks there’s serious money to be made out of handmade, artisan goods. As far as I can see Amazon used to be the go-to site for a mass produced product at a very good price if not the cheapest. And, it’s easy to have a “pile ’em high sell ’em cheap” attitude if you’ve got scale and muscle and a good just-in-time relationship with your suppliers. But surely all that is the antithesis of the artisan/cottage industry model.

What-about-the-artisans

Artisan-work-in-progress-it-takes-timeEach handmade item takes a real person skill and time to create. Most crafts involve specialist knowledge and honed skills together with that all important essential- creativity. Artisans have experience working with raw materials and understand the precise associated processes that will culminate in a unique handmade piece. Within any specific area of artisan production there is a range of abilities, quality of materials used and standards of finish attained, but there is always more time involved to produce ‘handmade’ items. And, as they say, ‘time is money’ therefore handmade should not equal cheap.

If we just step back for a moment, one of the primary outcomes of the Industrial Revolution was the saving of time and the increasing of productivity through machine manufacturing. Machines were faster and more consistent producing thousands and thousands of identical versions of any given object. Nowadays, we take mass production for granted, it is the norm.

So what’s Amazon doing getting onto the ‘handmade’ bandwagon. Let’s face it there isn’t any real possibility of scaling up for most artisans as by the very nature of your work you are making things that require intense, time-consuming human activity and not machine/technological production. So if there’s not profit to be made by scaling up production what is the big business model? Well, that would be scaling up the makers – that is vast numbers of people listing and selling a few pieces. But what of the individual makers – perhaps a working life similar to that of the medieval weavers of East Anglia. Oh joy!

Artisan created piece, Thelma pink. Designed, hand drawn and hand painted  crepe de chine silk scarf by Agnes Ashe. Only one available.
Artisan created piece, Thelma pink.
Designed, hand drawn and hand painted
crepe de chine silk scarf by Agnes Ashe.
Only one available.