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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Ah Etsy – that perennial conundrum: How to appear personal and local when you’ve become global and indifferent.

Brahms-quoteEarlier this week on Tuesday, 2 May 2017, Chad Dickerson, the Chief Executive of Etsy, quit his job following unexpectedly poor results for the first quarter of 2017. Etsy made an unpredicted loss of $421,000 (£325,000) during the period. The business is now under investor pressure to restructure – mmm, I wonder how many of those investors are crafters too?

Etsy-Nasdaq-listing-2015
Chad Dickerson applauds as Etsy listed on the Nasdaq in 2015.

I admired the original premise of the Etsy founders and the platform has certainly been extremely successful for over a decade. Dickerson once commented “Etsy is very much a community-based business. What we’re really trying to do is build an ‘Etsy economy’ that’s about connecting people.”

And from .  .  .

A handcrafted beginning (from the Etsy homepage)

Etsy was founded in June 2005 in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York to fill a need for an online community where crafters, artists and makers could sell their handmade and vintage goods and craft supplies. In the spirit of handmade, founder Rob Kalin and two friends designed the first site, wrote the code, assembled the servers and spliced the cables to get Etsy up and running. In 2008, Chad Dickerson joined Etsy as its first CTO, and created the company’s foundational engineering culture, treating “Code as Craft”. Chad became CEO in 2011 and began championing the “reimagination of commerce,” a transformation of every aspect of how goods are made, bought and sold. Under Chad’s leadership, the website that began in an apartment in Brooklyn has evolved into a sophisticated technology platform that connects Etsy sellers and buyers across borders, languages and devices, a company that spans the globe and a business that is committed to creating lasting change in the world.

Etsy has burgeoned into an enormous global ‘marketplace’. The successful original idea has grown and grown.

However, back in 2013 significant changes that broadened what was accepted as handmade work were introduced much to the concern of many Etsy crafters. These changes permitted the hiring of help to make your work and the opportunity for wholesaling your work.

thelma-progress-wordsI must admit at that time I was a newbie to Etsy and was more perplexed about ‘wholesaling my work’ than annoyed about it. I simply couldn’t imagine how I could create and physically paint enough silk myself and then offer it wholesale to be resold (mark up of at least 100%) at a price to even cover my costs let alone make a small profit. For me the wholesale idea didn’t fit with my craft. And, this is the rub – truly handmade, craftwork is neither cheap nor high volume. As you may remember just about a year ago I decided to close my Etsy shop as my one-off, handmade work was difficult to find, swamped amongst the thousands of laser printed or amateur silk pieces offered for sale.

The Etsy craft platform business model appears to have a hit a bump in the road as those 2013 policy changes have eventually resulted in less one-off original pieces and many more ‘me too’ products.  And, if you are fine with the ‘me too’ world why not simply go elsewhere to buy/sell on Amazon Handmade or eBay. Etsy has ridden the crafting wave successfully, but nothing grows for ever and if, in the world of handmade, you water down your standards to achieve volume, quality will inevitably suffer.

Slow-craft-hooking
Handmade – work in progress hooking a textile wall hanging. There’s nothing immediate and speedy about making this type of artisan piece.

I used to think that Etsy helped promote craft, but now I’ve realised that the resurgence of interest in craft and the ‘so-called’ boom was well underway at the grass roots before Etsy came into being. (If you are interested fellow crafter and early member of the Etsy craft community, Grace Dobush, has written a superb article about craft and the Internet.)

And, finally back to Chad Dickerson. During the 947 days that I had my Etsy shop, I watched several Etsy ‘live chats’ with Chad Dickerson and his Etsy staff. He came over as an interesting, thoughtful guy.  He certainly appeared to believe in his quoted wish to champion ‘the re-imagination of commerce”. However, perhaps, at this point in time, we’re re-discovering that authentic craft has more local than global appeal.