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.
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A lesson in looking – Chardin and white chocolate truffles

Homemade-teacakesBack in May I tried out a new recipe for cranberry and white chocolate truffles. They were too sweet for my taste so I rolled them in toasted, chopped almonds to add a nutty flavour. It was a slight improvement, but in all honestly they looked a lot better than they tasted so I decided to photograph them before chucking them in the food recycling caddy.

truffles teapot
Bowl of white chocolate truffles and teapot reminding me of the paintings by Chardin.

When I sorted through the photos I’d taken this one (above) stood out and the more I looked at it the more it reminded me of something. And, then it clicked – it had a ‘Chardin’ like quality. I think it’s the restricted palette and lighting, and the pared back nature which made me think of Chardin. It was totally by accident as when I tried to deliberately recreate a Chardin style photograph I found it impossible.

Every now and then it’s useful to step back from your own work and refresh your creative juices by looking at the visual world through another’s eyes. I thought attempting a Chardin style photo would help me to look and observe in a new way. For this exercise I chose the still life painting ‘White teapot’ as my starting point.

'White teapot' still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 - 1779) Private collection
‘White teapot’ still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 – 1779)
Private collection

Firstly, I collected together the subject matter including a couple of bunches of grapes saved from the blackbirds.

First-arrange-still-life

Instantly I realised I was going to have to change the background for something plainer and less obvious.

Change-of-background

Then plenty of looking and re-looking at the original painting and adjusting the position of the objects to work with the effect of the camera lens in an attempt to achieve an image more like a painting. Of course, a photograph does not reproduce how we focus on the world anymore than an artist’s interpretation does. But, through looking at still life works by artists such as Chardin you can certainly appreciate how skilfully and subtly artists manipulate what is in focus, what they guide us to attend to and how their compositions evoke a response from us. In the end, for me, my most interesting photograph was the shot that captured a sense of drama through the lighting. And, the lesson for my own work – ‘think tonal contrast’.

And-some-time-later-framed2

Reds of July – colour inspiration from summer flowers

Hemerocallis-daylilyWhen creative folk talk about their sources of inspiration they often cite ‘nature’ or their local ‘natural’ environment. Observing the fading of some strong pink roses and the addition of July reds to my garden I thought I’d try out one of nature’s mid-summer colour combinations.

rosa Karlsruhe
Bright strong pink but . . .
fading to rich, muted mulberry tones.
fading to rich, muted mulberry tones.

I’ve been reworking my Tudor Bows designs and adding smaller pattern details from the painted fabric worn by the Saints and Old Testament figures so beautifully represented in the stained glass windows of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

St Edmundsbury, Bury St Edmunds
One view of the heritage of East Anglia.
St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

With the form and motifs worked out I’ve taken the opportunity to work with those inspirational garden reds.