Friday, 2 September 2011

Why Is My Etsy Shop Failing? One Year In

Hello to my fanbase, all eight of you! :)

It's been a while, and I have much to tell you.  First of all you may have noticed that the Etsy's Greatest Hits feature has taken a sabbatical, perhaps permanently.  As much fun as it was sharing my fellow artists' work, doing so was, quite frankly, cutting into the time and energy necessary to promote my own.  And that's the way it goes in this highly competitive market, I'm afraid.  From this point onward, this blog will be the means through which I share upcoming events, sales, and works-in-progress for anyone who is interested.  I may occasionally do a feature on an artist whose work is of particular interest to me, but for the most part I intend to dedicate this blog to doing everyone does best--talking about myself.  To be honest, I only have so much to give, and if there's one thing I've learned over the past year it's that if I don't talk about my work, no one will.

To that end, on this, the anniversary of the opening of my Etsy shop exactly one year ago, I decided I would take a moment to reflect on the experience.  An experience which I must say can only be described in two words: Epic Fail. 

It's been a discouraging year.  What began as an exciting venture--the prospect of people seeing my work and thinking, "hey, that's pretty cool!", perhaps leading to that most gratifying of declarations, "I want to buy that!"--has proven a disappointment, sending me into a downward spiral of discouragement and self doubt.  Of course, I had anticipated failure as a distinct possibility, and in no way did I enter this with blinders on.  But the resulting inferiority complex was unavoidable, I suppose; when you put yourself out there, only to be summarily ignored, that rejection can be exquisitely painful.  As a result, it's difficult to remember at times like these, when failure can seem so personal and intimate, that there might be others who have encountered similar disappointment.

With this in mind, albeit more out of desperation than curiosity, I performed a rather straightforward Google search: "Why are people not buying from my Etsy shop?" 

The search results for this pathetically phrased plea led me to a very well-written and compelling post on SkinnyArtist.com, where after doing some research on Etsy's self-published sales statistics, the author has come to some intriguing conclusions.  Despite his humble claims that "if you are expecting some well-researched and statistic driven journalism here–this ain’t it!", and that the post "is little more than the imaginative ramblings of a math-averse English major", it does an excellent job of bringing some important issues to light about the pros and cons of selling on Etsy, and about Etsy itself. 

The numbers themselves are quite staggering; quoting directly from this post, and illuminated by Etsy's own published statistics for membership and sales numbers for 2010, he concludes that while Etsy is currently averaging almost 250,000 new members a month, Etsy's overall sales have not risen in proportion with the membership.  Despite a dramatic increase in membership, this has not resulted in a similar growth in sales. 

I am one of those 250,000 new members who set up my Etsy shop in September 2010.  To date I have had 12 sales, only 2 to strangers (i.e., the other sales were to friends or acquaintances).  After hours upon hours of research on SEOs, marketing, keyword optimization, social networking, and dozens of other marketing issues that are over my head, I have concluded that making any money at doing what I love–forget making a living–is a dream that is beyond my reach.

Of course, it would be far more discouraging if I believed for a second that I were the only person paddle-less up this proverbial creek.  But those numbers--250,000 new members per month in 2010--can really only be interpreted in one way: The other 249,999 members, or at least a good majority of them, have also looked at their own sales numbers and found them disappointing as well.  And most of them, I would imagine, are asking the same questions as I am, perhaps typing their own desperate pleas into the Google search engine, trying to understand what they are doing wrong.

As I said, I know that I’m not the only Etsy seller with these problems. Averaging one sale a month is still a better fate than that of some other less fortunate Etsy sellers; in fact, I know of some artisans who, after a year of running their shop, have yet to make a single sale. (Note: I am purposely making a distinction between the two types of Etsy sellers--those who sell supplies, whom I refer to as "suppliers", and those who sell their own handmade items, whom I refer to as "artists" or "artisans.")  But I cannot describe how discouraging this can be. I spend a good deal of time working on my Etsy shop, time I would rather spend creating. As a result, doing the thing I love has become less of a joy and more of a chore as I have tried researching marketing strategies, social network, search engine, keyword optimization...my art no longer revolves around inspiration and creativity, and a lot of the fun has been sucked out of it since I have tried focusing on sales. I used to create for its own sake; now, I judge myself according to my sales numbers--all two of them.

Embarrassingly, my artistic self worth has plummeted as a result. This may sound shallow and silly, but it’s difficult not to get caught up in this logic. For as many people as I’ve seen with low sales figures, I nonetheless continue to come across countless Etsy “success stories”, many of them found on Etsy’s front page, each extolling the virtues of hard work and savvy marketing, each containing the inherent implication that your lack of success is due not to the likelihood of your items getting lost in a sea of sellers and shops, but rather due to a flaw in character or lack of work ethic. This makes it difficult not to fall into the trap of believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me, or--perhaps worse--my work itself. It’s difficult not to take the lack of sales personally.

To that end, and in reply to the post on SkinnyArtist, and despite the fact that nobody asked me, I thought I would share some of my experiences.  None of this information is particularly helpful to me as an artist trying to sell her own work, but after a year on Etsy I have learned far more than I have sold.  Hopefully some of my experience can lend some insight into the question that seems to be plaguing a good many Etsy sellers, or at the very least can quell the looming doubt that low sales figures can create.

Etsy: A Place for All (People who Create) Things Handmade...
There is one essential problem with Etsy, at least for those who attempt to sell their artwork; Etsy is, and really always has been, a place for artisans. That is, most of Etsy’s members are artists/crafters. When I have asked the average person on the street whether they have heard of Etsy, the answer has invariably been “no.” (It should be noted that I am in the UK, and this may be not be the case in the US, where Etsy may be more widely known.) So it would be my guess that most of the sales on Etsy are comprised of items that are sold to other crafters.

Etsy has two different types of customers: shoppers looking for handmade goods, and the Etsy sellers/artisans themselves who also purchase from other shop on the site. Unfortunately, I believe that it is this last group that makes up the majority of Etsy’s sales, which means that most of the sales are going to be of supplies, not goods.  I would probably do better selling off my massive inventory of vintage supplies than to actually use them in my own pieces.

This is the problem for Etsy artisans–we simply aren’t going to get attention from other artists, at least not the kind that garners sales.  They call us starving artists for a reason, and as much as we may admire our fellow artists' work, we simply don't have the revenue to purchase it.  If we are going to spend money, it’s going to be on supplies. Other, similar sites such as ArtFire and DeviantArt are probably even less well known to the buying public and are comprised almost solely of artists. So one very possible reason for the low sales numbers for artists is that the majority of Etsy members are artisans who are already selling on Etsy, rather than your everyday shopper looking for handmade art. I myself purchase most of my supplies for my creations through Etsy, and I suspect that most of the other artisans/Etsy members do as well. So I would not be surprised if Etsy’s sales, were you to examine them closely, would be made up primarily of art/crafting supplies sold to other members of Etsy, most of whom are probably there to sell the items they make from these supplies.

…Or Not?

One of the most disappointing (and damning) of Etsy’s business strategies is its promotion of items that are in direct contrast to its self-professed goals. Etsy claims to be a source for all things handmade, but what do they market more vigorously than anything else? On their front page, on their multitude of Facebook presences, you will find, more often than anything else, the bane of the Etsy seller’s existence–the omnipresent wall decal. Judging by the number of times I have visited Etsy’s front page and found items featured there that are either obviously NOT handmade or items that I would deem sub-par (is there anyone who hasn't seen Regretsy?), Etsy’s interests clearly do not lie, as it claims, in promoting handmade items by talented artists. And make no mistake, Etsy is chock full of talent. Unfortunately, as it was built on the eBay platform, it has also gone the way eBay has gone to a certain extent; it has become, as my British husband would say, a place for “old tat”. I can’t tell you how depressing it is to see truly amazing artists constantly being eclipsed by sheets of mass-produced adhesive-backed vinyl that say “Just Breath” [sic], or seven listings by seven different shops of a brass octopus stamping hanging from a chain.

The prevalence of the wall decal and brass octopus illustrates yet another problem:  It’s near to impossible to get noticed unless you concentrate on making hundreds of items at the lowest possible cost, something which is simply not possible for most artists, at least those of us who concentrate on using quality supplies and doing quality work. Unfortunately, most people don't care whether or not the items I use in my pieces are real vintage or plastic fakery, or whether the glassware I sell is hand painted or stamped out with decals by workers in sweat shops earning thirty cents an hour. It seems that most people either don’t see the difference, or don’t know or care to look, and Etsy is taking advantage of that fact. Perhaps it’s elitist of me to say, but I think they should be above that lowest common denominator marketing. For a site to claim to be a source for handmade items, presumably by creative folks, it just seems ironic for Etsy to use the WalMart business model to sell itself.  I understand that Etsy’s main priority is to make money, but for a site that claims to be THE outlet for artisans and crafters, that kind of marketing, in my opinion, is doing its reputation a disservice. And it also discourages the rest of us who are actually making our own stuff and not mass producing items and selling at a deep discount. Unfortunately, Etsy will never remove these shops from the site, because these are the money makers. Just as it will not take down shops that are engaging in obvious copyright infringement and/or resale, as long as the shop is making them money, it will continue to exist--unless an outside source forces Etsy’s hand (again, have a good look at Regretsy for some of the most egregious examples of this).

Etsy Versus Etsy Sellers--Different Interests

As if this issue weren’t problematic enough, Etsy has implemented several changes to their site that have hurt its sellers--further proof, as if it were needed, that Etsy and its sellers have very different interests. Last year the very popular Alchemy feature was disabled, which allowed customers to request items upon which artisans could bid, giving shop owners a surefire way to gain custom orders. I was too late to Etsy to utilize Alchemy to gain sales, but I have read several accounts of artisans losing more than half their business as a result of its discontinuation. I would not be surprised it those sellers who were making the majority of their sales from this feature might have left Etsy in frustration after this, especially since Etsy had promised to replace it with something better, a promise which has yet to be fulfilled.

Additionally, Etsy has also recently changed their search engine to sort for “relevancy.” This has the potential to be a positive change, as it apparently mirrors Google’s search engine.  Previous to this change, sellers have had to use the relisting procedure to get items to the top of the list in searches; that is, in order for a listing to make it to the front page of a search result, it had to be the most recent item listed. The change to relevancy allows us to bypass that (often fruitless) chore of constant and timely relisting. Until now, the only way to get noticed was to 1) flood Etsy with listings, meaning you had to have many items in your shop to even make a dent in the search results, and 2) relist a) often and b) at the right time (Etsy’s users are primarily US natives, so those of us in the UK had to list or relist at the optimum time for traffic, which for me would be between 12-4 AM). Not to mention that in order to be seen this way, it was necessary to relist items every couple of days or so, and although 20 cents a listing seems like a small amount, imagine having to repeat this every two or three days for ten items. If I were to attempt to have my items seen by relisting in this way, I would have to sell at least four items a month just to make up costs, and my shop has 53 items (as of August 30) and is currently averaging one sale per month. All in all, the “relist often” tactic just isn’t very efficient for most of us. So the change to “relevancy” for the search engine could prove to be a good thing.

However, this change has thrown me off, and I suspect many other sellers who are not as market savvy as others. Trying to figure out how to best cater to this relevancy factor is more difficult than it sounds. Tonight I went through my listings and attempted to change keywords and the listing text to accommodate this change and had no luck whatsoever. It seems that the same shops end up at the top of the list no matter what the search engine’s design--the shops with hundreds of items do well, while those of us who simply cannot flood the market are left behind. This change is still too new for me to have figured out, so I cannot speak to its effectiveness; my inability to move my items up in the listings might have less to do with the change itself and more to do with my ignorance of how SEO works. But this change still gives an edge to folks with more money to spend on marketing strategies such as search engine submission and keyword optimization. Those of us who are just the figurative starving artist (or, in some cases, literal) do not have the option of hiring people to help us with marketing strategy.  There is certainly no lack of reading material on this subject; in fact, it seems that the likelihood of making money on a "how to make money on Etsy" book is far better than making money on Etsy by selling your artwork.  The flurry of information on all of this is overwhelming for those of us who are not technologically inclined, and the amount of reading I’ve done on this subject, limited only by my meagre comprehension, so far has left me more confused and discouraged than I was to begin with.  Thus, the same people who are currently at the bottom of the listings–like myself–will remain there simply due to an inability to get this kind of assistance.

Where Are All The Customers?

But perhaps the biggest problem for Etsy artists is Etsy itself.  As far as I can tell, the only thing that is going to help Etsy sellers sell--at least for those of us who peddle our own creations--is for Etsy to find a way to better market itself to the buying public.  Most artists are aware of the existence of Etsy, whether they maintain a shop or not.  But how many people outside of the art/crafting community have heard of it or  know what it is?  And even if they did, in an economic climate where anything non-essential is considered a luxury, how many of them can actually afford to pay the kind of money that artists are necessarily asking for their products?  When I price my items, I very rarely factor in labour.  If I did, the cost would be prohibitive.  I ask for supply costs and then tack on a small amount to recoup the little extras such as listing fees, packaging, supplies that are difficult to factor into the final products (paints and brushes for example).  If I were to add the cost of labour to many of the items I sell, I would be pricing myself right out of any potential business.  A set of wine glasses I am currently working on, with which I am approximately halfway finished, have to date already required  more than 200 hours of labor.  Even if I were to charge something ludicrous like $1 an hour for my labour, that would still mean I would have to charge at least $200 for a set of four wine glasses, not including supply cost.

Obviously this is not an option. The simple truth is, our prices must be higher than those you will find at your local five-and-dime or its modern equivalent.  Unfortunately, the continuing effect of what I like to call the Walmartization of the Western World does not lend itself to supporting handmade, and if I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve exhibited at a craft show only to hear a customer say “Eighteen dollars? I can get the same thing at WalMart for a buck!”, I might have a more lucrative product to sell.

Look away from the Etsy front page success stories and toward sites like Regretsy and to articles like the SkinnyArtist post, and you'll find droves of Etsians like myself who are disappointed and discouraged not only with their sales figures but with Etsy itself.  From the reading I've done, many artists have concluded that the best way to deal with this disappointment is to stop relying solely on Etsy to sell and promote your work.  Years ago I had my own web site, and I plan to resuscitate that as my main sales outlet.  Having a shop where I will not be forced to compete with hundreds upon thousands of items, a good number of which qualify as neither handmade nor goods, is certainly in my best interest.  I will continue to maintain a presence on Etsy, but I will no longer have my eggs planted  firmly and solely in that basket.  I will continue to promote myself there to the best of my ability, but will focus more on my website as well as on my Facebook page and here on my blog. 

But most importantly, I will continue to create, if for no other reason than that I must.  On the first anniversary of the opening of my Etsy shop, in the face of what appears to be a miserable failure, it is not the sales figures that keep me going.  It's the creativity that gets me up in the morning, and it's also what keeps me up at night, long past the wee hours, working on that set of wine glasses until, like the most comfortable bed on earth, they are just right. 

Dear Etsy: Will you do the same?


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

New Items, Photos, Stained Glass Stars

An album of my stained glass stars, most for sale at my Etsy shop.  (Click on the image below to see the whole album.)  I'll hopefully be posting more of these albums, although this one took about three hours to put together!

Picasa Album: Stained Glass Stars

In other news...

You may have noticed (I hope you noticed) that I managed to list a new item in my shop. This was no small feat--I always forget how long it takes just to list one item. Between taking the photos and getting enough good ones during the course of one often-four-hour session outdoors, then cleaning up the photos to make them presentable (and perfectly square, since Etsy seems to balk at anything else), then describing it in detail and listing the components, coming up with appropriate and attention-getting tags, trying to determine prices whilst shutting out the voice of guilt at asking for money...it was several hours from the time I started the listing until it was finished. But it's up, and I'm glad, because I'm quite happy with how the set turned out:







An amusing anecdote about these photos: I think I did a relatively good job of cleaning it up, but I was only able to use one of the photos of me wearing the necklace and none of the ones of me wearing the earrings.  If you look very closely at my neck in the fourth photo you might detect several hundred little bits of cut hair...I'd gotten a haircut a few hours earlier, and I guess it didn't occur to me that they might show up in the photo.  So when I took it off the hard drive and opened it, all I saw was hair all over my neck and chest.  (I think I find this funnier than anyone else I've tried to explain it to...maybe you had to be there.)  Perhaps it's fortunate that we were only able to get these photos before we had to pack it in; no sooner had we set up the tripod and the backdrops than it began spitting rain, complete with blue cloudless sky.  Ahh, England. :)

Should the weather and my health decide to cooperate simultaneously, I'm hoping to have some more new photographs soon. I have five new amazing pieces finished that I'm dying to get up in my shop:

  • tourminalated quartz briolette with garnet clusters and 14KGF/vermeil necklace and earrings set
  • long celestite drop and white seed pearl cluster sterling rose post earrings (necklace in progress)
  • carved rock crystal quartz flower briolette (so pretty!) and oxidized sterling silver necklace and earrings set
  • deep blue-green apatite ovals with brushed vermeil and 14KGF double-stranded necklace and earrings set
  • white keishi pearl cluster and 14KGF/vermeil long drop earrings

And there may be more, depending on how productive I am this week--I have a button that I've been dying to work around, a nice big detailed vintage cut steel, which I'm experimenting with using Swarovski CAL2x beads, Bali granulated beads, and textured oxidized sterling chain (waiting for supplies to arrive), as well as a larkivite and mystic black spinel cluster sterling bracelet that is close to finished (again, waiting on supplies). Also a mystic pink topaz and rainbow moonstone briolette festoon-type necklace on large round link chain (guess what? awaiting supplies)...but I'm getting ahead of myself for a change. Must be patient, one thing at a time and all that. I'm quite excited to get these up, though, or at least to get photos. Not to mention the wine glasses I'm painting…

Does anyone want to sign my petition for adding more hours to the day?

Soon, I hope ~
J

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week: Give to Me Your Lace

Hello all!

To my eye there are few things more lovely than lace.  I've always been inspired by it in my own work, which is why I love filigree so much.  There's just something about lace that I find exquisitely romantic without being over-the-top--if it's done right, of course.  For all my love of lace, I'd always wished it were somehow incorporable into jewelry in some way.

Lace Pendant Necklace - Rosalie Style in Black, $30

For those of you who follow my Facebook page, this necklace from Topiary Designs probably looks familiar--it was one of my Etsy Favourites last week.  Often my Facebook favourites posts inspire my blog weekly favourites post, and this necklace was the inspiration for this blog--I simply wanted to feature it.  But there is not a single thing in this shop that doesn't strike my fancy. 


Lace Necklace - Harp Style in Ivory, $26

It was the necklaces that caught my attention initially, but after a thorough browsing, I've decided that my favourites are the earrings. She chooses the most perfect bits of lace, giving you a wide variety of colours from which to choose.  Not only can you choose the lace colour but also the metal--the ear wires are brass by default, but she offers sterling and gold filled as well.  (I can't help thinking that these would make incredible bridal jewelry.  How perfectly they would match a wedding dress!)

Darling Buds Earrings (You Pick the Color), $10

She does quite a bit of lovely work with filigree and stones as well, but it's the lace pieces that make this shop truly unique, and one of my new favourites on Etsy. (Incidentally, you can find her Facebook page here.)





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Frida Textile Bracelet, $236

Ivy Long, a.k.a. EderaJewelry, describes her work as "opulent," and I can't think of a more apt description.  Using old world lacemaking techniques and combining them with more modern touches like gemstones and precious metal, the effect is reminiscent of all the things I love about vintage jewelry and a testament to the value of handmade--truly, they just don't make them like this anymore.
 

Delos Textile Earrings, $174

Utilizing real precious metal threads (i.e, not metallic fibers or wire, but 14K gold and silver alloy threads) and silk, she crochets each shape individually, then adorns them with everything from vintage rhinestones and gemstone beads, which she stitches into them.  Oh yeah, and it's worth mentioning that in every piece, the back is just as intricately detailed as the front:

Isabeau Dramatic Lace Earrings, $226

It's worth reading the necessarily lengthy descriptions of her pieces just to get an idea of just how much work goes into them.  Her shop is lovely to look at, and her photos capture you immediately, the intensity of colour and ornate detail in her work immediately evident.  But you have to look much more closely to fully appreciate the beauty here--you'll be missing out on something truly amazing if you don't.  You can also find her on Facebook here.




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Paisley Lace Pendant, $44

I came across this listing for this pendant from Inbar Shahak during one of my frequent browsing sessions for filigree, and it caught my attention immediately.  My first impression was that it must be a piece of actual cotton lace, due to the fine detail.  But the colour was so deeply golden that I realized it had to be metal.  Then I assumed it was made with precious metal clay, and that the lace had been stamped into the clay or pressed from a mold; again, the detail of the lace was just so distinct and perfect.  Finally, after visiting her shop and falling in love with several pieces, I got around to reading one of the listings' descriptions.

Lacy Square Bracelet, $78

That's how I discovered that these are not pieces of lace, nor are they made by mold or impression into clay.  They are hand drawn designs, inspired by Victorian lace, Indian batik, and crochet patterns, which are then etched into metal.  By hand
Marquise Metal Crochet Bracelet, $69

Did I mention that this is all by hand?

I can't even comprehend the amount of time and labour that goes into each of these pieces.  If you look closely enough you might be able to imagine it yourself.   As if that weren't enough, she actually has another shop, where she features bridal jewelry, and she has even more listed there.  Even if you aren't in the market for wedding pieces, there is a lot there that is very wearable for other occasions.

When I envision incorporating lace into jewelry, this is the image in my head.  You can find her on Facebook here--she's got new photographs coming next week, and I for one will be watching her page.

Until next time,
J

Friday, 13 May 2011

ToMAYto, ToMAHto: Stone Identification Help?

So I've had these beads for a few years now, and I liked them so much that I bought about 15 of them.  They're all top drilled marquise shaped with an interesting pattern in them.  Here's a couple of photos of three of them:



When I purchased them I asked the shop owner what they were, and I could have sworn that she said they she thought they were called "sage amethyst".  Having never seen anything like them, I looked up "sage amethyst" to see if I could find out for sure so I could put it in my listing when I made pieces with them.  Except that when I looked up "sage amethyst", I found this:

"Sage Amethyst" from www.beadshopuk.com

And also this:

"Sage Amethyst" from www.dawanda.com, beadsvision's shop


Hmm.

Obviously, neither of these photos look anything like my beads, nor did any of the other images for "sage amethyst" on Google.  Given this, I assumed that the bead shop lady was incorrect, and that there must be another name for my beads.  Only I had no way of figuring out what it was--Google, unfortunately, does not have a reverse image search (alas).  So I put them aside, hoping that one day I would find out what stone they were made from.

Today I was doing my usual Etsy browsing and I came across this listing for this cabochon:

Amethyst Sage Dendrite Agate Shield Cabochon, from www.LiciaBeadsVault.etsy.com


Of course, this looks very much like my beads.  So I did another search, this time for "amethyst sage" instead of "sage amethyst".  Just exchanging the two words made a huge difference in my search results, because from this combination I came up with this:

"Amethyst Sage" from Silverhawk's Gemstones

 and also this:

"Amethyst Sage" from gemalchemy.com


And now I couldn't be more confused.

So...is there a stone called "sage amethyst" and a different stone called "amethyst sage"?  or is "amethyst sage" a different name for "sage amethyst agate"?  Is one a type of amethyst (quartz) and another an agate?  What kind of stone are my beads? and why on earth would they give nearly identical names to two very different stones?

Anyone who knows the answer will receive a lifetime subscription to my blog! :)

Happy Friday 13th, y'all. 

J

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week: Vintage Button Jewelry

Vintage Mother-of-Pearl Filigree Button with Silver Scroll Chain, $35

As odd as it may sound, my love affair with jewelry making began with, of all things, buttons.  At an art show where I was exhibiting, I met a woman who was showing her collection of vintage buttons.  I was immediately taken with them--the amount of detail that went into these tiny little pieces of glass and metal still never fails to amaze me.  There was a time when buttons did a lot more than just keep our blouses closed.  They were often practical adornments (perfume buttons, for example, which were layered with fabrics to absorb perfume).  They acted as heirlooms, as storytellers, and of course as fashionable adornments, much the way we wear jewelry nowadays.

My first jewelry making adventures began with button necklaces; my initial thought upon seeing a vintage button was that it would make a great pendant (the jewelry aspect was almost an afterthought).  I learned some of the basics of jewelry making, beading, wire wrapping and other techniques for the sole purpose of incorporating those little beauties into pieces of jewelry.

I sold many of the button necklaces and bracelets on eBay at a time when only collectors were interested in them.  The types of buttons that were considered collectible were Victorian picture buttons, and glass buttons were routinely overlooked as common and non-collectible.  I remember my first purchase on eBay, a gorgeous lot of ten different black glass buttons with gold trim.  I placed my bid thinking that over the ensuing week I would have to duke it out with some other button lover.  I was stunned to win the auction with a winning bid of $0.99 with no other bidders.  Glass buttons were quite literally a dime a dozen back then.

That was over a decade ago.  Czech glass buttons are now sold for anywhere from $3 to $12, depending on size, complexity and age.  Button jewelry has become common enough that you can often find button jewelry mass marketed, in department stores and fashion boutiques.


Black & Gold Glass Button Bracelet, SOLD

As a result of the "Walmartization" of button jewelry, as with every fashion trend, much of it has become cliche.  Not all of it is handmade these days; many of the buttons are not true vintage buttons but reproductions or outright fakes, often made of plastic or plasticized metal as opposed to the brass, glass and cut steels that enchanted me all those years ago.  Luckily there are still those who seem to find the vintage button as fascinating as I do, and button jewelry is still being made by people who appreciate the sense of history and beauty contained within these little treasures.



Art Nouveau Flame, Antique Edwardian Floral Buttons on Sterling, $28

One of my favourite shops on Etsy is Allie's Adornments, whose style of button jewelry is similar to mine.  She keeps her pieces simple and stylish, and the buttons she chooses are some of the most beautiful of the Victorian era.


Victorian Enamel Flower Button Sterling Locket Necklace on Silver Chain, $44


Visiting her shop will give you a fantastic tour of the best in Victorian buttons.  Every one of them possesses the exquisite detail of the buttons from this era.  She mounts them on silver bases or lockets, and sometimes adds beads or other components.  More often than not she allows the buttons to stand on their own, allowing the detail in the buttons to shine through.



Victorian Antique Blue & Gold Floral Button Silver Bracelet, $42

These buttons are so fantastic, many of them tinted brass (which allows for the blue and golden colours in the bracelet above) with three-dimensional detail.  I've seen many button pieces which feature similar fabulous buttons but weighed down with what I like to refer to as Too Much Stuff.  It's always upsetting to me to see the most exquisite beads or buttons grouped together in clusters, such as charm bracelets, to the point that the detail and the beauty simply get lost in the too-muchness of the piece.  That is one of the things that attracts me to this jewelry, and all jewelry--the most spectacular elements of the piece, in this case the buttons, get the spotlight they so richly deserve.


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Sweet Nostalgia Necklace: Vintage Button on Oxidized Sterling Silver with Pink Amethyst, Spinel & Ruby, $51

One of the positive aspects of the popularisation of button jewelry is when people find new and inventive ways to feature them.  One of my Facebook favourites this week was this necklace (above) from twochickstoo.  In addition to the clever utilization of the holes in the button (something I always avoided in buttons, always preferring to use buttons with back shanks), this lovely necklace embodies one of my favourite aspects of vintage jewelry.  I always love to see the combination of some of the more contemporary trends like gemstones (in this case, pink amethyst, spinel and ruby, which are some of the favourites of jewelry artists right now) and sterling silver bezels with vintage buttons.  Once again, the combination here of two or three elements--the white button, the small cluster of stones, the sterling bezel--create a kind of complexity in simplicity; again, less is more.

Lillian Earrings - Sterling Silver & Vintage Button with Blue Topaz, SOLD

Most of the items for sale currently in this shop are pieces with contemporary gemstones set in sterling (the shop is  worth a visit for them alone).  If you get a moment, peruse the items in the "sold" section, where she has a few more button items.  I hope to see a lot more buttons from her because I really like what she does with them.

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Antique Cut Steel Button Earrings with Cobalt Beads, $29



Wired Vintage is another shop that does lovely things with vintage buttons.  She too often mounts them on silver filigrees and brass components to create pendants and earrings, again allowing the buttons to make their own statements, using the detail in the components to compliment them rather than overwhelm or detract from them.


Everything's Coming Up Roses Antique Cut Steel Button Bracelet, $29

I especially like the way she uses them in bracelets--different than the multi-button bracelet style, featuring a single button as a centrepiece, including one of the most beautiful etched black glass buttons I've ever seen:

Antique Silver Etched Black Glass Button Bracelet with Teal Swarovski, $34

One of the things I learned when selling my button jewelry on eBay was that collectors prefer the buttons intact (i.e., the shanks still on them rather than cut or shaved off).  I never had much luck being able to mount the buttons without removing the shanks, but she makes a point of leaving the shank on so as to preserve the collectible value of the buttons.  I'd actually be interested in finding out how she works around them when mounting them in settings and bezels, because that is a point that is quite important to button collectors, and I'd like to find out how to do it in my own pieces.

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Lily Drop Vintage Glass Button Locket, $24

Envisage probably illustrates the less-is-more aesthetic better than any other.  She uses very few components in her pieces, but she matches them so well that the pieces take on a complexity borne of perfection in detail.

Sunflower Day Locket, $30

Her photos don't do the pieces justice, unfortunately, a problem I've certainly grappled with and am still trying to perfect.  I just love the way she matches the one or two elements within the piece.  She manages to feature the buttons prominently without detracting from the detail, even as she embellishes them with beads and brass components.  Most of them are mounted on lockets, lending them an extra sense of history.


I've moved away from the vintage recently, opting instead to try my hand at some of the more contemporary designs with gemstones and modern precious metal components.  But my first love will always be vintage style, especially buttons.  I've made a few moulds of some of my favourite buttons in my collection (I prefer the glass and smaller metals to the picture buttons), and when I crack open that package of PMC, I suspect that those moulds will see some use rather quickly.

I still have the very first button I ever purchased, from that woman at the art show.  It sits among my collection, a black glass button with a floral detail in silver paint.  As much as I love it, and as beautiful as it would be in a necklace, I can't see ever selling it; it holds a special place in my heart, and in my collection.  Proving, I suppose, that some collectibles truly are priceless.

Until next time,
Jenny

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Update: No update...

Hi folks,

Just wanted to post a quick "hello" and apologize for the lack of activity here and on Facebook.  The change of seasons has got me feeling a bit under the weather, so to speak.  Hopefully I'll be back again next week as bubbly and spry as ever, ahem.  I should probably check my Etsy shop, eh? D'oh!

Apologies for the lack of communication...

J

Thursday, 14 April 2011

An Eye Toward Simplicity...

...or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Tree of Doubt

I have come to the conclusion that all artists, regardless of medium, are by nature insecure people.  It's not a judgement, nor a dig, on the contrary; in my opinion, artists have insecurities borne of self awareness.  I haven't met a writer, a poet, a painter, a craftsman yet who isn't constantly questioning themselves.  Am I good enough?  Is my work worth doing?  Why is everyone else is so much better than I am?  I have never known an artist who doesn't face these issues from time to time, if not often.  I, of course, am no exception.  But I've never really encountered the degree of insecurity that I have been grappling with of late.

I've grown a small following on my Facebook page, most of them personal friends, many of them fellow jewelry artists.  I visit their Etsy shops, their blogs, and their photobucket and flickr accounts.  And every time I come across their pages, I'm amazed and humbled by the talent I see there.  One after another, the work they exhibit eclipses my own in every way possible.

When I express this sense of inferiority to others, I'm usually greeted with similar answers:  Your work has value of its own, apart from the rest; no one style ever appeals to everyone, so your style will appeal to someone;  once you find your niche, you'll feel more secure; you have to be comfortable in the little corner you carve out for yourself.  But It's difficult to be comfortable in your niche when you feel that the little corner you belong in is so far below the salt.  It's as though I'm a kid who's been relegated to the children's table, and I long to sit with the adults and participate in the discussions from which I feel excluded--the ones they seem to understand far better than I.

It's not that I've had trouble discovering my niche.  It would be fairer to say that I've had trouble accepting it.  The sense that my work is inferior has plagued me for a long time.  I remember a few years ago when I presented, as a gift, one of my most prized pieces--a filigree and vintage glass bracelet--to a friend and fellow beader whose specialty was beadweaving.  Upon seeing her gift she thanked me rather unenthusiastically, after which she remarked with a condescending chuckle, "you know, there's more to jewelry than just putting beads on a string."  Ignoring for a moment that there were neither beads nor string involved in the piece she had been given, that comment served only to make me feel even less like an artist and more like a kid playing with crafts.   As if that weren't enough,  I visited her again a year later and found my prized bracelet, in several pieces, in a pile of unsorted beads and components that she was offering to me to take home, since she wasn't going to be needing any of it--"it's all junk", she said.  I suspect she didn't realise that my broken bracelet had found its way into the pile; when I pulled one of the pieces out of the box and looked at her questioningly, she smiled ruefully and began back-pedalling quickly, telling me that it must have accidentally got put in with the junk.  (At least she had the courtesy to backpedal, I suppose.)  Nonetheless, that experience left me with a bitter aftertaste that has yet to disappear; the seed of doubt she planted in my mind has now grown to a good-sized tree.  And with every photo I look at of yet another gorgeous piece of jewelry, another ring forms in the bark.

The Gifted Bracelet: I took it out of the pile of junk and put it back together.  Dammit.


If nothing else, the seed of doubt this woman inadvertently planted has given me plenty of opportunity to ruminate on my work and its place in the world.  There's a point at which every artist is forced to accept certain facts about themselves and their art.  We focus so often on our limitations and weaknesses that we lose sight of our abilities and strengths.  It's one thing to accept those limitations and quite another to allow them to govern how you feel about your own work.  I've reached the point where I no longer want the image of that broken bracelet in the pile of junk to symbolize how I feel about what I do.

In other words, I've come to the conclusion that it's time to plant a different seed and see what grows from it.


Vintage Ivory & Milk Glass Brass Filigree Necklace, Earrings & Bracelet Set, $100


Defining my niche, at least in terms of jewelry design, is (appropriately) pretty simple: I primarily think of jewelry as decorative functional art (this is actually the description of my shop).  The key word here is "functional", a term that encompasses a very specific meaning.  To me, "functional" means "practical".  I want the jewelry I make to be practical--versatile, simple, able to be dressed up or down, and easy to wear.  I like pieces that flatter without being flashy.  And most importantly, it has to be classy, both aesthetically and objectively:  elegant designs made with quality materials, no cheap or flimsy components, something that can serve as an heirloom or be passed on through generations if desired.

Vintage Blue Givre Crystal Stones in Brass Settings Necklace & Earrings, $45


When I used to buy jewelry (I haven't in years, since I can make it myself), I always did so with that same eye.  The pieces I bought were ones that I could wear every day, that were becoming without being overwhelming, and were easy to wear.  Earrings that are too heavy, bracelets that are too bulky, or necklaces that are too cumbersome, never made it into my jewelry box; if by chance something impractical did manage to find its way into my collection, it became clear very quickly that it wasn't going to stay long.

My handmade collection works much in the same way.  The jewelry I make is the same kind that I wear.  In fact, there isn't a piece in my handmade collection that I wouldn't be thrilled to keep, and I never make something that I wouldn't wear myself.  I don't want to say that I wouldn't wear an ornate wire woven pendant or earrings with cascades of beads.  I love to look at those pieces, to admire them from afar.  But I know myself well enough to understand that when it comes to my own personal preference, simplicity is the key.  When I have a beautiful stone, I want to showcase that stone.  But to my eye, the best way to do that isn't to add more--it's to add less.  Allowing the piece to speak for itself, to say its piece quietly and simply, with as few words as possible but all that are necessary to get the point across.  Subtraction is the key.  As a result, my jewelry isn't particularly showy; even my vintage work isn't nearly as ostentatious as much of the work I see being sold.

That is why my work is never going to grab the attention that the detailed wire weaving or gem waterfalls will.  My pieces are never going to stand out in the crowd the way those do, the way the pieces that I see being shared and linked on Facebook are swooned over.  Nothing I make is going to be endorsed by a celebrity or fawned over by jewelry lovers.  I'm never going to attract that kind of attention, because my work doesn't command attention in that way.  For the same reasons that I, personally, don't stand out in the crowd, neither will my jewelry.  Because the way I make jewelry is much the way I live my life: I try to keep things as simple and uncluttered as possible.

The way I figure it, life is complicated enough.  Perhaps what the world needs is a little more simplicity.  So, in the midst of the most amazing waterfall of gems, between the gorgeously elaborate sterling rings, somewhere within the exquisitely ornate wire-woven pendants, if you look hard enough, you just might find something beautiful there.


Vintage Pink Givre Diamond-Shaped Art Glass & Brass Filigree Necklace & Earrings, $45

Until next time,
Jenny

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week

Hello again, folks!

It's now already the second week in April, and I can't seem to remember what happened to March.  I got a bit caught up in other things and managed to miss last week's Favourites post, but it should be a regular Sunday night thing from this point on. So I now present you with this week's picks for the Etsy Favourites of the Week for this, the first real week in April.


If you spend a lot of time browsing through Etsy's categories day after day for almost a year, you'll probably notice the phenomenon that most artists are aware of: there is nothing new under the sun. You'll probably see a lot of the same thing; the same flower components in the same style of lariat, the same brass components attached to a chain, the same pink roses in a watercolour painting. After a while, it becomes obvious that it's not going to be often that you're surprised.

This week, while looking through the pen and ink drawings on Etsy, I came across something that surprised me.

The Raven (Part 2) by Edgar Allan Poe - Watercolour & Ink illustration, £26 ($43.65)


ClockTowerArtwork is unique. The delightfully whimsical, often childlike abstract ink and watercolour paintings would have been enough to capture my attention, but it's the surfaces she chooses on which to paint that seals the deal.

Leo the Yellow Cat - Watercolour & Ink on Vintage Poetry Book Page, £26 ($43.65)

She matches the painting to the poem, or in many cases, the subject to the subject: a rosebush painted on a page from a vintage book of Thomas Moore's poem Tis the Last Rose of Summer, or a watercolour ink drawing of a colourful piano on a vintage music sheet. The paintings are simple and straightforward enough to allow for reading of the poem or the music, and the black ink of the vintage pages serves to heighten the interest in the paintings. She manages to create a symbiotic relationship between the two that serves to benefit the viewer most of all.



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Generally in the "Favourites" blog, I try to feature artists, either painters, potters, glass or jewelry artists, and keep the focus on their work. But the beads at Skaramouche are, in and of themselves, little works of art.

Chunky Murano Klimt Mosaico Bead, $12

Not only will you find the most amazing Venetian beads on Planet Earth at this shop, but she also offers her own handmade lampwork beads for sale, as well as her own jewelry designs.


Huge Opaque White Murano Millefiori Pendant, $45

She uses many of the beads you'll find at Skaramouche in her own work at the other two of her three Etsy shops, where she showcases these marvellous beads in her own handcrafted jewelry as well as bridal jewelry. The best thing about this jewelry, in my opinion, is that she does just that, showcasing the beads themselves rather than eclipsing them with lots of extra beads or components (a mistake I see so many jewelry artists make), keeping the designs lovely but simple so as not to detract from the exquisite detail in the beads she chooses.


Murano Claret Wedding Cake Earrings, $38

Now that the jewelry market is so completely saturated with gemstones, it's wonderful to be reminded of the beauty of glass. It is by far my favourite material to work with, and I in fact prefer it to gemstones; gems are lovely, but the versatility you get with glass, combined with the luminescence and depth of colour, is unmatched in my opinion. Shopping at this site is like looking at a candy counter, and it's very difficult to choose which of the mouthwatering confections you'd most like to use in your own creations.



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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, and probably not for the last time: I love filigree. I think I were forced to choose one component or one style to use in my jewelry, I would have to choose filigree. Of course, add a beautiful glass or gemstone cabochon to that and you've pretty much found my Achilles' heel; I'm a sucker for the combination, and there's nothing that thrills me more than seeing the two combined into an exquisite piece of jewelry.


14K Gold Opal and Diamonds Bangle Bracelet, $15,500

Hoo boy.

The art of filigree (which is actually the name of these artists' web site) is one that I always thought best left to the true craftsmen. And if there is such a thing, then Alex Maryakin and Tim Wright are It. Going by the moniker master68uk on Etsy--an apt description--these two gentlemen are master goldsmiths, both with more than 25 years of experience, and it shows in their work. It's not difficult to see how labor and time intensive their work is.

Sterling Silver Amethyst and Mother of Pearl Chalice, $4,500

As impressive as both of these pieces are, there isn't a single item in their shop that doesn't equally impress. These two are true masters who have no trouble living up to the lofty heights that their name suggests.


Well, that's it for this week...going to work on being more on the ball with this blog.  It's a bit more time and energy intensive than I originally thought it would be, but when I look at all the gorgeous work that fills the world, it inspires me to write the next one.

Until then,
Jenn

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Jewelry Items: A Lesson In Photography

I'm delaying this week's blog because I need to finish writing it, so in the meantime here's a little something to keep you company.

For anyone trying to get their jewelry or other artwork on their Etsy shop, the biggest problem as I'm sure most will agree is getting decent pictures.  At least it's been an issue for me--I've gone through several set-ups in my little studio area, tried out different forms of lighting, spotlights, backdrops, etc.  The photos I've taken up until now have been mediocre at best, and I've had to futz with the contrast and exposure and saturation like crazy.  After a brief consultation with a professional photographer (i.e., a series of e-mails with a good friend who takes great pictures and doesn't mind sharing her secrets), my business partner (read: husband) and I determined that the best thing we could do was to steal a page from the book of barfights everywhere: take it outside.

This little catalog is the result of that experiment.  I'm quite happy with the results, on the majority of the photos anyway; we had an issue with one of the two digital cameras taking better photos than the other (the Kodak didn't do closeups as well the Sanyo; the brand name that is practically synonymous with "camera" didn't cut the mustard, go figure), and the sun cooperated and changed its mind a few times.

I haven't priced all of these yet, because I have to go through all my invoices to check the supplies costs and whatnot, but they should be up in my Etsy shop soon.

Tourmaline & Brushed Vermeil Flower 14K Gold Chain Bracelet, $52.00





This one is the one that came out the best, in my opinion, but that might just be because I'm partial to this bracelet, despite the fact that I can't remember the last time I wore gold.  My husband, who took these pictures (I "supervised," thank you), did a masterful job of getting some really nice detail shots.  These were all taken in the front of our building, where there is a cluster of potted plants and lovely stones and rocks, which make up the backdrop.  Oh, I arranged the rocks, too.  Yes, I played a huge part in this photography session.  (My husband was the one splayed out on the ground for three hours trying to get the closeups, but HEY, I moved the rocks around!)

Rock Crystal Briolette & Sterling Silver Necklace/Earrings, $60




We couldn't manage to get a full shot of this necklace, but the closeups came out quite nice, despite rock crystal and glass being near to impossible to capture on film.  These still don't show just how sparkly the necklace and earrings are, between the quartz and the sterling, but at least you can see them, which is more than I can say for the lousy photos I took inside:


So...yeah.  Consider this a before and after in reverse order. 


"White Ametrine" Quartz & Bali Sterling Silver Necklace/Earrings




I really like how this one looks, despite once again the inability to capture the sparkle of the components of this necklace.  These quartz beads are actually half clear and half silvery grey, which is difficult to see here.  Still, the detail is visible on the sterling bits, and the photo of it in my hand (which I managed to remember to wash the paint off before the photo session) looks rather nice up against the flower pots.  If I had to do over again, I think, I'd move that blue pot with the lovely orange pansies in it and turn it around--the ones in this shot needed a drink rather badly, while the others were looking a bit more spry.  Hopefully I'll remember to pay a bit more attention to the background in the next session and remove all dead plants from the immediate area.

By the way, for those of you wondering what "white ametrine quartz" is, this is my answer: You tell me and then we'll both know.  I honestly have no clue why the seller of these beads has chosen to call them "white ametrine," as they are neither white nor ametrine (ametrine is a combination of amethyst and citrine).  A Facebook friend noticed this curiousity too, and I didn't have an answer for her; I try to be consistent when I name the materials in my jewelry, if only because the source of them is often a mystery.  I can tell you that these are faceted round beads which are clear and silvery-grey, and very nice to boot.  I e-mailed the seller to inquire about the "white ametrine" connection but didn't get a coherent answer...if anyone has any suggestions on a better way to describe these beads, I'm open to them.

Oops!  We have a visitor:

Cat, dark brown, name unknown (not for sale)


This sweet little guy trotted right over to us, purring like crazy, and after claiming my mary janes as his own, plunked himself down next to me.  He declined any further photo opportunities, but he couldn't resist showing off for one candid.  He's not black, by the way--he's a beautiful sleek dark brown.  He also has the funniest, loudest meow I've ever heard.  He belongs to someone in the neighbourhood (or rather, someone belongs to him), but he secures the perimeter regularly.  He scampered off soon after this shot, certainly with some very important cat business to attend to.

Vintage Rhinestone Silver Filigree Bracelet



This is actually an older piece that I've never had a bit of luck photographing.  And look, my husband does a fantastic job in two shots.  I've included the second one because I like the way the sun has glinted off the stones.  This was done with the Kodak, and on my monitor there appears to be a slight pink tint to everything, but I don't know if it's just the colour settings on the Mac that differ.  I'd be curious to know if anyone else sees the same tinge of pink on these.  Regardless, these are still the best shots I've ever had of anything with rhinestones in it.


Any comments? opinions? suggestions? I'd love to hear them all.  No, seriously--I need all the help I can get!

Be back in a few days for the Blog O' The Week, nearly a week late...sorry, it's been an odd couple of days.

Best,
Jenn