Next week, Etsy is celebrating 13 years of supporting handmade businesses by hosting a site-wide sale, and I’m participating by offering 15% off my entire shop from June 18th-22nd. No coupon is necessary. (Custom orders and made to order designs are not included in the sale).
I’ve had a handmade shop on Etsy for over 8 years of their 13 year history, and before that I was an Etsy customer. Back then, things were small– crafters and artisans offered a few of their wares and there was definitely a feeling of unique, experimental sharing. Many of the shops I visited were like me– making things on their kitchen tables, photographing them with a dinky point-and-shoot camera.
As Etsy grew, many businesses, like mine, grew with the site, and the decision-makers at Etsy seemed to be makers themselves, or at least understood the unique dilemmas makers face when running a business– Etsy supported us and we blossomed. Many of us were able to support ourselves by selling our work; a truly marvellous thing. I met other shop owners who remain friends to this day and we continue to support each other in myriad ways. There was a community of sellers sharing knowledge in Etsy Teams, and we celebrated each other’s work by making Treasuries– visual collections of selected pieces that would sometimes be featured on the front page, leading to great exposure for everyone, and a constant source of inspiration and friendship.
Of course nothing stays the same. The CEO of Etsy changed, and those of us who made a modest living had to hang on for dear life– despite Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” blog posts, those of us who had done just that knew that it harder for us succeed. Etsy had opened its doors to resellers and drop-shipping, and suddenly we had to compete with people who were not making their goods at all but buying them from the 3rd world, often from sweat shops employing child labour.
Etsy has had a crisis of identity: the front page is no longer curated by Etsy members via the Treasuries. Long time Etsians have noticed the site looking more and more like eBay. Also since Etsy has gone public on the stock market it must now answer to share holders rather than makers, and this has changed everything.
I have learned a great deal on this rollercoaster ride with Etsy, but these are the biggest lessons:
- If you want to survive as a handmade business, create your own website, apart from Etsy. (Mine is at http://www.feralstrumpet.co.uk)
- Be ready to spend at least half your productive hours creating a business. This involves trying to anticipate Etsy’s continued changes as you think on your feet.
- Lastly, loyal customers are like gold, and if you have read this far, I know you are one of them. Every day I am filled with gratitude for the customers who continue to return to my shop, year after year. Without you, I wouldn’t be here!
For nine days in September the artists, craftspeople and makers in the North East of Scotland open their doors to the public. It is a widespread, highly organised and volunteer run festival where the public can venture across this scenic landscape to find unique workspaces, converted mills, chapels and and magestic castles-turned galleries displaying no less majestic and unique work. The rich artistic tradition in this seemingly remote part of Scotland is laid out, waiting to be discovered.
A comprehensive book and clear map become your exhaustive guide to the festival– there is so much to see and do, that even if you have a plan and are highly organised, you probably won’t be able to see it all. At least, I wasn’t able to make it to all the venues I wanted to. The book makes a lovely catalogue guide to artists and makers in the area, even after the festival is over. (I used the one from last year to become acquainted with the creative landscape of the area).
Highlights for me were visiting Lynn Pitt at the Mill of Nethermill whose small stone built studio is nestled in lush, wild bay– a few steps from the studio wrack-covered stones jut out into the sea. Lynn also runs award winning, self-catering accommodation on this site. I purchased a beautiful pit-fired urn which I hope to use as a spirit box. It feels alive in the hand– marvellous. Her studio is full of sturdy, elegant pieces that one could use everyday– mugs, plates and vases– in deep blues and greens that no doubt get their colourings from the shifting moods of the sea outside the studio door.
One of the closest venues (to my own home studio) in the festival is also one of my favourites, Watergaw Ceramics. Watergaw is the Scots word for a shimmering, indistinct rainbow and it suits the otherworldly glaze of Fiona’s work which utilises “glaze reduction lustre”. The light in the converted-chapel studio brings out the luminous and nacreous surfaces of her work brilliantly.
Brian Cook Shand, Fiona’s partner, was demonstrating making round, perfect things on the wheel on the day we visited. Also at the studio was Woodwork of Neal Graham as well as the intricate Picticish and Celtic carvings of Jamie Fergusson of Pictish Designs. I was able to talk to Jamie for quite some time about his process and what it’s like to be a jewellery maker here, including the interesting potential development of a silver-smithing co-operative in Banff in a newly renovated listed building, but that is a topic for another time.
Another highlight was visiting the studio of icon painter Maria Guerreiro of Portsoy. The intimate scale of the paintings allows her faith to shine out. She uses medieval materials and techniques in traditional yet accessible ways. I fell in love with the profile of an angel on paper which I purchased.
We also met Mary J. Torrance, painter of cats. Her sunny studio outside of Fraserburgh was open to the public. I enjoyed hearing about her wide-ranging process and the kind of creative explosion that happens when women decide to stop giving away their ideas and energy and instead employ it to service their own vision. On the whole NEOS impressed me particularly for the women participating, all at the height of their creative powers. I thought perhaps it is no mistake I have ended up here.