Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oops, Here I Go Again


It's a Libra thing—say one thing and then say the opposite.

So AS SOON as I posted my last blog about buying handmade I thought, no, no, no, what about Cafepress? Paul and I literally spend hours uploading photos and artwork we've created to a website that makes printed on demand products for us to sell. It's not mass-produced but it's not exactly handmade either.

So what do I think about that? Am I contradicting myself by promoting both "Buy Handmade" and Cafepress here?

Nah. Cafepress is just a print shop. I don't handwrite and draw the packaging for the perfumes I make each and every time -- I use a print shop because I couldn't possibly keep up with it! So is the product completely handmade? Is anything?

Well, yes. I knew someone who made handmade knit shawls. She spun the wool and hand dyed the yarn herself and raised the Angora rabbits from whom the "wool" was plucked. That was a start to finish handmade operation and her products sold for far less than the value of the time and energy that went into it.

Luckily, she didn't have to pay her rent that way.

Most artists in the modern world do some kind of hybrid thing. We buy materials (such as wool) from people who can do animal husbandry on a wide enough scale to leverage the costs enough to make a good living. It could be a family farm but unless you live in the country it rarely is. Then we use the mass-produced or small-scale produced materials to handmake the products we design. Personally, I'd rather have the feeling of community and community nurturing that comes from buying materials from local family farms the way people often do in Vermont but that's not available for the things I do where I live.

Even items made by hand involve a give and take interaction with mass marketed manufactured means of production, good or bad, for better or worse. Oh, you could try to completely handmake an item made exclusively from materials you grew yourself, organically, using nothing but handmade tools forged in a blacksmith shop from metal mined and smelted locally or made from trees you cut down and shaped yourself, while dressed entirely in clothing made from the hemp plants growing in your backyard... but I don't think the average person has enough time in their day to work out all the ins and outs of that.

Nor should they have to.

Balance is the key here. I DO prefer handmade over mass-produced. I love buying things that someone put their heart into and I love knowing that what I buy directly benefits the people who created it. And I like being able to enlist the services of a printshop on the internet to get our artwork in a wide variety of forms out to people like you.

We get a kick out of the fact that Paul's adorable picture of a juvenile Snowy Owl is being enjoyed on coffee mugs and tee-shirts by individuals in 6 different states so far but we like even better that because our items are never printed until someone wants one, we don't wind up making anything that sits on a shelf and doesn't sell. Believe me, I've done that and it's no fun at all.

We've been thinking a lot about marketing things on the internet versus sticking close to home and finding our way that way. We'd like to be nurturing community face-to-face, hug to hug, and it feels REALLY good when we do. But more than half our spiritual counseling and healing clients lately came to us via the internet and live far away. Almost all of our artwork is purchased by people who have never met us (except for Paul's mom who is our biggest fan). And half my Mama Love perfume is sold outside of the town where we live. Like it or not our community is global now and I imagine it always will be.

I have a lot more to say about that -- our adventures on the internet have been quite an education -- but I also think figuring out how to feel connected to people you can actually feel and see is an even more important thing to do. Buying from people you know and care about goes along way with that. But it's a "both and" rather than an "either or" kind of thing. Nurturing connections at home AND across the globe. Choosing handmade AND forming connections internally with the unknown workers, designers, entrepreneurs and, yes, even some of the Big Business people who help you have all the products and services you depend on to make your day go right. Remembering that we are all connected even if we can't see or talk to one another (or don't choose to).

More on this to come, I'm sure.

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