What I Do For Love

IMG_4544I spend a lot of time thinking about how fortunate I am. It’s true—I’m fortunate by pretty much any standard you could think of to apply.

But the good fortune I’ve been thinking about lately is how fortunate I am to be able to make what I want, when I want, and not to have to do it for money, to make a living.

Historically, craftsmen and artisans did a job of work. They worked long hours, they sought to please others—a patron, a customer. These craftsmen could not stop when their backs ached or when they lost the creative impulse.

I do a job of love.

Making for the love of making is different from making to make a living. I have and will continue to sell some of the things I make but I do it entirely on my terms.

If I don’t want to make fleur de sel caramels anymore, I don’t have to, even if they are the most popular candy I sell.

If I find no joy in purple or pink, I can leave those colors out of my quilting and weaving, even if other people love them and would pay for them.

If I want every single item I make to be entirely different from the last, I am free to do exactly as I please, even though that’s inefficient in the marketplace.

When we were in Ireland, we talked to two weavers for whom weaving is a job, both excellent life-long weavers. They weave to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads. They prized efficiency and output—they had little choice.

They made multiples of best-selling items. They wove in colors deemed popular and made items designed by someone else, someone who understood the trends. They did the simplest of weaving because simple is quick and yields the highest return for time expended.

They laughed at us because we don’t use a flying shuttle—“you’re so slow,” they said!

But we’re lucky enough to be able to go slow.

I can make a quilt in which every stitch is done by hand, because that’s what pleases me.

I can make an Etruscan loop-in-loop chain where every link is formed and soldered and woven by hand, because that’s what pleases me.

I can hand dip, one by one, every chocolate, because that’s what pleases me.

I can pass the shuttle slowly, from hand to hand, and watch the fabric grow slowly, inch by inch. It pleases me.

I don’t have to worry about pleasing someone else. Just me.

Now, let’s be clear—I like selling things I make. It’s a special kind of thrill when someone honors my aesthetic and my skill by trading their hard-won money for something I’ve created.

I like that but I don’t NEED it. And that, my friend, is good fortune.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you make your living from your art or craft? Do you sell your work at all? Do you struggle to please yourself while pleasing buyers? Can the pressure of making a living co-exist with the joy of creativity?

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60 thoughts on “What I Do For Love

  1. I expect they can co-exist, but only just. This is an interesting story of a NZ woman who turned her passion and creativity into a successful business. http://www.blackhills.co.nz/ From her interview on National Radio I would say she has not lost any of her creativity, and, although she is now producing for a wider market, she still has much creative input.

    • I think they can co-exist, too, and this woman looks like a good example. It seems she’s selling kits and yarn rather than finished knitting–makes sense to me because one of the most difficult aspects of selling handmade items, I think, is getting paid for the huge amount of TIME that goes into the making.

  2. I have no art or craft… and I’m not looking for one. I spend most days researching some obsure antique silver pattern or manufacturer…or looking for or making grain free recipes…and now that spring has finally arrived, working in the yard.

    It’s so easy to take things for granted. You are a wise woman to appreciate your blessings!

    • Well, I think a lot of people would argue that your endeavors are arts, indeed. And you do them for love but you also use your research expertise to strengthen your Esty selling. You’ve done a great job, it seems to me, of pulling it all together!

  3. You are the most fortunate of women. 🙂 I’ve thought and written about this. I choose not to sell, because I value my work more than a buyer would. Without a marketing slant, I can make whatever I want;I can make it uniquely; I can make as much or as little as I want. In fact, since I’ve nearly stopped making quilts to GIVE to specific people, I think the quality of my designs has improved. That is coincidental with a number of other factors, so I can’t necessarily attribute it to not needing to please anyone but me. Still I think it’s true.

    Fast or slow isn’t very important to me. I often impose artificial deadlines because I love finishing, so I do sometimes have a sense of urgency. Finishing one thing means I get to start something new. But I don’t rush through things for the sake of speed, or for the sake of getting something to market.

    What I do have is the ability to design slowly, to redesign, to re-do. I never mind unstitching and rebuilding. It’s just part of the process. If I sold my work, I wouldn’t have that peace.

    If I sold my work, I wouldn’t have that peace. Yeah. That’s what it comes down to. Peace.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of “finishing” lately and want to write a post about it. It doesn’t seem to matter much to me to finish something! About selling–women in my quilt guild can put a price–anything they want–on the quilts hung in the guild show. If someone is willing to pay that price, they can buy the quilt. Would you ever do that? A sort of take-it-or-leave-it price? I have nothing whatsoever against selling–as I said I get a kick out of it. But I’m absolutely committed to not undervaluing handmade work!

      • One of the women in my guild put $2500 on her quilt for the 1812 bicentennial. I think she thought that was so much no one would pay it (and I’m not sure she really wanted to sell it) but it did sell. It was a wall-size quilt, not for a bed. She was happy that someone liked it that much and the buyer was thrilled.

  4. This is an excellent explanation of why I haven’t yet started selling things. Thank you very much for managing to put it into words, and letting me see that I can still try- strictly on my terms. I can now see a possible way past it, and if it doesn’t work? *shrugs*

    • I think the key to being happy about selling is not to have to RELY on the money made in order to survive. I read, in the forums on Etsy, about people wanting to “give up their day job” and I want to holler “NO”! That seems like a quick route to sucking the joy out of making things.

  5. “Can the pressure of making a living co-exist with the joy of creativity?” It’s the ideal, certainly. Some master it, others just don’t thrive with hobby become job. If I have to choose, I would not sell my pleasure.

    • Nicely put! My good fortune extended to having had a flexible “day job” that allowed some time for making and now provides a nice retirement, so I have no pressure to make extra money.

      • For me it’s the difference between having clients or customers. I do NOT thrive with clients, the endless banter, meetings, changing their minds or not knowing it (but expecting me to read it), asking for a million things in two seconds for a song or less. Withholding that measly payment. No, I want to make things that excite me, when I feel like it, put them out there when I’m ready – buy them if you like or walk on by!

  6. Because I love to do the final machine quilt stitching, I do take in finished tops from other creative gals. I cannot create/piece tops to satisfy this “love”!!!! There is always a ‘stress’ factor when interacting with another person but there is the challenge of creating that stitch motif that will enhance what is before me….ah yes…..the challenge, for me, is a good thing! The $$$ that is paid to me, figured on some kind of time basis, would be way short by most standards but I’m able to share my art with “piecers” who do appreciate its intricacies enough that it’s a joy for me, also. There is much more I could say but I will let these statements suffice for now.

    • I think you’ve found a great balance! If I end up trying to sell my weaving, and I might, it will be because I love doing it but don’t want the handwovens to just pile up around my house. The key, for me, is I want to weave what I want to weave and not NEED any money that might come from it.

      • Yup. I keep my finished quilts until they’ve been shown/shared in a trunk show and then they’re given away (piling up isn’t a good thing!).

  7. I sell or barter some of my creations, but like you I’m glad it’s not how I make my living. I think what with knitting and crochet the way to make money is to create and sell patterns… something that I am currently working on.

    • That’s interesting–and I agree. If you hand knit a sweater, it takes a long time and you can only sell it once. But if you create the pattern, it’ll take a long time but can be sold repeatedly. But, still, I wouldn’t want that to be my only source of income–too much pressure!

  8. I love to make quilts, sometimes I sell them ,most of the time I give them to a special cause. If I do make or sell for others it is only because they will love what they have ,like a memory quilt. I don’t sell to support myself, for that I’m thankful.

    • That’s exactly how I feel–I don’t need to sell to support myself so I can relax and have fun and if someone likes something enough to want to buy it, that’s cool too!

  9. This post resonates with me! I tried selling my work early on and it made me miserable. I hated changing the one thing I thought was pure in the world for the whims of the consumer (sorry, consumers! but if it was blue they wanted it red, and if it was red they wanted it blue — and they wanted it for half of what I priced it for). When something sold well, it meant that I had to make 2093420934 of them which was boring!

    I made the decision to work in the arts — to support and gain my living from arts education — but not to sell what I make.

    I will also admit that I don’t have a good head for business, and I think you need to be a savvy businessperson to run your own show like this. I admire people with these skills, but I don’t possess them.

    I think we all figure out the relationship to the things we make that works for us. I get lots of joy producing the things I need myself (vs. buying them). I get to make a great variety of things. I get to make things that suit me perfectly. I get to try new things all the time. This is what making/being a maker means to me, and honestly — it can’t be sold.

    • If Etsy had existed when I was just out of college, I suspect I would’ve tried to make it as an artisan . . . and I’m so glad that didn’t happen! I would’ve been a disaster. You’ve found a lovely way to meet your needs as a maker, and your job supports others in their goals, too.

  10. Since I’ve been out of work, so many people have suggested that I start making and selling crafts. I always tell them that I do this to relax, and I don’t want it to be work. I’d love to have my next job be something where I can be involved in something creative, but I would not want to have to support myself and work under deadline or make the same thing over and over again. You hit the nail on the head when you said “we are lucky enough to be able to go slow.”

    • I think you’re smart not to give up a source of joy in your life! When I sell something I make, it’s sort of like gravy–nice reinforcement of what I do but, if I don’t sell, no worries!

  11. There was a time when I felt pressured to make things so I could sell them and make much-needed funds, but now that I’m no longer in that situation, I feel as you do – blessed! …and I still enjoy sewing, quilting, photography, which I now do for gift-giving or for my own pleasure. I don’t take it for granted, and I am so very thankful that now I can actually enjoy all those crafts without deadlines and pressure.

    • So you’ve seen both sides of this, and can really appreciate the differences! I’m glad you never lost your love for making things. I bet some of those old-time artisans would’ve loved to have walked away from their loom or workshop or sewing machine, never to look back!

  12. You truly are blessed and you understand the balance Kerry.

    I work a full time job in a corporation. The job I do is considered “creative” or at least is part of the “creative studio”. I feel very fortunate to have this job, and all my past jobs because I have been able to stay within my discipline. But, when I create at home, it’s just something I enjoy doing and no one is critiquing or telling me I am not measuring up to the strategy of the project…because the only reason I’m doing it is for my own happiness. Sometimes people will ask if they can buy something of mine and I happily give it to them.

    • You have what a lot of us might consider the best of all possible worlds! Your creativity is valued in the work environment but you also have the freedom to play creatively, and not have to worry about making a living from the play.

  13. I once had a restaurant and HAD to do the same things over and over…I was NOT happy. Yes I bake well and people always say………why don’t you open a restaurant………you don’t even want to know why NOT!! And my knitting and weaving? To sell? uh uh, I give it away, gives me so much more pleasure. I, like you, do not like that pressure. So, do as you will and ENJOY!! and I will too 🙂

    • I have to admit, I get sort of tired of making the chocolates I sell on Etsy. I’ve been doing it for almost 4 years and I’m beginning to feel as you describe about your restaurant. It’s not creative anymore and not much of a challenge. The nice thing is I can give it up the minute I decide I want to since I don’t depend on the income!

  14. I am one of the fortunate folks who don’t have to sell what I love to do to eat. I think if you do try to earn your bread through creative talents there’s so much uncertainty. It may be better to produce and sell products that are ancillary but related to your creative work – like dyed or painted fabric, special embellishments, etc. I know there are courses offered online and in person about the business side of a creative career, and was wondering if anyone has experience with them.

    • I follow a blog on WordPress from Cold Feet Studio–she’s a jeweler, mostly, and was doing an on-line course about taking the making and selling of jewelry to the next level. I think she felt it was effective but she also seemed put off by it–does that make sense? It seems she found that she liked what she was doing just fine and didn’t want to take it the next level. I’ve also read that the shops on Etsy that sell the most are the ones selling crafting supplies, rather than hand-crafted items.

  15. Excellent post and good topic. Three times I made crafts into work. I am doll maker too, in The Netherlands I even did a training in Waldorf doll making and was for a while a member of the guilt. As a student I made a little money on the side making dolls. In Canada, I made Waldorf dolls for the local toy store specialized in more ‘all natural toys’ and I gave knitiing lessons and knitted socks on commission. Everybody who tried this will say the same: Crafts rarely make you rich, you cannot count in the hours into the what you want to charge. And for me, making my crafts into money, killed the creativity and joy in what I was doing. It took a long time before sock knitting became my yoga again and it was a good experience. I only knit for joy, teach one on one when it pleases me and the ‘pupil’ is patient and devoted. And I only make a doll as a present or when it pleases me. (sounds familiar? ;0))
    When I started to take my drawing to a higher level, I was amazed to be asked for commissions and I thougth long and hard about it. I did decide to try it and so far I enjoy it.I guess because my drawing is my style and I can do this in my own time and pace. So far so good. Phew..that was a long answer ;0) xo dear Kerry from Johanna

    • I think what you’re experiencing with your drawing commissions is just what I was talking about when I said that sometimes a person likes my aesthetic and my skill and wants to buy. It’s a wonderful feeling because they are appreciating what you do on YOUR terms not trying to get you to do what they want. Plus, you don’t NEED the money so, if things aren’t fun anymore, you can walk away, ears flapping!

      • Kerry, I over-think everything. Always have and always will. You can read about that in my “About” page! We over-thinkers can’t help ourselves; it’s in our DNA and is part of our charm. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      • I’ll tell my husband “it’s part of my charm”! I’m not sure he’ll buy it but, hey, I was this way when he married me! I’m glad it’s something you and I have in common.

  16. I love to weave, it makes me happy. I love working with what ever colors and designs make me happy. I sell my crafts, not at exorbitant prices, why? When I got back into weaving I wanted to share a bit of myself and my love for weaving with others, some who really couldn’t afford such a
    treat. I wanted the craft of weaving to be out there making someone else happy. I am at a point in my life where that is important to me over getting a high price. Sharing with others, hoping they will appreciate the art and craft of weaving. The joy I see in so many who purchase one of my weaving’s is what really makes me happy.
    So could I make a living from my craft. Absolutely not. If it came to having to do that the joy and creativity would just wither away. I am fortunate that I don’t have to

    • Yes, I’ve seen all of this in you! And you’re sharing your love of weaving by teaching, too–here’s hoping that many more people get to benefit from that!!

  17. As far as the balance between earning a living and being creative — back when I was teaching, I had to work so many hours, I just didn’t have time for my normal creative activities of weaving and quilting, and I was feeling very stressed. Finally it hit me that instead of separating creativity and work, I should just try to find ways to put a little creativity into everything I did, every lesson, every tutoring session, every parent newsletter. Maybe no one else could even tell that I was doing that, but it put a lot more fun into the job for me.

    • That’s very interesting–one of my favorite things about teaching was finding creative ways to get through to my students. If I left class knowing I hadn’t reached them, I’d take a long walk and try to come up with new ways to explain the ideas. I never thought of it the way you expressed it–as an alternative to my other creative activities–but I can absolutely see the connections now!

  18. Susan’s commented above that running a restaurant did not lead to happiness. Which is exactly why I’ve resisted all encouragement to make a living from food. I love to cook for family and friends on my own terms: there’d be no pleasure at all in unending routines, or deadlines, or even quality control. Where’s the fun if you haven’t the leisure to experiment and make mistakes: sometimes big mistakes? That’s how you learn after all. Thanks for a most thought-provoking post, giving birth to very interesting comments

    • The comments have really taken this to a much higher level! And in reading them, I keep coming back to how fortunate most of us seem to be–you don’t have to cook in order to survive, I don’t have to weave. When our basic needs are taken care of, we have the luxury of doing what we love, for love.

  19. Wow, you really hit the nail on the head here. You put into words exactly what I’ve been struggling with for the last year or so. Knitting and crochet has been my lifeline the last three years, and I create so many more things than what I or my family can use. So in the interest of trying to create a win-win situation, I decided to start selling my pieces. And it’s HARD. I don’t want to mass produce a few different designs. Like you, I make one-off things, based on inspiration. I make them for the love of the yarn, the love of the pattern, the love of the process. I want to try new things, not repeat the same thing. And what happens is someone will pick up a hat and say, “Do you have this in any other color?” Nope. I don’t. That’s the only one. So I don’t sell too many things. But also like you, I’m okay with that…I think. I’d love to make a bit more money from this, so I do try to be conscious of what styles are more popular, but I’m definitely not trying to earn a living. I’m trying to support my habit and be part of the handmade movement. (Is it a movement? Not sure. If not, it should be.) And I’m glad it can be part-time for me, because if I were forced to make 50 of the same hats to try to earn a living, I’d start to hate my craft. I couldn’t stand that. Thank you for so eloquently voicing what’s been rattling around in my brain.

    • I’m glad you wrote this! I know you’ve just ventured into selling your work and was wondering how you felt. It IS hard!! I’ve had the same experience at craft-type shows, when selling candy. No matter what I have on hand, it seems someone is ticked I don’t have their favorite! I do think we can find a happy medium, somewhere between fulfilling our need to be creative and to make stuff and making only to please the dictates of a buyer.

      • I think we can…I just haven’t quite found it yet! It helps to hear people tell me how nice my workmanship is, that they love what I’m doing, even if they don’t buy something. I was discouraged yesterday, wondering if I was going to end up buried under mountains of FOs that never sell. But I have to remember I’ve only just begun, and I have to be patient. I’ve got to keep pushing, keep going one little step at a time, because this is what keeps me going. If you have any great Etsy tips, I’d sure love to hear them!

      • My main Etsy tip would be to keep at it, like you said. The other thing, and I don’t know quite how you’d go about it, is to look for a way to set yourself apart. Right now, it seems crocheting and knitting are very trendy and lots of people can do both. If they can do it themselves, they’re not too likely to buy. So, is there a way to make your product special or different or more enticing? Like I said, I don’t know enough about this craft to know what would set one crocheter off from another but it might be worth some thought.

      • Great point. I know what you mean and I’ve considered it, but the only way I’ve thought of is to appeal to the fandoms with themed products. And then I’m not doing what I love, what I want to make, right? I’m making what I think will sell. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except I want to make what pleases me. Sigh. Even I can tell I’m whining now. 🙂 I’ll stop. Based on what I’ve seen at other craft fairs, what sets me apart is the quality of yarn I use, but that’s hard to get across on Etsy when they can’t touch the yarn. Thanks for the feedback–I’ll keep working at it!

  20. Your post struck a chord with me, Kerry. Thank you so much for expressing these thoughts.
    I’ll try to respond:

    I wrote my book (A Good Home) first and foremost for myself. Much of it was written over 25 years and not meant for publication. Publication came years later, and I didn’t know if anyone would even read it!

    Every person who buys my book – every single one – makes me feel as if she/he has given me a gift. And every email, card or letter – every one, despite the fact that I’ve already received hundreds of them — is replied to with great thanks.
    It seems to me that I am triply honoured: first that the person used their well-earned money to buy my book; second, that he or she actually read it; third that the reader then took the time to write to me about it. A gift indeed.

    I do write first for myself. Then I revisit what I’ve written later, to make sure that I am being hospitable to the reader. That matters to me especially with this second book..

    • The only writing I’ve done for publication has been academic and that’s less about the author and reader than about the content. I’m sure it’s an exceptional feeling to know you’ve connected with people with your book!

      • Yes, you’re so right. The only weaving I have done is in my mind. But I twice knitted a very long piece of thing, and I bought two quilting books intending to make a quilt. The road to purgatory is paved with quilting books and unused balls of wool, I think.

  21. What an affirmation, Kerry! Thank you for your thoughtful insights. I’ve seen weavers burn out trying to make a living at it and have chosen to limit where I sell and how I sell. With the ready availability of multiples in the big box stores, there’s no reason for me to try to emulate their “lines.” When someone considers buying a handwoven piece, they expect it to be above and beyond mass produced textiles. With that, they will usually accept that it will cost more. Sometimes a little explanation of the time, creativity, and care involved in each piece will allay their reservations. And sometimes they’ll still think I’m overcharging and walk away, but I have to respect my work if I can expect someone else to.

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