Friday, November 29, 2013

Another Handmade Holiday!

I just wanted to quickly note that another holiday season is upon us, and I am running a sale in my Etsy shop! When you make a purchase, enter the coupon code HOLIDAY25 to receive 25% off your total purchase before shipping! I also just relisted some great holiday themed accessories, and a few new items as well. A little picture preview:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dia de los Muertos Painted Masks

Well, so much for doing a post a week. Good news is, I now have a full-time job and it's going pretty well! Bad news, well, time is hard to come by, as it usually is. But, I want to take a moment to share a project with you that was great fun for me and turned out so well, I can't wait to do more.

A couple blog posts ago, I mentioned painting a Day of the Dead style mask and having so much fun, I was going to do more. Well, I did, and they were so much fun that when offered, I jumped on a commission to make them part of a set of five. Here are the pictures of the finished set!

This was an amazing set to work on, and I definitely want to create more. Next time, though, I plan on making my paper mache masks from scratch, creating unique face shapes and textures. I want lots more designs as well! I did experiment with a henna-style design, which was time consuming but very beautiful.
 (Available here.)

I really want to devote more and more of my crafting time to masks. I enjoy the accessories and the like, but masks are where I really find my creative juices flow best. I'm finishing another custom project as we speak, this one a simple collection of knit goods, and when that is done... oh so many more masks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oh, Etsy... Reblogged from MarlaBee

MissMarlaBee of MarlaBeeDesigns recently created a blog that sums up completely how I feel about Etsy and the problem of selling handmade goods in a mass marketplace. Selling handmade can already be difficult; I price my items in such a way that I am covering my materials and fees, and not the time and effort I put into the item. Seriously!

Say I make a leaf mask. I spend about $6 for the materials. I spend a good 6-8 hours on a mask, doing the designing, gluing, sewing, attaching, perfecting, what have you. Add a couple hours for setting up an area for pictures, taking pictures, editing pictures, uploading and listing pictures, and sharing that listing on social media. If I paid myself minimum wage, in my area $8.50, I would have to charge $68-$85 for that mask. Currently, the artificial leaf masks in my shop are $15.

I price things in a way that I could afford to buy them if it were myself shopping for them. I've been told many times to raise my prices, and over the years with the quality of work going up as I get more experienced at it, I have raised it a few dollars. But I feel painfully aware that with the marketplace issue going on with Etsy right now, raising prices even a few dollars more to reflect the hard work I put into them will almost automatically drive buyers away from my shop, because Etsy is pushing hard for mass-market factory-made items to join its marketplace. I can't compete with the prices of factory goods. And Etsy has a reputation for being a handmade marketplace, and there is no required obvious sign on an individual listing to let a customer know that the item they are thinking of purchasing is not handmade. Yes, a customer who has a vested interest in only purchasing handmade items can do the research into the seller, but many impulse shoppers will not. Impulse and casual shoppers will search for an item, refine the search by price, and possibly never even see my item since it the search will be flooded with cheaper items.

Let me just link MarlaBee's blog and include an excerpt, since she says beautifully what is on my mind when it comes to this issue.
"This would include any and all mass produced items. This way nobody is left out, nobody is offended, all the small businesses win, and Etsy still gets to make their money.

"BUT the thing with Etsy, as usual, is always deceit. Etsy still wants comsumers to go there under the belief that they are buying items that are handmade and unique. The real reason Etsy won’t disclose right out in the open that not every seller is going to be making items by their own hand, is that they don’t want to lose their roots in the handmade buyers and they don’t want to lose the money making mass producing sellers by forcing them to disclose what they do in an immediately noticeable place.
Yes, Etsy has said that those particular sellers would need to disclose how their items are made on their about page, but how many people actually read a shop’s about page before purchasing something on a whim?

"The biggest issue concerning sellers with this, however, is that Etsy is practically inviting designers with established brands and factories into the market place. (Think Martha Stewart, Vera Wang, Dulce and Gabbana etc.)

"Now, we all think it is great that Etsy is allowing the small businesses to expand, as in the past, they have closed shops for getting “too large”, but doing so is very hard and expensive. Unless a small seller has a financial backer, a rich family member, an amazing side job, a Kickstarter that goes viral, or some super duper awesome credit, the chances of Etsy’s small sellers expanding is pretty small.

"The biggest problem is that relevancy for who shows up in search terms on Etsy is based on how many items are listed in a shop and how many times the items are bought.
If everything is lumped together as “handmade”, the seller who makes one of a kind items and can only produce and upload ≤ 6 to 10 pieces a day is going to be completely slammed away by the seller who has outside workers producing, relisting, and uploading 100+ items a day."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Painted Paper Mache Masks - Submit your ideas!

A few months ago, I had a blast painting a paper mache mask in the style of Day of the Dead sugar skulls. It was tricky work to get everything even and come out exactly as I envisioned it, but I love the result. It sold within days of being listed, and I knew I should definitely make more. I got caught up in other projects though, so I put off painting more.

Well, now is the time! I plan on painting at least two more in Day of the Dead style, in different colors and designs of course. I may paint a few others with something a little different, but I'm not sure what. What springs to mind first is leaves and flowers, because of course I love them and I can't seem to stop putting them on masks, whether in synthetic, preserved natural, or painted form!

So what I'm asking from YOU is to submit your ideas! Especially if you'd like to order one for yourself. Remember, there's only 76 more days til Halloween! The paper mache masks are pre-made, but I can alter the eye shape, edge shape, and ribbon color, and I prefer to line the back in a soft-to-the-touch felt. If you'd like, I can even add a lace trim to the edges, or add a cluster of hanging ribbons/rhinestones/beaded chain on one side. The possibilities are endless! I only have five pre-made masks but I have so many fun ideas for them that I may have to get more!

If you'd like to make a custom order, visit my Etsy store and send me a message! On the left side of the screen, under my Shop Owner picture, there are two buttons you can click to send me a message; doesn't matter which. Or, if you just have an idea you'd like to share, leave a comment here on the blog or on my Facebook page, or you can even send me a tweet.

When I get more painted, I will definitely be sharing them here. Look for more updates soon! :)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tiny Top Hats

Since there was such a large gap in between posts, I'd like to try to catch you up on my activities over the past few months. The Mothman LARP masks featured in my last post have definitely taken up a good chunk of my time, but of course there are always other projects to keep my hands and mind busy.

Today I'm featuring my tiny top hats. I love tiny top hats - they are so very Victorian, and the possibilities for adornment are endless. Here are a few I've put together, some recent and some not so much.

Ivory Rose and Tulle - a simple yet elegant clip on hat with a beautiful fabric rose, a twist of tulle, and ivory peacock herl feathers.

White Lace and Feather - a beautiful applique wrapped around the clip on hat, featuring a fluffy white feather.

Dogwood Flower and Ivy - the clip on  hat is a subtle dark green, featuring a dogwood flower, ivy leaves, and a few natural and dyed bright green peacock herl feathers.

White Lace and Black Rose - the clip on hat features a band of white lace and a matching white lace bow, and a black glittery rose with black leaves. (This item is sold.)

Deer Antler and Ivy - the plastic clip-on hat features ceramic deer horns broken off an ornament, with ivy leaves at the base of the horns. This is my favorite, and I will be sad to see it go!

I hope you enjoyed a peek at one of my favorite things to make. I hope to be making more extravagant tiny top hats in time for Halloween, to suit your costuming needs! As always, check out my Etsy store for more interesting pieces, and message me if you'd like custom work!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mothman LARP Masks

Wow, no new post since February. Oops! Well, let's just get right back into the swing of things. I'd like to start updating this at least once a week, so watch for lots more!

I am super excited to show you my latest project: Mothman Masks.

This is (again) for a LARP, this one themed around the legendary Mothman.

This project has definitely put me through my paces. It took me some trial and error to find just the right materials. I am pretty proud of the result, and I think the LARP group will look pretty badass when they add these masks to their matching winged and furry costumes. If I get pictures of it, I will definitely share!

This is the moth we based the idea off:
Photo credit: Anish Kirtane

This is the result:

I hope you enjoy taking a look at them. If you're interested in more, check out my Etsy Store, and drop me a message for custom work.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nature, Spirituality, and Masquerade - An Origin Story

I recently completed a set of natural birch bark masks. It was a lovely experience to make them, and it really took me back to the very first mask I ever made. So I thought I would share a bit on how this whole thing got started. This is a long post, be prepared!

I'm a Pagan in a pretty loose sense of the word. I have trouble nailing a label to myself or putting myself in a box. I don't believe in a specific pantheon or practice, nor do I take my time setting up and following through with complicated rituals. What I can easily say in all honesty though, is that I believe in nature. I believe that nature is powerful and wild, tempered and kind, inexplicable and amazing. Nature is everything! I am passionate about science, and what is science but the study of nature? I've been asked before how I reconcile my scientific views and my spiritual ones; I guess the answer is that they're so interconnected that there is no conflict. Yes, there's things that science tries to prove or disprove, and yes, some people feel it takes the magic out of things. I'd say yes and no to that. Nature is still amazing, no matter how far we break down DNA, no matter how many theories and discoveries we make. Nature will always throw something new at us.

Most of all, nothing beats the spiritual feeling I get when I walk in nature. Nothing compares to the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair, the sound of the rolling ocean and the sand between my toes, or the sound of birds in the forest and tree branches scratching at my arms, ferns at my feet; the sight of a mountain or a rock formation or an endless beach or a tree so tall I can't even see the top.

When I started my crafting business ages ago, it was all based on a strange idea. I wanted to make masks. I have always loved masquerade balls, and my wedding reception was masquerade themed. I wanted to take that idea and put a natural spin on it. I wanted to take tree bark, leaves, and feathers, and make masks. My husband and I went up to his father's Northern Wisconsin property and collected all sorts of bark and natural materials, all things that had already fallen to the ground. I wouldn't let him peel any bark off the trees. I wanted it naturally shed, to cause no harm to the trees.

We took our materials home and were excited to get to work. However, we quickly realized our mistake. The bark that we had was moist, as it had recently rained; it crumbled under our hands and was generally useless. However, the single birch bark piece I had was bendy and easy to work with. With a little bit of work, I created my first birch bark mask.

I was so excited when I put it up on Etsy, which at the time was under the username Crysiira, a screen name I've been using since high school. Up until then I just had a few paintings listed but no sales. The birch bark mask was my first sale, to a fellow Pagan Team member. I was thrilled to pieces!

I wanted to create more and more, but I didn't have another birch tree handy and I couldn't always get to the property up north for more. I really wanted to make an entire mask of leaves, but worried about how to preserve it. I made the decision to switch from natural to synthetic materials, and my signature leaf masks were born.

From masks spawned the idea for matching accessories, so I started making leafy hair clips and headbands. This soon turned to feathers, since feathers are both natural and very in style. I changed my business name to Natura Pluma, Latin for Nature and Feather, to reflect my new niche. The synthetic material withstood the durability test, and the popularity test, and I was so consumed with making them that it was a very long time before I turned back to natural materials for another birch bark mask.

Whenever I need inspiration, I take a walk through nature. Even if there aren't any hiking trails or nature paths available, a walk through the park or the cemetery or any neighborhood with a lot of trees will do. I just need that time with nature to clear my head and fill it with peace and new ideas. In fact, my good old friend Science backs this up, showing that being outside in nature for just 20 minutes a day does wonders to boost energy and vitality. I don't always get the requisite 20 minutes a day, but I try to make up for it by overloading and taking an hour or two at a time at least once a week.

In my new home, I'm closer to nature than ever. My town is quite small, and surrounded by fruit and nut orchards on all sides. In fact, not three blocks from my house is a road that has an orchard on either side, and connects to a longer country road with never-ending trees. Granted, it is February, and there are no leaves on the trees; but the weather is warmish and sunny, and the birds are active and noisy, and taking a walk down that orchard road is something I try to do at least a few times a week. There are no birch trees here, but when I was packing up my craft things to move, I realized that I had an entire drawer of natural materials, including some very nice pieces of bark awaiting my hands. So when I was looking for a project to keep my mind off the distance between my friends and family and I, I dived into that drawer of nature.

I took walks down the orchard road. I watched movies that inspire me like My Neighbor Totoro (an anime kid's movie about two girls who move into a new home and discover that the woods they live next to is filled with earth spirits), Mirrormask (a movie based on a Neil Gaiman story about a girl who enters a world in which every single person always wears a mask), and Pan's Labyrinth (a not-for-kids fairytale about Spain's civil war in 1944 and a girl who must complete tasks set to her by a faun to become a princess of a faerie world). And I listened to music by Qntal, a band that effortlessly combines medieval style music with modern electronica. In fact, they have a wonderful video with art by Brian Froud (Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, lots more awesomeness) that has always been insanely inspirational to me.

So that's the story behind my birch bark masks. I like to make them because it reminds me of my roots; because the natural materials coming together under my hands feels like magic; because if you must hide yourself behind a mask, what better mask than nature?