Friday, February 6, 2009

Interview with TheGreenFuse

Part of an ongoing interview series profiling EtsyVeg members.
Interview presentation by Kylie of

Meet Felicia of Etsy's TheGreenFuse

Striking. Significant. Earthy-industrial. Fair trade and cruelty-free. Made using recycled materials. Felicia creates jewelry with a conscience and a heart.

Q. What other artistic tendencies do you have or would like to try? Any other hobbies/interests/passions?

I’m a fanatical
gardener. I grow a lot of my own food. I studied horticulture in college, although I ultimately got my undergrad degrees in English and music and my MFA in writing. I write for a local gardening magazine called Northern Gardener. I play the classical guitar and my partner, Fred, just got me bagpipes and lessons for Solstice. I’ve wanted to learn the bagpipes forever!

Of course, one of my big passions is my dogs. I’ve got five, and I’ve worked off and on as an obedience trainer. I’ve also got a herd of rescued livestock — sheep, goats, and llamas — which my two (also rescued) border collies, Tegan and Vita, love to herd. Both BC girls are titled stock dogs. I’ve served as president of Doberman Rescue Minnesota, and currently have a dobe, Kenya, along with two mixed breeds,
Tillie and Zoe.

Q. What do you sell in your Etsy shop? What would you like to try to make that you haven't already, and what is your dream project?

I work in metal fabrication-style, meaning I take metal sheets (usually sterling silver, but metal prices lately have me considering branching out into less expensive options) and form them by hammering, sawing, and soldering into the shapes I want. This as opposed to casting or working with precious metal clay (PMC), where three-dimensional forms are sort of built in to the medium. It absolutely thrills me to take something as flat and unyielding as a sheet of metal and be able to turn it into a textured, shaped, 3D form just by hammering on it. (And I love hammering!)

Right now I primarily make jewelry, which, I just learned, makes me a goldsmith, even though I don’t like gold and don’t work with it. Turns out the term “goldsmith” applies to anyone who makes jewelry, even if you work in acrylic. “Silversmith” refers to anyone who makes hollowware, even if you work in pewter or bronze. I work in sterling and stone, and am utterly entranced by texture and form. My stones are all hand-collected and cut in the US by artisan rock hounds. My sterling is all recycled by a refinery in Virginia called Hoover and Strong. They only sell reclaimed and recycled sterling — no newly mined metals — which harmonizes with my ethical values.

So the next big step: silversmithing. Which, I should point out, is all about the hammering. (Did I mention that I love hammering?) Unfortunately, that means a fairly substantial new-tool acquisition, and before I do that I need to do lots of reading on the subject just to learn which tools I really need and which can wait. The budget, alas, has limits.

But in the meantime: chasing and repoussé. These techniques, usually performed together, comprise the ancient art of creating metal relief by hammering on both the front and back sides of sheet metal. The metal is backed by some sort of supportive substrate, in jewelry that usually means a bowl of pitch (one of the harder items to find, incidentally, that’s veg. I finally found vegetable-based polishing compounds, but people like to make pitch out of pork fat, rather than linseed oil.), but wood and rubber are also used. (Did you know that the Statue of Liberty was created by copper repoussé one giant section at a time?) My brand new pitch pot just showed up yesterday, along with a basic set of chasing tools (just starting out I’m not confident enough to make my own, although most artists ultimately do). I have my hammers and some copper and brass sheet to get me going, and I’ve done my research. First project planned: a copper chased and repoussé-work cuff. I’m so excited I’m liable to burst!

Q. Is etsy a large part of your business? How else do you market your work?

I started selling jewelry mid 2006, and joined etsy at the end of that year. Around the same time I set up my own website and started applying to a few local art fairs. I also contacted a bunch of local brick and mortar shops, but got no response. Over time though, a handful of stores came to me and inquired about wholesale. For a while, they were my best outlet. The art fairs were not great venues for me. I was primarily doing beaded wire work, and many, many other people were not only doing the same sort of thing, but they were able to price a lot lower than I did; either because they didn’t sell wholesale or weren’t really trying to make a living at the craft. I had always read that an artist should price her work at double what she needs to get for it, so that she can turn around and cut those prices in half for wholesale clients. Now, according to a recent article in Art Jewelry Magazine, an artist is supposed to charge LESS than half of their online price when they sell wholesale. I couldn’t price bead and wirework jewelry high enough to be able to afford to cut my prices in half, and still compete with mass-produced imports, or even hand crafters who were only making jewelry for fun and selling it on the side.

So I decided a change was necessary if I wasn’t going to give up. This past year I’ve moved away from wirework and beads and am doing more intensive — and much more expensive — one of a kind pieces. Fewer people are willing to pay those kinds of prices, but there’s a lot less competition and much more freedom for me to design what I want, rather than try to make something cheap enough to appeal to a certain kind of customer. As a consequence, almost all of my wholesale clients have dropped me, but a couple others — higher end — have shown some interest. During this period of change, I’ve sold my best pieces exclusively through etsy. Even though etsy supposedly has a reputation for being not only a hard market to break into with jewelry, but also a venue for primarily low-end items, I’ve managed to sell some of my most expensive (over $300) pieces through etsy.

I’m one of these artists who would much rather be at the bench than the computer. That will probably never change. Part of my philosophy regarding my work holds that if you’re a marketing genius you can sell people any amount of junk, but if you pour your focus into the work it will eventually sell itself. But “eventually” can be a really long time. So I will continue to put most of my effort into producing a quality product that I can be proud of. My jewelry will last forever if it is cared for — it isn’t buy-today-and-throw-it-away-tomorrow disposable crap. Which, in my opinion, makes it a much better value than a lot of stuff out there that costs a lot less up front. However, I do have to acknowledge that I need to put more effort into the sales side of things. And since etsy has worked for me as a venue for finding customers willing to pay the kind of prices I need to charge, it is the logical venue for me to direct that effort. In other words, I really need to get on the ball and market more.


Kelle's Kitchen said...

Awesome interview! I love to see someone creating what they love and pricing it in a way that they can sustain their craft and living! Yay TheGreenFuse!!!

Jennifer and Steve said...

Beautiful work & such an interesting life. Thanks for sharing! Jennifer & Steve

Lo Christine said...

Beautiful pieces!