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February 2012
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April 2012

projects & products

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(That's right, the terrarium theme continues.  We couldn't resist these cute mini terrariums, just add your own soil and plants).

Truthfully, this week was a little bit more like a typical March week, which a retail friend calls the "dead month."  Usually, the whole month is pretty quiet - the weather hasn't yet warmed up, we've finished up our year-end tasks and are in limbo awaiting the start of a busier sales season.  So, to be fair, I can't really complain, because our unseasonably warm weather has been really good for sales (we are really really close to meeting last year's March sales, which is a minor miracle considering the thousands of buttons we sold last March).  This week has been a little quieter.  Some schools are on spring break so we're getting our fair share of people who are "just browsing."  Of course, some of that browsing has turned into good sales, so it has been a strange mix of long lulls followed by short bursts of business.  Retail is such a strange creature, really.

But I do love it.  There are any number of projects that I should have been working on.  I do have some restocking of my own work yet to do... but it's more fun to nag other people...  Sachi started a new batch of Madison snippets and I started making some scrap paper packs, which are popular for card-making and collaging. 

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The new arrivals have continued, and I have to remind myself that there are several orders with April 1 ship dates so there's still more to come.  Sadly, the box that was delivered today, despite the printing on the outside, was not peanut butter cups.  However, it was filled with fun party favors: reusable felt crowns (which I personally think would be SO fun to embellish with little fabric flowers and whatnots), felt balls to make into garlands and surprise balls.

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The other disappointment this week is that when I opened up our box of "Midwest is Best" t-shirts, I was greeted by a bunch of shirts with the state of Missouri on them.  Yeah, not ours.  I had to send them back, but hopefully our horder will arrive soon.  We are continuing to build up our Wisconsin collection.  We received cut-out necklaces in colorful acrylic, bamboo, and also silver.

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Our "WI Proud" print should be comnig in shortly but we also added this one to the collection, made here in Madison.

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Today we received these amazing steampunk tarot cards.  The detail is pretty amazing and I just had to get them.  If you're not ready for a full deck, there are notecards as well as fun paper dolls made by the same artist.

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Also ordered in San Francisco, these gorgeous jewelry pieces that are made in Brooklyn.  The detail on them is really exquisite - they are mostly repurposed from vintage beads and other trinkets.

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And in other repurposed news, a huge box of these journals arrived, including the very popular, and rare, Nancy Drew journals.  Each journal is mostly blank pages but has a few pages from the original book.  It's always fun to see what book grabs a person and elicits a childhood memory.  (Personally, I was more of a Trixie Belden reader than a Nancy Drew reader).
And then, last but not at all least, today we received more bright fabric hair clips and bows from Michelle in Appleton.  As usual, I sold some as soon as I unpacked them.

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The weather might be back closer to March temperatures but the trees are all blooming and the store is filling up with new goodies.  It definitely feels like spring!

progress and other random notes

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I really AM making progress!  I'm not quite sure why I'm surprised - this early spring has had a full line-up of projects to work on.  Mostly, these are the things that I say, in November/December, "I'll work on in January."  Yet January usually flies by with an assortment of year-end wrap-up, and before I know it, it is February, or March. 

I did manage to get store and personal taxes taken care of.  Obviously, I've made my decisions about the path that I am; I still have my share of general complaints about taxes (to sum up: it seems to cost me more to be in business for myself than it did to work for someone else - that is, personal taxes, notable the pesky "self-employment tax" are higher, even though that is on top of paying sales tax, unemployment taxes, and all the other things that I, or the store, pay to the government.  My issue it not with the taxes, per se, but with the general sense that I'm being punished for showing initiative and working longer hours for less pay.  I would not be happier, but I would paying fewer taxes if I was still at my old job, which just seems strange and bordering on anti-AmericanDream).  It does turn out that the amount of taxes that I owe for 2011 is almost exactly the amount that I had decreased my charitable giving.  So, lesson learned, I'll be more vigilant about those donations.

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In my personal "artistic" (or, more precisely, commissioned work) world, I had three big projects: a wedding present quilt for a June wedding, a set of photo snippets, and a Blurb cookbook.  Although the wedding is in June, my machine quilting appointment is in April, as was the deadline for the other two projects.  I'm quite pleased with this new pattern of quilt that I've come up with, though the particular color palate for this quilt made it quite challenging. (In some ways, the intellectual challenge of the quilt was... fun.  I usually do all the thinking at the color-gathering stage).  Plus, Mom and I worked on it together as it was easier to pin and keep track of the pattern with someone else helping me.  We both enjoyed harkening back to the old mother-daughter project days.

I also have quite a lot of Blurb book projects rumbling around in my brain and am getting a little anxious about getting to work on them.  Every year, I make a Blurb book for myself which summarizes the year in projects & pictures.  The 2010 book wasn't done until November of 2011, and I was really hoping to get the 2011 book done earlier so I've been working on that.  (I also hope to make a 2013 journal/planner to sell at the shop.. which would have to be done in time to sell across the calendar-selling season, which starts, oh, 5 months from now).  The Blurb cookbook commission has been on a rather tight timeline which has led to some late nights and some wrestling with my own perfectionism, but there's just a week left on that project and I will have to just let it go.  The amusing thing is that I sometimes wish for a job where I could be doing creative things behind a curtain without the customer interaction - but it turns out that sort of work has its own limitations.  SO I guess the overarching theme of the spring is projects, with challenges.

Snippets 002Perhaps I was just thinking too much because even the snippets ended up being a somewhat daunting task, mostly because of the volume of pictures that are now generated by digital cameras.  They are part of a series: Balkans, Peru, New Zealand and Egypt.  I do always enjoy the process of photo-snippeting.  The one drawback with a commission is the question of whether or not I am picking pictures that represent that person's trip.  I can pick images that I think are the most interesting or the prettiest, but those might not necessarily be the most appropriate symbols of that person's trip - particularly when I'm only choosing 36 1-inch squares out of several hundred images.  I am also finding that I am a more physical visual person - which is to say that I work much much better when I have the printed-out photographs in front of me.  My brain has a hard time sorting and processing on the computer screen.  Yes, I'm old-fashioned that way.  Still, I am pleased with the finished result, and I do always love the idea of a series of snippets.  I still think it would be cool to fill a room with different sets of snippets - to see if you really can differentiate from place to place based on just the set of 1-inch squares.  Anyway, cross your fingers, they'll be happy with the finished product.

Combined with a busier-than-usual spring (customers respond well to warm weather and sunshine in March), and the way that time goes so quickly (which means that it is time to get the store ready for Mother's Day, graduation and summer tourists), I am feeling a little... unrested. It used to seem like the period after Christmas and before Mother's Day was a really quiet retail season, but there's so much catch-up after Christmas (restocking. ack!  I have to make magnet picture frames, photo blocks, button bracelets, headbands....) and prep work for late spring/summer, it hardly seems like there's much time for resting.

My workshop at Valley Ridge Art Studio is coming up at the end of April: batik papers and encaustic (something I've been wanting to do for a long long time).  To some extent, I'm in limbo at the moment.  It seems like I always get a new burst of energy and direction after a Valley Ridge workshop and since the workshop is relatively early in the season for me, I'm waiting a bit to see where I go from there.  Which shouldn't stop me from working on any number of projects that I started last year, like my altered dictionary of collections or my gratitudes journal. 

That said, thanks in part to Deandra and Pinterest, I've been indulging a newfound obsession with terrariums and succulents, which cannot be indulged in real life because I have a horribly un-green thumb.  Seriously, I can't keep plant alive.  I alternate between forgetting about them and giving them too much attention (water).  So my fascination is taking the form of brainstorming about ways of incorporating them into artwork.  I'm thinking about some little shadowboxes and resined paper, but I also started a painted/collage series.  Perhaps they would be better if I'd waited for the encaustic... because I kind of think of the layers of wax as similar to the layer of glass... but I couldn't wait.  The series is actually a continuation of last year's Valley Ridge works with Michelle Ward, works in paint (with a mostly dry paintbrush and with stencils I made myself) and inspired by some fellow Facebook artist friends who are exploring new color palates and also my color palate explorations on Pinterest (again, I know, I'm addicted).  My fallback colors are purple/blue but I'm trying out some new combinations, keeping in mind that the foreground will have variations on soft greens and other succulent colors.  I'm a little afraid that my background will not fade back as much as it ought to.. perhaps I should have done a little whitewashing before adding the jars.  Hmm.

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This is all the early stages of background painting, which is fun because it is rather low-pressure since I know much of it will get covered up by collage.  I went to the used bookstore and got some old field guids which I will use to fill in the contents of the jars.

And, finally, I sent off some long overdue packages to two artist friends of mine.   Only to come to work this morning and find this awaiting me:
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I have to admit that sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the creative ideas out there - the blogs, the magazines, the workshops.  My inclination can be to shut down just a little bit - as it is, I don't have time to do all that I want to do, why should I learn anything more?  And I also feel like I have plenty in the way of art supplies and collage ephemera, why accumulate more?  Then again, there are so many fun things to do and so many fun pieces.  The package I received was so perfectly filled with the greatest idea - I'm guessing here, but I think these are all hand-painted papers, which were put through the Xyron machine so that they are STICKERS!  I love it.  I can cut out shapes, tear them, stick them down.... in fact, these might end up as part of my terrarium collages, and they certainly would make great mail art.


Tuesday 010So, thanks Maria in particular, but in general, for inspiration and color and new ideas, and the blooming of it all into a wonderful bouquet.

fleeting/fleeing time

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A few years ago I started a tradition of springtime visits to the UW Arboretum.  Given that we grew up in Madison and that my mom is a volunteer guide there, I'm not really sure what took so long.  Classic case of not appreciating what you have in your own backyard. 

Still, I've enjoyed multiple visits to the arb each spring for the past couple years, watching as winter loosens its grip on Wisconsin, greeting first the magnolias, then the cherry blossoms, then the lilacs.  Oh, and taking pictures of the adorable girl in the lovely setting.

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I think the first year, I took her in a blueberry dress to see the lilacs, and realized that I could have caught the cherry blossoms if only I'd been a little earlier.  And the next year, I caught the lilacs and cherry blossoms but realized that I missed the magnolias.  So, it's pretty much become a 5-6 visit spring, including a couple bike rides through.


Last spring was a bit of a challenge.  I made it to see the magnolias, but they were a little brown on the edges - was that a late frost as they were emerging?  Something like that.  I managed to get the girl out in time to see the lilacs.  My romanticized view of charming childhood pictures has had to be adjusted a little bit.

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For this year, I made my first trip yesterday in the late afternoon with the low angle of the sun shining through the blossoms.  The early magnolias were already a day or two past peak - some of the petals looked rather crumpled, as if they had emerged hastily from their buds in response to the urgent demands of the record warm temperatures. 

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Other trees looked bursting with blooms, but some closer examination revealed petals that were already drooping or a little singed on the edge (I'm blaming global warming and making a new resolution to ride my bike more this season).  The ground was already filled with petals.

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And I have to admit that I indulge a little vanity with multiple attempts at self portraits.  Thank goodness for the digital camera.  Although it might seem silly, one offshoot of the self-portrait session is that I end up getting even closer to the magnolias than I might otherwise.  In fact, I usually try some configuration of standing behind a laden branch, with my camera arm sticking out at some strange angle.

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While I was doing my little maneuvers, standing amidst the profusion of white magnolia blossoms, with the sun shining through the petals, what I was mostly struck with is that sense of fleeting time.  Not my usual sense of "ack! I have to hurry up!" but just a general poignancy or nostalgia, slightly tinged with sorrow which is not my usual reaction when faced with the loveliness of the Arboretum in spring. 

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Watching families come to take pictures of their little ones, thinking about how much has changed since the first time I brought the girl a few years ago. 

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Looking at the petals that had already fallen and thinking about the very very fleeting nature of springtime (it never lasts long enough in Wisconsin, in my opinion) and the fragility of the flowers, and of life in general.  It depends on the weather, of course, but for a magnolia tree there might be, what? three days? a week at peak?  Such a short time after standing in the snow all winter long.

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And, since I had been listening to NPR on the way to the Arboretum, and the terrible tragedy of Trayvon Martin was on my mind, I also thought of him, and of all the other people who have died so tragically young, particuarly the role that guns have played in cutting short so many lives in our country.  What IS to be done?  I don't really know, and I can't help some sense of helplessness in the face of the NRA-machine and the fear and hatred that drives people to even own guns, let alone use them. 

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Being an otherwise optimistic and cheerful person, it was a little odd to be standing in such a lovely setting with such feelings.  I wasn't really driven to tears, nor do I think I'm particularly depressed, but I just stood there and looked at the light filtering through the flowers, and felt sad for all the people who would never again have such an experience, and also sad for all the people who are so consumed by their anger and their fear that they will probably also not have such a moment.  I hope we can all do more to work towards a world where more of us get to have such lovely spring moments.

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arrivals for the week

We're making our way through our list of San Francisco orders and post-Christmas restocking, though there are still a batch set for April 1 ship dates.  And I still need to thorougly review current and potential consignees.  Nonetheless, it has been a fun week with arrivals daily.

Our popular Constellation map wrapping paper is back, along with a new Paris map, and new Chicago and Minnesota maps.  I am most excited about the latter two because I've been pestering the map guy for a Wisconsin and/or Great Lakes sheet of map wrap and I feel optimistic that I'm moving closer to my goal.  Hopefully he will see how popular the MN map is and realize that there is money to be made with Midwesterners.  Well, a girl can hope.

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I am gathering an assortment of Midwestern items for our May/June graduation window - for everyone going out into the world, a little piece of home to take with them.  And we're also building up our collection for the summer tourist season - postcards with vintage Wisconsin/Madison images, WI proud (and also standing strong) prints, and Sachi's Madison baby onesie, which we just reprinted.

Thursday 008We've also been restocking and adding to our jewelry collection - some from within Wisconsin, some vintage remixes, some West Coast indie artist works, and some restocking of Sachi's popular bird & nest necklaces.

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Other arrivals this week include typewriter onesies, with text like "locally grown," and "dude seriously," made in Madison,  lovely satin ribbons with little icons like Eiffel towers and hot air balloons, handmade wrapping paper, our favorite Curly Girl cards, and, yes, I couldn't resist, little Hello Kitty and Totoro charms.

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keep 'em coming

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Seems like spring has sprung in a big way.  The record high temps this week always bring out a lot more people, which makes things feel more like May or June - not just in terms of weather but in terms of sales.  Add to that, the daily influx of boxes from San Francisco and catch-up (restocking from Christmas) orders, and we've been staying busy.

I have to admit that I got totally pulled in to the natural/terrarium look going on at some booths in San Francisco and on Pinterest.  I'm also going back to my geology roots and finding pieces made with raw rock quite appealing.  The jewelry that I really liked was well beyond our price range but I did get some crystal clusters which I think would be nice additions to a terrarium.  Unfortunately, most of these "natural" elements ultimately came from China.  I just couldn't resist the little nests, and some bird cages for the window.  That said, spending time unpacking boxes inside boxes inside boxes was a rather tedious reminder of my former job and made me so thankful that the bulk of our merchandise comes from local artists.  Even independent artists from out of state use much less packaging!  Still, the new arrivals add a sweet spring feeling to the window, and a perfect compliment to our little vintage houses.  I'm kind of obsessed with terrariums but I really do not have a green thumb so I might just end up making myself a paper/fabric terrarium instead.

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We're feeling a little sorry for ourselves that we aren't going out the NY Stationery show this year, but we've made up for it with our purchases from San Fran and other sources. 

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The new floral papers definitely get me in the mood for spring.

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We were pretty excited to get new Nikki McClure prints.  Sometimes it seems like there's a longer lag between the images in the calendar and when they arrive in print form.  We have especially been waiting for her version of a bicycle print.

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We've added to our collection of t-shirts, and restocked the popular ones from Christmas (Rise Up! is in store, Midwest is Best is on its way).


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In addition, we've recently received collaged recipe sets, journals, Relax Bear mini foods, French notecards, mini notebooks, wallets made from maps, new rubber stamps with great detail, necklaces, napkins and onesies.  We hope you'll stop in soon to check out what's new!

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feeling feisty

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Well, I've been stewing about this for a little while.  Obviously the state and national politics aren't helping with their various ways of suggesting that women are lesser, weaker, dumber... you name it...   I'm utterly fed up with that.

This past week I have also been reminded of the middle of February last year.  When the budget rumblings were just beginning and customers were coming in asking for our buttons.  We didn't even HAVE buttons yet, we were still reeling.  And the requests have started up again.  Sachi just finished a series of Obama buttons; we had been talking about how we were feeling a little at a loss for where to go, but also trying to figure out what exactly to say.  Then on Tuesday, a few customers came in and said, "where are your contraception buttons?"  And on Wednesday, a customer called and said that she heard we might have some buttons, or could make some for her.  She said she hasn't been particularly political, but all these attacks on women's rights were forcing her to get involved.  "We're mad as heck, don't ya know."  Classic.  Seriously. 

So I told Sachi on Wednesday that we really needed to get going on the next set of buttons.  We watched the girl at her ballet class that night and brainstormed possibilities.  I went a little too far in the dictionary of urban slang.. but did emerge with "my lady business is none of yours."  Meanwhile, as expected, Sachi just needed a little push but threw herself into her panty protest pin series, debuting today.

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I've also had a few incidents - a very few, and not enough to constitute a pattern by any means, but nonetheless ones that makes me annoyed with a certain category of person - one who wields power and perpetuates a system whereby they have more power than other people; specifically, they, as men, have more power than other people, as women, and then goes out and yells at the people who have less power.

In all, over the last year, I have been pleasantly surprised.  I have managed to maintain mostly civil retail relationships despite having  opponents to my clearly stated point of view.  I don't expect everyone to agree with me.  And, fine, if you feel that you cannot support our store because we disagree with our Governor, that's your prerogative.  That said, I am much more likely to respond to paying customers.  Although I myself have been tempted with the boycott approach, on a very basic level, I feel like there's no way we are ever going to find any middle ground if we can't even buy, say, a donut from each other (a customer recently told me about a "horrible Republican" baker.. but, yeah, I won't give up the donuts).  Now that I have learned that I can still get along with some Republicans, well, hey, maybe we can start to have a conversation about what it is we do have in common and what it is we want to make our world better for our children.

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Nonetheless, between myself, my sister and our part-timer, we've had a handful of unpleasant experiences.  Maybe we just caught these men on a bad day, maybe as women, we just ignore the whisperings of other women, maybe it's just a matter of that particular communication style butting heads' with our own particular communication style.  Still, it is irksome.  And more than that when combined with the behavior of political men on state and national levels.

What is it exactly about these few incidents?  Well, for starters, they were all men.  They stopped in (or stood in the doorway); in all of my situations, there was very little room for discussion, because they basically said what they wanted to say and went on their way.  In the case of our part-timer there was some feeling... not threat exacly, but unease, given that the that it was a group of high school wrestlers (a situation with an underlying potential of physical harm, whether conscious or not).  And yes, this is our store, we are the owners, and we made the decision to be vocal about our opinion.  However, there is some imbalance of power in the retail relationship.  After all, we are trained in customer service that the customer is always right, even when they are wrong.  There is an underlying element that you must maintain civility and that the customer holds the fate of your store or job in their hands.  This gives the customer an advantage.  Additionally, I'm never really sure - does that customer realize that I am the owner of the store, or am I just a hapless shopgirl?  If you think I am not the owner who set policy, then that's even more objectionable that you take your ire out on me.  My objection to these incidents is they way they are like a microcosm of the way certain men (notably politicians) seem to be treating women right now.  No effort for interaction or understanding, just a wielding of power over matters that, honestly, are none of their business.  Sure, these customers are free to disagree with me, but they are not free to expect that I will change or impose their views over mine.  I have just as much right to have an opinion - but since they didn't stop for a conversation, they aren't even letting me have mine.  Well, they might say that I imposed mine on them first, but I don't require them to read or listen to mine.  YET, because of the imbalance of power in the retail relationship, I am required to "smile and nod" in the face of their opinion.

New 015(and another thing, what is the party that regularly complains about the
"nanny state" and calls for small government doing in anyone's personal life?  Unfortunately Citizens United only went one way to declare that corporations are people.  Because if people were declared corporations, then maybe the Republicans would be more amendable to privatizing our private lives?).

I have worked really REALLY hard to get where I am today.  I think every person should have a say in who they want to be and where they want to go.  I think you should behave in this world the way you want other people to behave towards you, and also not assume that your way is the only/best way.  I am personally not suited to stay at home in the kitchen with the children, but if someone else wants to do that, that's fine.  The point of all the work of all the people that have come before us is that WE get to have a say in our destiny.  Just like anyone else.  We can make mindful decisions about what our life is going to look like, and not be subject to the whims of other people.  We deserve that as much as anyone else.  We are smart enough, we are capable enough, and if anyone says otherwise, they are losing out because we could have rocked their world.

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Pinterest: an ode and a rant

All in one.  Lucky you.

In the past two or three weeks, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading and stewing about Pinterest.  I've been skipping all over the internet - I'm not even sure where to begin on links; you can just Google "Pinterest etiquette" and "Pinterest and copyright" or "how does Pinterest make money" and that can get you started.  I've been thinking about copyright in general (see earlier post).  I've had several lengthy conversations with friends on the phone and via Facebook.

Most recently, I was trying to figure out what it is that is bothering me so much.  Why do I feel betrayed?  I mean, I realize that the people behind Pinterest need to make a living, too.  What is so irksome about the way this is being done?  Well, for comparison, let's take Facebook.  I use it, I love it, I'm addicted to it.  I use it to connect with people personally, but I also use it for marketing of our business.  Pretty low cost marketing at that, even when I do run an ad.  And in return, I don't mind that other businesses are using it for their marketing.  I figure the advertising (subtle or blatant) is my "cost" for using the services of Facebook. And that's fine.

Pinterest, on the other hand. 

Well, maybe some background is in order.  Here's how it first started for me: an artist friend/customer recommended that I check it out and sent me an invitation.  What was initially so appealing was the way it was like Etsy treasuries - I had control over what I saw, I could curate a collection, follow the boards that I liked.  For me, then, it is a way to narrow the focus of the internet to things that interest me.  At the same time, I felt that it was less commercial than Etsy.  Yes, there are things that are obviously for sale, yet the rule that you are supposed to minimize your own self promotion made it feel like your role as a pinner is not to sell your own work, but to share with the Pinterest community things that inspire you.  In short, it felt wholly uncommercial and uncommodified, more about community and conversation between fellow pinners. 

And yet, obviously, Pinterest has to make some money out of this.  So perhaps I am just being naive when I feel betrayed, when it turns out that the conversation I was having with someone about a book might actually end up in a commercial transaction between Amazon and Pinterest.  And of course, as pinners, we are all happy that we don't have ads forced upon us, but if it turns out that we are inadvertently advertising for Amazon or someone else, there is a bit of a distasteful feeling that one is left with.  So, the fact that there is some underlying commodification of our conversation is, despite my addition to Pinterest, bothersome.  It does relate back to my earlier post about copyright and the reading that I am doing of Lewis Hyde's book Common as Air: about a philosophical and moral objection to the way that corporations are claiming ownership over conversation and communal sharing, over knowledge and inspiration which, to my mind, really belongs to the collective cultural commons that no one (or everyone) owns.  Pinterest's Terms of Service (you hereby grant a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content) seem especially annoying in this regard, but I am finding the terms to be pretty similar to other internet sites.

In addition to the question of what rights Pinterest has over the content people have added to its site, there is the matter of copyright violations.  Naturally, Pinterest has covered its bases, more or less, by assuming that the pinner is not pinning anything that would violate copyright laws; however, on the user end, I have a feeling the violations are more prevalent than not.  That is to say, for every single item that is pinned, has the user obtained explicit or implicit permission to do so?  Explicit meaning the pinner has contacted the artist; implicit meaning the artist/blogger has a "pin it" button on their site, or some "creative commons" type of language, as opposed to the "this is my original work and cannot be reproduced/shared/etc without my written permission" language of copyright law.  I am as guilty as the next person of making assumptions, or being careless, or getting carried away by the ease of hitting that "re-pin" button.  It is common for me to think that since I provide a link back to the original blog and give credit to the artist, that I'm doing that person a PR favor, but the fact remains that I am making a decision on someone else's behalf, and that ain't right.  It has been pointed out by some that this makes every Pinterest user liable should/when the lawsuits start up.  As an annoyingly "good" girl, being a lawbreaker doesn't sit well with me, even though I have some qualms about copyright law as mentioned in my earlier post.

But here is what I love about Pinterest:  In those early days, before I did all this reading, what a thrill it was to be following boards of other people, to trade pins back and forth in a quasi-conversation ("here's what I like, here's what I'm thinking about making" "oh, I see you like that, too!  Don't we have such good taste?") - all non-verbal and completely via pins, with friends and strangers... this is the communal aspect that I love so much about our modern technology; the way that geographical boundaries are crossed so readily, in the course of finding people who will share our inspirations.  It is this that I am especially reluctant to give up on, as well as some of the lovely pins that I've found over the last few months.

And to tell the truth, I am not much of a blog reader.  I am well aware that I am missing out on a lot of inspiration and possibilities, but I just don't have the time.  However, being someone who processes things very fast visually, Pinterest is tremendously useful because I am essentially "reading" zillions of blogs just by looking at a picture.  I have found out about new blogs and new artists by following links to original sources.  I have made new connections with people I don't know at all other than I sure do love their taste and color palates.   I have been inspired to make at least three new projects as a result of things seen on Pinterest.

SO, where does that leave me.  I love Pinterest.  I hate Pinterest. There are three basic detractions:

1. Do I, as an artist/store, want to share my ideas at the scale that Pinterest does?  The risk is....what?  that someone else will pick up my idea, make a zillion dollars, and I will have neither fame nor profit.  That someone will "knock-off" my work and I will lose my uniqueness.  If I were really concerned about protecting my unique artistry, to be honest, I wouldn't open a store, since every week someone comes in, comments on what a good idea I had, takes a picture with their phone, doesn't purchase anything, and walks away.  Ultimately, I feel that my creativity is not lessened for sharing it and that much of what I create isn't anything I can claim solely as my own, so I am reluctant to enforce ownership and copyrights, and I feel that the benefits of sharing outweigh the risks.  That said, that is a personal decision that every artist should make for themselves. 

Which brings me to 2.  Are you as a Pinterest user willing to assume responsibility for making that decision for every single item that you pin?  You should be, and therefore whatever you pin should have explicit or implicit permission to be pinned.  THAT one is going to require some work and backtracking on my part, because I was a crazy pinner there at the beginning.  You cannot assume that permission has been granted because the item is already on Pinterest.  You really ought to check on every single pin and make sure it links back to the artist AND that the artist has given permission to share it.  The good news is that checking my work is causing me to revisit things that I still like, and follow links back to still more cool blogs.  Wow.  People are so creative!

3.  While the copyright issues above can actually be addressed through careful pinning, the largest question in my mind is the way Pinterest's terms of service seem to abrogate an artist's copyrights.  We were just having a nice conversation about things that inspire us and projects we'd like to work on and blogs and books that we love, but we must also remember that Pinterest has inserted itself into the conversation.  Not just as a facilitator, which it certainly does, but also as someone who wants to profit off of our conversation.  I KNEW it was too good to be true! 

Well, to be honest, that is still a price that I am willing to pay for using Pinterest.  That said, I am being more cautious in my use of Pinterest - which, in some ways, detracts from the free-for-all nature of a creative commons (as Lewis Hyde would describe it).  When you have to start guarding your words and tiptoeing with care, you are less likely to make those unexpected finds and connections that could bring about genuine innovation or creation.  That is our collective loss and that is the real shame of our modern times.  We regularly and habitually grant individual and sole and propietary rights over a thing or an idea and if we carry that to the end, there will be nothing left that belongs to everyone.  Where, for example, would the Renaissance artists have been if current copyright law was enforced in their day?  Where would we be as a nation, or even as a world, as artists, as a culture, if we weren't constantly copying, but then modifying and innovating?

In any event, that is a larger question that I wrestle with, not solely belonging to Pinterest.  Ultimately, I think it is our responsibility to USE technology and not let it rule our lives, to think of the ultimate purpose (for Pinterest, for me, that is being creative, sharing/facilitating creativity), and hold ourselves to that ultimate purpose.  This means constantly asking, how does what I am doing now support my ultimate goals? As far as Pinterest is concerned, I have come up with my own personal... resolutions? intentions? manifesto? for how I will go forward (and also backward as I really need to check back on all my existing pins).  In addition to the Pinterest detractions, they connect back to my intentions/resolutions from last year - about being creative and sharing creativity but also supporting the small and the local and the independent, as opposed to the big and the commercial and the corporate.  Because, seriously?  Does Martha Stewart or Anthropologie REALLY need me to pin/advertise on their behalf?  Finally, there is the matter of how much time a person spends on a computer, specifically on Pinterest.  Does that time inspire and fuel you to make/do/be more than when you started, or does it just take time away from what you should be doing?  I am not dismissing the value of a little internet surfing, but I also feel that I need to be mindful about where my time is going, hence the "create more & re/pin less."  Feel free to share it, pin it, modify it, adhere to it...


let the fun begin

oh goody.  Here I was, feeling all sorry for myself that I put so many orders on later ship dates.  But then the boxes started arriving. 

Last week it was washi tape, which has me thinking about some sort of collage something-or-other.  I've always thought it would be fun to do an Anthropologie-sort of window (lots of pieces, labor intensive) with a collage on the window itself.  Well, we'll see what actually materializes.  In the meantime, I'm taking some home for my art journaling.  I love all the patterns, and I love the semi-translucency of this tape.


In other tape news, yesterday we get a series of tapes from a company that specializes in vintage imagery.  If I remember the story correctly, the owner stumbled a cross a box of vintage greeting cards, and a collection, and a company, was born.  Now they've taken some of the graphics and put them on tape.  This tape is more like packing tape, shinier plastic than the matte of the washi tape.


And today, a big (by our standards) stack of boxes: vintage Madison and Wisconsin images on postcards and magnets, mini clothespins, Sublime Stitching embroidery patterns, and some lovely covered journals.

Marami 001Marami 002

And then April 1 will be here before we know it, and the rest of the shipments will be coming in!

the copyright conundrum

Oddly enough, this March 2 snow-flurry weather almost perfectly matches my brain at the moment: some fluffy, some not-so-fluffy, thoughts, whirling around, a few melting before they land. You can take the analogy further into the snow piling up on the ground, the potential for snarled traffic and a long bus ride home, but I'm not entirely sure that it is copyright violation that is the biggest problem.

On our trip to San Francisco, I thought it might be time to actually read Lewis Hyde's The Gift, a book which I loosely base my philosophies upon ("loosely," because I had only started reading it before getting distracted).  Hyde's basic premise is that our creativity is a gift, and the only way that it remains vital is to continue the gift process - to share, to interact, to pass along.  Meanwhile, copyright interrupts the gifting process.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that artists don't need to make money - until the IRS accepts my quilts as payment, I need cash as much as the next person.  Money and commodification are necessarily a part of the conversation, but I do think we fall too readily in line with rules which ultimately might not be to our benefit. 

What? How can copyright not be to the benefit of the artist?  Here's the thing: if I take it to an extreme, if anything that is created is the property of the creator, cannot be copied, or modified, or shared, or derived from, what is there left to inspire the next person? How would we have gotten anywhere in this world if modern copyright laws had been enforced since the beginning of time?  If the corporations would have their way, everything would have a claim staked upon it.  Now, that doesn't sound very fun, or democratic, to me.  But it also doesn't seem like the kind of setting where any sort of change or innovation is going to flourish.  How do we learn our own style if we do not see what other people are doing? Try it out?  Learn what qualities speak to our own artistry and what things are completely of another artist?  I know I'm being idealistic here, but if everyone works from the heart and from their true artistic selves, then there will be no copying anywhere - because everyone is different and brings their own unique view and experiences and talents into their artwork.  What if we spent as much time and energy on encouraging people to develop their creative abilities as we did upon protecting our creative turf?

It reminds me a bit of a trip we took once to Rock Island, off the peninsula of Door County in Lake Michigan.  I'm not sure when we realized this, but Rock Island is a haven for snakes!  Ok, it might be that there are only the average number of snakes that you'd find in any natural area, but my sister and I spent that trip in pure terror.  We ran from the tent to the hammock, where we sat with feet off the ground and wondered if snakes climbed trees.  The slightest rustle would send us running.  It was not an enjoyable trip.  We missed a lot because of our fear.  Now, I know, there are some among you who will say that fear of snakes is an irrational fear, while fear of having your photograph used without being paid for it, is not.  But my main point is that it is possible to spend your entire trip on guard for the slightest rustle, a quiver of movement, a slither of copyright infringement.  You can be careful, wary, tiptoeing or running to high ground; you can devote a lot of time and energy to copyright enforcement.... and you've just taken that much time and energy from creating and developing and expressing yourself. 

Alternatively, you could just stay home and avoid the snakes, never share your work.  There is risk involved in being an artist, in creating something that is deeply personal to you and then sharing it.  Copyright infringement is just the icing on this bitter-tasting cake.  Just from opening Anthology, I have learned about the risk and the way you open yourself up to criticism and disinterest.  Then again, you also open yourself up to some amazing opportunities and connections.  I think it is worth the risk.

A deeper question, which Lewis Hyde is asking, is, what, of our creations, actually falls into our ownership?  What is actually and solely, our own?  I take a photograph, yes, with my own camera, on my own time, yet the view that I select is informed by my 40 years of looking at other people's photographs, of looking at greeting cards and advertisements and magazines and coffee table books, of looking at hardware stores and airports.. who knows what else.  Do I owe royalties to everything that contributed to the photograph that I created?

I think my favorite analogy for this question comes from a college geography professor who quoted, "no man is an island," and went on to say, indeed, that is truly the case.  We might think of ourselves as isolated individuals, but we are constantly, down to the atomic particle level, interacting with the world around us.  To be truly alone, an individual would have to be sealed in a black plastic box... oh, wait, then you'd be dead.  We are in constant interaction with the world around us. As artists, there is the obvious interaction of seeing another person's work, but there are infinite ways that one individual's brain is stimulated and inspired to generate the work that is generated.  And out of all that, comes a painting, or a photograph, or a quilt, or a drawing.  Is it the product of my brain, my hands, my equipment?  Yes, of course.  But it is also the product of so many things that are beyond my individual self.  So how, then, can I claim that it is completely a product of my own making?  I doubt anything is.  Corporations would like us to believe that a product is completely their own, because that gives them a monopoly on the market - but I think if we look deeply into any product, it will have some element which is completely outside of the company that purports to own it.

Anyway, to return to Lewis Hyde and The Gift.  Since it was written in 1983, I was wondering, as I zipped it into my suitcase, what he would have to say about this current moment in time, with the added complication of the internet?  I wonder these things specifically with respect to Pinterest, a website which I am quite enjoying, geared, as it is, to the visual aspects of the internet.  That said, it is not without controversy, and I have some artist friends who have sworn off of it, largely for copyright issues.  There are some major problems with Pinterest which I don't intend to go into here (but you can read about here and here, just for starters).  I just mention it because it represents the current iteration of copyright controversy as it overlaps into my art-shop-life.

Interestingly, while in San Francisco, my sister and I went into a small indie bookstore and happened across Lewis Hyde's new book, Common As Air.  I purchased the book and The Gift never made it out of my suitcase.  I'll get to it, honest, I will.  I'm only about a third of the way through Common As Air, but it has so far provided a very interesting discussion that is giving me much to ponder.  I think the main thing I'm thinking about is: what belongs to all of us and should remain in the public domain, and how much are we willing to cede to private property and corporate ownership?  What do we lose or gain as a society and as artists as we lose or gain commonly-held access and property?

Finally... oh, yes, there is an end in sight...   What makes it especially stormy inside my brain are the flurry of thoughts about current politics and culture and economics.  Thoughts about copyright and ownership are overlapping in interesting ways with thoughts of the 99% and even the ideals of democracy, which I still believe in, even though I am less starry-eyed about their current iteration in the U.S. at this moment. 

For one thing, I have been feeling lately that our sense of rugged individualism can be carried a bit too far here in the U.S.  My dad came here from Japan; he loves the ideal of individual accomplishment.  And yet, we behave as if our individual success has nothing to do with anything outside of ourselves.  Is that true?  Is that even possible?  Furthermore, I think much of our current political and economic struggles are framed as if taxpayer - state employee - laborer - politician - customer are separate entities, which they really aren't at all.  What would it be like if we started thinking about all the ways we are connected and indebted to each other, the gifts that are given to us (and how to repay them), instead of our individual property/success/life/creation?

I think what I love about the internet and this moment in time is some element of overwhelming democracy.  The fact is, anyone can write and publish a book or a blog, can try to sell things online, can share a video - all of this is crazy and messy and sometimes overwhelming in volume, but, wow!  It's exciting, too!  Do we really want to give that up for a carefully curated and edited and policed world?  To take Pinterest, as a specific example - right now I post pictures, with links to the best of my ability, collecting assortments of colors and stories.  For me, it is about finding new blogs that I didn't know about and discovering new crafty ideas, but it also about putting a bunch of grey/yellow photographs in one place.  A photograph of a succulent might lead me to take a photograph of a succulent (in which case the original artist might be concered that they've just lost a sale since I took a picture instead of purchasing a picture).  But I might just as likely paint my room in a shade of succulent green, create a stencil in a shape of a succulent, buy myself a terrarium... who knows.  That unknown and random spiderweb of associations and inspirations is one of the things I've always liked about the internet.  That one thing will spin off of another in a way that you might have never anticipated makes it... confusing, yes, but also surprising and totally cool.

So, sure, we want the wonderful photographer to get paid for her image which ends up decorating a Kleenex box.  As artists, we can get rabid about protecting our copyrights.  Each person needs to decide for themselves what energy is devoted to protecting and owning, and what is given over to creating and sharing.  Copyright is certainly a useful tool for making sure that the person who created something gets some financial reward for doing so.  That aspect of copyright is completely lost when rights are enforced on something on a completely different scale, such as for books which have been published decades ago and are now benefiting "the estate of...."  Are those royalties really helping the creative process?  And meanwhile, huge parts of our biological and cultural heritage are being carved up and set into boxes for companies (I'm thinking about Monsanto's case against seed saving, just to name one)(and also Pinterest's own Terms of Service, which are basically their way of superseding the copyrights of individual artists  - prime example of what should be our collective cultural commons being privatized and commodified, at cost to the many who use the common area and for the profit of the few who happened to write some computer code.  But that might end up being its own post).  It is in their interest to enforce copyright, but I'm not entirely sure it is in ours.