I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day Revolution

I have a real knack for shopping. I don’t just mean that I can walk into a store and find the real find. I mean I can walk into a place, find what is on sale, identify what is terrific about some pathetic thing that has been passed over for seasons and breathe new life into it. I can spot some oddball object in the junk pile that is the sale table at TJMaxx, pay practically nothing for it and make it become the thing in someone’s home that everyone oooohs and aaaaaahs over. It’s all about time and place and not having a judgement about something coming from the road traveled too long and too far.

Needless to say, I lived a lot of my life sport shopping, accumulating lots of things I love and many more that I absolutely never needed. That all changed very painfully and very abruptly a couple of years ago.

Two things happened in quick succession. First, my husband and I got caught in the real estate collapse right about the time we had decided to downsize. We had bought a smaller house with a barn for me to work in (with one of those crafty little bridge loans Washington Mutual was handing out like coupons in the grocery store) while still in possession of the large trophy home we had been living in for the last 10 years. The upshot of that experience was that we never moved into the more modest house because it was easier to sell (at a very large loss, I might add) and we were on the verge of foreclosure on four (yes, you read that right) mortgages. We were drowning in paper obligations we never had any business taking on in the first place.

The second thing that happened was, sometime before Christmas, I was staring at the wooden sign (that I got at some outrageously low price somewhere) that said Simplify. I had bought it for the fireplace mantel at the other house that I now did not live in, and talking to my girlfriend on the phone. In that conversation she said something to me that changed my life forever. The is not hyperbole. It changed my life forever. Here’s what she said.

We were talking about Christmas shopping and of course I was feeling so sorry for myself because I could do absolutely no shopping that year. There was barely money for groceries so Christmas gifts were sooooooooo out of the question. She told me that she was on the escalator in Macy’s and when she arrived on her floor, she stopped for a moment and looked around. And then it hit her - every single thing in the store, including every single thing that was involved in the construction of the building, everything within her sight, would end up in a landfill somewhere, sometime. I urge you to stop for a moment and just think about that. Every dress, every screw, every floor tile, every shoe, every makeup brush every yard of fabric and carpet every rhinestone every watch…would eventually end up as trash in a landfill somewhere on this planet of ours. I can tell you, my mind was blown forever at this thought.

That is when I decided that I would identify every single place, every single day of my life where I could find a way to reuse something instead of buying more. Luckily, my work was primarily broken pieces mosaics at the time, so I already had a reuse, recycle, reinvent mentality about how I was using my materials. Not only was I using old china but I would purchase the chipped stuff on sale tables and friends were bagging up everything they broke and giving it to me. This way of working caused me to begin seeing things in components. A plate that was not really much to look at but had one beautiful rose right smack dab in the middle of the flattest part of the plate was a find. An otherwise white plate with a beautiful gold border around the edge that would make a perfect border around a house number was a keeper. I was developing an eye for salvage.

When I found myself overcome with the urge to make jewelry I ran to Michael’s to stock up on materials. As I stood looking at all the findings, beads, pendants, wire, I was struck by two things. One, these materials were not going to express the vision I had in my head of what this jewelry of mine was going to look like and two, what I saw, more than the materials themselves was all of the packaging. Every single thing came with cellophane, cardboard, staples, tape, wire - all manner of packing materials that would end up in the garbage before I even made my first necklace. The image of the Arthur Kills landfill flashed before me and I no longer had a feel for my new jewelry line.

I was cleaning out a drawer one day and there were several pieces of junk jewelry, you know, those impulse buys from Target or H&M that you wore once and then wondered why on earth you bought it to begin with. I also came across some old grandma pieces that I would never wear but felt terrible tossing out (more landfill pictures). I stared and opened myself up to the possibility in these tidbits. And then I began to see components. If I disassembled the jewelry, there would be clasps, jump rings, beads, chains - all the things I had walked away from at Michael’s were staring me right in the face! I could make the jewelry I was envisioning by disassembling old useless pieces and recomposing them in a new and creative way. Suddenly, everything I laid my eyes on became potential material for all of my work.

I don’t see garbage anymore. Everything I see has the potential to be reinvented. New is what you turn to when you need something really specific and you don’t have time to wait for it to fall into your lap. But now, for me, there is no such thing as junk jewelry. Those box lids of grandma’s crappy leftovers at garage sales are now a box full of supplies for my work. A friend cleaning out her drawers is now an opportunity for me to invite myself over to pick through her garbage before the trash guys get there. My friends are getting used to it too. Just last night, I was with a friend and were taking pictures of our kids who were off to their Junior Prom and she told me she had a bag of old jewelry to give me. My friend who moves a lot because of her husband’s job always has a box of breakage to ship to me once she has unpacked and settled into a new home.

What I know is that, we on this planet have enough. Some of us have too much and some not enough but there is enough stuff for everyone. We as artists can create a revolution now. We can explore the esthetic of recycling and reimagine what is beautiful. We have a power and a responsibility, as artists, to see the world through different more thoughtful eyes. Let’s make our contribution to our planet this earth day by pledging to develop new eyes. Let’s see the treasure not the trash.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easy-peasy etsy!

I find it ironic that I sit by a window with a spectacular view of my wooded property while I navigate my way around the road less traveled via the information highway.  I am mesmerized by brilliantly red-orange cardinals at the bird feeders and amused by the tribes of robins that arrive every spring like an army and organize to build nests for the mothers of their children.  I stare eagerly at my beloved pink dogwood, waiting anxiously for it to burst into bloom.  I watch the ancient, statuesque Norweigan spruce trees curve into the wind as their long sleeves of needles swoope like kites at the beach.  The beautiful Hanoki spruce sits placidly in the garden establilshing itself as the solid Buddha that it is.  I project myself easily out the window to commune with the beauty of nature and imagine the warmth of the soft spring sun warming the top of my head.  The dog barking at the back door, trying to warn a squirrel that he is about to come outside and kick his ass jerks me back to the fact that I am sitting before an LED screen that is impatiently staring and waiting for me to tell it to do something. 

Since I decided that I wanted to show and sell my wares on the internet, I have purchased a fancy laptop, a new digital camera,  set up an etsy site, built a website from a five paged templet,  joined Facebook and maintain a personal and fan page, taught myself to take, load, edit and move pictures around the cybersphere and now check my email daily, sometimes twice a day.  I have acquired a Blackberry and use it for everything including grocery lists and my to-dos for the day.  I have different bells, tones and whistles for calls, emails (business or personal), appointments, texts, Facebook - all distinct signals in a code only I understand.  I have joined business networking sites, set up a paypal account and do my books and banking online now, able to move money and numbers around as easily as dealing cards.  I often venture out of the "neighborhood" and explore shopping sites, blogs, wists and subscribe to various hipster newsletters that keep me abreast of the coolest trends and grooviest finds and can subscribe to those alerts from any major city in the world.  I save favorite websites and bookmark places I can easily do business with and source odd necessities like maniquin heads and vintage jump rings.  All in all, I appear to be a tech savy broad and my teenaged son seems to be the only person in my life that is not particularly impressed with what a big, fat, gigantic, awesome, staggering, mind-bending, mind-altering accomplishment this is for me.

Let me just share with you a chapter from the past, when I first sat down in this placid spot of mine to to begin the journey of setting up the oh-so-simple etsy shop.  Please take note that the "oh-so-simple" part of that sentence would be dripping with bile and sarcasim if I could graphically illustrate it for you here.  I chose etsy because it was pre -structured and all I needed to do was fill in the blanks with my own information.  Easy-peasy!  Really.  No, not if you don't know your upload from you download it isn't.

Step one.  Choose a name for you shop.  Easy.  I already had a business called Special Affects and that was the name I was going to continue to use.  I entered SpecialAffects (no spaces in the names at etsy as they are also web addresses), waited and....taken.  No!  It can't be taken!  Now what?  Think.  I have to use that name.  I've been using it for 3 years.  Let me see who has it.  I did a search and up came a blank page.  You're kidding!  Someone used my name, threw it away and now etsy won't let me use it because someone else touched it!  Now what?  I pulled NellsBelles out of my memory, entered it and...bingo!  NellsBelles is mine for the taking.  Okay.  Made it through the first step.  Now in no time at all, I'll be in business.  Okay.  Next step.

Step two.  Upload your artwork for your banner (esty for sign) which must fit into this exact sized templet.  At this point it didn't manner what size the templet was.  I had no art work and even if I did, I hadn't the slightest idea how to get it onto this page.  I had to refer back to the etsy handbook but wait, I have to minimize this page and open a new page to access the handbook so, let me see, shit!  That closes the page.  Crap.  Now I have to go back and find the page again and damn!  It won't let me because someone has already taken that page but that someone is me and I accidently closed it but I can't figure out how to get it open again but I didn't really close it but...NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

That was the end of work day number 1.

Fortunetly for me, there were people on etsy that were making a busness of creating banners for people and I found this great girl in Maine named Juli to build a banner just the way I wanted it and thank God, she had the patience to load it for me and it didn't cost me and arm and a leg and it was a huge relief and I am forever indebted to her.  I could still be sitting in front of that page, nearly a year later, trying to figure out how to get  the design I had painted on my foyer wall onto my etsy page.  Shout out to Juli Lamb!

So with the name claimed, the banner done the next step was to create alot of text.  I am a bit of a type A personality so when I am prompted to describe my shop I immediately launch my mind into mission statements, brand establishment and all manner of thinking not so relevant to the little sapling that is my etsy site.  Least that not deter me, I spent the next week contemplating and drafting, drafting and redrafting chipper chatter to introduce myself to the etsy-sphere and grab a little attention for my basement studio treasures.  I have some ability with the words so this part was not torture and in fact I felt a bit of a wiz hitting a patch for which I felt I had some understanding.  Of course, my spelling is atrocious and having someone who spells like English is her second language edit her own copy is a bit of a farce.  (And don't you know, all the spelling and grammer freaks in my life could not comment on my work until I contacted them to discuss the mess that was my proof reading.)  

The copy was written and posted and my store policies established (for the time being).  I spent several days researching the most cost efficient way to ship everything from a necklace to a 25 inch lamp and could give rounded numbers to shipping costs anywhere in the United States (I have yet to reach beyond our shores to ship outside this country.)  I had composed a little bio hoping to make it more entertaining than something to urge my customers to take me seriously, as if I were practicing medicine.  Okay.  What's next?  "List your first item".  Okay.  Here we go.  I wrote a description, again, trying to be fun and entertaining while attempting be the salesperson I don't believe myself to be.  I gave measurements and suggestions for uses and reccommendations on how or where the piece might look it's best.  Okay.  Not bad for a beginner.  There's a style there.  Yeah.  Kind of like a brand.  A distinct voice is emerging.  I kinda like it.  What's next?  "Upload your first image."

Okay.  Day's over.  Save. Close tab.  Red or white?  Bring on the vino.