I took a break from my regular routine of lovespoon carving this past week and took myself over to Vancouver BC for the big Celtic Fest and St. Patrick's Day parade. Getting ready for an event like this takes a lot of effort and involves adjusting my mindset from fussing over individual commission pieces to quickly carving lots of 'economically' priced spoons for the impulse-buy market. Its not something I like to do all that often. While it is good for me to practice carving at slightly higher intensity than I usually carve, my normal speed is pretty damn quick, so it isn't really that much fun to go even faster. Generally, it means that I am carving simple designs as quickly as I can manage it and not being able to give the subtle details the time I would like.
Never-the-less, the thought of meeting all kinds of interesting people and having a chance to get out of the studio for a couple of days lends some excitement to the proceedings. I get some spoons together, maybe make some earrings or jewelry boxes for the 10 dollar crowd and break out the David Western Lovespoons banner...it's good fun.
Of course once I get there, I am inevitably faced by the customer who tells me that my prices are too high or that they could carve one faster, better, blah, blah, blah. Now normally, I'm pretty good at keeping a poker face, nodding sagely and offering a polite response, but take a look at this weather we had, and you'll see why my mood darkened a touch this week.
The first day was pretty good, but it did start to rain and blow a bit in the afternoon and I started to get pretty chilly. That was when my 'you're too expensive' customer showed up. On a sunny day, she would have got an equally sunny smile, a slight shrug of the shoulders and some sort of non-committal, politically correct, the-customer-is-always-right type of response to her insult. But I was freezing my arse off and frankly I wasn't in the mood for it. My reply was somewhat curt, lightly laced with dripping sarcasm and with a hint of cruelty to give it that certain je ne sais quoi (as the French would say). I very much doubt I'll ever enjoy her custom in the future.
But as the second day rolled along and the snow began filling up my display boxes, I had plenty of time to consider the whole 'expensive craft' issue. How does a craftsperson get through to people who are conditioned to buy the cheapest crap they can lay hands on that the things we make are worth the money we charge? As a lovesoon carver, I'm damned lucky if I ever make 20 bucks an hour carving a commission piece. Now that might sound pretty good if you work at the Arches, but for the amount of knowledge and technical skill I am expected to possess, it's pretty mediocre money. Remember too, that 20 bucks also includes the cost of running my studio, my advertising, wood, tools etc etc., so by the time I get my hands on some, I'd probably be better off financially working for Walmart. So why not charge more? Well, you can only charge what the market will bear and the market doesn't have much time for handmade stuff. It's kind of a funny thing, but I get loads of people coming by the booth to admire my spoons and to bemoan the sad state of affairs in the 'hand-made' world, but hardly any of them support their kind sentiments with a purchase.
Another problem is that there are so many TV shows and 'how-to' books which show you how to make a 'one-of-a-kind heirloom' on a Sunday afternoon during the half- time show of the football game, that alot of craft has been cheapened to the point of irrelevance. I don't mean to belittle those people who have to see a finished project after their 12 minutes of hard work, but sometimes good things really do come to those who wait. Good craft requires patience, skill and more than a little bit of determination. It also requires that you have breakages, disasters and mis-starts along the way. That is all part of getting good at something.
I guess where all this is leading, is if you are one of those people who thinks that the craft product in front of you is too expensive etc., etc., ask yourself if you could really do it better and quicker. Of course you think you could, but could you really? Be honest about it and then ask yourself if you would do the work for that price -- I bet you'll come up with a different view of things.
Well, now that I've got all that off my chest, swept the snow off my spoons and packed them away, I can return to my Americymru spoon and my usual sunny disposition!