Friday, May 16, 2014

Why Handmade: Finding Your Voice

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

It is easy to become distracted or overwhelmed by all of the styles and options available to you in your craft. When we start out, we either want to do everything under the sun or we pigeon hole ourselves to excess. For example, we can’t be retro and modern, elegant and rustic, country and city, etc., all at the same time. As artists, we master none and customers become so overwhelmed by the options, they will walk away. On the other hand, you may have designed a really cute one of a kind item, and you can make the item in twenty different colors. Even if your customers must have one of every color, eventually they will run out of merchandise to purchase from you, and they will move on.

I have suffered from both problems, though probably more often the former. Just because I have a flair for all things from the renaissance period doesn’t mean I never stray. In fact, sometimes I stray too often. As of late, I have been looking at my work and wondering if the renaissance is there at all. As new items disappear from my inventory as quickly as I make them, I have to consider if that is even an issue.

Personally, it is easy for me to reconcile the issue of not enough variety. If I make something too many times, I will become bored with it long before my customers will. (Which is also a fantastic way to ensure my work remains one of a kind!) However, too much variety can be a real struggle.

What is voice? Style? How do you develop either one? There is only one answer. Continue to work on your craft and hone your skills. If you are too focused on finding your voice, I believe it will remain hidden from you. If you allow yourself room to think out of the box, your style will naturally emerge.

Develop different lines of your work. Different lines will do better with at various venues. Learn your customer reach in each place. For example, I wouldn’t bring my more modern work to a renaissance faire. Try to have more than one option of any design type. For example, if you knit sweaters, you may have a cable knit line. You may have five different styles of cable knit, and different colors and sizes of each style. However, you would not put one character sweater in the middle of the cable knit as it confuses the issue. Instead, you would knit more sweaters to place in your character sweater line. By having different lines, you have room to explore different techniques and styles, but your work will remain focused. If a line doesn’t work for you, you can focus your energy on the lines that are more successful. Sometimes the most successful lines aren’t the ones we enjoy the most. Work on both lines, One is the bread and butter of your business, but working the less successful line is what will keep you going when you feel burnt out.

When you learn a new technique, focus on learning it very well. If you are uncomfortable with it, move on. There is no crime in not being good at everything. For example, I enjoy painting. I am quite pleased with my watercolor paintings; however, my oil painting leaves me wanting. I am not comfortable with the media, and I think it shows. I can continue to struggle with oils, or I can spend more time improving my watercolor painting skills. I choose to do the latter.

Don’t give up on a technique or a piece you love. It’s just taking longer to find its audience. I began a design based upon expressed interest from a subset of my customers. When they saw the prototypes, they couldn’t wait for it to be finished. Once they were out there, I heard crickets. I know, this sounds disheartening, but after a year of crickets, I can’t keep them in stock. It took time.

If a technique is feeling stale, the work is becoming stale too. Your customers will notice. Try something new. Your style will shine through. Your voice is a living breathing entity that is growing and changing every day. Do not be dismayed if your work now appears different from your first vision. You are just seeing the way you have grown.

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