New feature on this blog: Etsy Showcase. I’m going to be looking at other artists’ work on Etsy, and analyzing pieces that I love, like, or think I could adapt. (I’m also going to try to find the ‘ultimate expression’ of that craft, if I can.)
I did not make this crystal and river pebble pendant, for example. I like it, though.
This pendant is pretty, and I can appreciate the drill-work the artisan did to flush-set the Swarovski crystal flatback gems. But you know what…this would be even better with faceted CZ or Nanogem stones, inlaid not with a flat bezel cutout but a cone to accommodate the pointed base. It’s actually likely to take less work to cut the cone-shaped depression with a good carborundum or diamond bit, and a lot of water as coolant.
I’d also probably use a more artistic single chain or group, because certain details about this photo don’t say ‘high-grade chain’. This steel chain has obvious unsoldered gaps in the links, which can lead to more-easily broken jewelry…yes, even in steel.
Here’s the original artist’s buy link:
It’s sold at a regular price of $45, and is designed to be worn at two lengths. Not bad pricing, considering the most work is in drilling and carving the stone, followed by gluing in the crystals. I’m not a huge fan of most stainless steel jewelry, but that’s because silver is my go-to metal for design.
This pendant would be totally insane with a more-elaborate faceted cut like a marquise/navette or an emerald-cut gem. Heck, I have some old, weirdly-cut amethysts that might just do wonders paired with a matte-finished river pebble…
Added later: Of course, whenever I find a new art ‘look’ or style, I immediately want to see it in its purest, most magnificent form. I want to see what happens when the charming craft of the simple form above is taken into the realm of near-holy Artifact, by masters of the craft.
I think I found pebble art jewelry’s master in Andrea Williams, whose Bound Earth website features some truly stunning pieces. Like this one, which I hope she won’t mind me featuring:
In case you don’t feel like following the site link: that is river pebbles drilled and inlaid with recycled silver, gold, and Venetian glass. By someone who has won some serious awards for refining this technique.
I’m not showing this second piece to ‘shame’ the first artist at all. There is a place for lower-cost Etsy crafts, since most people 1) don’t have the money for Andrea’s pieces, or 2) won’t be shivering down their spine to look at them. I am a jewelry nerd, after all.
One of the things I learned very early in my own craft fair adventures: lots of little pieces often ultimately earn less than several larger, more-involved and better designed pieces using the same amount of material. I get better tangible and intangible rewards for the kick-ass pieces.
Look at the difference in terms of cost, materials, and career viability. From what little I know about the process, it probably takes about the same amount of time to do a hundred $45 single-pebble pieces, the first artist’s way…as it does for Andrea to do one necklace or bracelet. Andrea’s work sells for hundreds to thousands of dollars for each piece, wins awards, and is featured in major fine craft books, galleries, and museums. Her pieces will be treasured heirlooms hundreds of years from now. She’s put in 30 years learning how to make them.
The usual equation of the typical Etsy-crafter avoids such costly, labor-intensive single pieces in favor of smaller, more affordable, more quickly-made and quickly-sold pieces. Such crafters often forget (or don’t care) that their art is usually slated as disposable and ultimately forgettable.
Artisans like Andrea Williams focus more energy and skill on museum-worthy pieces that can ultimately command a much better price-per-piece than the same number of single beach-pebble pieces, no matter how charming the latter. Not only that, there’s the intangible benefit of earned, conferred honors, which help command even higher prices, better publicity, and better commissions. You don’t get into NY galleries with single Etsy pieces inlaid with stock crystal and strung on commercial steel chain.
Having seen her work, I think I can now spot Andrea’s pieces in a gallery, even without tags or captions. I certainly know that I lack the skill to even come close to reproducing it. (But that doesn’t mean I won’t dabble.)
Why am I belaboring this point, other than to drool over some gorgeous, incredible jewelry? There’s a lesson in here for writers, too: about fearlessly honing your skill, and taking your work and inspiration as far as you possibly can.
Harlequin Romance paperback novels, for example, have traditionally lived a dreadfully short shelf life. They usually had four weeks or less on bookstore shelves to sell, before having the covers stripped for bookstore returns and the text blocks pulped as trash. Even purchased, they were such a blight that many used bookstores and thrift stores in the eighties and nineties refused to take them even in trade.
Even now, Harlequin writers can make a decent or nearly decent living writing so-called formula romances (though the formulas have matured and become more complex over the decades.) But they have to write at the same punishing pace as erotic romance writers in the digital publishing realm…often, a book every couple of months. Or more.
There are writers who can handle that pace and still tell exquisite stories. Many can’t. The only reason they survive is by sheer volume, and the fact that digital self-pub is beginning to rescue those nearly-forgotten backlists. (And sometimes plagiarism and book-farming to ghostwriters, but that’s another post.)
Will they win awards? Probably not outside the ‘fluff’ awards popular in the self-publishing and small-press digital publishing fields, which mean very little outside their narrow sphere. Very few of these authors will score serious awards in their genre, be it romance, science fiction and fantasy, contemporary fiction, etc. If they can make a living, they’re happy. A few of them will earn enough to make very good livings, awards or not.
So why are major awards important? Because they can directly or indirectly earn money. Some awards come with grants or prize money. Publishers might be more inclined to give major award-winners better advances and contract terms. Better marketing and stronger word-of-mouth can boost sales far beyond the pre-award estimates.
Beyond that, awards are a way of keeping score, of validating individual artists and writers in comparison to their peers.
So yes, this post is a tale of two pieces of similar but ultimately different jewelry, meant for different markets and clients. But it’s also about ways of looking at our craft, and honestly placing ourselves where we realistically are…and where we might go if we push beyond our limits.