Guest Post: Handcrafted vs Mass-Produced

The following is a guest post by EBSQ Artist & Jewelry designerJulianne Carson

Why should you buy hand-created jewelry online instead of shopping at a department store or national chain jewelery stores where you are able to touch, examine, and try on the jewelry? I think you will pleasantly surprised at the unique jewelry designs and consistent high quality you’ll find, not to mention better pricing.

Handcrafted vs. Mass-Produced

The majority of jewelry you’ll find at your local department stores have been mass-produced, whereas the jewelry you’ll find from an online jewelry designer is more often than not, handcrafted. While some people don’t appreciate the quality and value of a unique handmade piece of jewelry, others appreciate the time and artwork that goes into the piece. There are many reasons to buy handcrafted jewelry versus mass-produced jewelry. The main reason being that when a jewelry product is mass-produced, the biggest concern for the manufacturer is their bottom line. How much money will each piece cost them and how low can they get their costs? This could mean the compromise of quality materials and assembly, which means you need to ask yourself if the metal is sterling silver or nickel, or, are the pearls on this necklace real? However, when a designer is constructing their jewelry designs by hand, they have complete control over each piece, its quality and materials, and each piece is approved by the designer because it was crafted by their own hands. When I create jewelry, I only use quality materials and inspect every element thoroughly before shipping the finished pieces to my clients.

Does buying more expensive handcrafted jewelry online mean greater savings?

When you buy from an online jewelry designer you are paying for the jewelry and for a very small percentage of their overhead costs. An online jewelry designer such as myself doesn’t have nearly as much overhead as your local department store.
Keep in mind that jewelry designers such as myself have to pay for their website store front, advertising fees and materials to make their jewelry. Most of my friends who are jewelry designers as well, work from their home, so they are using their home utilities and they don’t have to pay for studio space. When you look at working from your own home vs. store front space, the difference in rent is huge.

Local department stores that sell jewelry have to pay rent for their location, which is usually their most expensive overhead cost, plus  salaries for their employers, advertising costs, licensing fees, utilities, wholesale merchandise, and the list goes on. In addition to these overhead costs, the merchandise itself is shipped and passed through many hands before it reaches the retailer. The manufacturer has sold their merchandise to a wholesaler, who then sells the merchandise to the retailer, who then displays the merchandise to sell to you, the customer. In many cases, the prices are more than doubled at each stage, starting from the manufacturer.

As for your savings, it just makes sense to support local jewelry artists and people who offer hand-made goods. When you buy your jewelry from an online jewelry designer, you know that you are getting a customized, high quality piece of jewelry. You will find that materials and assembly aren’t compromised, and the amount of money you are paying for your jewelry is much closer to the actual cost of making the jewelry. Yes, your online jewelry designer is making a profit because it is their business. However, they aren’t selling their jewelry to anyone before it reaches you. You might be paying more for handcrafted jewelry, but you are paying for quality work direct from the creator instead of price inflation, your local department store’s rent, and subsidizing advertising costs on an ad you probably never even saw. Additionally, when you buy direct from the creator, you are guaranteed a truly unique piece of jewelry that will serve as a keepsake for years to come.

When you buy from a small online jewelry business you are going to receive the personal attention you deserve as a customer. Your contact is usually directly from the designer when you place an order. I love that when you deal with a small business you aren’t treated like a number in a huge array of orders. Unlike a large business or department store, a small online business offers great customer service, which will result in a higher customer satisfaction. When you are buying unique handmade jewelry that will serve as a one-of-a-kind accessory for your jewelry collection, you want the personal attention that a small business can give you. In addition, you will probably find out about the designer’s background, or exactly how each piece of jewelry was made, which adds character and greater personal value to your purchase. Custom orders are a common service through online jewelry retailers.

There isn’t a better place to buy unique handmade jewelry than directly from the jewelry designer. You will find the quality and value you are looking for in addition to a truly unique piece of jewelry for your collection.

When we take a look at the recession, I think that a lot of us have had to watch spending and do more with less, myself included. I have to watch how I spend that hard-earned money and I understand the importance of “good” deals.
I could run to a department store and get a couple of things versus purchasing one handmade or local item. When I think about it, are the department store goodies as special and unique as that local handmade treasure? For me, the answer is an absolute NO. I want that one special item. I also want to know that I am making a difference to the person I am buying the item from.
I totally support buying local, handmade items because I want to make a change, not just for myself, but for my fellow artisans who are devoting their time to making beautiful works of art to support their families. I have heard every reason why many people still go for the quick, cheap, and mass-produced stuff that is most commonly manufactured in other countries. As we saw in some children’s jewelry produced in China last year with compromised materials, it can even be lethal! On a personal note, mass-produced work is simply not the right choice for me or my family.
My hope is that I can get a message out to my friends, and they in turn pass the message on that supporting local artisans selling handmade items can slowly, but definitely make a world of difference in our economy. It could also help change spending habits.

Would it really make a difference? YES! Please support original artists and artisans selling handmade this holiday season.

EBSQ Artist Julianne Carson of Hippie Chic Jewelz has been creating handmade jewelry from her studio in Texas since 1995.


EBSQ Featured Gallery Video- Artist Made Jewelry

Self adornment – we love it. One of the oldest and most popular types of self decoration is the wearing of jewelry. Some of the most special pieces are individual and created by hand. Handcrafted jewelry is not only an expression of the artist but of the wearer. A beautiful ring or simple pendant can speak to the feelings of the one who made it and how the person who wears it sees themself. Whether created in silver or gold; plain or sparkling with gems and stones, artist made jewelry is that often anonymous coming together of personalities that is unique.

Featuring artist-made jewelry by:

Lauren Cole Abrams

John Biagiotti

Stephanie D’Aigle

Vicky Helms-Kostka

Christina A Kapono

Robin Cruz McGee

Sholeh Mesbah

Vickie Miller

Carmen Trueheart

Terah Lyn Ware

Wordless Wednesday-Bring the Bling

Dichroic Moon and Fine Silver Pendant by Carmen Trueheart


The Autumn Necklace by Terah Lyn Ware

Pendant with Spider Web Agate by Christina A Kap0no

The Horsehoe and the Bismuth Necklace by Sholeh Mesbah

Tidal Wave Pool by Stephanie D’Aigle

[View more Bling in the EBSQ Artist-Made Jewelry Gallery]

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EBSQ Live Studio- Colored Pencils

This demonstration was originally presented by Alma Lee on 10 August 2009

Color Pencils rock my world! Just when I had relegated my color pencil collection to the sketch supply pile, opening them only for an occasional a quick draft. The color pencil world was incorporating to new technology, experimental techniques, and new formulations revolutionizing the color pencil status as a medium.

These new configurations, allow for better color saturation, intensity, and light-fastness. It is now possible to accomplish highly detailed, richly textured  and brilliant colored finished paintings without ever picking up a brush. If you have not tried Color pencils lately, you have never tried Color pencils. These aren’t your Mama’s Color pencils!

Tonight I am going to take you step by step to the creation of the following painting.

For this demonstration, I will be using Pentel Brush pens water based markers, Prismacolor color pencils (CP) (water based) and Walnut Hallow colored pencils for Wood (oil based) (WHCP).

For the benefit of any media purists this project could be completed in 100% Prismacolor. But in the interest of time I will be using markers and brush pens to block in my color starting base.

When working with color pencil on wood or MDF panel the most important step will also be the first. Step one: adding gesso to the panel. You can put CP directly on to wood without gesso, and you will end up with a very transparent, pastel finish, much like watercolor.

If you are looking to for the more saturated color of acrylic or oil you are going to want to apply gesso. What makes this step so crucial is CP water oil base will not adhere well to acrylic and gesso contains acrylic. We want the thinnest coat possible for this step.

So when you apply your gesso, you will want to use a thinner bodied formula. Don’t water down a thicker gesso. I used Liquitex Gesso Surface Prep artist acrylic grade.

In very thin lines (about 1/3 the width of a pencil) I apply the gesso directly out of the bottle and onto the surface wrapping my fingers around the 2” foam brush head, using hard pressure to rub.

I “force” the gesso into the grains of the surface. Your prepped panel will be quite streaked. No worry, this is a good thing!

When dry you can either draw your image directly on the surface with graphite or transfer it with transfer paper. Keep in mind if you decide to use transfer paper, that you cannot erase the transfer paper marks and you are going to be working with transparent and translucent substances.

I generally will draw my idea out on paper and copy it to size on the computer, then with a graphite pencil fill in the back of the copy, tape it on the board and trace as a transfer.

You can now fill in your image with markers – or if using all color pencil, you will build up your base in several “light” layers of color.

Few quick tips:

-Leave only the harshest highlights white.

-Black (CP) is extremely flat and lifeless looking. Instead I determine whether to use a hot black (red base) or cool black (blue base)

-Shadows are only hinted at during this stage. It is easier to define those as you get into the (CP)

-Shadowing is best achieved by using contrasting colors on the color wheel.  THE EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE IN COLOR PENCIL IS YELLOW AND PURPLE. On those I will pick a brown, gray or black. pencil

-Add Color pencil to the large white areas only towards the end. This helps preserve your white areas as (CP) acts as a magnet to stray color specs.

After you have blocked it all in you can take a Q-tip dipped in alcohol and squeezed to wash out some of the hard edges where you don’t want them and also to blend in some of the stronger colors making the image look a little more integrated.

Notice also how I have begun to introduce some light yellow to the white diamonds to warm them up a bit. I am also now building up the shadow areas in the piece with contrasting colors using a light pressure on the pencil.

Now with light/medium pressure, I fill in the overall red in the shoes.

During the second coat on the shoes, I will make the pencil strokes in the opposite direction of the 1st coat.

I will begin to increase (slightly) the pencil pressure, as I am getting a nice “waxiness“ to adhere to.

In real life, I tend to skip around the page to all areas of the piece.

While I am for organizational purposes talking about only one area, bear in mind that you must be thinking about reflections and shadows in the surrounding objects and background and pulling in the color of such right along.  Otherwise, you may forget what colors were used and not be able to get a true representation.

As I get into the 3rd coat again I will change the stroke direction still using no more than medium pressure. I also start looking at introducing some enhancing mid-tones of magenta and orange.

I want to do it at this stage because we are fast approaching saturation in some of the shadows areas and too much build up of wax will make it difficult to add color without marring or “lifting” up the waxy surface.

This is going to be one of my last chance to really saturate the surface, so  I am concerned with 2 things:

  1. Finishing my shadow intensity
  2. Dragging in the very lightest mid-tones color into the highlight.  I will leave only the brightest and sharpest highlights untouched.

Now I am hardening the edges bringing up the gold in the buckles and apply gold to the reflections.

I will add with medium pressure  to the white on the shoes. First an over all layer on the highlights. Then a heavier hard line at the center of the highlight. I will then blend out the outer edges of the highlights with a light pink.

This is followed up by medium heavy pressure of the hard white lines, and medium pressure on white to the bottom of the shoe catch light.

I am adding black to the background using a very light all over coating at first, then lightly shadowing in the darker areas to give it some grounding.  The third coat is done by lightly blending the two.

At the same time with medium pressure, I will lay in the darkest black on the floor and the like.

Note: don’t apply heavy pressure until you can feel the little nubs of wax building up, rather uniformly on the surface. You will know this is happening when you notice less and less color saturation occurring while using lighter pressure and it will start to feel a bit like you are lightly coloring on a bumpy back of an old cast iron pan.

This is also the point to draw you finer lines as on the floor.

Note: if you can’t get a fine enough line you may try either a VERITHIN CP – taking care not to mar the surface of the panel substrate, or the image.

Add highlights to the black floors with red, blue and white to build up to the appropriate levels of visual contrast. Then add about 10-20% more contrast than you will want to see in your final piece, as this will be blended and toned down during burnishing.

Choose at least two shades of each prominent color to build up contrast within their respective objects.  I used both Camille red, Magenta, Hot Pink and a touch of Vermilion for the Red areas and Aquamarine, Non-Photo Blue and Indigo in the Blue area.

I filled in all the white areas left in the floor with either Camille/Aquamarine. I then used the lighter shade of each in order to feather blend it into the black, taking time now to really concentrate on filling in any white specks still lurking in the dark areas.

Note: you will not be able to fill them all in at this time, and you must never use hard pressure at this stage.

I am now addressing the “white” diamonds in the background.  Like black, I feel white lacks a certain depth.

I also feel that the warm red tones, of the shoes would result in a catch light, not as a color reflection on the matte wall finish, but certainly present itself in a change in gradient tone.

I added light green to the polka dots overall, and then layered white on top of that.

In the white diamonds I added that same green to just the peaks of the diamond – again 10-20% more than I desired on final piece.

I also added a beige color to the base of the diamonds and colored it all with white at medium pressure.  I continued to do this until I received the desired shade.

Now I pay careful attention to the surface of the piece

Note: absolutely every bit of the surface should be covered with at least 80% of CP color, even the whites!

This is important because you are about to burnish and if you try to burnish over empty or lightly coated areas you are going to drag in a color that you don’t want.

We are now ready to burnish starting with the prismacolor colorless blender. Burnish over the entire image with med-med hard pressure, doing the lightest areas first and working your way to the dark areas.

You will want a thin yet workable layer of the colorless wax.  In the dark areas you are also trying to fill in with more earnest now, any remaining “snowy” specks.

Note: don’t worry, you absolutely will never get them all out, but like in pointillism, the eye of the viewer tends to blend the small specks in for you.

Our surface will be smoother but not completed.

It is time to break out your Walnut Hollow oil pencils.  The oil pencils will help you lay down some serious color after burnishing, and provide more of a translucent, rather that transparent color finish. They also tend to “flake” a little more, so I keep an old make-up brush handy to whisk away crumbs.

Note: you can continue to use the Prismacolor and can use them after you use the Walnut Hallow pencils. However, they are a harder pencil and you have to be careful not to mar the surface with them.

Bring up your colors a little more with light pressure (notice the oranges deepening along sole of the shoe as it picks up a slight reflection from the floor.)

With hard pressure you are now going to add your strong white highlights.

Note: hard pressure is best defined as the same amount of pressure you would use to color in a solid color on a chalkboard.

Burnish one more time with the colorless blender, working in the opposite direction where possible. I chose not to burnish the white diamonds, as I was happy with the texture as is.

Note never be afraid to stop, let it sit for a day, live with it. If you are happy, walk away. (Once you have overworked a piece at this point  it  is nearly impossible to correct.)

Complete the project using a paper smudge stick with a medium light pressure. Burnish any areas that need smoothing. At this point I generally avoid all white highlights. Again I “live” with it a couple of days and then sign it.

Once the signature is dried, use your makeup removal pad to bluff  out any excess wax build up. Working the light areas first then proceeding to the darker shades using a light to medium light pressure.

Note: sign before spraying on the finish. The surface is very difficult to sign once it has been fixed.

Once you are satisfied with your piece you are ready to spray it with spray fixative. I use Prismacolor Premier Matte Fixative.

Unlike many CP artists, I like to leave it unfinished for a couple of months if I have that time available to me. This allows the wax bloom to come up. I then buff it out with a makeup removal pad and fix it. That way I know that the wax bloom issue has been put to rest.  Then I spray with fixative and wait an hour and spray it with Krylon UV-Resistant Clear.

To see a clip of the entire visual process in a 1 min video:

Materials Used For This Demonstration:

MDF Panel (Home Depot)

Pentel Brush Marker (Dick Blick)

Prismacolor Pencil (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick

Walnut Hollow Oil Pencils (Michaels Craft store in the wood project section, DickBlick)

Prismacolor colorless blender (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick)

Liquitex Gesso (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick)

Paper smudge stick (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick)

Prismacolor Matte Fixative (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick)

Uv-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating (Michaels Craft Store, Dick Blick)

Foam Brush (Home DePo)

Make up Brush (Walmart)

Q-tips (Walmart)

Makeup removal pads (Walmart)

Alcohol (Walmart)

Research Materials List – Materials and further reading:

Masterful Color , Vibrant Colored Pencil Painting Layer by Layer by Arlene Steinberg Northlight books ISBN 13-978-1-58180-957-2

Creative Colored Pencil workshop, 52 Exercises for Combining Colored Pencils with your favorite Mediums. Carlynne Hershberger & Kelli Money Huff

EBSQ Live Studio: Polymer Clay Basics

This demonstration was originally presented by Lauren Abrams on 22 June 2009

I’m going to show you how I make one of my split pendants. It involves using a Skinner Blend, a simple cane, and a “gem” I make out of alcohol inks and silver leaf.

The first thing you have to do when working with polymer clay is to condition it. You can do this by rolling it out with a rolling pin, kneading it with your hands, or any number of ways…but the best and easiest for me is my pasta maker…and with a motor on it it’s even easier! You just push the clay through the top and it comes out underneath at whatever thickness you’ve set it on…there are between seven and ten usually on a pasta maker. Once you’ve put it through a number of times, it’s conditioned and ready to use.

The first thing I want to demonstrate is the Skinner Blend, so called because of the person who figured it out…Judith Skinner. She made it easy to do a beautiful graduation of colors with just a few easy steps. The first one is deciding which colors you want to use, and conditioning them…I’ve done my blue, now I’m doing a white clay.

I’ve decided I don’t want a chalky white, so I’m adding a bit of translucent clay and a tiny bit of yellow..then conditioning it while mixing the colors together at the same time, using the pasta machine.

Once you’ve mixed the colors you want and have them the same thickness…you put one on top of the other, and using your tissue blade(very sharp)cut a triangle through both, so they are the same size.

Take them apart and put the longest sides together…

Squish them together a bit so they don’t come apart the first time you put them through the pasta machine…sometimes you need to overlap a bit..

Now, just fold it in half like in the picture, and put it into the pasta machine.

Catch it, fold it again THE SAME WAY… and put it through again and again…it’s most important that you always fold it the same way.

Keep doing this until you start to see a blending begin, then do it until you are happy with the blend…sometimes you can do it in five or six times, others it might take you twenty.

I’m pretty happy with this graduation so I stop.

I place the graduated color on top of another sheet of clay and trim it

I set the pasta maker thickness at number one..which is it’s thickest setting

Putting it through the pasta machine, I now have a nice big piece of graduated clay, with a solid base

Using a circle cutter, I cut out a circle on an area of the graduation that I like.

Using my tissue blade, I cut it in half

Setting that aside, I start making my cane.

Canes using polymer clay are generally made by stacking different colors and shapes of clay, then slicing it to reveal it’s pattern…once you make a cane, you can slice many pieces of it to use. This striped cane is one of the simplest to make. If you are interested, just do some research on the variety of canes people have designed in the thirty odd years since polymer clay hit the art scene. These were modelled after the millifiori (many flowers)that glass makers have been making for centuries…

I”ve decided to use three complimentary colors and different thicknesses for this cane.

I start stacking the different colors and thicknesses of clay, rubbing them down a bit in between to get rid of air bubbles.

I keep stacking until I get what I want as a pattern(you can slice the end and see how it’s going)

On this particular cane I want a repeat, so I just cut the can in half and put one half onto the other.

Slicing the end, I decide it’s what I’m looking for…and stop.

On a this backing piece of clay, I lay down a sliced and spliced together piece of cane

I line Up my two parts of the graduated blend I’ve already done and snug them up on either side of the cane slice.

Using a number 11 xacto knife, I cut out carefully around the oval that is formed by doing this and remove excess clay

I step back from the piece and decide what to do next

I’m going to make a coil of clay to border the pendant, and I want to use some of the cane in it…so I cut a couple of thin slices

I take a deep rust color clay(one of the ones I’ve used in the cane)and roll out a thing coil

Laying two of the thin slices on the coil, I roll some more to make the coil thinner and by doing that it also incorporates the cane slices into the coil

I arrange this around the pendant and press it into place

I add another sliced cane piece at the top, and start to add some small balls of the blue clay…here I’m using a brush to apply some liquid polymer clay, which will act as a glue to adhere the delicate pieces in place.

Here I am taking a ball of green clay and pressing it into a silicone rubber mold I have made

I press it into place at the bottom…

I step back and look at what I’ve done so far and decide that this is the time for my “gem”

Using a commercial cabochon mold I have, I press a piece of Premo Pearl into a round one of the right size

Then I prepare the covering, the super duper shiney thing we all love!

I lay a piece of silver leaf(aluminum) on top of a piece of pearl clay…rub it down

Using alcohol based inks, I paint some on top of the silver leaf until I like the look

Then I take some Premo translucent clay and put it through the pasta machine, making it thinner each time I put it through until it is at the thinnest setting possible….

Sorry it’s kind of hard to see but in this photo I am putting the sandwhiched clay, leaf, inks and translucent top through the pasta machine…just once or twice, depending on how much crackle you want.

Cover the piece you made with the cabochon mold with this sheet of clay…trim the excess and stretch it carefully over it and underneath a bit too.

For this one I want a bit of a base that’s a little larger than the “gem” I use an appropriately sized circle cutter as shown

Using a bit of liquid clay for glue, I put them together

I smush down a piece of green clay to support the “gem” and paint it with liquid clay

I press the “gem” in place

I start adding different little pieces to complete it

Into the oven it goes…at 275 for about thirty minutes. Some people like to use a dedicated toaster oven for their polymer clay. I will get around to that eventually lol..

After the piece has cooled, I coat the top of the “gem” with Futura floor covering…it gives it a great shine

I make a drop using the same clay and cane and add some annodized jump rings for findings

Once that is done and fired again, I add a multistrand steel necklace and voila, my split pendant!

Just wanted to show you a few different pieces so you could see what the “gems” can look like with different colored inks…

Food for Thought: State of the Biz

This was originally posted in the EBSQ Glass Forum (now viewable by the public!) by resident glass artist Dawn Thompson and I felt it was extremely appropos for Labour Day. If you’d like to weigh in on this conversation you can post a comment  here or respond to Dawn directly in the EBSQ Glass Forum

It’s tough out there folks! What strategies are you employing to compete?

The glass business is certainly not unique in being hard hit by China, but it has definitely been particularly hard hit, along with other labor intensive fine craft. The stained glass lamp business in the US is virtually non-existent, with the exception of repairs. In the span of 5 years, nearly every lamp maker in this country has been put out of business. Cheap Home Depot lighting has taken a product that was once considered to be truly a luxury item and reduced it to trinket trash. Of course the product itself is not trash. It takes hours of painstaking skilled labor and is intrinsically beautiful. But perception is everything. Where once, the customer was willing to pay for that beauty, now they perceive it to be “cheap stuff” and can’t understand why a lamp made by an aritsan, taking many hours and hundreds of dollars in materials, should cost any more than the one at Wal-Mart.

Panels are suffering the same plight. As are garden items, chimes, fused vessels, jewelry…..the list goes on. When I first saw Dianne’s garden stakes and Andrea’s wind chimes on eBay, I had never seen anything like them. And they were fetching good prices for their work. But in the last several years, I’ve seen similar, albeit inferior, products in the aisles at Hobby Lobby. It is a known fact that the Chinese manufacturers’ marketing teams scour the internet to see what labor intensive craft is popular and fetching good prices. Then they copy it and sell it to US marketers for pennies. Their turnaround time is staggering to me. How quickly we have to adapt!

The smaller items suffer less, as time and materials make them more affordable to the consumer, and thankfully, some consumers are still willing to spend on artisan made craft.

Add to that the massive influx of “hobbyist” competition in online sales; those who truly don’t care if they make a profit, or are even paid at all for their work, but are simply subsidizing their hobby material expenses, and the full time artisan is in a real bind.

Are we being phased out? Is there a place for us any more?

I believe there can be, but it calls for hard work and hard choices.

One choice is commission work. I don’t know of any artist that would rather realize someone else’s vision rather than do whatever moves them, but for me, it is a necessity. To get good consistent commissions, you have to develop a whole different set of skills. Patience. Making the client feel special and involved. Educating the consumer. Easy for some, tough for others.

Another tough choice; maximizing the efficiency of your operation. “Elite” materials v. affordable materials. Home studio v. outside studio. Difficult and unique products v. fast, easy and saleable products. More expensive marketing v. legwork and simply “getting your stuff out there”. This requires experimentation and is in constant flux.

Above all, I’ve found that I have to be adaptable. The moment you’ve come up with a fast, inexpensive and unique item, someone will copy it and offer it for less. You have to constantly be changing and stretching.

What are your thoughts? How are you adapting? What are your strategies to compete?

Food for thought for the long weekend!