Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Whimsical Contemporary Folk Art by Robin + Leaving "Conventional" Art Gig to Etsy Success

Have you stumbled upon an art piece that seizes your heart with the bittersweet pain of nostalgia? This was my soul's reaction to the witty whimsy of Robin's crafts in Raw Bone Studio. The deliberate handmade appeal, iconic indie imagery and saturated hues took me right back to my early days of crafting and selling creations in a similar (albeit, far less sophisticated) style. Robots, Mexican sugar skulls, horror, and kitsch...what's not to love? Luckily, Robin agreed to answer some questions about her successful transition from professional artist to Etsy craftswoman!

1. Thanks for agreeing to this interview Robin, please tell us a little about yourself!

Thanks for inviting me! I live in southern California with my husband and teenage son. I’ve been a maker of things my whole life; from troll doll clothes to pop-art jewelry to my current embroidered felt pieces. In college, I studied graphic design and started my career as an advertising art director.

2. Did taking former training in graphic design and art direction clash with your self-taught designing ways?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I mostly work in 2D because that is what I was taught. 3D remains daunting. Sometimes I wish I could just dive-in and explore more like a true untrained folk artist, but that little voice is always whispering “but will it sell?”. On the other hand, I love the creative process of making something that is potentially marketable. Graphic Design taught me to refine ideas through trial and error, and it remains a thrilling process. 

3. How did you start a career in art direction? What were some pros and cons?

I went to art school because I loved making things. But I didn’t think I could make a living making things. My art school also had classes in Graphic Design and Art Direction so I went that route. I learned how to work hard and solve problems creatively, which is a huge pro. The con was brainwashing people into consuming things they didn’t need or want. My last ad was to sell non-fat yogurt to 12-year-old girls. That’s why I quit.

4. Oh, that's truly insidious. I applaud you for taking your integrity and starting your own creative business. You say you're a lifelong scavenger and crafter; I 1000% relate to that, sounds like my childhood! What are a couple of favorite scavenged or thrifted finds?

High five to you soul sista! The best find was a huge box of wool felt for $5, which got me started on the whole embroidery thing. I also found an oil painting of a young boy from the 50’s who looks exactly like my son did at the time. The portrait boy looks around 5 years old and that was my son’s age when I found it. It was eerie and scared my son so much I couldn’t hang it. But now I torture him with it. 

The better to scare your children with! Be good or "portrait you" will take your place! Scaring children is a family tradition going back generations for my family, too.

5. Threading colorful floss through neon felt is my happy place too, I love that graphic hand-crafted look it results. Lucky you the $5 wool felt score! How did Rawbone Studio get its start?

It was that box of wool felt! I started making embroidered sugar skulls for fun, and absolutely loved the process. I had known about Etsy but thought too many people were already selling on that venue. That was back in 2009 and when I searched for “hand embroidered sugar skulls” and nothing came up, I thought maybe I could find a niche for myself. A friend nicknamed me Rawbone (Robin) and I thought that could be a catchy name for branding my sugar skulls. So that’s how it started.

6. What were your biggest challenges starting out, and how did you overcome them?

Pricing is my hardest challenge and I still haven’t mastered it. I hired a consultant who gave me the golden rule of pricing and I still fall short. Here’s the rule: First, come up with an hourly rate you MUST have. How long (to the minute) does it take to make each item? How much (to the penny) is the material cost per item? Take your hourly rate and times it by the minutes/hours it takes to make one item and that becomes your labor cost. Add the labor cost to the materials cost and times that number by three. That should be your wholesale price. Double your wholesale price and that should be your retail price. NO CHEATING! If you can’t sell your item for that price you shouldn’t be making or selling that item or you will lose money. Everyone forgets that they have to pay taxes, rent, insurance, research & development, marketing, production tools, computer, electricity, phone, etc.

"First, come up with an hourly rate you MUST have. How long (to the minute) does it take to make each item? How much (to the penny) is the material cost per item?"

7. Totally agree with all of that. Working out your prices and labor isn't easy, but it's essential to be successful! Was your art directing / graphic design background an asset? Your brand has a very clean, streamlined, consistent playful folkiness that I absolutely love.

Thank you kindly for the compliments. Yes my professional background has been a huge asset, especially with marketing and branding myself. I also learned how to hold myself to a high standard because I was exposed to a lot of critical criticism in a professional environment. That’s important for us makers because our egos often get in the way of believing in ourselves, or thinking we’re too awesome to change. My style is my personality. I love to laugh, I love nostalgia, and I don’t take myself too seriously.

8. What's your advice for anyone else that wants to be successful on Etsy?

Using online venues to sell handmade products means you have to wear a lot of hats and be really good wearing all of them. You have to make something that people want to buy, figure out how to make your items as beautifully and efficiently as possible, update things as needed, and stay in love with the process. You need to write well, photograph like a professional, master social media, and take care of your customers along with thousands of small details every single day. Educate yourself as much as you can about everything to do with all of the above. Use forums wisely and don’t listen to complainers. Plan to work hard and follow through. There are no shortcuts.

9. How about advice for anyone who wants a career in art direction or graphic design?

You have to love, love, love it or it will eat you. Also, the skills you learn will probably benefit you throughout your life.

10. Can you name a few of your top design influences and/or muses?

Artists that move me:
Alexander Calder, Isidro Ferrer, Saul Steinberg, Mari Andrews, Adriana Torres of Miga de Pan, Sophie Digard, Sandra Eterovic, Mano Kellner

Blogs that are eye-opening:

I really appreciate the muse readings, us fellow creators can't get enough inspiration or tips from successful makers! This interview with Robin was a beautiful reminder for me to get back to my crafty roots and to tighten up my new brand. Robin's right, there are no short-cuts, you have to do the un-colorful stuff like calculating your wholesale and retail prices, but the independence of being your own artist (and not being paid to peddle harmful messages!) is worth all the work.

Check out Robin's beautiful wares on Etsy. I'm saving up to place a few orders, so many things I must have in that shop!
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  1. Thanks so much Vanessa! Looks like we inspired each other. To our continued successes!

    1. Yes indeed, our aesthetic is playful kitchiness in art and in life is very similar. Art soul sisters. ;) Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  2. What a wonderful interview! I'm not normally drawn to skulls, but I really dig these colorful felt ones :) Pricing seems to be an issue with many crafters...

    1. She really does make such a consistent playful line, very good eye she has. Pricing is probably the hardest part of the job for crafters. A lot of beginners have to get over the inevitable eye-rolls (especially in-person) when people scoff, "That's too much!" -- let them keep walking. They're not your customer. You can and will attract the buyers who understand the prices aren't to be greedy but to support the artisan. And they're not "getting rich" off those prices, either!

  3. Love her colorful sugar skulls! And her great advice in #8!

    1. I definitely agree with #8, the standards are higher now and you can't take any short-cuts anywhere: on photos, descriptions, design, packaging, customer service, etc. It's hard but also what makes the work challenging and fun.

  4. Great interview. Her wire sculptures are simply amazing! <3

    1. They are, aren't they? She's very talented.

  5. Love those sugar skulls! And the fact that she doesn't take herself too seriously! :) Great interview.

  6. Thanks for this! Great interview, wonderful artist. I love her work. Thanks Van!

    1. No problem, I want one of everything in her shop and she was so awesome to do this candid interview!

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