I’d like to take a few moments, and address some things that get brought up from time to time. Mainly about the prices I charge for my work. It’s sort of a gross topic, but I’d like a place to refer folks to, and also to post it as a piece of solidarity with all the other hand-crafters, hand-makers, and artists out there. I end it with what is I think the clearest statement of how I really view my work that I have posted to date. Enjoy.
There’s this thing about the modern world that is inherently anti-art and anti-craft, and it’s about getting the ‘best price’ for everything. This is catered to by centralized manufacture (usually outsourced to countries where labor is cheap and labor rights minimal or nonexistent). The idea being that what you can mass-produce gets cheaper with essentially every ‘unit’ you move, so you can sell each ‘unit’ for less, sell more ‘units’, and thus make your money via selling huge volumes of ‘units’. This is the concept/reality of ‘economy of scale’.
From the wikipedia:
“In microeconomics, economies of scale are the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to size, output, or scale of operation, with cost per unit of output generally decreasing with increasing scale as fixed costs are spread out over more units of output. Often operational efficiency is also greater with increasing scale, leading to lower variable cost as well.”
If you have seen where people complain about their jobs ‘being shipped overseas’, that’s because of economy of scale.
Another form that economy of scale this takes is small scale mass production. In jewelry manufacture, this is done via casting for the most part, and to a lesser extent by CNC machining. As I always must say when I talk about casting, I LOVE CAST JEWELRY! A number of my favorite pieces are cast pieces, some of which I have had for almost 30 years. Some of my favorite jewelers use this method. But mainly I am talking about that talisman you can buy for $15. It exists! I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve owned it! And it served me very well. But it's not what I or even a small scale casting jeweler does.
In wax casting, a model is made in any of a variety of ways, which can be a one-off thing- usually done only for high end gold wedding rings and such- but more usually with the intention of using that model for many-to-infinite future reproductions. So the artist carves, or programs the machine that carves, or prints, or fabricates out of metal- the original model. After that, wax reproductions of the model are made, and then these are cast in metal. This might be done one at a time, ten at a time, or in the case of true mass production, thousands. Once the casting is complete, there is a clean up and polishing process to bring the piece to the desired finish. This is often done also in a large - or - small scale mass finishing environment. Usually this involves tumbling the cast pieces in a variety of abrasive media that are graduated from coarse to fine until the item is brought to a fairly high finish. This may then be then be finished by hand to bring the item to it’s final luster. Often the large scales can skip this last step by plating the silver with Rhodium which covers up a wide range of flaws and gives things a nice even finish, until it wears off in time.
I’ve worked in this kind of (small) production environment. It’s VERY conducive to economy of scale. In that environment, I was easily capable of shipping as many (and this goes up to the thousands in a full scale production facility) pieces in a day as I do in a month the way I work. And to me…well, it sucked.
The end result? Lots & lots of pretty things without much soul to speak of. All essentially exactly the same. Units.
This is in and of itself not a bad thing. It means that most anyone can afford a nice piece of silver jewelry for $10, $50…or $100, $200 dollars. And yes, there’s a LOT of mass produced jewelry out there that sells for close to or more than what mine does. But mostly it’s on the cheaper end of things.
The other source of very inexpensive silver work is folks in many cases undervaluing their own work. This is a reality in all of the arts and crafts, I find. The reality is that there is no -reasonable- way to value your work in relation to mass production, if you are working by hand. But people do this all the time. Depending on my mood it can ruin my day, so I try not to think about it much. It’s not really OK to sell yourself and your art so short that you can compete with something produced in immense volume by people earning essentially nothing but survival rations. It matters not if you are selling paintings vs. selling prints, or selling knitted goods vs. machine knit product. Product is that which is produced en masse. Product is what is sold by the unit. Craft is an entirely different animal. As such an animal, it needs to be treated appropriately, especially (in my mind at least) by it’s maker(s).
Craft is about art. And art is about soul. There is a soul-truth in the ‘actual’ item that is simply not there in the reproduction. So another way of looking at this is: all I sell is original art. Each piece is different, no matter what I do. Because it is all hand work. The quality of a particular saw blade is reflected in a particular cut. The quality of my mind & spirit are reflected in each piece. I reject pieces for all sorts of aesthetic reasons, one of them being that they ‘feel wrong’. I don’t work when I can’t bring what’s needed to the bench.
What I personally prefer, when and where I can afford it (which is not always, not even close!) are a few things:
- Well made
- Good design
- Attention to detail
- Hand crafted
and most importantly, especial in the realm of magical tools:
- Made with love & devotion.
“Made with love & devotion” tends to get me something special. It gives me something that is essentially -alive-. Being an animist, this is hugely important to me in my magical approach. And this is what I strive for in my shop and work.
My shop is in my temple. Or perhaps it’s the other way around? Or maybe a third way: My Shop is my Temple.
Yes, this is right. My shop is my temple. This is where I work my magic. This is where I show active, hands on, devotion to the Powers I respect and work with on a daily basis to -hopefully- transfer my love & devotion to my clients’ in relationship to their Powers/Spirits/Gods/magic relationships.
I would no more make a recording of my daily devotions set to play each morning at the altar across from my workbench than I would mass produce my jewelry. Perhaps when I can no longer make it by hand I’ll go there. But not without a fight.
So I make things what I call ‘the hard way’. Which is also to me ‘the right way’. Which is not right for everyone, or even available to everyone, I am very well aware. And there are decades of my life where it would have been difficult for me to afford my own work.
But... There is deep abiding joy in deciding on the few pieces I will make each week. To lay them out on a sheet of silver. To clear a space to begin the separation of element from element. To choose where it is best to start. Which drill for which opening. Which blade for each cut. Which music as background inspiration for the next hour, which incense to call to the Powers, which oil to anoint the sheet to bring it into alignment with the greater intention of the day, the hour, the cut, desire, talisman. And then to prepare the elements for rebirth: the process of weeding out, which pieces have poor cuts and need to be remade, which files, sandpaper, abrasives to smooth which edge.
To stack the elements up, to feel for the correctness, the coming back together in a new form. Then the fiery birth itself, usually in two stages. Asking always for the blessings of the torch and metal. Red hot metal, flowing silver. Into the acid bath.
Then to the removal, the last of the shaping. Files, to level the edges and shape the bail. Then sandpapers of all types and grits to scratch the surface ever finer to that place where the scratches blend together and disappear into gleaming light. Beauty.
My shop is my temple. And it runs on love & devotion.
Blessings to you & yours on this August Eve.