A neighbor once saw artist Jazzmine Jones of Ultralight Dreams working on a pot, admired it, and asked the price. Jones surprised him by leaving that pot on his doorstep.
Giving away items you make – especially if you sell your goods – can be a thoughtful experience, or fraught with peril. Professional makers have varied opinions about the pros and cons of giving away the things they create for a living. Some see this gifting as a way to promote their brand; others worry that giving things away devalues their work or lessens their bottom line. Alaskan artist Cindy Shake, whose work ranges from metal sculptures to fabric flags and banners, posters, illustrated alphabet books and more, sees both sides.
“Giving art as gifts can be very intimate and not always appropriate, depending on the relationship,” says Shake, whose main reluctance stems more from her own insecurity that recipients “won’t like my work being forced on them. Art is very personal.” Also, she adds, selling to family and friends “is uncomfortable.”
Although Shake has sometimes given her sculptures, she most often presents handmade flags or banners, which she also donates to charity auctions along with her alphabet books, art prints, posters and stickers. “This enhances my brand by getting my work out to more people in a positive way,” she explains.
Cindy Shake has helped raise money for charities by donating sculptures as well as gift baskets filled with fabric flags, her illustrated children’s books, patterns, stickers and more.
Angie Chua sells wanderlust-inspired stationery, stickers, posters and more in her shop, Bobo Design Studio. She is also a designer and illustrator and teaches hand lettering workshops.
Gifting handmade items is different when you’re an entrepreneur and not just a hobbyist, notes Angie Chua, of San Jose, Calif., and owner of Bobo Design Studio, where she sells wanderlust-inspired stationery, stickers and art posters. “As a hobbyist, many artisans aren’t trained or conditioned on how to price our work and we lack the ability to attach value to what we create,” says Chua, who is also a hand lettering artist, illustrator and workshop teacher. “It’s important to openly discuss the narrative of valuing an artist’s time.” Product may be given to friends and family “as a unique gift with sentimental value,” or to test and get feedback on items intended for sale.
Chua, who emphasizes that her business is her only income source, rarely gifts her handmade items because “friends and family understand the struggles of running a business and the value of our time and skill, so many of them purchase from me.” And if they don’t, she adds, “they probably don’t need items from my collections, so it would be weird for me to gift them something.” Giving away too much devalues the time and skill that goes into handmade items, many makers (in our admittedly small sample) agree.
“Value, price, and demand depend on how the maker views their own items,” says Chua. “Devaluing your products is a terrible hole to dig yourself into as an artisan, because for many artisans, we create from our heart and soul. Imagine giving a piece of your soul away for free.”
Los Angeles maker Eva Rabin, who sells hand-dyed clothing and embroidery art, finds it “super awkward” when friends ask to buy her products, but at the same time, she says, “this is what I do. I have to get over that (awkwardness). It’s not fair to me.” While she sometimes gives her hand dyed baby clothes as gifts, family and friends “mostly will buy things to support me.”
Los Angeles maker Jazzmine Jones, of Ultralight Dreams, who sells her pottery and jewelry at maker fairs and on Etsy, rarely gives her handmade items to family because “I know they aren’t interested in what I’m making. And I obsess about perceived imperfections.” But she will randomly give her wares to someone who admires her work. For instance, a neighbor saw Jones working on a pot, admired it, and asked the price. Jones surprised him by leaving that pot on his doorstep.
“You have to know your audience before you give something you made,” Jones says. “They should know how much time you put into it and appreciate it.”
Which is why she sometimes trades her work with other makers she meets at craft fairs. “They also make things, so they value your work,” she explains.
Los Angeles artist Jazzmine Jones of Ultralight Dreams, makes clay jewelry and painted pots that she sells on her website, on Etsy, and at maker fairs.
California designer Adwoa Cooper, owner of Adwoa Design, creates a variety of crocheted people from hip hop artists to cultural icons, such the Obamas, the Golden Girls, and Star Wars favorites.
While some designers worry that giving away their goodies might diminish its value, others see the gifting as brand promotion. Adwoa Cooper of Adwoa Design in Fairfield, Calif., crochets amigurumi dolls that reflect a job, hobby or personality. She has given dolls to celebrity influencers “who have the same target audience as I do. As long as they share a picture with their followers it’s worth gifting it to them.” Before giving to friends or family, she says, “I need to know if they will appreciate a handmade gift, because my time is valuable.”
When people desire your goods, Cooper says, “you have proof of concept. You know your product is desirable.” However, she notes, offering a giveaway via social media can be iffy if followers are only interested in getting a free item and don’t value the craft.
Seeing her donated dolls later listed for sale on eBay, for example, “is discouraging,” she says, but “in a closed system, such as an email list of folks who are committed to hearing from you regularly, it can add value.” On the other hand, Shake has a unique spin for her social media give-aways: she often presents two items – one for the recipient to keep and one to pass on.
Quilt maker Claudia Lash, of Presto Avenue Designs in Speedway, Ind., sells her quilt patterns online and through quilt shops. One of her most popular patterns is her 12×19 inch Flower Hug design, which is the only one she will make specifically to give.“The Flower Hug quilt was born when I had a cousin who was diagnosed with cancer,” Lash says. “I wanted to make a quilt to cheer her up, but it needed to be small enough that I could easily make and mail it.”
Lash has since given more than 40 of these quilts. “I don’t think giving away my Flower Hug quilts diminishes their value, but I don’t give them away indiscriminately. Each one is special and takes a day or two to make.”Giving handmade items definitely has its good side, but makers agree it should be done with discrimination. After all, says Rabin, “you are giving someone a piece of yourself.”
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com