It's a funny thing doing 99% of my business online - up until a few weeks ago, there was many a day when the only three people I'd see and speak to were my husband, my son, and my son's daycare provider. Since my son now goes to preschool, where instead of one daycare provider he now has four teachers, I can almost always count on saying a few words to at least a couple of extra adults. Exciting! So you can imagine the thrill of getting out yesterday - and across the Bay, even, all the way to San Francisco! - to participate in the local installment of Hello Etsy. Like the good student I used to be, I took 4 and 1/2 pages of notes! I thought I'd share a little recap here.
The San Francisco event took place at CCA, which is kind of a drag to get to via public transit (from just across the Bay, for example, I'd spend roughly 90 minutes on a combination of two AC Transit buses, one BART train, and one Muni bus). Fortunately, I got a ride and we made it across the bay just before bridge traffic got insane. I got there around 10:40, ten minutes after the doors opened and registration began, and expected the place to be packed. Attendance was definitely lighter than I expected, especially since the free event was "sold out." Food vendors and craft booths were setting up and I spotted a table in the far back of the main hall offering up coffee just the way I like it: hot and free.
The event kicked off around 11. After warm welcomes from Etsy's own Vanessa Bertozzi and CCA's Provost Mark Breitenberg, New York Times contributor Allison Arieff (her book sounds PREtty FABulous!) moderated a panel discussion titled, "From Prototype to Product." The panel was great - diverse, funny, inspiring, etc. First up was Patrick Buckley of DODOcase. He talked about his original idea as his prototype and how he tested the idea by handing out pamphlet-style mock-ups of the product to brand new iPad owners when the gadget first launched. Genius! I kind of want an iPad just so I can get a DODOcase for it. But wait, they make cases for other tablets, too, like the Kindle and...wait a second, no Nook? No worries, there's an Instructable for that.
Next up: Miguel Nelson of Woolly Pocket, who described his MFA experience at CCA as a kind of "art spa." I loved his spiel, wandering and a bit aloof, not unlike his journey from sculpture student to manufacturing. I'm paraphrasing here but when he was talking about figuring out how to satisfy the growing demand for these plant pockets he started adding to spaces he'd rent out, he called his brother and said something like, "Well, quit your job, come make these damn pockets, and everyone will be happy." I actually appreciated that he was the only one to really talk about how difficult and overwhelming the business side of things can be and how there is some personal value, at least, in keeping production small and making things one at a time. I guess there's a spectrum between the two models and I would imagine everyone in attendance is trying to find a cozy little spot somewhere in the middle, where they can make a livelihood but maintain their creativity and perhaps some joy in, you know, making stuff.
Kate Sofis from SFMade spoke last. This is a pretty amazing organization that supports local manufacturing and facilitates business partnerships between small business owners and all the other people that can help to get your product made. The only catch? You have to run your business in San Francisco. I know, duh, right, but it would be super cool if there was something like this in Oakland, or the East Bay, or perhaps Bay Area in general. Or maybe chapters. I don't know. It sounds like SFMade is being used as a model for similar organizations in other cities but what about the rest of us?
Lunch break was interesting. I sat at a table with four other conference attendees, only one of which seemed to have a pretty good understanding of what Etsy is, how to set up a shop, how to list an item for sale, etc. There was one woman who was on Etsy but utterly clueless about how it worked (and expecting basic instruction and tutorials from this conference which was, as Bertozzi accurately described it, more about the "big ideas" that Etsy, among other organizations and communities, is participating in) and two others who were Etsy-curious, there to learn more and possibly set up shop sometime in the future. One gal I talked to described how she had a three-year plan to getting her shop started. Well, that's one way to do it. Or, you can dive right in there like I did and make a ton of mistakes along the way! Anywho, from the conference organizer's perspective, my table was exactly the kind of mix in attendance they were looking for: Etsy veterans, Etsy newbies, those curious about Etsy, and those interested in all the other things the conference had to offer. From my perspective, I guess I was a wee bit disappointed only because it would have been nice to chat with people who had a little more experience running their businesses on the site.
After lunch Kelly Lynn Jones talked about Little Paper Planes. In a nutshell, I was pretty wowed by Jones' presentation. Interested in "sincerity and community," the site she started in 2004 reminds me of Christo's model: selling the ephemera created in the planning of larger projects to fund the overall practice. Similarly, Little Paper Planes promotes the collection of (very affordable) art ephemera created by artists largely sought out by Jones, which in turn helps those artists to "not have day jobs." How Jones manages to find the time to make her own work (and go to grad school while running LPP, I might add) is a little beyond me. Clearly, she is one of the 1% still making work five years after art school (that means I have two more years to resume making work if I want to continue to call myself an "artist"). At the end of her presentation, she gave a list of art blogs, subscription sites, and online exhibitions that I, for one, should probably be taking a look at every now and then:
I ♥ Photograph
Booooooom (7 o's, FYI - I took the liberty of counting them for you)
Brown Paper Bag
Hyperallergic (I love their byline: "Sensitive to Art & its Discontents")
My Love For You
Contemporary Art Daily
You Have Been Here Sometime (a Miranda July-esque title if ever there was one)
Subscription Sites (if you like all the above stuff and you have a little money to spend):
The Present Group
The Thing Quarterly (getting a lot of buzz thanks to their project with James Franco)
Art in a Box
Alula Editions (focused on textiles)
Art Star (I'm sure they mean it ironically, or whatever, but this name is pretty cringe-worthy)
Art.syhttp://art.sy/ (another name I'm not so keen on...one word: Qwikster)
Turning Art (speaking of Netflix, this is like that site, but for art, kinda)
and last but not least the first online art fair (VIP stands for "viewing in private"): VIP Art Fair
I'm down with blogs and subscription sites and the model of LPP, but most of the "online exhibitions" leave me a little cold. When they're "curated" it's another story but artist marketplaces I can take or leave.
After Jones' talk, I made my way first to a "discussion workshop" and finally, a "learning workshop." The "discussion workshop" I chose was "Creative Branding" with Regina Connell (who also runs the online magazine, Handful of Salt). She had perhaps the best powerpoint presentation of the day. She used Apple (of course) and Brandon Whyrhymer (less obvious, equally good example of great branding). She talked about how Whyrhymer's difficult last name is actually a good thing because it's memorable, if hard to spell (easy - just now, for example, I remembered "why rhyme(r)?" as the thing to Google). Despite sloppily attempting to jot down every bullet point, I don't have much else to write, perhaps because branding is not my strong suit (on the web, for example, I'm here, here, here, and here, just to name a few).
The last workshop of the day was even less useful for someone who's been on Etsy for a little while and spends a lot of time on the blog, in the forums, and just generally tweaking their shop(s). The "Etsy Shop Tune-Up" not only focused almost exclusively on jewelry stores (no offense but...bo-ring), but didn't really offer up the kind of constructive criticism I, at least, would have been looking for had I submitted my shop to be one of the four reviewed in front of the group. Instead, I wish the panel discussion that wrapped up the day's events had been earlier and the workshops later, because, knowing it'd take me awhile to get home and not wanting to postpone dinner and bedtime for a napless and likely already a little on the cranky side certain three year old, I decided to leave at 4, when the panel discussion, "Startup Stories", began. I'm hoping I can find it online eventually.