Succumbing, Surrendering, and Sunbathing

So, speaking of Gretchen Rubin . . .

In a very early episode of their podcast, Happier, Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth, discussed the fact that there can be an upside to the feeling of envy:

. . . envy is actually very helpful because it shines a spotlight on something that we try to hide from ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we feel envy, but if you really confront that envy, it can tell you something useful about yourself. Envy means that somebody has something that you wish you had. And when you know that, then you can ask yourself, ‘Well, is there a way that I could have that thing too?’

After I abandoned my second experiment with the Spoonflower challenges, I suddenly felt estranged from the designers who were still in the game. It was so silly! The whole Spoonflower community—people whose work I admired, whose Instagram posts I genuinely heart-ed, and whose success I applauded—had suddenly gotten under my skin. They were the same, lovely people, but had benched myself because I’d decided that the challenges weren’t practical enough. I was pouting and unhappy, and, apparently, I couldn’t be happy for them either. It was just icky.

I wanted to be back on the team! I missed the camaraderie, the feedback, and the deadline. I enjoyed being in what Gretchen calls an “atmosphere of growth,” a state where we find happiness when we’re learning something new. I could do all of that on my own, but it was heightened during the challenges. When I recognized that I was just jealous and had no reason to be annoyed, I said, “Eff practicality,” and gave myself permission to get back in the game.

Jumbo MidCentury Fusion repeat pattern
“Jumbo MidCentury Fusion,” Large Scale Black & White Wallpaper challenge, 190th/834.

And it was so much fun! The pressure was off, and the goodwill was back. I entered the Large Scale Black & White Wallpaper challenge at the end of November last year, digging out an old mid-century modern design I’d abandoned and mashing it up with a chunky damask pattern. I still didn’t get into the Top 50, but I think I stumbled onto something promising with the two-color design. Win, win, win!

I was kind of amazed that I had found sunshine on the other side of the crapulence. Negotiating with envy is never going to help me get Misty Copeland’s dancer’s body, but in this case, it worked a treat. What a simple solution!

Thank you, Gretch and Liz!

Spoonflower wallpaper mock-ups
Uploading a design as wallpaper in Spoonflower automatically creates these adorable mock-ups. Now I want to run everything through the Magical Wallpaper Machine.

Spoonflower Power, Part 2

Way back last September, after I decided that the first step I should take toward building an art/design career would be to establish a royalty revenue and that the best place to start would be Spoonflower, I had the brilliant idea to start entering weekly design challenges again. This was my logic: if I was voted into the Top 10, I would win Spoonflower credits, which would pay for future samples. (Any design that is made available for sale has to be proofed, which costs $1 to $5 each.) Even if I only made it into the Top 50, my challenge entries would be automatically placed in the Marketplace. I figured I made it into the Top 10 once, and I could do it again.

“A very smart and cost-effective plan,” I thought, patting myself on the back.

I entered two challenges back-to-back: a Limited Color Palette for which I misread the rules that said, “use of black and white accents is optional,” as “not optional,” and a Cut-and-Sew Fat Quarter project which was a whole new adventure for me. Despite the fact that I turned them both into extra-challenging challenges, they were a lot of fun to work on.

Since my last entry, I’d taken a terrific online course with Sherry London called, “Photoshop for Designers,” through the Textile Design Lab, and I got to use some of the fancy tricks I’d learned from her. I also taught myself how to set custom shapes and use the pen tool, which got me away from futzing with rasterized drawings. I felt like I finally had the chops to run with the designer big dogs and was so pleased, I was strutting around the studio high-fiving myself.

And that should have been the signal that pride would be coming (or is it “going”?) before an eventual fall.

When the votes started flowing in (or in my case, trickling), it became crushingly apparent that while I had personally grown by leaps and handsprings, I still had not caught up with the amazing illustrators and painters who had continued to develop their skills and make connections while I was off on a four-year coffee break. I was still paddling around the design harbor in my little kayak admiring the scenery, and the others were cruising out to sea on their big, beautiful schooners.

My Limited Color Palette entry, “Winken,” 265th/555 vs. willowbirdstudio’s glorious “Fabulous Feathers,” 1st/555.
My Fat Quarter Cut & Sew entry, “Gingerbread Bell Tota,” 69th/262 vs. gaiamarfurt’s charming “Christmas Doll 2018,” 1st/262.

In the first challenge, I placed in the top 47%, and in the second, top 26%, which did put me only 19 spots away from the Top 50, but still not in the Top 50. It dawned on me that trying to subsidize the development of my fabric collection by winning Spooncredits was like trying to bankroll a movie deal by playing the Powerball. No guarantees! Plus, I had created two random designs that didn’t fit in anywhere.

I finally had to admit that challenges were probably not the smartest use of my time.

“Recalculating…”

Spoonflower Power, Part 1

I love living in the digital age! The opportunities for artists have burst wide open with the inception of the interwebs, the print-on-demand phenomena, and companies like Society6, RedBubble, Blurb, and Spoonflower that allow you to upload digitized artwork and apply them to a crazy cool array of objects. Mugs, cutting boards, clocks, rugs, curtains, bedding, towels, placemats, furniture(!), iphone cases, t-shirts, leggings, tote bags, backpacks, books, and notebooks, not to mention frameable prints. It’s brilliant!

With on-demand printing, there’s no inventory for the artist, so it’s eco and storage-space friendly. There are no gatekeepers, so all interested artists can participate. Someone else takes care of production and shipping, so more time can be spent doing the fun, creative stuff. And, in comparison with the fabric industry, there’s no seasonality. The big fabric companies, or at least those who print quilt fabric, run a collection once and then move on. A fabric designer for a big-name company recently said that she wrote a project book to show how her commercial fabrics could be used, and by the time the book was available, the fabrics no longer were. With a print-on-demand company, patterns and images are available as long as the company is in business and the artist keeps them in her shop. Again, so brilliant!

I haven’t ventured into Mug, Bathmat, or Legging Land yet, but I’ve been DIY-ing fabric through Spoonflower for several years. I found my happy place when I learned how to use Photoshop. I looooove it! The only time I’ve ever had to be called to dinner twice was when I was messing around in Photoshop. And when I learned how to create seamless repeat designs, a whole new world of possibilities opened up.

About four years ago I decided that I knew just enough to participate in the design challenges that Spoonflower hosts each week. They announce a theme, designers design designs in response to the theme, the Spoonflower community votes on them, and the top vote-getters receive prizes, usually in the form of Spoondollars. I entered four challenges within a two-month period and had a fairish amount of success. Three of my four designs were voted into the top third, and my second entry, a recipe tea towel for Mother’s Day, actually won 4th place. Beginner’s luck!

L to R: “Bestrewn,” Floral Coloring Book Wallpaper challenge, 83rd/310; “Ambrosia Bites,” Mom’s Recipe Tea Towel challenge, 4th/127; “Glossy Peaks,” Utensil challenge, 57th/201; “Waikiki Quiver,” Surfing (Limited Color Palette) challenge, 39th/169.

The quality of the artwork created by many in the Spoonflower community is impressive. The top designers appear to be professional illustrators and painters, and as a ceramist turned quilter and novice designer, after the fourth entry, I realized that I didn’t have the chops to compete with them. It became painfully clear that 1) tossed repeats (where all the motifs are scattered through the block) are very hard to do well and 2) that I wasn’t really the novelty fabric type, both of which earn big votes in the challenges. Discouraged, I ended up dropping out of the challenge scene and wandering away for a while to chase other butterflies.

. . . . .

In keeping with the goal of this blog—to find out how much artists can earn—I can report that I did make a little money with that first challenge adventure. At the time, Spoonflower sold a packet of fat-quarters—one from each of the top ten designs—for the week following the announcement of the winners. Eleven people bought the “Mom’s Recipe Tea Towel” collection, so I, along with the other top nine, earned $15.40 from the sales (a commission of $1.40 on each sale). I couldn’t buy new tires for my car, but it was an encouraging beginning. It’s good to know that there are buyers out there!

Sadly, Spoonflower doesn’t offer the Top 10 packets anymore. I still get occasional sales on the tea towel however. I’m always amazed when people find it because I’ve done absolutely nothing to promote it. My other entries were never made available for sale because I didn’t proof them—a Spoonflower prerequisite. Looking back, it seems like a bit of a waste given the time I put into them. A wise woman would flesh out collections for those designs and add them to her shop.