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Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Rejection...It Happens

Sarah Benning

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It happens to all of us. All the time. In so many different ways. But artists might face rejection even more often than others. It is, unfortunately, a part of the job. And if you have recently been rejected—particularly if some of your creative work has been rejected—I am here to tell you that you aren’t alone.

This past week I received a rejection email from a holiday craft market I applied to a month or two ago, and I’m not going to lie, it stung a little. And while it was certainly disappointing, it wasn’t devastating. I have dealt with a lot of rejection over the years—rejections from schools and programs, rejections from residencies, rejections for grants, rejections from galleries and exhibitions, rejected curatorial proposals, rejected collaborative proposals, rejections from potential sponsors, rejections in the form of bad reviews and angry emails, mean comments…the list goes on and on. It is an undeniable part of putting yourself and your creative work out there.

At this point, I try not to take it too personally and to remind myself that there is probably a reason my work or proposal wasn’t accepted—that ultimately it would have been a bad fit and it is better to not go down that difficult road. Or maybe I was rejected from one opportunity to make room for some other opportunity that will turn out to be even better or it’s universe telling me to slow my roll and allow myself time to breathe and rest. Or maybe it was arbitrary…

When I was in high school (hey Baltimore School for the Arts), between my junior and senior year, I applied to a summer pre-college landscape painting program in Tuscany organized by MICA. I collected and documented all my best pieces of work, wrote a personal essay about why it was important I go on this trip and how I would grow and evolve as an artist and person, and filled out the application. I took it very seriously and I thought I was a shoo-in. In my head I checked off all the boxes: my grades were good (nerd alert); my portfolio was strong; my essay was convincing; everything had been turned in on time, etc. And then the day came when I received a letter that opened with, “We regret to inform you…” and my world came crashing down. Or, at least that’s what it felt like in the moment. It was the first time that I had really wanted something, worked really hard to get it, and been denied. (I was a privileged 17 year old, please forgive me for my narrow world-view!)

I had been rejected, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. In a spur of the moment move—still standing by the mail slot with my rejection letter in hand—I called the program director at MICA and asked if I could please have some more specific feedback on why I hadn’t been accepted so that I might learn from the occasion and strengthen future applications. The program director humoured me and looked up my information then said, “I’m really sorry. Your application was very strong, but some arbitrary decisions had to be made…”

You might be thinking at this point, Sarah, how do you remember what they said to you on the phone over a decade ago? Well, those words are forever burned into my brain. ARBITRARY. DECISIONS. HAD. TO. BE. MADE. I also remember losing it a little bit at that point. I didn’t want to, but I broke down in tears on the phone. Not because I was heart broken about not going to Tuscany (I mean, maybe a little bit), but because the admission of ‘arbitrary decisions’ after I had worked so hard was just too much.

It was a hard lesson to learn—and probably not one the program director really intended to teach that day. We ended up talking for some time (looking back, I really appreciate their generosity) and eventually the conversation came around to the fact that they wanted the program to have a diverse mix of students from all over the country and they had gotten so many applications from students within Baltimore, it had essentially come down to picking names out of a hat and the choices weren’t a reflection of the actual applications at all. I think this person told me a lot more than they meant to and it definitely didn’t soothe my indignation at the word ‘arbitrary’ but it was a valuable and eye-opening lesson nonetheless.

Now, ten years and a successful creative business later, I think back to that phone call every time I am rejected from something—not because I think all rejections are arbitrary, of course they aren’t!—but because it reminds me that all I can do is my best and once that ‘submit’ button is pushed it is out of my hands. And that knowledge—that I have done my best and it is out of my hands—helps keep me grounded when bad news comes in. So again, if you have recently been rejected, you aren’t alone. It happens to all of us at every stage of the creative journey. And that is ok. It isn’t a reflection of your value or your work’s value. Maybe it was just arbitrary.

Or maybe it isn’t. Bringing it back to the present, my recent rejection wasn’t completely unforeseen. The particular event that I applied to was very clear about giving preference to local makers and local businesses…my locale is not actually local to the market. I knew it was a long shot. But I also felt like, why not try? Worst case I don’t get in and that isn’t really so bad. There are other markets. Other events. Other opportunities.

It could also be that the rejection had nothing to do with localities. Maybe they received other really strong applications from other embroidery artists. Embroidery is a very specific niche. A relatively small craft fair probably doesn’t need two people selling that type of thing. Or maybe the jurors aren’t into embroidery at all and felt their community and the market at large would prefer other goods. Or my work is too bright and colorful and this is more of a twine and craft paper kind of vibe. Who knows. It isn’t really worth dwelling on because, again, I know I put my best foot forward and the rest is up to someone else.

I have applied to seven opportunities this year (one residency, two sponsorship collaborations, and four market events) and only three of those applications have been 100% successful. Two have been flatly denied. One ended up being partially accepted and heavily negotiated/compromised. And I am still waiting to hear back from two events. So for the year, so far, my acceptance rate is only 42% (I think…my math skills aren’t the best). I was even approached by a company with a proposal of their own a month or two ago and after having a conference call about it was informed that they were ‘going in another direction.’ Talk about a real ego-buster—they liked me until they talked to me!

I share all of this not because I am seeking pity or sympathy or anything like that, but again to let you know you aren’t alone! Rejection is really hard and has certainly sent me into an emotional tailspin and creative rut in the past (remember when I cried on the phone to a MICA administrator…not my best moment), but it can also lead to reflection and opportunities for growth. Rejections have strengthened me and my work. They force me to consider and re-consider what it is that I do and what it is that I want to communicate. Sometimes these reflections cause me to change course, but sometimes they confirm that I am in fact on the right path and what I am making is what I need to be making…whether it is a good fit for some specific event or not.

All we can do is continue making work we are proud of and excited about!

Chicago Renegade Round Up

Sarah Benning

But I won’t be the only one at the market this weekend (obviously)! There will be somewhere between 300-400 vendors all offering up incredible handmade and artisanal goods and I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorites! Speaking from experience, this event can be a little overwhelming, so it helps to go in with a plan! You can find the entire Renegade Roster here and be sure to check out the map so you can plan your visit (my booth, #311, is one tent block in from the Damen Ave. entrance)! Keep on reading for list of 10 other makers I will definitely be stopping by this weekend!

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DIY Turn Your Hoop Art Into A Giant Patch Tutorial!

Sarah Benning

As someone who makes hoop art and writes hoop art DIY patterns for a living, I get asked a lot, “But what do I do with it?” Usually my reply is to hang your new artwork on the wall, but maybe that isn’t your style or you have enough hoops on the wall already, or for whatever reason that isn’t an option for you. It certainly isn’t the only option out there, which is where this little tutorial comes in!

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DIY Embellish Your Clothes Tutorial!

Sarah Benning

At the start of 2019 Davey and I committed to #ayearofnothingnew, which isn’t to say that we haven’t consumed—we have—but that we are limiting ourselves to shopping only secondhand (or artist made when we can!) for our clothes and home goods. And we have stuck to it pretty well! (Though I won’t lie, there have been a few cheats. Like when we found an amazing and clean king-size down comforter at the thrift store, but despite searching so hard for months never came across a king-sized duvet. I finally broke down and picked up an organic cotton one from Target.)

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Beating Burnout

Sarah Benning

I feel good in the studio these days. My brain is buzzing with ideas and plans and experiments to the point that my hands can’t quite keep up. Thank goodness for sketchbooks + notepads + getting into the habit of writing down my ideas when I have them rather than trusting myself to remember—I never do!

But I digress, things aren’t always flowing this way in the studio. I am coming out of a 6-month slump. The deepest, most intense slump I have ever experienced in the past six years of creative business ownership/full-grown artist-hood (I started this whole thing right out of art school). It was six months of feeling discouraged, and burned out, and overwhelmed, and STRESSED. My creative output is very, very directly tied to not only my livelihood, but my entire household’s livelihood. And when things aren’t gelling, it is hard.

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Success + Struggle

Sarah Benning

Most of the time I absolutely love what I do and I am definitely always grateful that it supports me (aka YOU support me and make it all possible). There are also other times when everything feels like a struggle and I feel uninspired or completely overwhelmed and lost about what's next. How will things change and grow--or shrink--in the next six years? I have no idea!

I have started the practice of identifying individual moments of success and moments of struggle in order to keep a handle on feeling and celebrating the progress and to try and analyze and move past the challenges.

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Five Ways to Prepare for a Craft Fair

Sarah Benning

Whether you are entering into your first market season as a budding creative business person or you are a seasoned craft fair pro, I want to share some of my personal strategies to staying sane while I prep for an event. I am currently in full swing getting ready for two upcoming markets just around the corner in June (The Broke Arts Fair, June 8th, Peterborough NH; and Renegade Craft Fair, June 22nd + 23rd, Brooklyn NY) and I thought there was no better time to share these tips with you than when I am in the midst of it.

This guide kicks in once you have been accepted to an event, though if you haven’t yet applied these things might still be worth thinking about ahead of time too! So here we go!

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Craft With Conscience: Lise Silva

Sarah Benning

Lise Silva is an artist living in Oakland, CA, working from her studio in Berkeley. Strongly influenced by meditation, mysticism, classic film, psychedelic illustration, surrealism, and art deco design, her obsessions include:  dream sequences, secrets, waking, sleeping, dreaming, and the fourth state. She explores the power of symbols through her work with Sacred Knots creating fiber jewelry and wallhangings with handmade cord entwined in knot designs that serve as a metaphor for life experiences, dreams, and deep desires. Through her artwear she loves creating custom pieces for weddings and other ceremonial events. She has taught traditional knotting techniques through in-person workshops and created an instructional booklet on knotting called Knot: A Book.  As an extension of Lise's exploration in symbology, meditation and visualization are a tool in her creative process. She leads guided meditations as a tool for manifestation, lucid dreaming, mental/emotional balance, creativity and relaxation.

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Craft With Conscience: Raven K. Dock

Sarah Benning

Raven K. Dock is a self-taught fiber artist based in the finicky weathered state of Florida who experiments with traditional stitches and cross stitch to transform her photographed subjects into texturized portraitures ranging for a multitude of sizes; from miniature to palm size with many possibilities in between. With hopes of exhibiting and selling her portraits, and soon to be prints, Raven continues to express ambiguity of emotion, one eye-less portrait at a time.

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Craft With Conscience: Shyama Golden

Sarah Benning

Shyama Golden’s paintings lie strategically between the cute and uncanny, inviting the viewer to discover new details through multiple viewings. They are influenced by her scientist parents and childhood exposure to Buddhist philosophy. Her work has been published by The New York Times, The Atlantic, Wired, Washington Post, Chronicle Books, and Penguin Random House. She has a BFA from Texas Tech University and is based in Brooklyn, NY. She has an upcoming duo show with artist Mimi O Chun on Friday Nov. 30th, 6pm, at 198 Allen St. NY, NY.

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Craft With Conscience: Mijo Studio

Sarah Benning

Mijo Studio is a forward thinking Danish-Norwegian design duo formed by Miranda Tengs Brun and Josefine Gilbert. Specializing in prints, patterns and textiles they experiment with colours and textures. Their work always starts by hand and is characterised by their curious and playful approach to the creative process. The scandinavian duo design dynamic prints, patterns and creative solutions for experimental projects and exhibitions as well as commercial collaborations.

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Craft With Conscience: Kate Tume of Mother Eagle

Sarah Benning

Kate Tume aka Mother Eagle is an embroidery artist from Brighton, UK. Self taught, she'd been practising embroidery almost her whole life before turning professional artist 10 years ago. Kate combines a variety of techniques in her work, often 3-dimensional, embellishments and goldwork feature heavily. Her work is influenced by folklore, mythology and burial customs, and she is currently working on projects around our disappearing world, and lost species. Kate also teaches textile arts privately, and has just launched the first design in a series of embroidery kits called 'Mother Eagle Textile Art Boxes'.

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Craft With Conscience: Gracie Ellison-Shortbridge

Sarah Benning

Gracie Ellison, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, has been illustrating faces her whole life; painting portraits on canvas for only a few years. She has no formal training or education, her art has always been instinctual for her and learned through years of studying the art surrounding her. Gracie almost exclusively paints busts of surly faced women; within that realm she likes to explore with color, patterns, texture, and imperfections. While her creative process is somewhat whimsical, Gracie strives for her subjects to be commanding and impactful.

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Craft With Conscience: Gabriela Martínez Ortiz of Ofelia & Antelmo

Sarah Benning

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CRAFT WITH CONSCIENCE: GABRIELA MARTÍNEZ ORTIZ OF OFELIA & ANTELMO

October 24, 2018

GABRIELA MARTÍNEZ ORTIZ // FIBER ARTIST // MEXICO CITY

Named after her maternal grandparents, Gabriela is the textile artist behind Ofelia & Antelmo, a proposal based on two joint formats: Textile art and Wearable Art. Its visual approach is the result of the exploration of organic textures by the repetition of patterns that invites the viewer to stop, slow down and contemplate. She applies traditional textile techniques – especially hand embroidery– and transforms it into contemporary pieces. Her work pays special attention in the manufacturing times to rethink the way we consume as a protest to the speed of the XXI century. Ofelia & Antelmo embraces the fair time that the artisanal processes demand.

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Craft With Conscience: Yiyi Mendoza

Sarah Benning

Yiyi Mendoza is a ceramic artist raised in California and currently working in Upstate New York. Interested in the connections that objects can provide for us, Yiyi makes functional and decorative ceramic objects that elevate spaces and rituals. Her work is a reminder that objects hold life, beauty and purpose. Inspired by ancient cultures, architecture and the cosmos, her forms are intended to endure as relics of this time.

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Craft With Conscience: Mariana Baertl of Living Fibers

Sarah Benning

Hi! My name is Mariana Baertl and I'm the creator and artist behind Living Fibers. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru’s capital, surrounded by the countries’ traditional handmade trades, specially textile work.

I studied Fashion Design in Peru and later moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to focus on Coolhunting, the study of “trends” and how it relates specifically to the fashion industry. I then moved to Barcelona, Spain to begin my work in Haute Couture and pattern making. My Haute Couture education taught me the level of patience and precision needed in creating handmade designs. Thereafter I got a post graduate degree in Fashion Business management from Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona. As soon as I graduated, I moved back to Lima, Peru to work as a fashion designer for a large retailer in Lima. It was at this company where I started experimenting with textures and textiles. I was soon in love with the art and began making fiber art pieces whenever I could find the time. After several years as a fashion designer, I decided to make a change and immerse myself into the fiber world.

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Craft With Conscience: Corrie Beth Hogg + Tutorial!

Sarah Benning

Corrie Beth Hogg is a lifelong maker. She is currently crafting realistic plants out of paper, and has recently published a book on the subject entitled ‘Handmade Houseplants: Remarkably Realistic Plants You Can Make with Paper’ . Corrie has long been inspired by nature, from growing up near a national park to a season spent working the fields at an organic farm, she has always strived to integrate the natural world into her creative process. She studies plants, interpreting their visual signatures and details into digestible, clear steps, showing those with even the blackest of thumbs how to recreate them with paper.

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Craft With Conscience: Adipocere

Sarah Benning

Adipocere, a self-taught hand embroidery artist, primarily creates their imagery for the therapeutic catharsis evoked through the medium. Their work focuses on displaying what they refer to as emotional self-portraiture while operating within the confines of a constantly developing, overarching fiction, one with small roots in reality but using motifs and symbolism to delineate concepts such as martyrdom, asceticism, existentialism, and the eventuality of death. Adipocere is inspired by their environmental science studies, focusing on misrepresented fauna and the point at which humanity intersects.

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