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Craft With Conscience: Sara Barnes of Brown Paper Bag

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!

Craft With Conscience: Sara Barnes of Brown Paper Bag

Sarah Benning

Sara Barnes // Artist and Blogger // Baltmore, Maryland


 Sara Barnes is an embroiderer and freelance writer specializing in illustration, art, and craft. She has her MFA in Illustration Practice and is obsessed with finding the latest and greatest in the field, which she shares through her blog, Brown Paper Bag. 

Learn More at www.brwnpaperbag.com and be sure to check out her Instagram.

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1. The way that we consume culture is rapidly changing in the modern age and the internet and social media outlets have become very useful tools that let artists promote their own work. Could you talk about the role that social media plays in your own business and if and how the internet has affected your own illustration practice?

I can't understate the importance of social media in my business and illustration practice. It is my only marketing tool and the way in which I connect with a community of makers and illustrators. I've gotten commissions because of my Instagram account, and for my blog, Brown Paper Bag, social media is the primary way that I share posts I've written. Unless one of my posts or artwork is posted on social media, I feel like it's just in some infinite Google abyss. Outlets like Facebook, Instagram, etc. are places where they can live. 

The internet provides me endless inspiration. While this is helpful, it's also paralyzing at times. How does someone do anything original when so many different styles, techniques, etc. are being shared through social media? Because of it, I've learned the importance of getting offline and finding inspiration from things outside the virtual world—to live in your own mind for a while and see what comes of it; this goes for my artwork as well as my blog. For this reason, I find long plane rides helpful. You're without the internet and have time to think!

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2. How do you source the work that you feature on your blog?  Do you have a research process as to make sure you aren’t promoting a directly derivative or stolen works or designs?

I mostly use Instagram to look for artists, embroiderers, illustrators, etc. to feature on my blog—sometimes Pinterest and Behance, but I love the communities that form on Instagram. I don't have a formal research process to finding content, but it is important that I stay up on current trends so that I can identify who is producing authentic content and creations and who is just, at best, taking advantage of what's en vogue—and at worst, people who are ripping off hardworking creatives. 

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3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, do you ‘shop’ for work on social media? Have you encountered copies any of the artists' works you've featured on your site and how do you react to it? 

I use Pinterest and Instagram as a place to get acquainted to new artists and makers, as well as to keep up with what my favorite people are doing. I wouldn't say I 'shop' for work; when looking for an artist or illustrator to feature, I look for pieces, techniques, or projects that I feel a genuine connection to.

Proper credit to the correct artist is so important—especially when social media is concerned. If I see an individual incorrectly attributing an image, I correct them by telling them who the actual artist is. Often, it's as simple as the person just not knowing who created it, and not taking the time to research it further.

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4. Do you have any advice for creatively minded shops or blogs in regards to ethically sourcing the work that they promote?

Research, research, research. Be obsessed with whatever genre of art/design/craft you're interested in. Get to know the people in the communities and creative circles so you know the essence of who they are. 

Also, don't be afraid to trust your instincts. If you see something and think "that looks like something I've seen before..." then it probably is. At that point, you've got to make the decision whether or not you want to promote that person or shop. 

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5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I love looking at embroidery Instagram accounts. Some of my current favorites are @yesstitchyes@elizabethpawle, and @smeldridge. For illustrators, @ohkiistudio@isabellefeliu, and @jordansondler (who looks like she's always living her best life). The House That Lars Built inspires me to make all the things, and Quipsologies has a great mix of design, illustration and art. 

And @pearl_meets_world just makes my heart happy. 

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