One of the proudest accomplishments in all my crafty life is being a part of Handmade Nation. The yet to be released film and stellar new book by Faythe Levine and Courtney Heimerl are in my opinion some of the most important aspects of the DIY Movement as we know it today. The book profiles over 20 crafters from around the country including Jill Bliss, Heidi Kenny, Sue Daly, Jenny Hart and more – including me! Not only is the book brimming with wonderful colorful photos of makers in their studios doing what they do best the text and interviews are endlessly entertaining and informative. There is a crafty time line, craftifesto, articles on the Church of Craft, amazing handiwork by Kate Bingaman-Burt – the list goes on. I suggest writing to Santa today to request Handmade Nation of just check out the end of this interview for your chance to win a copy!
I was lucky enough to chat with author Faythe Levine about the book, my favorite topic marketing, traveling to craft fairs and oodles more. Snuggle in with a cup of coffee or cold beer (depending on what time of day you are reading this) and prepare to be informed.
In the story of the chicken or the egg, the documentary came first. How did the idea for a companion book come about?
In April 2007 we uploaded an 8 minute teaser clip to Youtube.com, it received a great deal of attention from the craft community as well as the attention of three different publishers. Our publisher Princeton Architectural Press was my first choice out of the three. They asked for a formal proposal to pitch and at that point I contacted friend and fellow artist Cortney Heimerl who signed on as the co-author to the project. Together we put together a concept for the book and it unfolded quickly from there.
How did you choose which subjects from the film would be the few you profiled for the Handmade Nation Book? Was it like Sophie’s Choice trying to choose?
There were a few things I took into consideration when selecting who was featured in Handmade Nation the book. First, I went through the footage that I felt was the strongest interviews. Second, since we were dividing the book up regionally we took who was from where into consideration. Third, we looked at the type of work people produced because I wanted a wide variety of mediums represented.
I love how Handmade Nation has a crafty time line of sorts, if you had to break the time line down and pick 10 moments that most influenced the current handmade movement what would they be?
If I had to pick my 10 moments that have influenced the current handmade movement (off the top of my head in no particular order):
1. Renegade Craft Fair
2. The launch of Getcrafty.com, Craftster.org and the Glitter Boards
3. The launch of Craft Magazine
4. The Handmade 2.0 article in the NY Times Magazine written by Rob Walker
5. The first Craft Congress in 2006
6. Debbie Stoller’s influence: Bust Magazine and the Stitch & Bitch Books
7. The launch of Etsy
8. The redesign/relauch of American Craft Magazine
9. The start of shooting Handmade Nation (is that totally pompous?!, I don’t mean it to be)
10. The launch of www.cutxpaste.com
How did you guys decide on your contributing writers? Why the choice to have Susan Beal and Garth Johnson be contributors rather than profiles?
Similar to our decision making process with the featured makers I looked at who I had worked with and who had what to offer. Susan Beal and Garth Johnson both do a lot of writing surrounding the community and I wanted their voices to be strong when people were reading about different aspect of the community.
Writing a book is hard work, and you guys had to rush to get Handmade Nation done. What was the toughest part of getting the book together? Wrangling the interviews? Deciding who to interview? Dealing with a publisher?
We worked with a three-month turn-around for our final manuscript from the time we signed our contract. This was so we could get the book out by this fall and not late spring of 2009. Since we had most of the material gathered for the text the difficult part was getting the featured makers to submit photos that represented their work well.
You have traveled to craft fairs all over the country doing interviews and showing clips of Handmade Nation. We were thrilled to have you here in Austin for Stitch! Traveling to craft shows can be pricey, for a maker on a budget what craft shows would you recommend forking over the dough on a plane ticket for? Which ones do you think helped spread the gospel about Handmade Nation the most?
It’s tough to weigh out what shows are worth traveling to. Honestly, I would recommend indoor shows for makers who are worried about recouping their travel expenses- a rainy day can ruin sales entirely. The larger more established shows guarantee a large shopping audience, but can also be more competitive if there are a lot of vendors, so I recommend weighing out the originality of your work. If you think that what you make is the top notch of it’s type- then by all means fork out the money to travel to a show with 150+ vendors. If you are worried that you may not have something that is innovative enough, it may be a good bet to stay local or try a smaller show that accepts out of town vendors.
For us, going to the large shows is always the best bet for promotional purposes. I am basically there to be a talking advertisement- sometimes I am better at it then others. If you are not in the mood to talk with 100’s of people stopping to look at your table it can be really brutal. This past year I really enjoyed going to Renegade San Francisco and Felt Club in Los Angeles.
Dang girls Handmade Nation is already on its 3rd printing, that is amazing! You guys have garnered some awesome press Nylon, Etsy, New York Times. What are some pearls of wisdom for other authors and crafters about the importance of and how-to do a little guerilla marketing?
Networking and updating and my two priorities. Having a strong Internet presence is probably the most important thing I can recommend. This doesn’t mean placing ad’s for your 50% off on all 700 of your myspace.com friend’s pages every week either (I think that can be totally counter-productive). It means photographing what you are doing, blogging about it, sharing on flickr.com and participating in feedback with other community members. Most importantly just always working, moving forward and staying focused. I also recommend not procrastinating- always answer emails, send out press releases when you have a new line, newsletters often (but not too much) and just stay tuned to what is going on locally and nationally.
What next? You guys have invested so much time into Handmade Nation the documentary and the book, what are you plans for when things settle back down? Do you already have something else cooking on the back burner or are you looking forward to a little time off to bake cookies and stare at belly button lint?
The big what’s next, well, I’m putting together a proposal for another book and will continue to travel and promote Handmade Nation the documentary after it’s premier in 2009. I have a few international trips coming up in 2009 including a stint in Australia in March! There really isn’t ever any down time since every six weeks I have a gallery show to promote at my space Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery that I co-own with Kim Kisiolek in Milwaukee. We have a fantastic line up of artists for 2009 (Sarah Neuburger of the small object and Micaela O’Herlihy who was the director of photography for the documentary, she just also happens to be an incredible painter). I also have plans to work on some collaborative projects that will remain nameless in case I can fit them into my schedule this year, they may be for what’s next in 2010!
I have two copies of Handmade Nation to give away! All you have to do is leave me a comment letting me know your answer to the question I asked Faythe about the moments that you feel most influenced the current handmade movement. Feel free to name 1 or 20. Was there a particular crafter, website, event, article that you think really propelled the movement forward? What was the thing that brought you into the handmade movement? You have until December 18th and then I will pick 2 winners at random.
After you leave your comment and while you wait to see if you won, why don’t you check out a clip from Handmade Nation the movie.