Given how yesterday was Small Business Saturday and tomorrow is Cyber Monday, you’ve probably seen some variation of this floating around on your social media feeds. And while it’s true, you’re buying so much more when you Shop Small and Buy Handmade this season.
You’re not just getting an unbelievably cozy scarf, or an expertly finished cutting board, or a ring you literally can’t find anywhere else. You are buying blood, sweat and tears.
Allow me to explain.
The blood is the simplest, so I’ll start with that. If you’ve ever made anything with your hands, you know that sooner or later, you’re going to get hurt. All bakers have been burnt. All the people I know who sew have cut or stabbed themselves at some point. Even fiber workers like knitters get hurt. And when it comes to hammers and saws, it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.
As for sweat, well – That’s also pretty self-explanatory. Making things, even if you love it, can be hard work. Hard work isn’t a bad thing, but it does make you sweat. Whether it’s over a stove, a saw, or a sewing machine, we sweat. We sweat from the work, from putting up tents at craft shows, from hauling our totes of goods and displays up and down stairs. We sweat when see the application deadlines approaching, while we wait for acceptance emails and before the events start. We sweat over the details, not only in the work itself but on our business cards, our websites, and the pictures we take for our online stores. We’re doing this full time, but do we look professional enough? Do we look too professional? Is that a bad camera angle? Does this font look cheesy? Am I using the right words? Did I choose the right images to send with my application? Is this display “right” for my work? There are buckets of sweat behind everything you see in an online shop or at a show.
Now for tears. Big Artist Confession Time: Yes, you are buying tears. We usually don’t cry when we bleed, we’re used to that by now, but we cry at other things. We cry at numbers, especially when they’re bad, but sometimes when they’re really good, too. We cry in frustration when the work just isn’t working. We cry at rejection emails and shutoff notices. We cry happy tears when we’re accepted into one of our dream shows. We cry a lot when someone favorites half of our Etsy shop and then copies our work.
But if you really, really want to make an artist cry, come up to our table and say loudly, “I could make that.” We’ll smile and maybe we’ll used our canned comeback for this phrase (because trust me, we all have one), but on the inside, we’re crying. We’re crying because those four words contain every single bit of naysaying that we’ve ever heard from society, from the people we love and from inside our own heads. We’re crying because you’re devaluing the skills we have literally bled to acquire (see above). Some of us are crying because we’re honestly afraid that you’ll steal the designs we’ve spent days or sometimes even weeks developing. We’re crying because we’re literally putting a price tag on little pieces of ourselves and you’re telling us we’re Not Worth It.
We’ll be okay. We’re artists, and we feel all the feelings, but we’re tough. Some of us have been at it so long that The Phrase doesn’t hurt us any more. It might sting in the pocketbook, because those people never buy anything, but we know that the words are empty. Still, we feel for the others who have it used on them, because the person who says it always says it a lot. And loudly, too.
So remember, while you are wandering the shows and the Internet, that when you buy the Perfect Handmade Gift, you’re not just getting a thing. You’re getting blood, sweat, and tears, and you’re giving encouragement, opportunity, and hope.