9.19.2007

Artistic Depression:Something Like A Rant


This has been a nightmare for me. I make beaded art jewelry. I make fine beaded art jewelry. I make expensive beaded art jewelry. I've been honing and perfecting my craft for almost 20 years. Once in a while, I'll make something just as a challenge to myself and charge half as much as I should for it, because I view it as an exercise, a learning experience. This has been the most painful learning experience I've known in my artisan career, topping even my "Hillbillies from Mars" encounter.

I should probably explain.

Years and years ago, I decided to teach myself wire-wrapping. I practiced on those little flat-backed frosted marbles you find in the floral section of craft stores and with the cheapest wire I could find. I practiced and practiced. It was fun, really. I was getting ready to do a craft fair and my partner said I should string them on ribbon and have them on the corner of my table as the "little kid" buy at $2 each (I try to always have something on my table between $2 and $5 that a child could afford as a gift). I called them "Dragon's Tears," and made up a cute spiel to go with them. They were quite a hit, actually, and I sold most of them. I brought the remaining handful back to our bookstore and sold them at the counter, where they made a colorful little display.

Now, our store was in a different location back then. One of our neighbors across the parking lots and alleyway in back was a day labor place, next door to a plasma center. A young man and his wife, living out of their van with their large Irish setter were making their way through the world by selling their blood and working by the day. They decided to make that parking lot their home for a time. They liked to pop into our bookstore every now and then and look at the "pitcherbooks" in the art section. My partner dubbed them "The Hillbillies From Mars," after a conversation with them concerning their theory of the immanent take-over of Earth by ancient Egyptians who are based on Alpha Centauri. Take a moment. Let that sink in.

One day, the fellow noticed the Dragon's Tears. He claimed a spiritual affinity with dragons, bought one and put it on, beaming. Two days later he came back. Could I fix his necklace? The stone had fallen out of the wire-wrapping. I popped it back in, tightened it down some and sent him on his way. Having an actual life and many things to do, I didn't give this too much thought. Two days later he was back again. Could I fix his necklace? The stone had fallen out again. Once again, I popped it back in, tightened it down and sent him on his way. You'll never guess. He came back again. Again I fixed it. By now he'd replaced the ribbon with a chain. I think it was about the sixth time he brought it in that he told me he wore it all the time and never took it off. Never. This time when I popped the stone back in and tightened the wire, I covered the back of it with superglue. It looked horrible. He was delighted and never brought it back again. But then, he and his entourage migrated away shortly thereafter. Looking back on it now, if I had charged him for the repairs, the $2 necklace would have been about $20 by the time we were done. In the meantime, I had torn myself up about not having done a very good job in the first place. That feeling went away when I realized he was wearing the item as hard as he was. The whole exchange went on for over a month and took something I'd made with happiness and good will and turned it into a piece of crap of which I was ashamed.

It was then that a particular type of customer mentality was explained to me. The less someone pays for an item, the more they feel they can abuse that item and still complain about it when it doesn't hold up under their abuse. As I said, all this happened nearly ten years ago. A lesson learned and then, too soon forgot.

My current nightmare started back here.

It began with an Etsy conversation, asking if I made peyote band type bracelets. After a brief back-and-forth, I agreed to the commission, quoting her my "I just want to have some fun with this" price, and we were off. This was the first.

Right here I have to take all the responsibility for what followed. I should have asked how the bracelets would be worn. When someone says, "I'm trying to replace something I used to wear all the time," don't jump to the conclusion that they are speaking figuratively. Believe they mean they wear it all the time. In the shower, when swimming, in bed. Take them LITERALLY. Perhaps I should have quoted my regular price. It would have ended things right there. Hindsight really is 20-20.

By now we were exchanging emails. I was encouraged by her reaction to the first piece, but a little dismayed that she couldn't find the means to accurately measure her wrist. She sent back the first bracelet for me to adjust the length and change the closure. Again she was delighted with the results, and asked me to make two more.

So I made The Far Sunset and then The Mountain Sunrise. If you read the blog posts, you can see how heavily invested I was in this project; artistically and technically I always strive for a level of quality in my work that I can point to with pride. As I said at the beginning of this post, I make expensive art to wear. It is normally considered "special occasion" wear. When I ship my pieces to customers, I include my business card along with a small note on how to care for them; i.e. not intended for rigorous or continuous wear, do not immerse in water, et cetera. I could have sworn I did this.

A month or so went by and I got an email that one of the bracelets had broken. Would I repair it? Of course! Done and done. More time passed. The bracelet broke again. Would I? Yes, of course! And my thought bubble had this huge WTF? floating in it. Whatever could be going on? Another email and I find out exactly what's going on. I think we were speaking in different languages to each other. Had I known what precisely she was looking for, I would have turned down the original commission. She needed something that would stand up to rigorous, continuous and brutal wear. We had an obvious failure to communicate. Since this was all so disappointing to her, I offered to refund her money. She asked, "Do you just not want to fix them?" I felt morally and professionally obligated to at least try, so I agreed to make the repairs.

She mailed them all back to me, and I left them in the envelope, almost fearing to see what condition they were in. I let her know they'd arrived, but that it might be some time before I can get to them.

AN ASIDE: My partner just started chemotherapy, a decision made not lightly and only as a last resort. It's been a little rougher on us than we were prepared for and I've had to readjust my work schedule to accommodate his fluctuating energy levels and doctor's appointments. We're dealing with it. I didn't mention this to get sympathy, because I don't need it. I mentioned it so that she would understand the time delay, as I had a track record of very rapid response times. Why do people feel compelled to shower you with their uninformed, ignorant, unasked-for and useless advice? Have you ever had the impulse to crawl through the "internet tubes" and smack someone silly? But I digress.

The other day I finally got up the courage to open the envelopes.

When I say that what I saw made me collapse into a puddle of tears, I am not exaggerating. All that time, all that care and pride in the doing - all of it, reduced to a pile of crap. The Midnight bracelet has a tear through the center, the beads all dulled, with a few missing. The Sunrise bracelet isn't torn, but all of the beads have lost their luster and the gold finish of the clasps is gone - completely gone - now they look like chrome washers. Oh, and the crystal fireline I used to weave with SHRANK, giving the bracelet a puckered look. The one that broke my heart, though, is the Sunset. The finish on those lovely copper beads is gone. It's torn and some beads are missing.

In order to fix them and make them as durable as possible, I'd have to make them look like absolute crap by gluing leather to the backs, taking away the clasps, adding in corset rings and using leather thongs to lace them as closures. They were designed to be worn against the skin, not backed with leather. You design differently when you plan to back a piece. These will look like hell if that's done, but they'll fit and be rugged. Think "Sugarplum Fairy in Combat Boots." And they still won't last. The glue will break down, the stitching will wear out and the leather will crack if she continues to wear them in the way she says she will. I will never be able to fix them to her satisfaction. I talked to my favorite fellow artisans about this - as one of them said, "What would make you feel better? Fix them, knowing they'll be destroyed anyway, or just ending it right now?"

I've been completely blocked, artistically, for almost two weeks over this. When that happens I become depressed. I can't afford that. I need the comfort of creating, the zen of craft. It's all that's keeping me sane.

It's a hard thing to do, but I have to let this go. I'll send her a full refund via money order, eat all the postage and PayPal fees and be done. The hell of it is, I don't think I can ever make her understand why I can't repair them, or how much this whole thing has cost me - and I'm not talking about money. Like I said, it was my failure to communicate effectively that got me into this mess. This one's on me.


Back to the beads.

7 comments:

  1. Oh, Morwyn --


    My heart goes out to you. I understand too well what you have been going through with this person. And those bracelets were true works of art -- you were working on them when the Bead Journal Project started and I remember them well.

    I owned a business and was an event planner and decorator and could tell you the many "weddings from hell" stories. I promised myself that I would never do anything again for anyone by commission. Our time and artistry suffers so much from the many idiots out there.

    Hang in there. Gotta get over this nasty bump in the road and move on. I was sorry to hear that your partner has been so ill. My husband and I send much love and good thoughts your way.


    Kathy V in NM

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  2. Oh man, that is so sad. I guess it speaks volumes about letting go of our art work and how attached we may or may not be to it. Perhaps if you had never seen the shape it was in, it would have been easier.
    To wear a piece of art and treat it in that manner is abysmal.
    I'm proud of you for giving her the routine. And I really hope that you will create such beautiful work again because you know, there are many of us out there who would treat it like a Van Gogh!!!
    Cheers, Denise

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  3. Oh...reading that made my heart sink; I can only imagine what it does to you. What a bummer. I think you're right that even with a complete explanation, she will never understand.

    You have obviously gone far above and beyond what would be considered good customer service, in my opinion anyway. And while it sucks to have to give money back, (especially since you earned it over and over) - I imagine the hardest part will be letting go and not letting the negativity linger. I imagine your other works of art will surely be appreciated by 'smarter' customers.

    It is such a shame - each one of these bracelets and clasps were so beautiful.

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  4. My heart goes out to you, too, Morwyn. As a customer service manager for many years, I have become familiar with many different types of customers. Some just seem to live in a completely different space and perception of the world than the rest of us. It sounds like your customer is like that. So, no matter what you did, they just didn't get it and never will. So, as painful as the whole experience was and probably still is, letting the whole thing go sounds like the best choice. You create amazing work and I know that you have many more beautiful expressions inside of you that we will be blessed to see. Healing thoughts and prayers to you. -Karen

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  5. Thank you, everyone, for all your kind comments. They are deeply appreciated.

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  6. I was so sorry to read your post...like several other folks who have commented, I too have been there and done that.
    Why are all the lessons we learn such hard ones!

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  7. This person sounds like someone who can not take responsibility for her self and her decisions. There are people in this world that it is always someone else's fault that the world doesn't revolve around them like they think it ought to. I think you were too noble. Just be glad you are not her daughter.

    I think that you should look at what other people...companies that have spent a lot of money hiring lawyers to come up with a good and reasonable for them expectation for a guarantee, that would be good for you.

    I am really sorry about this and with all the other emotional stuff you are dealing with it is a heart break.

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