Welcome to the fifth artist interview on miscellany!
(1) Tell us about yourself: Where do you live? I live on the west coast of Ireland, a remote spot largely undiscovered by Ireland’s tourist industry, known as the barony of Erris. Nearest town (pop 1,000) is Belmullet – about fifteen miles away. Do you have a family or any pets? I have three grown up lads, the last one left college at the end of last year and has emigrated to the UK along with his girlfriend to find work there as pretty much an employment blackspot around here. They have both got good jobs recognizing their educational achievements over there. I have my spoiled chocolate coloured German Pointer/Labrador cross dog. She is extremely energetic and I often feel I have bitten off more than I can chew with her energy levels far in excess of my own! What’s a typical day like for you? I have only got two hours paid work a week, teaching art. That is now finished till September, so when weather permits, my mind turns to crafting. I usually set into what my mood for the day decides. Some days I’ll paint loads of backgrounds for my watercolour cards, some days I’ll collect lots of flowers and get them started on the pressing process. Some days I’ll get felting local scenes or making felted sheep. All the hours of the days quickly disappear when I start doing crafts, I find myself at 8pm, having not had time to make the lunch yet!! What is unique or special about you? When my kids started to go onto college after they finished school I realised I would have like to do that, so I did. I studied history and geography and became a nerd! I achieved first class hons degree, I think to spite those who mocked me for daring to think I had the intelligence to go to college. I had been an atrocious student while I was at school many years ago. Proud of that (the college result, not the school failure)!
(2) Tell us about what you create: When my children were small I saw the drawings in their children’s books and I thought to myself – ‘I could do that’, so I did, and I hung those drawings and paintings on their walls in frames. I always encouraged them to do things with their hands and they have all grown up not afraid to work with their hands (even though all their degrees are in science and they all work from offices). But they’ll all undertake to create anything or mend anything themselves too. I tried everything, still do. There’s nothing I can’t or won’t try! I mightn’t be very good at it, but I’ll try anything. I am a lousy crocheter (can’t get the tension thing right), but I saw needle felting on YouTube and just took it from there, purchasing a needle and holder online and making use of the recycled wool we get as a craft group (see my ‘About’ page on Etsy). Probably been crafting since I had kids, and got stuck in the house in the countryside. I had given up my work in the city and lived in a rural spot far from town life.I definitely get my inspiration from the landscape I see around me, 100%. My art probably stands out from others because it comes straight out of my head. I don’t copy the ideas of others, I think my ideas up myself. It’s a hobby, but it has to pay because I couldn’t afford to do it otherwise. I wish I could afford a hobby, but I can’t. If it doesn’t pay me or at least cover my costs, it has to be dumped because I just don’t have money for a hobby!
(3) Tell us about your handmade art business: I started off as Ceardaiocht Iorrais (meaning Erris crafts in Gaelic) but as I soon discovered people on a global scale had no idea what that name meant. The Wild Atlantic Way was being marketed in Ireland by the tourist board and as I live right on it, I pinched part of the name and added the craft bit. Somebody told me about Etsy and I took a look. After a while I decided to try a shop there. That was about a year and a half ago, I’m still there. I do intend to have 100 listings in the run up to Christmas.
(4) Tell us about your customers: Oooh, I never really thought about that. My target audience? Well, I’d like it to be the Irish diaspora across the world but I have never quite figured out how to reach them yet. Ordinary people who would appreciate something a little bit different and unique one-offs. I would never sell manufactured prints. A little bit of Ireland is what I try to achieve.
(5) Tell us where we can find your art: I online sell only on Etsy. The tourist office in Belmullet town has some of my craftwork too – cards and some of my jewellery items along with the items of other local craftspeople too. I thought my cards were very appropriate to some tourist ventures such as the Ceide Fields to which tourists are directed, but the Office of Public Works (government body responsible for tourism industry) turned me down for no good reason, except red tape and saying that they were not interested in locally produced things. Things such as souvenirs must be purchased in large quantities from manufacturers (through Dublin) and they are not interested in local suppliers. Foxford Woollen Mills gave same answer saying that VAT must be charged and they are not interested unless the maker has an income of over €35,000 and therefore eligible to have a VAT no etc……. they are only interested in BIG business and manufactured goods which can be purchased wholesale in massive bulk! I have no blog nor has anybody ever written anything about me. I don’t have a website either.
(6) Tell us about your support: I am an unofficial member of a local craft group based in Belmullet. (There is no membership as such) We meet on a Thursday morning to do our craftwork together. Otherwise, I generally work alone. My sister encourages me and tries to tell me what she thinks will sell on Etsy. She likes my feltwork and thought that would sell well, but it hasn’t! She bought one small piece.
(7) Tell us about your favorites: I’m not really sure what a blog is to be honest. I recently managed to master Instagram, sort of but my broadband connection is not good enough here to be able to upload the photos posted by others, so I end up not been able to favourite in return for those I receive.
My niece makes great pendants out of avocado stones. She is currently living in Holland and I got her onto Etsy. She does much better than I do. She has a very popular following on Instagram. https://www.etsy.com/ie/shop/AvocadoStoneFaces
Another member of my craft group also sells on Etsy. Catherine also lives in Erris and she makes exquisite crocheted and lace items as well as wonderful scarves and cowls. She is also a very talented artist. https://www.etsy.com/ie/shop/CeardaiochtNaCroise
https://www.etsy.com/ie/shop/TomTaaffeCrafts Love this shop – I just found it on Etsy so I don’t personally know this man but I love his creations! His High Bar and Low Bar is class as is his Viking boat.
There are lots of shops I greatly admire on Etsy.
Favourite piece from my shop has to be my bog cotton cards. https://www.etsy.com/ie/listing/232007300/irish-bog-cotton-artist-original-cards?ref=shop_home_feat_2
(8) Tell us anything else: So many talented craftspeople in the west of Ireland who work away on their own, but its so hard to compete against big business both on a local and global scale.
Same problems worldwide but I suppose handcrafters always need to be thinking ‘what can I make that simply cannot be made by large scale manufacturers for the money I’m willing and able to make them for?’ And ‘how can I get my handcrafts seen?’
And, ‘never get so drawn in to making money as the primary objective so that the pleasure of making unique handcrafts gets lost.’