Wednesday Craft: Decoupage, and time vs money vs satisfaction

Happy midweek! To get you through humpday, Wednesday posts will be full of pictures and will show some aspect of my crafting process. (What’s on the other days? Read this post for an overview.) Let’s go!

Decoupaged boxes

Three decoupaged boxes

Centuries ago in my creative life (okay — April 2009), I had a brilliant idea to cut up magazines and decoupage the clippings onto furniture. Magazines I had in plenty, but no spare furniture, so I ended up using boxes instead, and an obsession was born. Since then, I’ve accumulated lots of cigar boxes and tins, friends have sent me magazines and gift subscriptions, I’ve fallen in love with ergonomic scissors, and I’ve made decoupaged magnets and wedding and graduation gifts. But none of these pieces has ended up in my Etsy shop… and even though our magazine storage is now at capacity, I don’t decoupage nearly as often as I want to. Why is that?

Rainbow box

In-progress box

When I first started decoupaging a year ago, I couldn’t get enough of it; I almost wanted to do it full-time, and I still feel it’s the closest I get to “art” with craft. But it is a tricky pursuit. It takes an enormous amount of time, even more than embroidery, which is also ghastly time-consuming. With embroidery, I can at least buy the thread and needles ready-to-use, but with decoupage I have to go through magazines page by page, carefully cutting out images (which are often as intricate as these). Then, each time I start a new box, I have to select the cutouts I want to use, and then paste them all on one by one (with more cutting to reshape big pieces), with drying time in between, doing several layers of this until the box is completely covered with overlapping cutouts. Then I varnish it with more layers of decoupage medium. One box can take me several days — and that’s before the time it takes for the medium to “cure” so I can apply sealer over all the layers of paper and varnish. By that time my wrists and shoulders are usually killing me and my hands are dry from continual washing and scrubbing to get the paste off.

Gold and white box

"Antiquities" box

So the work is painful and time-intensive, but it’s a labor of love; I take so much pride in these boxes and am so happy when each one is finished. That still doesn’t explain why they have yet to make their commercial appearance in the shop. For one thing, there’s cost. Given the amount of time and energy that goes into each box, I’d have to charge significantly more than I ask for anything else currently in the shop. That’s fine in principle, but I’m not comfortable asking people to pay me so much unless the workmanship is impeccable, and right now it’s not.

Damaged decoupage finish

Damaged finish (click to see a close-up)

I haven’t completely figured out the finishing on these boxes yet. The varnish is very sticky: witness the torn places on the spine of the box at left, where the lid stuck to the side of the box when I left it open for too long. The decoupage medium bubbled, and it comes away from the body of the box if I pull at it. And I haven’t found a good sealer yet; the last one I tried smelled absolutely horrible. Without sealer the decoupage medium will stick to everything, including furniture. So the boxes are not ready to sell.

Goth box

Lid of the "Goth" box

But the main problem is actually not the workmanship; it’s my attitude. For too long, I thought my shop should be more about business than about my love for craft. I spent lots of time researching marketing and branding online, but I could have used that time to experiment with decoupage techniques instead. I was more concerned with making items that could sell, than with refining an art that already made me really happy and gave me creative satisfaction. It’s true that I like my pencil and cosmetic pouches, and at under-$30 they are decently affordable… but for me, it’s much more deeply fulfilling to do time-intensive fine work like decoupage or embroidery. Maybe I’ll never see a financial return on those pursuits, but I will love doing them, and that’s important.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been busily re-prioritizing my life lately, and part of that will entail taking my shop in new directions. I was never trying to make a living from it anyway, so I’m simply going to stop worrying anymore about marketing, branding, or lowballing my prices to compete with other sellers on Etsy. I’ll make what I love, no matter how much time it takes. I will charge what’s fair to my work and to my buyers. I’ll post stuff on Etsy when I’ve got it, and I’ll continue to do craft shows like FabMo because they are totally fun and I meet so many wonderful people. And that’s it! Sooo much pressure taken off my shoulders, so much more joy in the work. That’s what it’s all about.

PS. The Satsumabug newsletter goes out tomorrow, with coupon codes, a survey, and a giveaway opportunity. Subscribe here!

Tomorrow: our first Thursday Writing day!