You may not know this but I used to make handmade books. I studied the art form for two semesters in college and really love it. It was a passion and inspired my senior thesis topic, The Place of the Conventional Book in the Era of the New Media. Sure, that topic is a cocktail conversation five years ago, but in 1998 it was ahead of its time. But back to the handmade books because that’s the point of this.
I made them and loved them and from 2003 until 2006, I sold them in shops and online. But in that time, I experienced a crazy mix of responses to the creations. Some thought they were charming and extraordinary. I had enquiries for custom wedding guest books, but all thought the price I quoted was too high ($30) and thought $12 was the most she’d spend on it, so I only made one for very dear friends getting married as their gift. I couldn’t see spending two days creating a guest book then selling it for less than the supplies cost unless it was someone I loved then why not just give it as a gift. There were also positive reactions. One woman bought several to put as an arrangement in a bowl on her entry table (by chance, she later became a friend). They were even admired by a well-known writer who visited a shop where they were sold in Seattle.
I sold them not to make a fortune but to see if I could create something and make a living. I learned, I could not. I could barely make enough for groceries. But I still did it because it was fun to keep my hand in something I was passionate about. Then instead of selling some of the inventory, one shop gave a few away to kids who thought they were cute. That broke my heart a little. Plastic glow-in-the-dark spider rings are for giving away, not handmade books with hand-sewn bindings that took an hour to create. After that, I stopped making them. I took a class from Barbara Hubert here in Cork City to freshen my skills a couple years ago and it felt like running into an old friend. Instant enjoyment but also awkwardness since I wasn’t ready to face the love of creation followed by the loss of under-appreciation again. Here is a photo of one of the books I made in that course.
Next time you see something handmade, don’t just think, “how little can I get this for?” but consider what quality the workmanship and supplies are that went into it. Do you really think it’s fair trade if you’re paying $12 for a custom handmade wedding guest book and it took the artist 16 hours to make it?