You’ve made the decision: More handmade purchases from here on out. You know you’ll be getting superior goods and excellent value, and every dime will go towards supporting artisans who hopefully also have made the commitment to support other artists whenever possible.
So now what? How do you go about putting your decision into action on an everyday basis? Let’s start with an overview of some of the major handmade venues… the places online where artists show their handmade goods and offer them for sale.
Etsy is the largest venue that is (sort of) dedicated to handmade goods. If you’re looking for a handmade item, chances are good it is located somewhere on Etsy. The problem will be finding it in the vast number of items and limited search capabilities. The site is not juried, so anyone with 20 cents, a credit card and a self made item (or any supply, or vintage item) can set up a shop. Separating the great work from the mediocre can be a challenge, which is one reason why sites like Try Handmade are so helpful to buyers.
Etsy is set up mostly for browsing… you can browse in many different ways, by category, by item color, by artists with no sales, gift guides, etc. Searching for a specific item is a bit more problematic, mostly because Etsy expects you to adapt to their way of finding things, which isn’t particularly intuitive. The front page is attractive, but is limited to showing work with the “Etsy look”. If that happens to also be your look, you’re in luck. Purchasing is a multi step process, paying is a separate step usually via Paypal. You must have an account to purchase, and you must pay each artist separately. I could go on forever about Etsy, there is quite a lot going on there and many options to play with, but for now I’ll just say that if you have an unlimited amount of time you will find a lot to browse.
Artfire, still in beta, is also sort of dedicated to handmade. If the front page jumble doesn’t drive you away, there are plenty of handmade goods to explore. The much smaller Artfire is similar to Etsy in a number of ways, but seems to want to make sure supplies get equal billing. You can browse categories, and search categories (which for me does not seem to be working that well at the moment, but it’s new). The main search requires that you click off “Design/Media” and “Supplies/Vintage” every single time to search for “Handmade/Fine Art” which can be very annoying. And the explosion of ad boxes on virtually every non-studio page is distracting at best.
Artfire is also not juried, so there are a lot of marginal goods but also a lot of real gems if you know how to find them. Purchasing has a payment step separate from buying (also usually Paypal), but they do not require that you open an Artfire account to purchase. Along with their “Rapid Cart” function, this is an excellent feature that allows you to shop and purchase from artists away from the actual Artfire site (I’ll explore that option more in a future article). Like Etsy, if you purchase from more than one artist, you will need to pay them separately if you use your credit card via Paypal.
1000Markets, in “Sneak Preview”, is an interesting addition to the handmade venue options online. They do not currently allow supplies or vintage and are lightly juried. They are set up to function as a large group of “markets”, boutique type groupings of shops that present their work with a unifying theme such as a children’s market, a wedding market, or a specific location, for example. Each market has it’s own categories, products, search, list of artists, blog and usually a forum when buyers are welcome to meet the artists. The unique value to this venue is in finding the markets that interest you and shopping them directly. Right now this means browsing the markets available via the Browse Markets link on the front page (brace yourself, there are currently 11 pages of Markets) or search for themes that interest you, then click “Just Markets” to find those Markets that apply. But once you’re plugged into compatible markets you will always have a “boutique” in which to find the latest work in your particular area of interest. Clicking an item in a Market will take you to that item in the artist’s shop where you can communicate with the artist and purchase from them directly.
The site wide categories at 1000Markets are currently being introduced and so are still being populated (and are not yet visible to buyers as of this writing). They are unique in that they are being chosen by suggestions from the artists themselves, which allows for a bit more customization than is the norm… categories are made to fit the work instead of trying to force the work to fit into a predetermined category. The search function, however, is limited due to the small number of items returned on each page. The front page is inviting, with seven markets presented at any one time. Items on the front page are attractively (and mostly randomly) presented so you get a good overview of the type of work available. As with the other venues, purchases are made directly from the artists, but with a twist. Payments are made through Amazon Payments, which is great if you are US based and already have an Amazon account… you log in to Amazon and pay through their system. This allows you to pay for items from many artists at once, and does not require a different transaction for each artist’s work as on the other venues. Amazon also has a purchase guarantee, but does not support international buying or selling. You will need to open a separate 1000Markets account to purchase.
These are but three of the many, many venues available from which to purchase handmade goods online. Start with these, and I’ll continue exploring the available options in a future article.