For many of us, Etsy means anything but productivity. As a wonderful place to browse and buy arts, crafts and, yes, some crap, the shopping site rivals Reddit for the title of Timesuck Central.
But Etsy, of course, is more than an escape. It's an Internet storefront, and a means to livelihood, for some seriously talented people.
With the holidays coming, we looked for locals selling their wares on the site. (Not difficult; there's a "Shop local" button in the bottom left-hand corner of the homepage.) We weren't disappointed.
Here, we discovered hand-crafted pens, high-quality leather goods, and items that defy definition, such as the weird and awesome Cabinets of Curiosities from Psychedelic Panther. We also met artists who are super-attentive to customer questions and requests; at least one mentioned the possibility of arranging in-person meet-ups to save local customers shipping costs. And, we learned that, unsurprisingly, they tend to put their money back into the local economy.
Many of the folks you'll read about here started crafting when they couldn't find quite what they desired out in the world. We're thankful that they've brought these items into our midst, and hope that you will be, too. Happy shopping.
Jazeps and Steffi Tenis
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "We strive to make it simple, functional, durable, timeless, comfortable."
Favorite local store: Agia Sophia Coffee Shop & Bookstore (2902 W. Colorado Ave., agiasophiacoffeeshop.com)
InkLeaf Leather Facebook post, Nov. 21: We're doing an interview this afternoon with one of the local newspapers. They contacted us to be part of their gift guide ... The funny thing is we've sold on every continent on Earth save for Antarctica, and this is our first bit of local exposure. We've never made a sale in our own city.
On one hand, in today's Internet-soaked world, InkLeaf Leather owners Jazeps and Steffi Tenis aren't unusual in their online business success. But knowing that 28-year-old Jazeps is native to Colorado Springs, and that the couple can often be found at Old Colorado City's Agia Sophia Coffee Shop & Bookstore, drinking hot apple cider and coming up with new designs (like iPad cases and a canvas line, both on their way), it does seem a little odd that no one here has discovered them.
The two tool, dye, oil, wax, stitch and burnish their products by hand out of 4- to-5 ounce Hermann Oak, vegetable-tanned leather from a workshop in their basement. "Some people have the impression that we have a little factory, but it really is just the two of us that make every single thing," Jazeps says, adding that their hand-stitching, in particular, sets them apart. "A lot of other places do the stitching by machine, which isn't bad in itself. But there is some strength added from doing it by hand, and also, most people find it more aesthetically beautiful as well."
Of course, because of the attention to detail, each item takes time. For a Moleskine notebook cover, one of their best-selling products ($60 to $80), the two put in about three to four hours. For just one writer's bag ($625), which has pockets to hold a laptop, papers and folders, they spend between 30 to 40 hours.
Makes one wonder when they rest. The two laugh. "Lately we've finally been able to take a day or two off a week," Jazeps says. "Prior to that, we've been working pretty constantly for the past year." Steffi adds, "We literally have to force ourselves to take time off. You can just keep working and working, and just not stop." — Kirsten Akens
Kelly MacPherson Staat
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "I'm inspired by anything out of the ordinary."
Favorite local stores: La Henna Boheme (801 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 636-2626), A Call to Life (2502 W. Colorado Ave., acalltolife.com), Terra Verde (208 N. Tejon St., terraverdestyle.com), Little Richard's Toystore (324 N. Tejon St., poorrichards.biz)
There's only one place to find jewelry featuring the faces of Elizabeth Bathory, Lizzie Borden, Posada's muertos, William Shakespeare and terriers: the Whiskey Darling shop. Made by 34-year-old Kelly MacPherson Staat, these large "rockabilly retro steampunk burlesque Victorian" creations feature a large resin centerpiece surrounded by flourishes of beadwork.
"People either love it or hate it," says MacPherson Staat. "It's ... not for the faint of heart, I guess."
Some are more accessible than others, though. Take one romantic piece featuring a postcard-like image of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, complemented by a large charm shaped like a Chinese gate. Or a chunky Marie Antoinette piece softened by clear beads and a metal bow. She makes smaller items, like simple rings and keychains, which start at $12, while necklaces go up to $60.
No matter what it is, each piece looks like it has a story, befitting a maker who majored in film. "I really like my jewelry to feel like it has a past," MacPherson Staat says, "even though I might have made it last week."
She taught herself to make jewelry about five years ago, when she couldn't find anything she liked in stores. Now that she's mastered using resin, she's doing a fair amount of business; in the months leading up to Christmas, she says, she can sell up to 10 pieces a week. Other months aren't as good, and it doesn't help that the process of making each necklace can take two weeks on average.
"I don't like to finish anything that I don't really love," she says. "So if there's something that's driving me nuts about a piece, I will redo it until it makes me happy."
That said, MacPherson Staat still posts one new item on Etsy each week, and sells her wares at La Henna Boheme in Manitou Springs and at craft fairs. You can catch her and her fellow crafters, the Handmade Harlots, at the Craft-mare Before Christmas, Sunday, Dec. 11, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Zodiac. Or you can watch her performing sometime (as Whiskey Darling) for Peaks and Pasties burlesque troupe; often, she wears the "screw-ups" she doesn't feel good about selling. — Edie Adelstein
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Unique, detailed, fun, funky."
Favorite local store: "My Dad's print shop, LX Printing, and not just because he's my Dad."
Decades ago, Saturday Review editor and peace activist Norman Cousins wrote in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, about laughter as a mechanism for coping with — and even helping to heal — a life-threatening disease. Similarly, for local Etsy artist Amanda Barela, a sense of humor has proven to be helpful in a time of crisis, specifically when her husband was preparing to undergo radiation treatment for brain cancer.
"He was like, 'Man, I have to go through all this and I won't even glow in the dark? I should get superpowers or something out of it.'"
A 29-year-old artist who went to school for photography but has since gravitated toward clay, Barela responded by creating a pendant in the shape of a radiation symbol. And while she makes no claims with regard to superpowers, the pendants definitely do glow in the dark. They also come in pink or, by request, other colors.
You'll also find glow-in-the-dark "alien repellent" ray guns on her Neverland Jewelry Etsy site, along with plenty of other whimsical handcrafted jewelry, all made to order and priced between $15 and $40. "I sell brains, eyes, rain clouds, zombie fingers and anatomical hearts," says Barela, who also makes gas-mask necklaces. "I've just got an interesting sense of humor."
For those who prefer a higher cuteness quotient, she makes teddy bear Christmas ornaments, a baby squid necklace, and mini ninja earrings. Barela also offers charm-size books that are remarkably realistic, right down to their time-worn pages.
"When it comes to Etsy, what you're selling had better be unique and different," figures Barela, who also cites price as a significant factor.
"I'm pretty much a cheapskate," she says. "If I think I would not spend that type of money on it, I won't expect somebody else to, either." — Bill Forman
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Handmade beaded jewelry, mostly gemstones."
Lisa Stewart didn't set out to craft jewelry for a living. In fact the closest thing she got to the arts in any way as a youth was singing and playing French horn in high school.
In college, she earned two bachelor degrees, in biology and anthropology, and studied primate behavior. Stewart even worked as a zookeeper for a couple of years and also as a medical assistant.
But five years ago, the New Mexico native observed her mother-in-law working with beads, as a hobby. "She and one of my sisters-in-law started doing it," Stewart says. "I thought it looked fun so I started doing it, too.
"I've always liked gemstones," she adds. "This gives me a way to play with them. It calms me down, and it's cheaper than a therapist."
She moved to Colorado Springs three years ago, for her husband's job as a physician's assistant; her job has been mothering three daughters, ages 2 to 7. And that's made it hard to attend craft shows, even if she's crafted bracelets, necklaces and earrings for friends, and organized an occasional in-home show.
It was only earlier this fall that she launched her virtual store on Etsy. That's the only place you can get her wares at the moment, although she does take phone calls (594-4430) and is willing to arrange private showings. "I'm trying to expand and make some money," she says.
But as she's still very much in the start-up stage (stowing her materials in a dining room buffet), she keeps her merchandise affordable. Prices range from $5 for a basic bracelet to $100 for custom-made family birthstone items. — Pam Zubeck
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "A quality product ... that enhances a person's love of writing."
Favorite local store: beartoothwoods.com
You could call most any artist a romantic, but you can't help but notice it with Randy Filkin, a 55-year-old call-center employee and Los Angeles native who began turning pens three years ago as a way to earn a few bucks upon retirement.
Consider what happens when I ask the 20-year resident of Colorado Springs what his favorite wood is.
"If I do a piece of Bethlehem Olive Wood, when I get done with it, I'm blown away by the way it is so beautiful, and the lines ..." he says, trailing off for a second. "It's hard to decide a favorite wood, because they're all beautiful. And it sounds corny, but there are so many different beautiful woods and so little time, it's hard to find time to really work with each piece of wood and explore it and really enjoy working with it."
Each pen starts as a kit Filkin buys either online or locally at Woodcraft for around 10 bucks. He then measures the brass tubes, cuts the wood to length and drills holes in the ends. The block's then turned on a lathe in his garage, before being sanded and finished with tung oil (if wood) or polished with wet sandpaper (if acrylic).
"I've got a coffee-bean pen that I'm going to be making here shortly, with actual coffee beans embedded in white acrylic," he says. "And it smells like coffee, and as you're turning it, the garage fills with coffee."
Of course, you've got to be careful when turning acrylic, and literally listen to what it's telling you. If it sounds like a salt shaker, or "almost like a real light hail on a tin roof," you either need to sharpen the tool or change the angle. Otherwise the pen breaks, and it's back to the beginning.
But if that happens, Filkin says there's lot of support out there for budding crafters: the Pikes Peak Woodturners (ppwoodturners.org) have resources galore, and of course there's always Twitter, where the wood worker's amassed some 11,500 followers who justifiably dig what he does.
"I just think it's something beautiful, and I think it makes handwriting that much more pleasurable if you can use a nice pen." — Bryce Crawford
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Intricate, hand-carved and thrown, useful pottery."
Favorite local store: CJ Kard (214 N. Tejon St., cjkard.com)
Susanne Talbert's whimsical geometric patterns and unexpected glazes have attracted fans from as far away as Germany and England, and one buyer from Denmark. So it's funny to think that she was resistant to the idea of setting up an Etsy shop.
"I had this thing with Etsy, where I didn't think I could have any success in it," the 28-year-old says. "So I put it off."
In March of this year, she finally caved and created Stone's Throw Ceramics. It was so popular that over the summer, she set up a second Etsy shop, ColorObsessed, to sell her hand-dyed yarn. (She uses Kool-Aid and icing dye.) Now, she's working to set up a third business, Little London Pottery, with a friend and fellow potter; the two plan to sell hand-made pottery via the "Tupperware party" model, and through wedding registries.
"I've had a lot of success that I didn't expect, pretty quickly," Talbert, a former high school art teacher, says of Stone's Throw. "I've had like 40 sales since March."
Talbert tends to focus on vases, mugs and carefully decorated ceramic garden "stones," though she's planning to introduce a line of bowls soon, and will make just about anything by special order. All her pieces are made using a Cone 10 reduction glaze, which is heated to almost 2,400 degrees, starving the material of oxygen to form surprising and unpredictable colors and markings.
Talbert goes to Down to Earth Pottery and The Clay Center to buy her supplies and fire her works, since kilns are prohibitively expensive. Her pieces range from $10 to $75 and are currently available only on Etsy, though Talbert will usually deliver to local addresses to save customers shipping costs. — J. Adrian Stanley
Sarah Marie Bacavis
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Nostalgic, eccentric, eclectic and thrifty."
Favorite local store: Arc Thrift Store (Multiple locations, arcthrift.com)
Sarah Marie Bacavis was doing some assistant teaching in a biology course when she got "a crazy idea." When the students were all finished dissecting fetal pigs, she gathered up the skeletons and took them home with her. She then set to cleaning them in her kitchen sink.
"That was disgusting," she admits. But she didn't want to see the skeletons to go to waste; instead, she wanted to see them wind up in her artwork.
"They helped to furnish my living room," says the 23-year-old.
Bacavis' work, macabre but playful enough to be charming, is inspired in parts by the work of Jim Henson; a thing for '70s glam rockers like David Bowie; and the Victorian era's cultural obsession with hoarding, dead things and taxidermy.
Many of her items, like her popular handmade fleece Fiery Goblin doll, cost under $50. (That one's a big seller overseas.) Meanwhile, her Cabinets of Curiosities, run around $300. In those, Bacavis outfits wood cabinets with oddities such as the exotic furs of zebras and monkeys, the spin of a sea urchin, a bottled fetal pig heart, a baby frog frozen in resin, and so on. She packages all the pieces separately, and ships them off to the buyer with photos so that they can re-create her intricate designs.
The objects come from nature, secondhand stores and wholesalers, such as butterfly farms. "I can get specimens from around the world," she says, "in real ethical ways."
Bacavis has been selling on Etsy for about five years. Her online sales provide enough money to support herself, and also to make her one of the regulars at the U.S. Post Office in Old Colorado City.
"I just went to the wedding of somebody who works there, because I go there so often I know them," she says. "I'm not kidding." — Chet Hardin
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Books, bicycles and Polaroids."
Favorite local store: Baby Cotton Bottoms (1301 W. Colorado Ave., babycottonbottoms.com)
"Her name was Lola, and she was very old and she moved like a robot, so we called her Lolabot."
That's 33-year-old Erin Beedle describing her late cat, after whom she playfully decided to name her Etsy business.
The Oklahoma City native, who earned a photography degree from the University of Central Oklahoma before following friends to Colorado Springs in 2008, works at Peak Lighting by day, and crafts as a hobby. Etsy is the exclusive outlet for her art. The majority of her offerings are fun, simple pins — the type usually placed on leather punk jackets or backpacks, but also worn as brooches.
Her book-related pins mostly pay tribute to Kurt Vonnegut and The Little Prince. Her bicycling ones span farther, from images of vintage penny-farthing and road bikes to buttons like "bikes rule cars drool," which depicts a fist comically punching a car in half, a bicycling image "knocked out" of the forearm underneath.
"I used to ride 10 miles a day to work," she says "but since I have kids now, I haven't had the time to be able to do that."
As for her Polaroid obsession, it began with the photography studies, and Beedle says she spent most of the last six years working only with that medium. In addition to pins that depict Polaroid cameras or clever slogans like "I've got 'roids," she sells postcards featuring her own Polaroid images.
Running out of original Polaroid film and feeling a bit reticent to invest in the new, expensive film, she's actually placed her camera aside for the time being to focus on the pins, which are selling well.
"The pins are just fun — they're easy, they're cheap, people love 'em," she says, noting that she regularly does custom orders by the hundreds for out-of-state musicians and the likes of her husband's local punk band, Hero Kid.
She bought a "button machine" and orders supplies online to make the pins, which consist of five elements pressed together, the center being her art. "A lot of them just come from doodles and stuff that I write in the margins of paper."
All pin designs can also be purchased as magnets for the same $1.50. Lolabot wares currently max out at a $22 crocheted cowl (a neck and face cover). — Matthew Schniper
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Comfortable yet fashionable handmade clothing for the modern woman."
Favorite local store: "I don't go out a lot. I'm a homebody."
Coty Sedgwick never thought she was very good at art. She did ceramics briefly in high school, and made jewelry for a couple years, but never expected to make a living from crafting.
Then, in 2006, she moved to Asheville, N.C., and wound up with an artist roommate who introduced her to the city's growing handmade clothing scene. "I would go to thrift stores and buy clothing that I could make into something else," says Sedgwick. "I'd buy an oversized men's sweater or button-up shirt and cut it up, add other fabrics to make a dress or top."
She started selling her clothes in a boutique and worked part-time creating them. In 2008, she joined Etsy, and before long, selling her handmade, made-to-your-size clothing out of her Coty Lee Clothing shop became a full-time endeavor. "I've been extremely lucky," says Sedgwick, 32. "I was working dead-end jobs, and this was what made me happy."
Sedgwick has moved away from reconstructing clothing; she uses only new fabrics, creating new items out of her own patterns. And she is the one-woman army behind her beautiful line. From start to finish, she makes everything herself.
The prices range from leggings that cost $20 to jackets that cost $175. And these custom-sized jackets can take her eight hours to make, so you're definitely getting your money's worth.
"Customer service is very important to me," she says.
Sedgwick's husband, Chris, is an artist, too, a figurative oil painter who specializes in mystic realism. (You can see some of his work at Denver's Robischon Gallery, through Dec. 31.) So both are able to work at home, and take turns working and caring for their 11-month-old baby. While they love to travel, and have lived all over, Sedgwick says she thinks they'll be sticking around here for a while.— Ellie Cole
Artistic style in 10 words or less: "Simple, minimalist, flat color, textures, optimistic, humorous, and [pop-cultural]."
Favorite local store: Domino (10 S. 25th St., domino80904.com)
For Bigfoot and the sea creatures and, hell, even the Space Invaders, you can thank the goats.
"When I was in St. Augustine," explains Amy Sullivan, going back a couple years to her time in Florida, "my husband's family has a goat farm, and I started making goat cheese and going to a farmers market there. That needed marketing materials, and I started learning the Adobe programs — Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver for web design — and ... it just kind of took over."
So when her husband, a behavioral health specialist in the Army, came to Fort Carson in 2009, Sullivan enrolled in the multimedia graphic design program at Pikes Peak Community College.
She was hardly an artistic newbie. Having attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she'd started a scenic and decorative painting company called See Change Design, in Brooklyn back in 2000. She worked on the set of America's Next Top Model and even contributed to Eve Sussman's 89 Seconds at Alcázar, now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Sullivan, now 35, says that since starting at PPCC, she's probably created 80 percent of her work digitally — among it the kick-ass Space Invaders calendar that lets you Sharpie-out an alien each day, moving from the bottom upward, through the year. But she hopes to bring more of her own hand into the process once she graduates with her associates this month.
If that's the case, you can probably expect some Sasquatch. Sullivan says she's doodled him for years ("I just think he's a humorous guy") and he's proven popular on her two-year-old Etsy shop ever since she first created prints featuring an approachable-looking version for a friend's nursery.
"Within a couple of weeks, the sales just skyrocketed," says Sullivan, who counts at least one sea monster and one dog in the same "cryptozoology" grouping. "I had no idea where it was coming from, and it turns out it was just a blog that was picked up by somebody else. Suddenly moms and dads from everywhere wanted Sasquatch in their nursery."
Another fixation for Sullivan is virtually anything mid-century modern, and through graphic design she's been able to celebrate the simplicity of its styles and even its use in advertising. Her ABC's of MCM show at Domino, opening Friday, Dec. 2, will display more than two dozen such pieces, most gicléed prints built from old photos and Sullivan's treatment of type and texture. — Kirk Woundy
Not quite as Local: Mountainscenes
Artistic style in 10 words (actually 11): "I'm not one of those guys who goes on photo safaris."
Favorite local spot: Garden of the Gods
So you go to etsy.com looking for area art-related offerings, but instead of clicking on "shop local," you simply search for Colorado Springs. The result won't be the same, but you'll still find some tantalizing choices.
One photograph in particular pops out on the first page you see: "Colorado Springs — Time Lapse." It's a shot of the city, overlooking Interstate 25 from one of our most familiar vantage points, the Sunbird restaurant, "taken at dusk with a long shutter for an otherworldly look."
It comes from Brad Stewart, who moved this year from Oklahoma City to Breckenridge to be with his fiancée (now his wife). As he puts it, "We were going to live here or in Oklahoma, so one of us had to move. That wasn't a hard decision."
Stewart, a native of Texas, was inspired into photography by a high school buddy who was good enough to turn it into a professional career. Given that guidance and advice on equipment, Stewart developed his avocation.
"I've really enjoyed it more since I went to all digital four or five years ago," he says. "I like that instant feedback, knowing if it's any good."
This past summer, he took that hobby a step further by joining Etsy: "I just threw stuff up there to see what would happen."
One of his picks was that time-lapse shot from the Sunbird, which he actually offers in two versions, one with what he calls "color manipulation" to create some different tones.
In all, Stewart offers 20 photos via Etsy, including some other picturesque views from the Colorado mountains (especially the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Lake) as well as from Hawaii. Given the type of work he does, the prices are totally reasonable: 5x7s for $20, 8x10s for $30, 11x14s for $45, 16x20s for $75, with free mounting (on mats) and shipping.
As for how he chooses what to put on the site, Stewart says, "I just pick out stuff as I go."
And it works. — Ralph Routon