Appreciating Quality

With any handmade product comes a touch of the hand of the person who created and designed it. There is always a certain energy and rawness to a handcrafted product which gives it it’s appeal. With that energy and rawness also comes the elements that define the level of quality of the work and the value of the piece.

The level of quality, or the definition thereof (and how easily it can be recognised) does vary from person to person and medium to medium, but here are some ways we distinguish this in the Streetwires context.

Before we dive into that, you may be curious to know how we monitor or control the quality of our work in order to continuously improve?

Samples – Absolutely every product in our catalogue has a sample. This is so we always have a reference for the artists to work from, and to compare when we do a quality check.

Quality control process – The original sample is used as a reference when work is handed in by the artists. Some (but not all) of the checks done, are to check that size is consistent, weight is consistent (for raw material usage), shapes are consistent, colours are correct, and beading is neat, and details and embellishments are all included.

Customer feedback – Another important criteria to consider is customer feedback. Any questions or concerns about the appearance of any products is carefully noted so that any improvements can be made where necessary. It must be said that we work with some very creative and helpful customers who very often engage with us with ideas for new product development too. This all ensures a constant evolution and growth of our quality.

Now, when it comes to our handmade bead and wire art-pieces and crafted smalls there are some things that our artists are fanatical about (and specially trained around). You may already have started to notice the difference after holding one of our products in your hands. Keep an eye out, and consider these factors when you shop around for pieces – be it at a gallery shop, a seller on the street, a market, or directly from an organisation such as ours:-

Originality – A good artist develops new designs without copying. Are the items you are seeing for sale all over the place, and the same things you have seen for years, or have you found something totally unique? In the craft space, copying is unfortunately rife. While it is a compliment when people feel inspired by your work, it is not deal to copy. Original work is probably one of the most important factors in determining the quality of a piece. By buying a knock-off, you are not uplifting anybody. Look for those hidden gems, even if they end up costing you more.

Unique style / signature – Like any good original artwork, even wire-art retains the signature of the artists’ hand. Train your eye to start seeing unique use of techniques, quirky attention to detail, distinctive shapes, styles and design. The originality and creativity is astounding when you can start to recognise it. Try and find those rare pieces when you decide to invest in some craft items. By doing this, you are encouraging innovation, and therefore truly uplifting this art form.

Consistency in shaping and size – Have a look to see if two items of the same design are consistent in size, and that their shaping is also pretty much the same as each-other. While a little bit of irregularity is quirky and part of the appeal, items should always be as alike as possible. This is especially important when selecting gifts for an event, or products for retail. Everything should look consistent and good on shelf. If one beaded animal looks like it still needs to grow into it’s head, is missing an eye, or is 5cm taller than it’s brother, then it may not be the best example of the work out there.

Uniformity in beading – Beading requires a very high level of skill, and many years to master. A good indicator of quality in beadwork is to check for uniformity – no gaps, or skew lines. The beads should also be tightly plastered on the product, with no movement or looseness. Keep an eye out that all the beads themselves are the same size.

Loose ends – Like anything in life, it’s important to tie up any loose ends. A good wire-artist will always finish off his or her work with no loose ends, and pokey pieces of wire sticking out. Everything should be neatly wrapped and finished off for as smooth a finish as possible.

Bead size – Recognising what size beads works best on what size piece takes a discerning eye and a bit of practice to recognise, but this is super important too. Beads that are too big for a small frame will make the piece look a bit lumpy, and will make for gaps in places where the areas are too small for the beads to be wrapped or plastered smoothly. An experienced artist will always use smaller beads. Keep in mind that the smaller the beads, the more work involved, so you will end up paying more – but it’s an investment after all!

With all things made by hand, there will always be small imperfections or variations, and that is part of the charm of buying a handmade product vs a mass-produced item. It all boils down to learning how to spot a quality piece, which will be an investment, rather than opting for a cheap and cheerful item just because price is dictating your decision. When it comes to craft, it’s best to budget a little higher because you do get what you pay for.

 

Artistic Expression

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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – unless you’re an artist trying to make a living that is…

 

With wire-art being endemic to Southern Africa, there are so many talented wire-artists around. Along with such creative talent also comes the pressure to sell – and a lot of artists take inspiration from what products are selling well elsewhere, to make a living. With a substantial (upfront) cash investment into raw materials that artists have to make in order to be able to create pieces, one does understand the urgency and pressure to find and create that ‘winning’ design that the market is currently hungry for. Sometimes, unfortunately this often happens in reverse with client requests, reinforcing a message that copying instead of creative expression is okay.

Here at Streetwires, we sometimes get requests to copy a sample that a client has purchased or photographed elsewhere. This is something we politely decline to do, as we take the ‘art part’ of wire-art very seriously and believe inspiration, signature and style is unique to each crafter, or group – and prefer to develop the quality and art side of the craft. We also like to encourage our artists to come up with new ideas or interpretations on a theme to keep our offering fresh.

What really is fascinating as part of this process is to see everyone’s unique ‘signature’ or understanding of a new idea presented to them. Let’s dive in and see what we mean about art and interpretation. Maybe this will inspire you to explore and try something new!

Here is a digital idea sketch that came from a client brief.

streetwires-bonsai-tree-client-brief

Here are the interpretations from 3 different artists.

 streetwires-bonsai-tree-bead-and-wire-detail streetwires-bonsai-tree-bead-and-wire-example-2 streetwires-bonsai-tree-bead-and-wire-example-1

And here’s the final approved product.

copy-of-streetwires-bonsai-tree-bead-and-wire-example-3

They are all true-to-brief, and all magnificent, but definitely show how many different styles and ideas that come from creative crafters.

I think this gives a good example of how one can put their own twist on something. Be it in the style, technique, or raw materials used.

So never forget, as an artist brainstorming some product development, there are so many subjects of inspiration around – just a walk, or listening to a song, looking at a magazine, or watching people in a taxi can bring some amazing ideas.. Also feel free to research what is working out there (a good example is the fact that each season brings a new colour palette trend – go and look at the lastest paint swatches in a hardware store for ideas). If one wants to rejuvenate a product range that may have stagnated, a great way to do this is to try a few pieces out in the new season colours. You may just be surprised!

And saying that, as a customer, it is one’s responsibility to encourage creative interpretation and not to commission artists to copy other people’s work. Make sure you always go directly to the source. If cost is an issue, speak to the artist. There may be different ways (or materials) to create the product cheaper. This is something we always accommodate at Streetwires, with careful consideration to paying a fair wage for that piece.

And if you have a new idea for a commission, don’t be scared to share it – everyone creative likes to try something new, and the best way is via collaboration. It’s the only way to keep this art alive. We for one would be very happy to help!