Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Visit with Etsy Boutique Owner Christina Iverson

Eight years ago one of the first artists I interviewed at Ennyman's Territory sold her work on Etsy, the online marketplace for buying and selling all things hand made. The second was Lisa Eddington, an artist in Seattle whose Etsy shop is called lisalego. I believe Christina is the third Etsy artist I've shared here.

Picture Book Boutique produces and sells gifts for your favorite little ones, and should probably be bookmarked for all the future baby shower gifts you'll need to purchase over the course of a lifetime.* You don't want to give the same things as everyone else, do you? Picture Book Boutique consists of only original and unique hand-crafted items.

The Boutique is located here at etsy.com/shop/picturebookboutique 

The proprietor is Christina Iverson whose young life has included adventures in a dozen countries, and who temporarily lives in Dayton, Ohio.

EN: Why is Etsy such a popular platform for selling arts and crafts, etc.?

Christina Iverson: I think Etsy has gotten popular because it allows artists to have their products continually on the market, instead of having to go to craft fairs or events where their products are on sale for a limited time. Craft fairs are hard work, and can be expensive with little payoff. Etsy is also affordable; they take a small percentage of your revenue, and a listing fee is just 20 cents per listing.

I think the main advantage Etsy has over some other platforms is that it is so organized. While at a craft fair you might not have any customers who are looking for what you're selling, on Etsy, anyone who finds your listing found it because they want to buy something similar. Customers can use the search engine to find specific products, or just browse different categories and subcategories of arts, crafts, as well as craft supplies and vintage items. Sellers can put tags on their items so that people can find them using key phrases. They can also view statistics about how people found their shop or listings, and what items are getting the most views. This helps us know how to advertise more efficiently, and also what types of products to make more of.

I was a buyer on Etsy for a long time before I started selling, and often used it when buying gifts. I loved how I could find something very specific that I was looking for, but also could browse categories and Etsy's suggestions for me based on my favorite items, to find new gift ideas.

EN: You essentially have three categories of products. Can you describe each and your process of making them?

CI: All of my products are centered around children's picture books, so I am looking for ways to recycle picture books and turn them into fun products. This idea is often called "upcycling," meaning reusing a discarded item, and creating a product with more value than the original item. So far I've focused on three categories: blocks, onesies, and framed art. I may end up making other products in the future, but these all seem to be the kind of things someone might buy for a baby shower gift.

I've started to find my rhythm with creating my products, and have a process that I generally follow. First I buy picture books at thrift stores and used book shops. I tend to look for classic children's books that people have fond memories of, like books by Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, or Beatrix Potter, as well as book series with classic characters, like the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, or Frog and Toad. I also look for Little Golden Books and other vintage books that have fun illustrations. When I look through books, first I look for stand-alone images, that I can imagine someone wanting framed or put onto a onesie. After I cut out those pictures, I use the rest of the book to cut out small squares which I put onto 1.5 inch wooden blocks. Depending on the length of the book, I can usually make several sets of blocks and a few framed pictures or onesies from each book. The onesies and framed art are made by using a product called Mod Podge Image Transfer Medium, which is a bit like glue. I cover the picture with the Mod Podge, and set it on the fabric, either a square of plain white fabric, or a onesie. After it sets for about a day, I apply water, and rub off the paper, which leaves the image on the fabric. It looks a little bit like a screen printed shirt. The fabric squares I will frame in hand painted frames that I usually get from thrift stores. I actually have a fourth sub-category of products, which is framed pages from picture books that aren't transferred on fabric.

EN: You have a background that has contributed to understanding this particular market. Can you elaborate on this? 

CI: I worked as a nanny for 3 1/2 years before starting up my Etsy shop, mostly watching babies and toddlers. I have always loved children's books, and reading to little ones was one of my favorite parts of nannying. Also, as a nanny, I saw a lot of people who were willing to spend a little extra money to have toys that were handmade or had a special meaning. This is especially true when it comes to buying a gift for a baby shower. In a world with so many plastic toys and baby products, I think people want to feel that their gift is a little more memorable or authentic.

Customized orders are popular on Etsy, and I have an option for buyers to order a custom set of blocks from any book of their choosing.

EN: How did you come up with the idea for the blocks?

CI: I actually had seen another shop on Etsy making similar blocks when I was looking for a baby shower gift for a friend. What I've noticed from nannying is that every baby I've ever watched loves blocks! Even when they have lots of toys with all the bells and whistles, babies just love stacking blocks and holding something solid in their hand. I decided to make blocks because I think they're a great toy, and are also something you can use as nursery decor before a baby is ready to play with blocks.

I believe most shops that make similar blocks print off images from the internet instead of recycling actual children's books. I think using the actual books makes my products a little more one-of-a-kind. Because I can't mass produce them, each set of blocks is a little different. Using actual books also allows me to make these products without breaking any copyright laws!

EN: Why is it important for children to be aesthetically stimulated at this early age?

CI: I would say my main intention is more to create a love for books and an interest in reading than to make aesthetically pleasing art. I want children to grow up surrounded by books and to have connections to the books in their toys and art on the walls. Something I've noticed as a nanny is that toddlers love seeing links between pictures in books and those things in real life. I think having toys that incorporate illustrations from books encourages that interest in books and reading. I'm hoping once I make a little more money from my shop, I can sell gift sets, that include a new copy of the book that the blocks or onesie are made from.

That said, I do think it's important for children to be aesthetically stimulated, and I think my products have that as an added bonus! I try to pick books with illustrations that demonstrate real talent.

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*Disclaimer: Christina Iverson, founder of Picture Book Boutique is my daughter. She's been impressively creative in a variety of disciplines since childhood. And I hain't boastin'. Just sayin'.

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SPECIAL OFFER: If you're looking for a inspiring book for your 1st - 3rd grader, you might enjoy my Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd.  Purchase an item from the Picture Book Boutique and you can have a copy of Remarkable Tale for $5 off the list price. Purchase here. Plus free delivery in the Twin Ports. >>send email to ennyman at icloud dot com to work out details.<<

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