Starving artists have been around as long as people have been making art. Plagued by the challenge of turning their talents into cold, hard cash they've either surrendered - turning to more profitable pursuits - or went hungry. Until now. In 2005, a group of young New York artists created Etsy.com, an online forum where as many as 350,000 independent artists can sell their goods without costly overheads or time-consuming set-up. It's the modern-day equivalent of a craft fair where anyone can sign up for an account, post his or her work, and - with luck - make a profit. In Boston, it's helping a few talented local artists make their mark. - ERIN BYERS MURRAY
SWEETEST PEA sweetestpea.etsy.com
Designer: Jen Bennett Gubicza, Watertown
Products: Stuffed animals and pillows. Based on characters designed by her husband (an illustrator), Gubicza makes cheerful, faux-suede animals with a hand-cut pattern. She then stuffs and stitches each one by hand. This fall, she plans to launch an environmentally friendly line and will create custom animals on request.
In her words: "I enjoy using my hands after being at a computer all day. It's very satisfying and making each creature is a little different, especially when you put their eyes on and see their faces literally come to life."
Designer: Marissa L. Swinghammer, Jamaica Plain
Products: Original woodcut prints, mirrors, magnets, and pendants. A longtime print maker, Swinghammer now cuts all of her images into wood at her home studio in Jamaica Plain. She hand-carves stenciled images (of birds, branches, swirls, even pregnant women), then imprints them on a 21-by-35-inch press with varying layers of color. Loath to waste a scrap, she uses any leftover prints to cover buttons, pins, and pendants.
In her words: "For me, the creative process is 40 percent carving, 60 percent printing. But my process is so open-ended and freewheeling that I don't know what I'm going to get until I get it."
AZURE GRACKLE azuregrackle.etsy.com
Designer: Jennifer Schmitt, Concord
Products: Original woodcut prints. Schmitt starts by drawing a freehand sketch or stencil onto a block of Shino plywood (gravestones are her latest inspiration), then hand-carves the images from the wood. With oil-based relief inks, she rolls her colors onto a plate before pressing the image onto Japanese papers. The prints are 9 by14 inches and arrive wrapped in a clear bag supported on a matte board.
In her words: "I've always loved color. When I was young, I once threw a temper tantrum because I couldn't have every color paint chip from the paint store. I love how they played off each other."
JC DESIGN JCDesign.etsy.com
Designer: Jo Cardin, Brookline
Products: Art tag necklaces. Using metal dog tags, Cardin takes her own photographs or watercolor paintings and shrinks them down using design software. She then reprints the designs and uses them to cover the stainless-steel tag. The image is covered in resin glue, giving the piece a solid, glossy finish.
In her words: "I'm selling a number of the tags online but was also recently picked up by Turtle in the South End. I hope one day this will sustain me as a career."
Designers: Dabney Frake and Ann Manubay, South End
Products: Silk-screened baby T-shirts, craft cases, pencil sleeves, pins, and passport holders. First, Frake and Manubay lay out their designs (inspired by everything from their travels to what they see on the street) using design software, then they silkscreen the images onto various items, like baby T-shirts and passport holders, in their South End studio.
In their words: "Our inspiration comes from everything. It might be visual like a color combo, or sometimes signage inspires us. We tend to differ in style. Ann goes toward the minimalist while Dabney tends toward cute. Then we meet in the middle."