handmade or hobby craft? Marella speaks out.

I think there's something we don't talk about much. 

It's the difference between hand sculpting a bank, painting it, putting sealant on it, and listing it for sale as a "handmade" item vs buying bisque wholesale, painting it, putting sealant on it, and listing it for sale as "handmade".
Monster Banks painted by Just for Littles
Are both handmade? What defines "handmade"? I have heard many people say things like "just because you put some beads you bought from a whole sale order on a chain doesn't make it handmade!" Curious - how is that different than another artist stringing seed beads to make wrap bracelets? They are just putting beads on string, right? 

Where is this invisible line drawn at? At what point do you put enough work into something that it may be called "handmade"? If you order all your supplies in bulk, does that automatically disqualify your items for respect from the handmade community?

I decided to reach out to bisque painter Marella Clark of Just for Littles. She buys animal and monster banks wholesale and paints them for kids, and markets them as aids to help children learn to count. Her marketing totally made me rethink my son's piggy bank. Now we log how much he puts in with a running total. It's helped him enormously with learning how to add and subtract money.

My son with his bank
When I asked Marella her thoughts on how people view wholesale bisque being painted and sold as handmade, she was eager to share her perspective. She says many people have asked her why she doesn't just sculpt her banks, and she says it's simply because she is a painter, not a sculptor - not for lack of trying. Marella says she has spent many hours attempting to master sculpting and just doesn't feel a call for it like she does for painting, so she made the decision to find a whole sale representative to source her bisque products from. 

Some people don't view painted ceramics as handmade, but as more of a hobby-craft. I am familiar with this mindset, as I painted ceramics for many years, as did my brother, and we competed in national ceramic contests (my brother won first place many times, I might add!). Marella says she feels as if the only thing that really defines an art from a craft is the way it's presented. Some people head to the pottery studio, select a piece and paint it to display in their home. Marella brings her ceramics to life with vibrant personalities and stories she dreams up for each bank's character while she paints them as monsters, bears or turtles that are 'hungry for money'. She starts each one with the dream that a small child will receive it as a gift and begin learning to count coins and appreciate money as a result of the fun presentation that children need to 'feed' their banks. 

Marella chooses to buy the banks wholesale so she can offer more affordable pricing on her products. If she were to buy more exclusive bisque or individually sculpted banks to paint, they could cost her much more and limit the audience able to enjoy her banks, which is something Marella says she never wants to do. She wants any family who wants to enrich their child's mathematical learning experience  to be able to, and not be limited to by financial constraints.

And that is why Marella chose to buy whole sale and paint it, rather than making every element of the banks she paints herself.

If you have any questions about Marella's story, her process or just want to get to know this cool chick, follow her on Facebook, or tweet her

After hearing this unique perspective on decorated wholesale items, how do you feel about the line drawn between "handmade" and hobby-craft? 


  1. Great post! I like the perspective that Marella's calling is painting vs sculpting. She puts a lot of work into creating a personality for each of her pieces, which truly makes them handmade!

  2. I think there is something to be said about finding your niche as well. She's a painter, not a sculpture. I'm a creator, seamstress, and clothing/headband designer. But i do not design the fabric. Does that make me less then? Heck no! I know my strengths and there is NO way I'd ever have to time to also design the fabric! I leave that to the pros! Interesting read! Thanks!

  3. Wonderful post!! I was recently asked if I first knitted the socks that I cut up - I thought "Are you nuts!?!" It takes hours to make one lion without making the sock too. But does that make my lion any less "handmade" - most defiantly not! It is a fine line to define and each individual's perspective defines it. I choose my supplies for quality and green thinking in mind, then I create. That is what makes my lion "handmade" - I do the work. Thanks for the awesome perspective Marella!

  4. i never even considered her items not handmade. sometimes i think people would think my pieces aren't handmade because, as you said, it's just a string of beads. but deciding the design of the piece and then stringing it in that design makes it as handmade as the next! thanks for this post girls!!

  5. :-) You did a great job capturing my voice and perspective, Cody! Thank you for this awesome opportunity--the 'is it REALLY handmade' debate is something I feel a lot of crafters have to deal with, which I think is silly. We all put a lot of work and love into our products, so of course they're handmade!! :-)

  6. This is brilliant!!! Thank you - just found you all. I create fused glass items for the home and always felt slightly quilty that I did not sculpt the moulds that I put my glass into - but all the work that goes into the creation process is mine!!! I to am not a sculptor in ceramics I sculpt glass!!!! Thank for this..and I look forward to watching you all in the futurexox tracy

    1. Thanks for becoming a reader! I am glad you can relate to the post and find solace in it!

  7. Interesting perspective... I think it's also an art to choose and match colours for those monsters

  8. In many "Fine" craft shows, this idea of painting a bought object is referred to as embellishment and would not be juried into the event. People who paint or etch on purchased glass ware is a common area that is disqualified.

    Many "Fine" craft galleries will also make that distinction and would not carry a line of goods that were not primarily studio produced. So even beaded jewelry lines would fail the test of both juries. Unless the beads were made by the maker or unless the primary objects were. In other words, if you made the main pendant piece, but then highlighted the rest of the necklace with manufactured beads or even natural pearls, that would often be accepted. Although some juries won't even accept findings that are from manufacturers! Yikes to that! Although I do make all my findings by hand, I find that to be over the top.

    But if Marella is making a living and referring to herself has creating hand-made objects and no one questions her sourcing, then it really is not worth discussing. Many consumers simply don't know or care about such issues.

    But, is someone were trying to mislead and tell people that they sculpted the pieces or that they are the creator of the mold for the pieces, then it would be between her and her heart to live the lie. I know someone who was selling ceramics that they claimed to be hand-coiled. Not only were they not hand-coiled, they were thrown on a wheel by someone else. The artist was in some top galleries selling 2 and 3 ft tall vessels for over $5000 a piece. Someone broke one and the discovery of throwing was clear on the inside walls. Those tell-tale finger drags. The artist had to move to a new town.

    Clearly Marella is not involved in any deceit and she is very talented as a creator/painter of fun surfaces and smart about her marketing and I applaud that in ALL cases.

    However, the reason that this becomes important in the jurying process for finer venues is simply cost/value disparities. If someone is building a bank completely by hand, they clearly are at a distinct pricing disadvantage over a mass-produced factory created bank. Even if the person has sculpted and made a mold that will be used many times over, they are still having to prepare the clay, pour the mold, process, ect... so even in that case, there is more labor and the price point will be higher then Marella's. Throwing a lump of clay can take minutes - especially if it is purposely thick walled to be faked as coil-built. The same vessel will take several hours by coiling. The wheel-thrown vessel is still hand-made, but accepted as being quicker to produce and therefore less expensive to purchase.

    So while it is not important to Marella's future sales and shouldn't discourage anyone who wants to paint surfaces or do beaded jewelry, it is a subject that will never go away because of the "real" hand-made artisans high labor costs vs those who have relatively lower labor costs with embellishment as their only art contribution.

    1. Interesting perspective, McKenna. I have visited many fine art shows and almost always see painted ceramics there, and my brother participated in them for years. I suppose it depends on the type of the show you are attending and what their submission criteria is for aesthetic they are trying to foster.

      However, the question is not about fine arts, or juried shows - it is about the generalization of handmade as an all encompassing title - whether discussing crochet hats, beaded jewelry made from wholesale chunky beads, amber teething necklaces, lathe turned wands for kids, or painted ceramics for decor - at what point is an item considered handmade, and when is it just considered a 'craft'. I think it is interesting how different everyone's perspective is on this topic, and yours was definitely a very interesting perspective on the topic.

    2. The term "handmade" may be too broad - "hand painted" would better describe Marella's work; jewelry using manufactured beads and findings I don't feel would qualify as handmade. The distinction of "designed by" or "created by" would probably apply there. Tricky territory.