creative tithing :: giving & getting


painting by artsana

Kristen Walker is an artist, surfer, joke teller, and courteous driver who blogs about here experiences and creative life. In this guest post, she explores the idea of tithing (the practice of giving 10% of your income to your church) for the creative community.

When I embarked on my first online creative class a few months ago (a class from Marisa at Creative Thursday) I felt like I was discovering a new world. Since I didn’t go to art school and went down a more technical career path, I hadn’t ever had many opportunities to get to know other artists, and now I was in a class full of them! The class was the perfect supportive environment in which to share our real selves –

  • the parts of us that are scared that we aren’t good enough,
  • the dreams we have about making a real living doing what we love,
  • and the sadness we feel when it seems that the only way we can support ourselves financially is to have a more traditional job that we don’t love.


painting by enrouge

Before taking an online course with other artists, when I browsed through the shops on Etsy, all I really saw was the merchandise – the beautifully crafted items and the wonderfully painted paintings. What I was not seeing were the people behind the shops – the person taking a leap of faith and hoping that their work might sell, the mother who dreams of staying home with her kids and being a full time artist, and the successful full time artist who still depends on (and cherishes) ever single sale she makes.

When I had the privilege of really getting to know many of the artists behind the work, I realized that every shop represents a real person’s hopes and dreams.

And further more, I realized how much every sale means. How just one purchase can:

  • affirm someone’s choice to go after their dreams rather than continuing to work that crappy day job
  • validate the artistic talent of a person who is uncertain if they possess any (but really hopes they do!)
  • fuel even more creativity
  • allow an artist to create full time
  • allow a person to be the kind of parent they want to be by providing work with some flexibility that can be done from home

When I realized this, it dawned on me how meaningful the dollars spent on someone else’s creations are. And unfortunately, it also dawned on me how little money I actually spend in this area. As a creative person, I am ashamed to say that I have spent next to nothing on other people’s artwork. Please don’t hate me! I’ve thought a lot about this recently and have a few ideas about why this is.

For one, I am extremely frugal. I am not sure where I get this from apart from having depression-era grandparents, being raised by a single mom, and having to get by on $1000 a month in college.

Part two of the equation is, I am a do-it-yourself-er, meaning, if I can do something myself, I really like to. As someone who is creative, it felt funny to buy the creations of others when I consider myself creative (I mean, I should be “doing it myself”, right?).

And the last part of the equation is that buying handmade was not modeled for me AT ALL. We just didn’t have the luxury (or at least that is what I was taught), to buy hand crafted items. We also didn’t have the internet back then either.

But, now that I know that the artists out there selling their creative wares are creative types just like me – who get totally jazzed when someone else likes their work enough to buy it – who are creating better lives based on their sales – who are heart and soul real people – I realized that not investing in their artwork was the same as not investing in my own, and since I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, I could not comprehend the notion that I wasn’t spending any money stoking fellow creative types out, the way I would want to be stoked out.

This is when I got the idea of “creative tithing.”

A church-going friend of mine once explained that a tithe is a certain portion of your income that you commit to giving to the church each month, the idea being that you are supporting something good that you believe in, and committing to do so on an ongoing basis.

I am not religious, but I am creative. I never knew until recently that this creative community existed, but now that I know that it does, I want to support it and the individuals that comprise it. I think it has a lot to offer – independence, financial freedom, happiness, and connection. That’s GOOD STUFF!!!!! And it’s time I supported it. I’ve decided to embark on an experiment of creative tithing whereby I purchase and support at least one artist per month. I am on month three so far and it feels great! Each purchase has been followed by an exuberant “thank you!” And the packages that arrive contain even more thank yous – thank yous from real people – real people whose lives I’ve affected in a positive way through the simple act of spending some cash. Now, I am not spending money to amass thank-you’s – but the part about affecting someone’s life in a positive way through the simple act of a purchase really gets me off. I mean, how often do I get to do this in my day-to-day life through a purchase?

The three artists that I have purchased from so far are Dana Komjaty, Karla from Enrouge Studios, and Eliza from Artsana. I checked in with them to get their comments (just to make sure I am not making stuff up!), and here are some snippets of what they said:

* “I always feel the adrenaline of ‘I want to make more right now!’ pumped into my veins with every sale. As an artist still in the process of ‘gettin’ there’ sometimes I feel a bit unsure if people really like what I make. So each and every sale represents a ‘YES’ it’s worth going forward, to me.” – Dana Komjaty

* Karla said, “I love when I have orders to pack up. And the little sashay in my step trickles over to those around me, like my husband, and people I encounter, mainly because I smile more, and I am more outgoing towards them.”

* Eliza of Artsana said, “I like to think that sales of my work help me to support others in their creative dreams and ideas. For example, I can buy local, organic food from the farmer working to support their dreams of keeping their farm. I can buy other handmade items, supporting the dreams of artisans and craftspeople. In this way I can do my part to keep the circulation of money flowing towards ideas and people I believe in.”

So here it is, the idea of creative tithing. It’s commitment-meets-good karma-meets-the golden rule-meets-pay it forward all in one. I would love to know what your thoughts are on this. Do you spend dollars on creative people? Have you been a creative frugal-diy gal like me? Do you have any first hand experience with making purchases that have positively impacted others lives?

Read more about Mindful Spending!

63 thoughts on “creative tithing :: giving & getting

  1. Great topic! What goes around, comes around!

    I’ve recently been on this kick of trying to change my mind about the way I view money. And part of that process is expecting people to spend more on my handmade goods but sometimes not choosing to do so myself.

    I love a good deal and I can’t help that. But, I am contributing to a movement into rethinking life every time I buy from someone that makes their product. And that experience is more life changing than the good deal I find.

    1. Hi Chrystal – well put! That’s so cool that you are rethinking your purchases – sounds like we’ve both come to the same conclusion on this.

      -Kristen

  2. Well said. And very well thought! You have completely nailed my own personality as well; artistic, DIY and thrifty with every fiber of my being. I get the creative tithing concept; paying it forward is always a good thing. It’s a put your money where your mouth is proposition that we can all take to heart and to our wallets. I like what Chrystal said about contributing and changing lives through our choices. By putting our money towards individuals who are mindful and tangible we are making lasting connections and supporting the livelihood of like-minded artists & their families.

    1. Hi Leslie – I am so happy I am not alone in my artistic/DIY/thriftiness! Thanks for chiming in and I agree, making lasting connections and supporting the livelihood of like-minded artists and their families is so worth it, and makes those “deals” I like to look for look like not such great deals anymore.

      -Kristen

  3. Kristen! Wonderful piece!! A topic on my mind an awful lot lately. Thank you for sharing! For me, I definitely know where my skills lie…and don’t :) – so the DIY part of me is easily squashed when I see a beautifully handmade item that includes sewing, carpentry, pottery…and I happily whip out the credit card and support other artists – and have been trying to do so more and more. I loved the quotes from the artists! I feel the same way and it’s just another reason to buy from other crafters.

    1. Hey Erin! You must have sky high super ultra good artist/crafters karma! That is so great that you already whip out the credit card for your fellow creatives. I want to be like you when I grow up! I am stretching my credit card’s wings each month, and it is liking how it feels (as long as I pay it off every statement!) :) Many kudos to you for not having the embarrassing blind spot that I did!

      -Kristen

  4. I didn’t buy from other artists for a long time for the very reasons that you stated.
    However, after I joined online groups and made friends, I wanted to own some of their work because I knew the person behind it and I knew how much love and work went into each piece.
    As one who has been raised in church, I know all about the joys and blessings of tithing, tithing with a happy heart. Creative tithing is such a wonderful idea! I have been doing something very similar. At the beginning of this year, I made a decision to support an artist each month, even if it was a tiny purchase. I felt that God had blessed me to be able to work from home, doing something that I love, and I wanted to pass some of that blessing on to someone else who was trying to make a go of it by doing something that they love. It’s so much fun to choose that special item each month, and like I said, it may be small most times, but it’s something, and I hope that it encourages the artist even if just a little bit.

    1. Hi Lana – I love that you are already doing this. What I especially like is that you are doing this as a way to express gratitude for being able to work from home, doing something that you love. I think that is extremely powerful and something I didn’t really think about. I also agree with it being really fun to choose the special item each month and buy with a special intention behind the purchase.

      -Kristen

      1. PS
        I forgot to mention one of the big ah-ha moments I had when I read your post and how you said that you used to not buy from artists until you joined some groups that allowed you to become friends with them. That’s exactly what happened to me. I’ve been hearing Tara talk a lot about how important it is to share your story, and I think we’ve both experienced how getting to know people and their stories resulted in us wanting to purchase from those people. I didn’t see the connection as clearly as I do now that I have taken a step back and seen the process by which I started purchasing handmade goods

  5. Wow I can totally relate to what you are saying. I too am frugal and have an “I want to make that” attitude that has held me back from purchasing handmade in the past.

    But recently I acknowledged that I can’t make everything! So, while I won’t buy a knitted good (because I love to knit) I buy handmade art because I don’t draw or paint and I love to sew so I buy fabric from independent designers and printers. I have allocated some of the money I earn through etsy (which isn’t much) to stay in my paypal account to be spent on handmade goods I find online.

    thanks for sharing and inspiring
    xo

    1. Hi Thea – Great ideas! 1) Buy handmade items outside of your specialty and 2) Set aside some of what you make from your creative business to reinvest in fellow creative community members. I love these ideas! Thanks for sharing them!

      -Kristen

  6. Kristen, you took the words right out of my mouth! Reasons #1 and #2 for why you weren’t buying more work from creative folks are the same reasons I find myself not buying more. Yet the funny thing is, my favorite things are the handmade ones that I traded with fellow art classmates for or actually bought. I’ve decided as of late that I need to buy/support more creative folks and I’m totally down with your idea of creative tithing! Thanks for sharing and writing this great article!

  7. I love this post and the idea of creative tithing. I have thought along similar lines in the past, but I always felt my budget is so tight I couldn’t manage it. Now, I think I could reinvest a portion of my own shop sales in others – which benefits both the other artists and myself because I get to enjoy their lovely goods. The idea of this makes me very excited, so thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Beth! Buying supplies from the creative community is ANOTHER GREAT IDEA!!!!! I honestly have to say I hadn’t really thought about that one (geeze, how many blind spots do I have????) I am going to have to check out the supplies that are available and start looking at that, too.

      -Kristen

  8. What an excellent article. . . Kristen, you write so well! This is such an interesting topic. It feels so good when I purchase from an artist, especially one that is starting out, or doesn’t have a truckload of sales yet. I know what it means to me when I sell something {I’m still elated to this day!}, so I get a great feeling when I can buy something from another artist.

    I, too, can relate to what you and many of the folks here are saying about “being able to do it myself.” Just about a week ago I was wanting to purchase a painting from one of my favorite Etsy artists, but she doesn’t have a painting listed right now that is “the one”. So, I thought I’d try to paint one for myself in her style of painting. Hah! It’s just not the same. I knew it wouldn’t be, but my impatience just got the better of me. So, I’m learning. I know now that technically I can make a lot of things, but it’s just not going to be the same as purchasing it from an artist or craftsperson who makes the item with expertise and true love for the making of it.
    p.s. The other thing I loved about your article, Kristen, was seeing another aspect of who you are. I liked the background info. : )

    1. Hi Karla! I so appreciated your honesty in this comment about trying to recreate something you saw. I find it really ironic that the same creativity that has led me to look into opening an online shop is also the same creativity that has caused me not to make purchases! Crazy how that works! And a personal and heartfelt thanks to you for pointing me in the direction of this online creative community and online creative classes. I can’t thank you enough for that! Glad you liked the background info, too :) I will make a mental note that those details are not superfluous. :)

      -Kristen

      [background info for this comment: I met Karla because I was looking around on Etsy and admiring the artwork and wondering how those artists do what they do! Where do they get their prints made? How do they handle shipping? etc. etc. Finally, while looking at a painting of Karla’s birds, I decided to email an artist – *that* artist! i was afraid she would be mean to me or not respond, but she did respond and was REALLY nice! She told me about Marisa’s online courses (www.creativethursday.com) and that’s how I got introduced to this online creative world, and the rest is history. Thank you Karla!]

  9. What a great post! I love the name and concept of creative tithing. Like some of the other commenters my budget has been stopping me from buying much from places like etsy but recently I thought I could buy something small every few weeks. My first item arrived today, it’s gorgeous and I feel great that I supported a fellow handcrafter and a local one at that! I’m definitely up for creative tithing and will consciously make a purchase each month. Thanks for this!

    1. Hi Green Gal – I agree that even something small will stoke someone out and keep the creative goodness going around. Everyone’s budget is different. I am not doing the traditional 10% of my income that is traditionally associated with tithing – I am just focusing on one purchase per month. I can see that expanding as my awareness increases on this subject, but I like the idea of starting small and going from there. So glad you like the idea and are going to incorporate it!

      -Kristen

  10. Kristen, what a wonderful post – I even got a little verklempt…though I have my own handmade business and know firsthand how exciting it is when someone likes my work enought to BUY it(!) – I, for whatever reason, had never (until now) thought about the fact that other handmade business owners feel exactly the same when I buy their items or take the time to say, “hey, nice work!”. Thanks for that “aha” moment :)
    And, good for you for making an effort to buy handmade – everytime I get a package from a handmade business, it feels like a gift!

    1. Hi Jes – thanks for sharing your verklempted-ness! (love that word!) I’ve experienced the joy of making sales at a craft fair years ago, and somehow I still did not realize that everyone I might purchase from would get that same high that I got when I sold my work (doh!) I know that I especially think this way with people that sell a lot of work, that my sale couldn’t possibly mean that much to them, because they sell so much, but I am starting to realize that it all matters and if you are buying from a flesh and blood person, they are probably very delighted to have the sale.

      -Kristen

  11. I love this concept! Really, how can we expect others to buy what we’re selling if we’re not buying what anyone else is selling? Whenever I go to Target and see some cheap deal (like say, $12 for a purse) I think about how far my $12 would go on Etsy, or if I spent $25 or $50, how much more I would love the item from Etsy, knowing it was lovingly handmade by someone.

    1. Hi Heather, love this statement – “Really, how can we expect others to buy what we’re selling if we’re not buying what anyone else is selling?” so true, so true.

  12. This is a gorgeous idea! Not only would I love to see more of us adopt it, I’d love to see it become some kind of regular blogging feature – like, at the end of each month, we could all share what we bought in support of our community.

    Thank you so much for this post!

    1. Hi Sister Diane – so glad you liked this post – I LOVE your blog! I really like your idea about a blog feature so we can show what we are buying in support of our creative community. It would be neat to see the reactions of the artists that were purchased from, too.

      -Kristen

  13. Hi Kristen, Your post totally INSPIRED ME! I mean, truly, so much so that I couldn’t leave my comment here – way to long. So I posted it on my blog. I hope you have the time to take a look http://bit.ly/cLY6wv
    You helped me realize that
    …”through investing my energy and resources [I’m able to ground] living creatively as an everyday experience.” You should know I value this insight tremendously – it’s priceless!

    Thanks for that!

    1. Beautiful post Stephey! beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I love your image of living surrounded by creatively inspired objects, and your belief that part of living a creatively inspired life is investing in the products of creativity (yours and others). I am still in the beginning stages of learning and living this, so it was great to read your words.

      -Kristen

  14. Love this post — what a great idea! I love the concept of supporting artists in a systematic way.

    I have been working on putting into practice more often my belief that buying handmade is better. I’m very frugal and will most likely not buy many of the fancy and pricey items that I have hearted on Etsy (despite my frugality my lizard brain has expensive tastes!), but that doesn’t mean I can’t find small, affordable ways to support my fellow artists.

    I’ve taken to checking Etsy and other handmade venues first when I need something small — for example, I needed a get-well card for a relative who had surgery, and before I would’ve run to CVS and grabbed something generic but instead I chose a handmade (and hilarious, I might add) card for him. Took a little longer, cost a little more — but it was worth every minute and penny and I felt great about supporting another crafter.

  15. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. It is something I have been doing but didn’t realize the importance of creative tithing (or creative support) until I read this post. This is a wonderful way to pass creativity forward and I am so glad I will be even more mindfully aware of supporting artists/creators.

    Where I live, buying local is HUGE and I try to do this as often as I can. When I cannot find what I want locally, I now turn to artisan sites and small businesses to make purchases. I am getting to a point in my life where I am consciously avoiding big box stores and surrounding myself with organic, local foods and handmade items.

    What a gift this blog is to readers !

  16. Food for thought – as it is only recently that I too have come to this conclusion – we are usually so busy being resourceful, making, creating and trying so damn hard to make and market our own work that we forget about what we could do to help others in a similar boat. I have always tried to support generic Indie businesses but have not always supported handmade arts and crafts for exactly the reason you state – usually we feel we can not afford to buy a handmade product – especially when we think we can make it ourselves.
    Thankfully I am now in a position where I can say to myself – ‘Hmmm I may be able to make this myself – but do I really want to when this artist has done such a great job for me!’

  17. OMG! This is such an inspiring post!! Ever since I got into jewelry designing, about a year ago, I have exploded into other DIY avenues. I am constantly learning. I just took a silversmithing class…..I have to now build up inventory. I am having so much fun in this new adventure! I have not been to a mall in I don’t know how long. If I need anything I look to other DIY’ers and check out their sites to see if I can buy from them first. I do not support mass merchandising….I have learned so much from other DIYer’s blogs on saving, buying local, buying handmade, eating fresh etc. Sometimes my head spins with the mass amount of information from these sites….it is all good. I sooooo luv this journey I am on and am thankful everyday for my creative artsy friends I am involved with to keep me going!!
    Living creatively……yeah!

  18. What I enjoyed about your post is hearing what you’ve learned in putting into the art/crafters community. You get so much more than just the item you paid for. I own an Etsy shop and it is extremely hard (at least at this point) for me to make a sale. So when you make that one sell, it really does catapult you to draw again and keep trying. I have a secret indulgence of buying from others because it feels so personal. I love, love getting my package in the mail. Right now I’m looking at something I bought from a fellow artisan, and I see more than the illustration I purchased. I see the experience. I see the money I put in their pocket. I see my interest in their work uplifting them to continue their journey and follow their heart.
    It’s funny to me that you are a diy’er and naturally find it hard to reach out to others for things that you can create yourself. I certainly understand that. But, when my head goes there, I reframe it to it’s most basic element. I cannot reproduce what they bring to the table. Sure, I can use the same mediums, the same tools, etc. But what they give in their product will always be one of a kind. Please keep this open-mindedness you’ve been blessed with. My design biz (kwellstudio.com) is designed to help diy’er develop strategies and ideas for them to implement at their own pace and budget. If everyone thinks this way my design biz may be in trouble. Thanks so much for writing this post.
    Rainbows and Ewoks…Kanisha

    1. Hi Kanisha,
      I especially liked the last part of your comment, “if everyone thinks this way my design biz may be in trouble.” It was a combination of things that forced me to have my rude awakening that I wasn’t spending on other creatives the way I would like to be spent upon, and a big part of that was thinking about opening an online shop and trying to visualize who my customers might be. When I looked myself in the mirror and realized that I would not be a customer of me because I just don’t spend a lot of money in the area of artwork, I kinda freaked out (actually, I big-time freaked out). Thanks for being understanding of my funny logic – I am slow to come to these things sometimes, but I think I am seeing things a bit more clearly now :)

      -Kristen

  19. This is a wonderful way to think about supporting the people and the values that we believe in.

    We do give money to our church and charity and I will continue to do that. I do like to buy handmade items but as you’ve said since I make many things myself, and as an artist I realize I want to make even more of a concious decision to buy other artists work.

    I have definitely started buying more things that I know I could make but instead choose to buy it from someone who has already made it for me!

    I’ve looked at beautiful handmade furniture or other things as you said that are considered “luxury” items and I think I will start setting aside money and saving for those to support the creative community.

    As a jewelry artist and painter, I do so appreciate when someone chooses to spend their hard earned money on something I’ve created.
    Thanks for the article!
    Sally

  20. Wow.
    You hit the nail on the head. Creative DIY’er. check. Frugal. Check. Wanting others to buy my stuff. Check. Bought things on etsy or handmade by other people at local craft or art fairs and felt SO GOOD doing it. I am totally committed to putting this into practice in my own life regularly. Thanks for the post, I’ve seen it tweeted, retweeted it and hopefully we all can get this concept to spread.

  21. I love this, Kristin! I said the first thing I’d do when I reopened an Etsy shop is buy from other artists and that is exactly what I’ve been doing. I LOVE to support fellow artists. On the other hand, I absolutely relate to that feeling of “wait a minute, I could make this!” as a DIYer myself and sometimes it does give me pause. However, mostly I’m buying art, things with expression that can’t be replicated by me or anyone and to own a piece of it feels special.

  22. I can’t tell you how much I love this concept. Additionally, I truly believe that giving gives back tenfold… It’s so rewarding and there is something completely touching and heartwarming about knowing who you’re impacting with your purchases. It’s absolutely awesome.

  23. Wonderful wonderful post. I too suffer from the “DIY” cycle. I see something that I like that’s beautiful, unique and handmade. I think I can do it myself and so don’t buy it handmade. Eventually I realize that of course I can’t make it myself- it takes a an unique eye and a special skill set. But at this point I’m so removed from my initial reaction to the piece that I don’t buy it– depriving myself of something beautiful and the seller of the affirmation of a sale. And on the flip side, as a seller I know how wonderful those sales are!

    Thank you for bringing up this topic…. I think I have some shopping to do!

  24. Had to retweet this, I have believed in the idea since I started to express myself and the hope that I could reach others. Wonderfully written and a great practice to put into action if and where we can xxx

  25. Thanks for the great article. I love buying handmade, and also buy a lot of my knitting supplies on Etsy (mostly local spinners and dyers), but being on a nearly non-existing budget at present, I often felt a bit guilty and not very business-minded for doing so.
    In a world where you are encouraged to ‘cut corners’ in your business and get your supplies as cheap as you can, it is often hard to go against the tide without feeling foolish. Your article makes me feel less extravagant and actually quite smart! Yay!

    A friend of mine actually sets a certain amount of her wages aside to support Fair Trade, which I also think is a brilliant idea!

  26. Thank you for this inspiring article. I too, am a frugal person. There are many handmade things I see and think, “I can make that myself, so I shouldn’t ‘waste’ money by buying it from someone else.” But one time a friend said to me, “But the question is, will you take the time and make the effort to make it yourself?” Now, that is my guage for making the decision to buy handmade. If I really like/want/need something, but know that I won’t take the time to make it myself, I buy it from someone who did make it themselves. Also, I highly value one of a kind items and love giving those as gifts to my favorite people. So when a gift giving occasion arises, I head straight for handmade. I am now teaching myself that I, too, am “worthy” of an occasional handmade “gift”. After I discovered Etsy in a magazine, I became an addict. That is the first place I go when shopping for gifts and other things I “need”. And for all you Etsy sellers out there: If I am deciding between you and another shop’s merchandise, often it’s how much you share about yourself, how “real” you are, that makes me choose your shop over another’s.

  27. This is such a brilliant post – thank you! You have written my own thoughts and feelings when you say about being a creative person and therefore wanting to make things for myself rather than buying things somebody else has made. Sometimes in the past I’ve felt guilty about choosing not to buy from other crafters … In the last year or so, having discovered etsy and folksy via blogs, I’ve found – and bought !!! – several wonderful items. I am more and more drawn to buying handmade as time goes on. Though I still like to make most things myself 😉
    Your idea is wonderful in that it is structured and deliberate – that is where the genius of your creative tithing idea is! And thank you for prompting me – and all of us – to act more deliberately to support other crafters and thereby support ourselves.
    Thank you for this inspiration!
    D x

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