Tell us a bit about yourself.
Roberta: We’re Étienne Caron and Roberta Voulon from Montréal, in the province of Québec in Canada. Despite not having a very Dutch name, I’m originally from the Netherlands and came to Montréal 6 years ago on a transfer from Amsterdam for my job as a software localisation engineer. It was not long afterwards that I met Étienne through mutual friends, and we’ve been together since then.
Etienne : I’ve been living in the Montréal area since 1987, and living the geek lifestyle since waay before it was fashionable. ^_^ My dayjob is as a Linux/Java/what-have-you programmer, and as hobbies I like electronics, robotics, woodworking and gaming of all sorts.
What is the first thing you can remember making by hand? How and why did you make it?
Roberta: I spent waaayy too much time in front of computers as a kid, and I remember writing this program called Quadris in Basic, I named it after the planet where Matthew Star came from in the tv series. In the game you were travelling through space and talking to aliens and stuff — the program just kept getting longer and longer, with lots of ascii art of martians and the spaceship you were flying. I don’t remember having been very hands-on as a child, I mean physically making things, apart from building with lego and mechano and such. But I did use to make kites and fly them after school, we had a very open backyard that was perfect for that. My two brothers and I also used to make clothes and bags with my mom’s sewing machine.
Étienne: I started building a homebrew arcade machine, a cocktail table, a few years ago when I was between jobs, as a way to earn a bit of cash. Ever since then I’ve been bitten by the ‘maker’ bug I guess. Learning woodworking basics has proven to be a great thing for me, since I get to take two of my main skills, programming and configuring linux systems, and sorta bring it out ‘in the real world’, by giving the shape of an arcade machine. And now with Roberta’s help building the machines, and her skills as a designer, I can say what we’re building is now a bit at the crossroads where art and technology meet. And that’s the kind of work I love to do.
What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
Roberta: Between the two of us we share a lot of creative ideas and activities, but at the same time we also have very different interests. One person’s hobbies often spark ideas in the other, so we get a lot of crossover just talking about ideas that pop up. For the moment we’re taking our ideas from videogames. We’ve also had a lot of friends help us out with our projects, by giving us space to work, helping finance our projects, offering their precious time or their mini-van, helping us read japanese, brainstorming ideas…
Étienne: Make magazine and the Etsy site have been great inspirations too, at some moments I’d even say too much so, so many cool project ideas I feel like a dog running after it’s own tail sometimes 🙂 But seriously it’s been a great source of energy, to see so many people bring their original ideas to term, it’s a great pick-me-up when you feel discouraged or like you’ll never finish up a specific project. (A common pitfall with big/long term projects such as our arcade machine work.)
What are your favorite materials?
Étienne: I like woodworking quite a bit, but the lack of a proper workspace at home has been hampering progress lately. Thankfully we have a buddy of ours who lets us use his workspace to store ongoing arcade projects, so that’s helped us keep going even if we live in a teensy-bitsy appartment 🙂 I’ve also started getting into electronics lately and have been experimenting with programmable atmel microcontrolers chips and making my own boards.
Roberta: I use hand-cut or printed vinyl stickers for the artwork on joystick controllers and arcade cabinets, it gives a very nice even colour that is difficult to get with paint. I’ve only barely learned basic woodworking, but I’d like to learn more about wood so we can produce joysticks and control panels more quickly and easily, and be able to do things we don’t know how to do yet. Another thing I would like to learn is to design characters and cast vinyl figurines of them. Right now I’m looking into doing something with neoprene foam, the foamy material used in body suits and pouches for gadgets. And maybe there’s something to do with bioplastic or recycled materials. So I’m still exploring different materials for different projects.
Any tips for selling handmade stuff?
Roberta: An important point is to show your stuff to the people who are interested. Last summer we had a stand at a gaming event with one of our arcade machines, and we had t-shirts, figurines and pacman joysticks for sale. We thought lan-gamers would be just the right crowd, but most of the gamers at that particular event turned out to have very different interests and were more in a mood for fragging and buying bling-bling for their casemods.
When we started to put our stuff for sale on Etsy, we were lucky that we got posted on a few major weblogs and a lot of bloggers were showing our tshirt or our joysticks with a link to our shop. This gave us thousands of page views and we sold about 50 shirts in two days. After our experience at the gaming event we certainly didn’t expect this to happen! This much traffic is rare though, and it will only last for a couple of days. So we have to keep coming up with new products, or people online will stop talking about us. But to get noticed, start showing pictures of your stuff to bloggers or online communities and forums that would be interested in what you make.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Étienne: I currently work as a programmer for a company who specialises in embeded systems. It’s a great environment, and the people there have helped me learn tons of fun things about electronics. I enjoy jogging, strategy games with friends and snowboarding. Music-wise, I’m also what you could call turntable enthousiast.
Roberta: I no longer work in software localisation, after having recovered from a repetitive-stress injury. I’m interested in many aspects of design: graphic design, product design, game design, character design, and also yacht design. I’d like to be able to make a living with what we do now and grow from there.
Because of our current focus on video games I now play more games than I used to, mostly on the PlayStation 2, and I’d love to get a Nintendo DS system soon. We’re also both absolutely positively addicted to Japanese manga and anime series. For my sanity and physical health I run and practise yoga.
How can Etsy be improved? Any feature requests?
Etsy is a really great site. If we had a pick of features to add, it would be great if it was possible to have different sizes/colors (or other features) listed under the same item, say as a specific in-stock count. Another feature that would save us a lot of work is to be able to match the email with an order from Etsy with the Paypal payment received, for example by having the transaction ID somehow show up in PayPal. When we had almost 50 orders in two days, it took us many ours of work to go through the orders and match each one with a PayPal payment. The names or addresses on each are often different and sometimes a payment is made some time after the actual order, or a payment is missing completely. The only other thing we could think of is to have a bit more flexibility in shipping costs charged to the users. Perhaps a pick of shipping method, or different prices for different zones. As canadians, shipping to the U.S. counts as international, but technically princing is different shipping to the states than it is shipping to europe or asia, for example.
We think Etsy is a really awesome site, and it’s great to feel part of a community, and to have a place to show off our stuff. 🙂 Thank you, Esty people!
What is your favorite color?
Roberta: I don’t really have one particular favourite colour… I like bright and happy colours in general, and colour combinations are often what makes something interesting. For example, I might not think of pink as a favourite colour, but the combination of pink with red or orange or olive makes it interesting.
Etienne: I like golden yellows and dark blues. 🙂