Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In Memoriam

"Primrose Elf"  ©Mitzi Sato-Wiuff 2015

It is primrose season.  I love seeing them offered in small pots at grocery stores and front racks at home improvement centers in very early spring.  We have seen a very short winter here in Colorado this season, and the temperature has been unseasonably high for January and February so far.  I don't like the nasty inversion that lasts for weeks with arctic temperatures and grey sky at all, plus I don't ski, due to old leg injuries that act up in cold weather,  so I'm not missing anything.

What I'm missing terribly, though, is my kitty.  Black and fluffy and oh, so, so sweet!  She was one of the babies a stray mama gave birth to in our basement back in May.  We've adopted all four babies and the mama, although she comes and goes as she pleases and doesn't give us an inkling of an affection. lol  Two of her babies have taken to us and been the stars of our feline family since.  But as a work-from-home artist, I ended up spending a lot of time with the sickly black baby we named Mayu.  She had eye infection at first, then she had upper respiratory issues and I carried her around in a baby sling on me so I could cuddle her while I had my hands free to work.  Once she was healthy, she turned out to be the adventurous one, climbing on a roof and trees, jumping and breaking things off the shelves... you get the picture.  But I adored her for snuggling up against me on the piano bench when I played the piano.  She would occasionally reach out and start an impromptu duet.  I love that!! :D  She scared us more than once when she jumped on the piano in the middle of the night and banged a few notes to wake us up.  I even had a song made up that we routinely hummed in her presence.  Well, she's been missing since January 16.  We've been looking for her and we miss her terribly.

Art is a way of dealing with emotional stress for many people, and it certainly is for me.  I drew another cat image when one of our cats passed away in the past, too.  I still miss her, but the act of drawing soothes me somewhat.  Besides, I know that she wouldn't approve if I was crying about her and didn't do anything else. 


Here's where the picture starts.  Line art is processed (lightened and tinted) for the digital free-hand coloring phase.


I could have gone with most any color for this little elf, but Jr. suggested that she'd be cute with a dark complexion.  I like the idea very much.  ^_^


Played around with different colors, but in the end, pink and yellow seem to soothe the eyes and the hearts.


Now you know the back story of this image. ^_^  But that's just where the inspiration came from.  In the final image, it's a kind little Primrose Elf gesturing you to be quiet because her little kitty has fallen asleep for a nap on a warm early spring day.  She's enjoying the warmth of the fluffy kitty on her lap, sitting in the bed of early-blooming primroses.  ^_^

I've made the line art into a digi.  It's at my Etsy shopweb site, and my storenvy shop.  1500 x 2100 pixels, at 300 dpi, JPG.


Update on the EU Digital VAT Situation

As I've written about this previously at the end of 2014, businesses that scrambled to deal with the implementation of this EU law, which put the burden of collection and remittance of the VAT on the sellers, regardless where THEY were located, so long as the sales were made to customers in EU nations, are finally coming up with solutions - or agreeing to grudgingly abide by - now that we are in the second month of 2015.

Etsy has finally came out with an official stance that I had hoped they would eventually come up with. They will collect and remit the VAT to each of the EU member nations' tax authority in a quarterly manner and keep the record for 10 years (Yes, that's what the Eurocrats expected the businesses to do... Simply amazing, what they came up with.). Initially, Etsy stated, "as we've historically dealt with local tax laws, we're going to leave it up to individual sellers". Outrage ensued, while some pointed out what the tax authority (HMRC) in the UK at least (What the UK government says may not be the case in other countries of EU, and that's what makes this all such a headache.) had already said, which was "Etsy is responsible to collect, not individual sellers/service users.". Later, they changed their tune a little bit to say, "OK, we'll do this for you for sellers located in the EU nations, but we don't know what's going to happen to the rest of you". This stance was particularly unsatisfactory for many of us in the US, since we've all read the EU law and took notice of the sticking point, "The digital VAT rule applies to any business selling to consumers in the EU, regardless of where the business is located." THIS has been the cancer that sucked the joy out of my holiday 2014. THIS has been the nightmare that caused a lot of digital goods sellers to jump to the gun and close shop. Although I still think this is so wrong, as business analyst who writes blogs for Forbes have said that all legalities aside, for the sake of reputation, businesses outside EU would want to be compliant.

So the most recent position announced by Etsy is this. "We are now announcing that we will collect and remit VAT on behalf of all Etsy sellers providing digital goods to buyers in the EU by automatic download, whether or not the seller is based in the EU." (source: Etsy blog, Feb. 9, 2015 titled Update: European Union Rules on Digital Item Sales) *collective sigh of relief from all those who were keeping an eye on the issue* I'm glad that they've reached the conclusion to take this course rather than dancing around it and stressing us, the micro business owners, out. My business has already seen the negative effect of this EU digital VAT law in the behavior of the buyers. It is true that for many people, it was business as usual, but for those who are informed (Seriously, there was practically no media coverage whatsoever, but we saw a lot of discussions on the web from a lot of worried small businesses.) either asked the sellers as to what was going on (I did get messages from customers in EU regarding this new law.) or stopped buying for whatever reasons.

Looking at the comments on Etsy blog post, I can see that some sellers are still confused whether they'd have to figure in the VAT into their product price. I would imagine from the blog post that Etsy means to come up with an upgrade to their system so that each different country's rate will be figured into the final total, based on the list price, and be collected from the buyers.

Just yesterday, I was green lighted to migrate my products to the new platform by DGS (Digital Goods Store). They're a UK company, so they came out early in the game, ... well relatively early, back in October or November of 2014, to say, "We'll change our business model to be compliant". So now they are rolling out the new marketplace. While we transition, they are not taking on any new sign ups. After the transition, all new sign ups will be initially limited to 6 products and be reviewed before they can sell. The existing customers (people like me) had to request to be invited to the new platform by submitting our intent so they can give our products a quick review and decide if they are appropriate for the new marketplace. Luckily, they saw no problems with my products and gave me a green light and migrated all my existing products to the new account. *big sigh of relief* I'm grateful that this went without a hitch. (I don't know if it's the Mercury Retrograde or bad Feng Shui, the beginning of 2015 has been full of annoying mishaps and glitches for me...)

The good news, although it came late, after so many headaches and so much stress over the last few months, is that as far as this stupid EU digital VAT law is concerned, all of my shops will be compliant. And thanks to businesses like Etsy and DGS (who charge transaction fees so they can implement this kind of change to their system, thus offer their 'service' to small businesses and micro businesses), individual content creators can remain in business and make a living.   (Oh, look, Mercury is about to begin the post-shadow phase of the retrograde.  Things should start going smoothly once again. ^_^ )







Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My First Prography Project

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year a little late (Well, if you go buy the lunar calendar, I'm not late for the Year of the Sheep just yet.  Hehe.).  I feel the dust has finally settled from all the activities during the days leading to Christmas and lingering excitement afterwards.  I've been cleaning the house (I mean, actually spending time on something other than art production for a change!), throwing old things away, ... generally making space.

As I mentioned in my last post of 2014, my new year's resolution is to do more art that are personally more meaningful and challenging to ME.  I was so wrapped up in the digi part of my art business that the rest of the stuff got all pushed away, and by the time November came, I was burned out, bored, and a little uninspired.  I think it's a dangerous trap for anyone involved in the arts.  Compromise is not a dirty word, but when we start to pay a little too much attention to the commercial value or marketability of a vision and not being truly honest to ourselves, after a while, the little voice deep inside starts to nag at you, and even when the money is good, something feels ... missing.  So before things go completely out of control for me and I become unhappy and therefore suffer the dreaded art block (I'm really fortunate to have always managed to avoid it ever since I made a commitment to my art business, but I've seen too many fellow artists who routinely complain about this...), I've made a conscious decision to allocate more time for personal project this year.  With having only 24 hours in a day, this time will have to come from my digi business.  But I believe that, in the end, this will be good for everyone involved.

One of the things I've been itching to do since sometime in 2014 was woodburning.  Hubby gave me Versa-Tool (woodburning, leather burning, soldering, etc. tool) and some wood blanks as part of my Christmas present. :D  I sat around pondering what I was going to burn onto wood and finaly decided on a rooster. Because I'm a crazy chicken lady...



I'm using the 'universal tip' to do stippling for the whole thing.  This is something I rarely do as a drawing technique because it's so timeconsuming, but I do love the distinct look it produces.  So beautiful!


This is taking hours and hours, but I find it relaxing and enjoyable.


The rooster looks like he has a scar over his eye, but there was a darker stretch of wood and it burned faster than the lighter part.  I'm learning as I go about how these things just happen. LOL


The dark spot looks so conspicuous I will have to make the background dark so that this spot that is the very center of this tree slice doesn't distract so much. ^^;  Almost done.  Maybe I can finish this tomorrow with the 'shading' tool.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Leanne's Angel Finished

It always feels good to finish a project.  I used to be almost obsessed about finishing what I start - always.  This tendency often manifests as a strong focus and concentration from beginning of a project all the way to finish in one sitting.  Well, a lot of my larger pieces cannot be completed in one day, let alone one sitting, and when my digital stamps business picked up during 2014, I ended up going from one quick sketch to another on quite a few occasions.  It wasn't pleasant to look at my folio and see all these pencil scribbles of good ideas just sitting...

Just like last time I finished something, I'm very happy that I was able to finally finish this angel piece with traditional media, "Leanne's Angel". :D  The line art was released as a digi back in April, I believe, then after partially coloring her, I got sidetracked and was unable to finish her until a few days after Christmas. :D


Leanne's Angel
ink, watercolor, & acrylic on bristol vellum
©Mitzi Sato-Wiuff 2014
She's cropped here, but the original is actually A4 (8.3 x 11.7 inches), which is not one of my usual sizes.  I work most often in US letter size (8.5 x 11 inches), 5 x 7 inches, and ACEO size (2.5 x 3.5 inches).  From the start, this was painted with the ultimate goal of gifting in mind.  The A4 size was chosen because the recipient lives in the UK, and I figured that it's probably easier to buy frames in commonly used paper/photo sizes than some US sizes. (I may be wrong...).

I wanted to give her golden wings, and there's touches of iridescent gold acrylic paint on her wings and hair, but that's something that can only be enjoyed in person by looking at this piece at an angle.  You're looking at a scan, so the light was blasted squarely, eliminating all possibility of seeing the subtle touches of gold but some strokes of brown. ^^;  Wanted to keep her dream-like and flowy, so I kept it to a limited palette and didn't work too tightly with all the details.  I'm pretty happy with the way she turned out.  I generally like working in warm brown hues with touches of colors.  I'm going to promise to myself that I'll make more like this in the year 2015!

I'm also making a promise to myself to get back to participating in the Enchanted Visions Project.  It's not that I ever left that project.  But after I stepped down from serving as a co-admin after two years, I was burned out, and the themes didn't inspire me.  Plus, the aforementioned digital stamp business kept me so busy that I couldn't squeeze EV themes into my schedule.  Last week though, I took a peek at the themes for the next few years posted at the fb group and I was happy to see so many that interested me right away.  I think I'm going to start on Carnevale (theme for Feb. 2015) soon, and be back.  This should be a great news for any crafter that loves my more detailed images.  I always go full out for EV, with plenty of research, brainstorming and planning/mapping out elements for a detailed piece for the monthly theme.  Even if I don't participate every month, I'm going to give myself the time to do more meaningful work for me in 2015.  It's the year of wood sheep/goat in Chinese zodiac.  I'm a sheep, so it's going to be my kind of year, and I'm going to expand upward and outward in terms of my art and other creative ventures.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Time Is Here, Confusion Everywhere

I'm talking about the EU's new digital VAT regulation when I say "confusion everywhere".  What a party-pooper this has been for the holidays!  Really, so many little people like me, the micro-businesses, are freaking out for no good reason because of this new regulation set to go into effect January 1, 2015.  They want the VAT (value added tax) on digital goods, collected and paid on all sales made to residents of EU member nations.  There is no minimum/threshold amount, so it applies to every sale.  Each member nation sets different VAT rate, so if we were to comply, we are expected to collect different rate for some 28 nations and file quarterly report and make payments to all 28 countries.  Seriously...  This, if the sellers and businesses were to fully comply, is an accounting nightmare.  And by putting the burden of collection on the sellers, this regulation has created some nebulous mess of speculations and interpretations.

As I am in the US, I'm just like a whole bunch of people scratching our heads, going, "And how is this going to affect me, IF I'm supposed to be affected by this?"  Although the regulation maintains that if you sell to any residents of an EU member nation, you are required to collect, report and eventually pay to respective authority, the big question for a lot of us who sell on Etsy, or similar 'platforms' (the Internet services that charges a fee for us to use in order to sell our goods) comes down to "WHO handles this tedious collecting, reporting and paying of the VAT to 28 EU nations?"

Just look at the forum discussions on Etsy and see how confused everyone is.  It's a definite nightmare for sellers actually residing in EU-member nations, because they know they're bound by this regulation for sure, unlike the sellers in parts of the world that don't belong in the EU.  Some are asking for technical feature updates so Etsy can properly address this issue for them.  Others are asking the flexibility to block sales to EU nations to avoid this VAT mess altogether by choosing not to sell.  (As much as this sounds like a discrimination to EU member nation residents, as such discrimination within the EU is against the law, to the rest of the world, as far as I know, are not required to abide by EU's anti-discrimination law and should be and will do so as soon as a tool is available -  after all, we can refuse service for 'no shoes, no shirt' here in the US. lol)  Yet some others are taking the extreme measure of closing their shops.  Now, I've seen some fellow digital stamp shops choosing this route, and it made me wonder if they're jumping to the gun.  And also maybe this is yet another sneaky sales pitch...?  Create a sense of urgency (It's a "Going Out of Business" Sale!) to cause a spike in sales before the end of the year.  I mean, if things are business as usual, come January 1st, 2015, they can 'reopen' and say, "Oh, aren't you glad you can still buy our digis?!"

Meanwhile, here's the official stance issued by Etsy as of Dec. 22, 2014.  The angry mob is responding with "pitchfork and torches" equivalent in words. *amused* While yet others are sticking two very enthusiastic middle fingers up at EU bonehead politicians who thought they've figured out a way to collect money on all these digital goods transactions, by pointing out the reality of enforcing such a law, as many critics have also wondered about.  I'm kind of sitting in between the extremes and waiting for the dust to settle, hoping for some clarity.

Hours of research into this matter on how I, the independent tiny business in the non-EU member nation, is actually affected, proved mostly a waste of precious time during this hectic holiday season.  Really, we should be enjoying the company of friends and family and appreciating what we have and celebrating the birth of Jesus and all good things in life, rather than pulling our hairs out, trying to figure out this ill-conceived law.

The UK authority on this issue, HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs), has come out and said, according to many sources I've spotted across the web, that Etsy is indeed responsible for collecting, reporting, and paying of VAT, not the individual service-users (shop owners, the little people).  They have also said that if a seller of digital goods actually e-mails the goods, accompanied by non-form letter, to each individual customers, rather than using 'automated instant download', then it does not come under the new digital VAT law.  But all this is the official UK words.  Doesn't mean this will be the case with the rest of the EU-member nations tax authority's take on the law.  And THIS is precisely where things get murky.

From the few updates I've read from the admin on Etsy, they seem to be working to possibly use this HMRC's definition (Seriously, I've looked all over the Internet and found very little else from any other countries - but then again, it could just be because my searches are performed in English and results are only pulling up in English.) and try to get away from having to implement the full-compliance features, but rather 1.) disable instant download feature for digital goods and/or 2.) introduce a new feature that allows us sellers to choose whom we sell to (That's just a more polite way of saying 'who we can refuse to sell' or 'block', obviously.).  Either way, they seem 'reluctant' to make things easier for the individual sellers.

The Aurora Wings shop at my own web site is run by DGS (www.digitalgoodstore.com).  Now, they have taken a completely different stance from Etsy on this issue.  The higher-ups at DGS received an inquiry from one of us, little people, back in October, asking what they were doing about this EU digital VAT law.  They scrambled to implement a new business model to address it rather than wait till the last week of December like Etsy did.

I am hoping that when January 1st is here, I will still be able to sell to the EU-member nation customers, at least through the Aurora Wings shop at my web site without the hassle.  With VAT rate being as high as something like 28% in some EU-member countries, the prices will go up for some.  In the end, this seems to hurt both businesses and consumers (maybe a gain for those people who are dependant on the social services the VAT is supposed to help provide for) on a large scale.

From my own limited perspective (based on the data collected on my Etsy shop's stats) though, my customer base looks roughly as follows.

United States -- 45%
United Kingdom (EU member nation) -- 29%
Australia -- 9.9%
Canada -- 6.9%
Rest of EU - 8.1%
Remaining - 1.1%

As you can see, I do have a lot of customers in EU nations.  But since 2/3 of my business comes from non-EU countries, closing the shop is out of the question.  Also, with sales to EU nation customers being the other 1/3, blocking sales (worst case scenario) would mean significant decrease in income, which subsequently hurt my family along with my digi fans in these 28 countries.

As some commenters on Etsy forum have pointed out, similar regulations on physical goods are expected to go into effect in 2016 in EU.  Small business owners who utilize third-party e-commerce platforms such as Etsy (That's what they are, no matter how they try to distance themselves in legal terms.) will no doubt be closely watching how these services act in coming months.

*** FOR THE ACTIVISTS IN YOU ***
There are currently two petitions at change.org regarding the EU digital VAT regulation.  One calls for exemption for micro-businesses and sole propriotorships (signed so far by some 14,000 petitioners, addressed to UK authorities on the matter) the other one calls for unilateral suspension of this regulation (signed so far by a little short of 9000 petitioners).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Candy Cane Fairy

This sketch had been sitting on my shelf since mid-November, but I finally got around to ink and color it all yesterday.  I usually like to break things down into separate phases, but I had very little distraction all day and no errands (quite unusual), so it was very productive.  ^_^


As Jr. pointed out repeatedly, this Candy Cane Fairy is very "anime". LOL  Cute and festive, sparkly and cheerful.  I'm pretty happy with the way she turned out.  Wouldn't it be fun to have fairy costume like this for  the Christmas parade? (Well, it needs to be in a warmer climate for sure... hehe.)

The digi of this fairy is at my Etsy shop here.  PNG version of the digi is also available here. It's 300 dpi 5" x 7"/12.7 x 17.8 cm (1500 x 2100 pixels).  I think she'd be cute in green and white as well as blue and white. :D




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sketch Fest #58 November 28 - 30

Finally got around to participating in a Sketch Fest event after missing so many months - my last one was February 2014.  I couldn't dedicate full 48 hours just to Sketch Fest, although I promised to give myself a time-off for Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Well, y'know, when you make a living drawing and painting, an event where you draw and paint on prompts - even when it's for personal stuff and for fun - it still kind of feels like working.  LOL  As I've said before, the way my work space is set up right in the corner of our living room, it's hard for me to completely remove myself from work.  It's just too easy to walk on over and check on stuff online every so often. ^^;  I'm hoping to get my studio space back... some day. *fingers crossed*

Anyhow, I didn't see a lot of prompts that interested me, and frankly, the participation was relatively low, due to the fact that this is the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  It's people's vacation time and family time.  It does feel a bit anti-social to be doing art stuff... alone. LOL  Still not particularly motivated to do pin-up-y stuff (When am I ever?) or drawing glamorous women/fairies/mermaids, so I went to the whimsical, light stuff.  (After cooking and eating all that turkey, brainstorming on a prompt was not something I was inclined to do. Haha.)  Whimsical, light, seasonal stuff.  I can come up with something right away with these types of prompts.  ^_^


Here's my "Christmas Puppy", an ACEO in ink & watercolor for a prompt of "Christmas Puppy".  I think pretty much every child dreams of getting a puppy in a box on a Christmas morning.  I certainly entertained the idea, though it never happened. That's OK since I turned out to be a Crazy Cat Lady anyway. ^_^  Still, when I saw this prompt, I just had to take it.  ^_^


Next up is "Little Christmas Tree", also an ACEO in ink & watercolor.  This is for a prompt "The Cutest Christmas Tree".  I thought I'd draw a little toddler elf sitting down for a break with a cup of hot chocolate.  After all, it's not easy looking so cute in a Christmas Tree suit. Hehe.


And of course, if I paint a "Christmas Puppy", I'd have to make a "Christmas Kitty", too, right?  Here's "Christmas Light Kitten", to a prompt "Wrapped Up in Lights".  There was "Christmas Kitty" among the prompts, also, so it's kind of a combo - "two birds with one stone" kind of a deal here. :D  Once again, an ACEO in ink & watercolor.  This kitty is inspired by my cats whose antics are an endless source of ideas. ^_^

Time for me to get busy turning them into digis!! :D