All’s Fair

I grew up in a house full of women who sewed. My sister once took a piece of drapery material and a treadle sewing machine and in one evening produced the gorgeous dress she would wear to the high school formal. My grandmother kept us warm at night by sewing scraps of leftover material from an Easter outfit, a New Year’s Eve party dress, a bridesmaid gown and a length of flannelette into soft quilts for our beds. My mother bought fabric at the discount place in Hamilton and produced clothes worthy of Vogue. By my tenth birthday, I was sewing some of my own clothes because that’s just what we did at our house, and it was fun, this sewing thing. Cut a bunch of fabric into weird shapes, introduce those shapes to the sewing machine, and presto! The outfit to wear at the family reunion is born.

The magic of turning chaos into order is a big part of the enjoyment of the creative process for me. It happens in the studio all the time. I take big pieces of glass, cut them into specific shapes, piece them together according to a plan, and in the fullness of lots of time I get stained glass art. Order from chaos. It amazes me every time.

"I take big pieces of glass, cut them into specific shapes, piece them together according to a plan, and in the fullness of lots of time I get stained glass art."

“I take big pieces of glass, cut them into specific shapes, piece them together according to a plan, and in the fullness of lots of time I get stained glass art.”

The result of me taming chaos in my studio is a lot of glass art on display in our home. Suncatchers and hangings at our windows make getting a clear view of the great outdoors from inside the house a challenge at times; glass work hangs from plate racks and perches on window ledges; glass centerpieces grace the dining room table; when the pull of working in the studio leaves our gardens in need of attention and bare of blossom, flashes of garden glass art colour the empty spots. The inventory of glass art – the pieces that are at the moment homeless – get wrapped and packed into large boxes while they await adoption.

In another week or so, those boxes will grow in number as the pieces on temporary display in our home come off their pegs and are also packed. Art and craft fair season is upon us and I will bring my wares to market!

Those of you who will spend a pleasant hour or two wandering the aisles of the temporary galleries we call art fairs, festivals, sales or shows are in for a lovely experience. You’ll discover work, mostly by local artists, in clay, ceramic, paint, pencil, ink, fabric, wood, metal, paper, tiles, dyes, cement and then some in a host of artistic styles.

Here are a few hints to enhance your visit to the art events you attend:

  • Make your time at the art fair an experience instead of just a shopping expedition. Talk to the artists who are wearing their hearts on their sleeves by exhibiting their work for you. Part of the pleasure of being an exhibitor is meeting new people and sharing with them the joys of what you do. Chances are that the felted purse that caught your eye has a story which the artist would love to tell you, or you might be curious about a bit of the technical aspect of creating the work and find the artist happy to explain how it’s done. You might come to better understand the investment of time and skill involved in crafting the pieces you see.
  • If you see something that would be a lovely choice as a gift for your friends’ wedding, but you’re worried the colour of the piece clashes with their couch, or it’s too big to fit over the mantle, or you really wish it was rectangular instead of square, please don’t walk away, but talk to the artist. The perfect piece may be hiding under the display table because of lack of display space, or the artist might be able to make a piece to your exact specifications before the wedding day.
  • Some exhibitors do not or cannot process credit card sales at these shows. Bring cash for purchasing pieces. Some of us accept personal cheques. On the whole, we’re understanding folk and might hold pieces for you until you can get to the bank machine if you ask us nicely!

Those of you who are about to participate as a vendor in your first art or craft fair might benefit from some words of wisdom from one who has been there – done that – literally bought the t-shirt. A lot of this might seem just common sense, but when your brain is coping with all that needs to get done to prepare for a show, some of the common sense things might be overlooked.

Sue’s Rules for Being a Vendor at Art and Craft Fairs:

  • I try to attend an art or craft fair as a visitor, checking how well the event is advertised, attended and organized, before making a commitment to pay for a space and attend as a vendor the following year. It gives me a heads up on which space I might like to book and whether the event is a good venue for the kind of work I do.
  • In the spirit of having something for everyone, offer pieces at several different price points recognizing the spending limits of different potential purchasers. For example, there may be a child who shows you two toonies and asks, “What can I buy for my mom with this?” That same child will grow up to be an adult with an income and we want that child to look toward art as something to purchase and enjoy.
  • Have business cards or pamphlets with your contact information readily available. Some of your business may come from people who like the style of your work, but are thinking about a custom piece. With legible information at hand, the client can contact you at their convenience by reading the email address or telephone number on the card or pamphlet and not have to interpret what you’ve scribbled on the back of last week’s grocery list you found in your back pocket.
  • Think about how you will display your work. Vary the height of displayed work. Try not to overcrowd your space. Price your work clearly. If possible, do a set up run through so you can see how it will present at the show.
  • Bring a cash float. I bring $5 bills, loonies and a few quarters since I work out all my prices to be exact dollar or half dollar amounts including the HST. Math is not my strong suit. I try to make the payment part as easy as possible.
  • Wrap the pieces you sell so your customer won’t damage the piece before they get it home. You may want to offer customers who have purchased large, awkward to carry or heavy pieces a safe place at your booth to leave their piece until they’re ready to leave the show.
  • Ideally, you’ll have a helper at the fair so you can leave your space briefly during slow times and visit the other artists. I always buy at least one piece from another artist at each show I attend as a vendor, to support this community of artists to which I belong, and also just because I’m a fan of enjoying beautiful work by an artist I’ve met.
  • Of course, have fun. You’ll meet a host of great people on both sides of the display tables and with good luck will experience a profitable day.