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Wednesday, October 14

why and if and counting blessings

We art carnies have invigorating discussions about the business at every opportunity. Behind our canopies at art shows, at lunch, on email lists, in forums. Blahblahblah, we go on and on, spouting wisdoms, conjecturing, cheering each other on or, on our less honorable days, sniping at someone's work or aesthetic or work ethic.

Basically, the art show circuit is like any workplace. You got your over-achievers, your slackers, your newbies, your holier-than thous, the always tardy, the always early. You have levels of achievement and tiers of accomplishment. And labels. Many labels. Crafter. Artist. Artisan. Master. Hack. Granny crafter. Arteeest.

We get to know each other. We tell tales. We gossip. We admire. We support. We whisper. We cheer. We deride. We help or hinder as it suits our purpose. Mostly we care about each other and circle the canopies against rotten promoters, bad juries, "civilians", thieves and those who would show disrespect to any of us. One of the things that warm me the most about this way of life, in all seriousness now, is how tight the community is, how special the friendships.

Which leads me to what my musing is all about today. A friend of ours who is a fine craftsman and very very successful had the audacity to share with a forum just how much money he made at a show and that amount was pretty much more than most of us make. Someone suggested he didn't make everything he sold, but he does. And a discussion ensued about what a person had to do to make that much.

Now, this fella has been in the business for 30 years. He makes a functional craft and he does it really really well, a real craftsman, and he prices things fairly and he is accomplished at his art and at his business. Kudos.

Now, I have been fiddling around with crafty things as long as I can remember. I did my first craft show in a fire hall when I was a young mother in need of Christmas cash. I made some stuffed Christmas trees and little ornaments and made like eighty dollars and I was sooo excited. (of course back then in the stone age you could buy a house for that) I was the person at work schlepping around crafts to buy every holiday. I made things to sell at the corner store. Over the years I learned most of the basic craft techniques and sold them all. What I wanted to learn was silversmithing but never had the time or money. Then I took a break from that and did some writing for money. Entertainment pieces for meetings and conventions. I had a cast and tech and we would perform skits I had written after meeting with the different businesses to ferret out the inside jokes. They loved us. I called my company "Funny Business".

About 15 years ago I realized that if I didn't take an early retirement from my job my soul would die. Truly. I had to finance it because getting out early meant a teeny stipend. I remembered craft shows. I was working with a man who did a lot of them and was pretty successful and he steered me along.

Now this is where I finally get to where I was going.

In deciding what I wanted to craft, I wound up learning to make paper and books. I had no idea if anyone would buy them, but I was in love. I have stopped making paper, but I am still in love with books.

Let us all now ponder just where on the craft show profit chain handmade books fall. Right.

But I love books. I love their heft. I love the way the pages stack so cleanly and then ruffle. I love that people will record their days in them, take them on trips, paste in pictures and ticket stubs. A stack of them in all their colors and styles makes me smile. I have added other things made of paper. I'm not blinded by my affection. But I have made a choice.

My choice is to create a life and a product that fills me up. Why give up a pretty good, benefit-heavy government job if not to move higher, happier? Could I make more money honing a different craft? Undoubtedly. But would I be happy? Maybe. Creative work always soothes me on some level. I just know that I found my little niche. It speaks to me.

Now this may sound very corny, but I'm telling you, you have to seek this. If you do not love what you do it will matter not how much money you make in the long run. I know this now. Yes, I do have to make a certain amount of money to survive. I'm not sitting on a hilltop chanting here. I'm working. A lot.

There are realistic benefits to having a rather obscure craft. You can get better shows sometimes. You are usually the only one there with what you make. People remember you.

That's not why I chose it. Or why it chose me. I'm just glad we found each other.


betty said...

Pat- great blog post. Terry and I were pondering this very thing this last weekend when we participated in an unnamed show with a lot of "lower quality, lower priced", 1000-of-a-kind items. We could make much more money cranking out fast work of this type. But I take pride in my work, as do you and most artisans and will accept (not willingly) lower profits for the reward of creating items I can be truly proud of.
Thanks for the great blog- I really enjoy reading it.

Terry said...

I don't always agree with my spouse but- great post. Glad to have you back posting, I missed them..