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Monday, July 30

I'll take just a few..

So, from the high of my instant sell out during the opening moments of my last show to 3 days of sweating it out. Literally, figuratively, physically, mentally.

I dont know what it is about Syracuse. I like the place. It is a gritty college town with a solid cultural base. Last year was a debacle with an ill-advised change to the layout that relegated a cluster of us to a dead end, separated from the rest of the artists by bath-fitter demos and used book sales and 2 dresses for the price of one. I was very vocal about the idiocy of this and the organizer actually visited me, apologized, said she agreed. Before I applied this year, I emailed her to make sure things had changed. It had, she said, and she hope I would participate. Oh, OK.

I was rewarded with a primo spot with parking in a lot behind us, shade trees, the exhibitor restrooms across the street, lots of wonderful artists all around us. Well, OK, then, this could be a good one. Or not.

The show runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Friday downtown is only busy during lunch time, but we are there 10-6. It is deadly. Saturday started out with a lot of rain and flooded streets, so the show really started about 1:30. Sunday was gorgeous but hot and lots of people came. Some artists did very well, some tanked, I tanked. That's how this business goes. The question now is whether I use common sense and drop this show or whether I let my affection for the thing lure me into dropping another wad on doing it. I have all WInter to figure it out.

The good? Yes, there is some. I sold my guest books and wine journals and collage. Miniature book necklaces sold out. Very cool. I sold large journals but not so many smaller ones. Odd, that, but sometimes you can't figure it out. What it tells me is that I am on the right track, that dropping the trinkets was the way to go. Hopefully I will have a ton of stuff to bring to the next 3 shows, all of it things I want to make, things that really define who I am as an artist.

Some shows are good for you because they make you money, help you carry on to the next one. Some of them are not so lovely for your bank account, but they enrich you in other ways. The changes I have been encouraged to make this year have made me better and happier. Set me back on the right road.

I can do this.

Tuesday, July 10

i want everything. Part 2

If I was ever going to have luck at a show with no trinkets in the booth, it would be at Chautauqua. I have written of this place before and I won't bore you with more breathless accolades. Feel free to check out July and August from previous years. But here are a few moments from this weekend:

Artisans want to do Chautauqua because of the people who live and visit there. They have serious discretionary income.( It is very expensive to stay there.) And they choose to spend their time and money in a place devoted to the arts, culture, academia and spirituality. It doesn't get any better. Few people buy a piece because it matches the furniture, Instead they comment on texture and composition. It is like standing under a cool waterfall after a hike in the Gobi. This is not to say that the people who buy a piece from me because they like the colors or because it compliments the rest of the room are somehow lacking. Art is all about pleasing the senses. But it is nice to have the actual work involved appreciated.

The show is also run the best of any others. The organizer is a dynamo and her staff is the bomb. They ask what they could do better and the answer is always "not a thing"

I decided to go all out for this one. No cards, no magnets, no trinkets. I designed a wine journal page. I ordered baby book pages that were imported form Italy and printed in a gentle sepia tone. I made diaries with the months written in 3 languages. The miniature books were covered in sheet music paper. I used quotes from Proust and Ginsberg in the collage. I made new price signs and slipped them into plastic frames. I was ready.

The show started at 10 am. At 10:30, a jovial man in tennis gear strode in, took a rather quick look at the collage and with a big grin said "I want everything". I considered it a compliment. Like when you go into a shop filled with chocolates and you clap your hands like a child and say "Oooh, I want one of everything". I just smiled at him. He asked if he would get a discount if he bought everything. I laughed and said sure. He reiterated that he wanted everything and he swept his hand across the back wall where the framed pieces were hung. I laughed again, but rather uneasily at this point.

Let me say here that the man was Chinese and spoke with a bit of a clipped accent and part if me assumed I was not understanding him properly. To hedge my bets, I said he should just hand me what he wanted and I'd consider a discount.

By this time he had most likely assumed me to be sort of mindless. He started taking the collage off the walls, handing them to me, one at a time, reassuring me that he meant everything which he solidified by grabbing the matted works out of the browse bins and handing them to me also. I called Russell to come in and help. I was flustered and had to enter the sales a couple of times before I got it right. As I was getting the things together I asked what he was going to do with them, He laughed and with a twinkle in his eyes asked if I was suspicious. I answered that I wasn't, but a gallery had inquired about buying a bunch for a medical office and he nodded and said that was exactly what he wanted them for. He was a doctor opening a new office in New York. He paid with his AMEX card and Russell helped him carry the things back to his cottage where they had an interesting discussion about Chinese medicine and herbs and all that stuff that Russell finds so fascinating.

I had 2 or 3 framed pieces left, only because they were on a front wall and he missed them. I took down the front walls and hung the pieces on the back. An hour later he came back with his wife because he thought she might like the work of the artist next to me He spotted the new pieces and snatched them up, too.

Word of my good luck spread through the show like a brush fire or maybe a Lake Effect snow storm. By noon, dozens of my fellow artists had stopped by to congratulate me or to ask me to touch them for good luck. It was a good feeling to see how many of them really were happy for us.

The rest of the show was as delightful as always. Saturday, the day that some renters move out and a new crew moves in, is always quiet. Sunday is free admission so it picked up again. I left there exhausted and sweaty in places I didn't remember I had, but happy.

I sold all 3 of the wine journals I was testing. And a baby book and 2 diaries. I made more from the things I decided I wanted to make than I would have from dozens of cards and magnets that I thought I needed to make. It was a wonderful, freeing feeling.

My trinket days are done.

Monday, July 9

i want everything. Part 1

I have not been blogging like I used to. There was a time when I was addicted to memorializing all things that drifted through my life. Then I got distracted.

One of the things I have been wrestling with, and probably could have worked through best by actually blogging about it, is where I should go with this art thing.

As one of my fellow art show peeps likes to say (over and over and over) none of us makes anything anyone needs.

Well, unless you consider adorning yourself or your surroundings with things that cheer or inspire you as necessary. But I digress.

So, I tried making all sorts of small items, my philosophy being that everyone who comes to an art fair wants to go home with something. I took it upon myself to be the maker of said items. I made cards and magnets from the scraps of paper left over from bookmaking. I scaled down my journals still one more size (to 4 X 4 1/4) For a couple of years I made bookmarks out of cord and beads. As I added trinkets, I dropped items that used to define me. Specialty books. Large journals. There was no time for them.

It is true that the cards and magnets often paid my expenses, but there was an added cost. Me. I hated the production aspect of making them. And it started to sap my joy. At the shows, it began to rankle when a customer would wander in, praise my work, admire the workmanship, whatever, and then come up with a $4.50 card. Over and over. Little purchases. It took an hour or more to make a hundred bucks. Now don't go thinking that sounds like a fine hourly wage. There is time spent making the thing, packaging it, ordering the supplies to make it, keeping the A/C on in the studio while I glue up the little bits. I didn't think I could make a living on books alone, but I knew I wanted to stop playing around with trinkets.

Funny thing about epiphanies. Sometimes it is an instantaneous, maybe even spontaneous, blinding flash that makes you sit up straight and shout "Yes!" That never happens to me. With me, it tends to happen after the Universe taps me on the forehead enough times to produce a furrow and I eventually sit up and hiss "What??!" The last one I experienced came after the 412th person buying a collage card told me they were going to go home and frame it. Tap, tap.

I love collage, perhaps by necessity. I am unable to draw or paint or take a photograph that makes a spine tingle. But I can take bits of this and that and make something nice to look at. Something artistic. I didn't have enough confidence to do it on a large scale, ergo the cards, the cards that others were going to frame. I could charge $4.50 for them, but did I have the guts to make up and frame a larger piece and smack a price tag of $75.00 on it?

Of course not. At first I made up a few and charged much less. Testing the waters. And I made up a whole bunch that were not framed, just matted and backed and neatly packaged in clear sleeves. There is a theory in art show land that the back wall sells the booth. In other words, hang big, pretty pieces with big pretty prices on the walls and then offer them unframed at a third of the price.

People bought them. I perfected my matt cutting technique, ordered some more clear bags. I got better at it. Now the collage were made not just of papers, but they had wire and fibers and charms and twigs in them. Little spirals of paint. Bits of sheet music. Grasses. I was having fun. They flowed like syrup from a maple tree in April. Made me smile.

And I realized that there was no sense in taking on art as a profession if you were not going to fall back into its colors and shapes and shadows. Might as well get a mail route.

I decided to stop making trinkets. I made more collage. Designed a wine journal. Got text blocks for baby books and diaries from Hollanders. I became an artist again. Poverty be damned.