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I Love a Craft Fair…

Sometime late last year, I wrote a blog for this website about craft fairs. It appeared on the site for only a short time. This is because when I tried to do updates on my website, I messed up the whole site, big time. I had to write a creeping email to my step-son-in-law (who looks after my website) asking if he would kindly fix the mess I’d made. He had to restore the website to a previous back-up when the craft fair blog hadn’t been done.

By this time, I was diagnosed with cancer, and then Covid reared its (very) ugly head. I didn’t put the blog back as suddenly there were no craft fairs, and wouldn’t be for a long time. It didn’t seem right to put up the blog at a time like that. Additionally, whilst my blog was tongue-in-cheek but quite subversive, I found myself really, really missing craft fairs. The upside of Covid has been that when we can go back to doing them, I literally cannot bloody wait.

Whether you believe in vaccines or not, the fact theres now one on the horizon means I can visualise being at a show. I have therefore decided to publish the craft fair blog again. When you read it, bear in mind that it is all meant in a jokey manner, for you to enjoy. Rest assured, I simply cannot wait to see you all at shows again – I will be bringing out the bunting.

So…here it is:

If you’re a crafter, you will at some point attend a craft fair in an attempt to sell your wares. Craft fairs can be good fun, or utterly soul destroying, depending on how well you do and whether you are a pessimist, like me (you won’t find me filling in a crossword with ink).

How enjoyable is a craft fair?

Craft fairs are a unique experience. If you’re a people-person you’ll think how great it is to spend the day selling your products and talking to a variety of people who you would never have met if you weren’t there! Win-win. If you are somebody who finds socialising more difficult, the thought of strapping a smile with the girth of a small ocean to your face all day makes you feel a little apprehensive.

Are you an optimist, or a pessimist…

Whichever camp you fall into, craft fairs are not easy. It may feel easy on the day the sun’s shining, you’re taking lots of money from some wonderful people and the lid on your cashbox won’t close when you come to go home. However, that just doesn’t happen very often. If you are lucky, you’ll live off the optimism from that single show for quite a few weeks. But when the weather is frankly, shit, people aren’t buying or worse, aren’t even looking at your stall, then it’s hard to go home and feel good about yourself, your life and your career choices. Even an exuberant dog, so excited to see you, tearing round the house with the sheer joy of you being home, won’t lift your spirits (especially if said dog expresses its joy by carrying one of your slippers out into the pissing rain). 

Bloody Hard Work….even without the Chairs

Fairs are hard work. You’ve usually got up at some ungodly hour to go and set up. It’s often cold. The cheap chairs you bought because ‘they’re only for craft shows’ are so uncomfortable that by lunchtime, you’d sooner sit on your banner pole. The flask of coffee you brought with you to save you money is so bitter, you wonder if you actually put arsenic in it instead of coffee (and if it’s a really bad show, you hope you did…).

You realise that you actually are the sort of person that eats a family-sized bag of crisps in one sitting. And if one more person says they can’t buy anything because ‘it’ll collect dust/the cat will knock it over/I’ve got too much stuff as it is’ you will drown yourself in the remains of your awful coffee. (Incidentally, the ‘best’ reason I had from somebody to not buy something of mine was as she was elderly, she would be dead soon and ‘then what’ll happen to it’. I struggled to answer that one. 

The Upside…..yes, there’s an upside

However, this is all the negative. When a craft fair is good, it’s absolutely brilliant. You love meeting your customers who smile when they see the products you have made; your fellow craft fair buddies are funny, kind, and frankly damn good company; your credit card machine hasn’t let you down once; you’ve sold some stuff so can legitimately go and buy a coffee that doesn’t taste like something’s died in it. You’ve ‘earned’ that cake, the size of a small child which you have just bought from a fellow vendor. It’s a wonderful feeling. And no matter how seldom it happens, when it does, oh, it’s just heaven. 

Black Cat Glass Designs’ stall at an exhibition with the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen

How Does Mindset Affect a Creative Glass Artist in Business?

The other day, I had someone contact Black Cat Glass Designs to ask me how long it would take them to learn stained glass techniques. As always with such question, the short answer is ‘it depends’ but it got me thinking about mindset because mindset is everywhere at the moment, and mindset, particularly when you are learning, is important. 

Me, in the beginning

You may have heard of the phrases ‘growth mindset’ and/or ‘fixed mindset’. In a nutshell, a growth mindset means you want to learn and you think you can do pretty much anything if you put your mind and enough effort into it. In contrast, a fixed mindset means you tend to think talent is innate, a natural ability and if you don’t have that natural ability, you will fail. If you are going to fail, what’s the point in trying?

I, Becci Meakins, was a fixed mindset guru. At school, I was useless at rounders (actually, still am but I can honestly say I don’t give a shit about that now…) But I was also useless at art, particularly drawing. I remember one lesson when we had to draw a head to represent our minds and what we were thinking about. For example, a calculator for maths or a dictionary for language.  

I just drew a massive question mark. 

I recall the teacher coming round and saying to me ‘is that all that’s in your head?’ No doubt, all that was in her head at the time was the need to be massively sarcastic and acerbic, but that aside, the reason I only had a question mark in my head was because I couldn’t bloody draw anything else. 

And that’s where I stayed with drawing. I can’t do it and that’s that. 

But natural talent does exist, doesn’t it?

Yes, probably, natural talent does exist (although some psychologists argue against this idea: see Oliver James’s book ‘Not in your Genes’ for that argument). My thinking though was that if I couldn’t do anything straight away, there was little point in even learning because in my fixed mindset, it was natural ability, or nothing. 

Fast-forward a bit

In view of the fact that I was so fixed, you may be asking if it turned out I had a natural ability for fused glass art. The answer is: no. So why did I try it? I very nearly didn’t. I had already assumed that I’d be the worst in the class. But for some reason, something made me sign up. In a rare moment of positivity (welI, my version of positivity), I thought ‘if I am the worst, I will never see the others in the class again, anyway’. And besides, Rich was on the course with me so if I was the worst, I could always swap my work with his…

My mistakes: All-round idiocy or par for the course?

When I made mistakes with kiln-formed glass, initially, I felt like chucking it all in. Sentences such as ‘people like me just don’t have success’ or ‘why don’t you just go back to bed, you useless peasant’ haunted me for a while. But then curiosity got the better of me: why did that particular piece stick to the kiln shelf? Why did that strip of glass bulge out? Why has that slumped so unevenly? I would go off to find out the answers. And, as I learned the answers, I used it to my advantage. Suddenly, the reasons why things went wrong became another chance to learn, and with learning, I was improving.

This fused glass vessel here was created out of another piece of work which stuck to the kiln furniture and cracked. I not only learnt my lesson (kiln wash was too thin), but also wondered what I could do with the glass which had cracked. This glass art piece wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t made that mistake. It’s a cliché that you learn from mistakes but you really do – but the learning only really comes if you adopt more of a growth mindset. 

Fused glass multi-coloured, matte vessel, which would not have existed without a growth mindset of a creative glass artist.
This piece wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for a mistake I had made previously.

To sum-up

So going back to my initial enquirer about how long does it take to learn stained glass. My answer should have been – it depends on your mindset. If you don’t expect to be brilliant from the off, and are prepared to stick at the niggling, annoyances that come at the start, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn quickly. Overall though, give it a go, because how will you know, otherwise?

As for me, I am waxing lyrical about a growth mindset but I still have a fixed mindset in many respects. It’s something I am continuing to work on. My drawings look like they were done by a 2-year old because I am still terrible at drawing.  And rounders. 

(Note: I had further help with my mindset from the brilliant Lauren Malone from Lemon Tree Coaching and Development. Click here to visit her website).

How to Commission a Piece of Glass Art from Black Cat Glass Designs: Hints and Tips

How to Commission a Piece of Glass Art from Black Cat Glass Designs: Hints and Tips

How to Commission a Piece of Art from Black Cat Glass Designs

Back in the good old days, when we artists could sell face-to-face at craft shows, we were often asked if we do commissions. At Black Cat Glass Designs we do fused glass, and some leaded glass, commissions, provided there is a good fit between what we usually create, and what you, as the client, require. And this is what this blog is about. I have put together some things for you to think about before you request a personal glass commission from us. These thoughts will also help you if you are thinking of commissioning other artists, not just glass artists, in the future. I do hope you find them helpful. 

Be Specific About Colour 

‘I quite fancy that design but in blue’.  Great! I mean, I love blue glass! However, we use Bullseye glass and currently, they have a total of 50 types of blue…to include transparent, opal, iridised and streaky glass. Now we aren’t expecting you to know all these styles of blues, but you need to think more about what type of blue: more turquoise or dark blue, more of a pale blue or a mere tint? We can help you to decide, no problem. If it’s to match a room décor, provide a swatch or sample and we can either match it or contrast it to your preference. But you do need to know that you want more than just ‘blue’.

Have a Good Idea of Design

You do need to have some idea of the types of designs you like. This can even be as vague as ‘something abstract that’s bright and vibrant’ or ‘something square, patterned, fun’. We can ask you more questions to clarify so don’t worry about nailing it completely if you don’t feel you can. Whilst thinking about personal design, check first that we actually do the style of things you like. Take a look at our mission statement here: if you don’t like colour we probably aren’t the right people for you. This may sound obvious but I once had someone ask me to do ‘something with a wolf on’, even though I have no such items on my website and there were no mammal-type themes on any of my work. I admired his optimism though…

Have a look through the website to see what you like. A commission we loved working on was a fused glass house sign for a flat which overlooked the sea. The client told us specifically she wanted a ‘sea garden’ theme, with elements of… and she then listed all the pieces on our website which matched her ideas. 

Fused glass house name plate the garden flat
HOUSE SIGN COMMISSION PIECE

Size of Piece

OK, so this is actually quite an obvious one! But it still needs thinking about. For glass artists, our limitations will be down to the kiln size. At Black Cat Glass Designs, we simply can’t do a full-length piece for your Olympic-size swimming pool! Don’t just think about size overall, also have a think about thickness of your one-off piece – does it matter to you? Is your ideal piece nice and thin or do you like a bit more substance with a thicker piece? 

Think about how much time you have

If you want to commission a piece of fused glass art, you need to err on the safe side and request it well in advance. An artist, Black Cat Glass Designs included, usually has lots of work already lined up and simply won’t be in a position to drop everything to take on a short-notice commission. Not only that, but also consider that materials may need to be ordered, which all adds to the time taken. Realistically, the absolute minimum time we would need is 4-6 weeks. 

What is your Budget?

This is a big one. Have a think about what you are prepared to pay and you need to be realistic. Firstly, have a look at the artists current items and how much they retail at – that should give you a rough idea. However, you can’t fully use that as a 100% reliable guide. Firstly, the artist will need to factor in costs of design: even if you have good idea of what you want (see above), then the artist will still need some input. Also, in glass art, the colours you want matter. A piece of A4-sized turquoise transparent glass costs approximately £8. The same size in fuchsia pink? £32.58. That is 4 times the cost (pink and purple glasses are gold-bearing glasses, hence the huge price difference). There’s kiln time and process, too. A standard flat fused and mould-slumped piece could be just 2 firings. Other items can be 4 firings or more. Kiln firings are long: a full fuse from start until fully cool enough to open the kiln can be anything from 20 hours to 3 days! We would explain all of this to you, as any artist would but this is just an illustration of how much is involved in calculating costs. 

Another thing to bear in mind in relation to budget: it’s not just the materials you need to think about. When you are commissioning a personal piece of art, you are also paying for the artist’s experience: how much they have spent over the years getting to do the standard of work which you are now admiring? It’s a bit like when you go to a hairdresser, you expect a reduction if a trainee is cutting your hair, but you would expect to pay much more for a very experienced stylist.

Terms and Conditions, including Deposits

Take a look at terms and conditions before requesting a fused glass commission . Good T&Cs will tell you exactly how much deposit is required, and whether it is non-refundable. Note that for commissioned, person-specific work, the Consumer Contracts Regulations, 2013 does not allow for cancellation, though some artists may allow for cancellation. Deposits are often non-refundable because an artist could have committed a lot of time to your piece, even before starting work with materials i.e design time, selecting the right materials, research etc. If you then decide to cancel your commission, although to you the work may not have started, the behind-the-scenes stuff may be in full flow. It’s only fair the artist is paid for the work undertaken thus far. All this is in our terms and conditions but please ask for clarity and/or confirmation if you are unsure. 

Finally….don’t be upset by refusal

If an artist refuses your commission, don’t take it personally, it’s in your best interests. You want an artist to love the work they are doing for you – you want to see it every time you look at your commissioned art work. At Black Cat Glass Designs, we have been asked on several occasions if we can do a commission using ashes from a cremation. We always turn these down. This is not because we don’t care about you and your loved one but simply an acknowledgement that we are not the best fit for that job. We have never done cremation pieces and it’s not a route we want to go down – you need somebody who has.

I really hope you have found all of that useful. As I say, it will largely apply to any types of commissioned art you want, not just with Black Cat Glass Designs. Just one crucial take away point: make sure the artist you are asking to work for you makes your heart sing and makes you smile every time you look at what they create. That is the artist you want. Hopefully, that will be us!

How Do You Assess Value?

When we do a craft fair, we get asked all sorts of things. Things like: this is very pretty but what’s it for? Have you made all this yourself? Have you got another one like this in a different colour? And more. However, the most commonly asked question is: how long did this take you to make?

When someone asks how long something took to make, it seems to me, based on their responses, that they think it should take a long time to make, because it’s expensive. Often it is the case; it has taken a long time but I wonder why that’s the only criterion people use when deciding whether a piece is worth the price tag. 

Let’s break it down. The most obvious things to consider when pricing a piece is the cost of materials and the time it’s taken to make. In relation to glass fusing, you can rest assured that the materials themselves are expensive. But let’s add to this: in addition to those two things, there is the cost of the training and experience that has led to the artist making the piece that you want to buy. 

Training doesn’t come cheap. There’s the cost of the training courses themselves and the time spent in those training courses. There’s the hours and hours of practice in the studio when you return home. There’s the mountains of research done behind the scenes to make things better, to understand why things have gone wrong, to improve on each and every thing you make. 

Then there’s the other things: the electricity for the kilns and the other studio equipment. There’s the kiln wash we use to stop the glass sticking to the shelf, or shelf paper which does the same thing. There’s the cost of the drills we use when making jewellery. There’s the cost of sandblast and polishing materials. The cost of glass cleaner and lint-free cloths, cutting oil, glass cutters, running pliers, diamond hand pads, grinder heads, saw blades – I could go on.

So you see it’s not really just the time it takes to make a piece which gives it its value. It’s all the above. It’s impossible to factor in all of the other related costs so the artist inevitably absorbs a lot of the other costs. 

Believe me, it’s a wonderful feeling when a customer wants to buy a piece of work which you have created. When you buy a piece of art, whether it’s glass, a painting, a piece of jewellery or a handmade bag make sure you really enjoy it. Enjoy the fact that it’s the result of years of work and time which has gone into creating the piece you love so much. It’s more than time and material costs. It’s passion. That’s hard to put a value on. 

Attending a weaving and textures class, at Warm Glass, Wrington, UK

It’s only a tiny dish, yet it’s £15!

When you visit a craft show, what is your criteria for what is an acceptable price? Do you look at what is a small item and think ‘that’s a pretty dish but not at £…., it isn’t’. Or do you appreciate work that has gone in to such an item? Perhaps you don’t even think about it. So here I am going to put across the point of view of the crafter/artist themselves. If you knew the work involved, would this affect the amount you were prepared to spend?

Take this little dish. It is a small piece at 8cm in diameter. You may think it’s pretty or you may hate it – but that’s fine – we all have different tastes. Nonetheless, even as a crafter, I accept that ultimately it is a tiny dish, it’s not made of valuable gem stones, or gold therefore there is a limit on what people will pay for it. Let me show you how this dish is made.

Firstly, I have to cut the circle out of the glass sheet. This isn’t always easy as there’s a definite technique to cutting circles. In addition, the very nature of circles means that there’s more waste when you make something round, than there is when you make something square. To make this dish, I need to cut two circles of glass per dish.

To make a kiln full, I have to cut many circles. After firing and cooling fully, a process which takes around 18 hours in this case, the fully-fused blanks are removed from the kiln.

The next stage is to make the glass decorations, which on these dishes are a mixture of holly, sea shells, daisies and roses. These items are handmade, too. I use silicon moulds and a mixture of powdered glass and water. These photos give you some idea of the process. As to the time involved, to fill a mould with three daisies takes about 25-30 minutes. The powders are placed a small bit at a time into the mould, drops of water added and then the moulds are tapped after each application of water, to get rid of any tiny bubbles. This process carries on until the moulds are full.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I have filled all the decorations I want, the next stage is to put them into the freezer. When fully frozen, they are then popped out of their moulds and put on to the kiln shelf for firing.

 

 

 

 

I have done this technique for several years now, but it still amazes me how a fragile decoration made of powder and frozen water doesn’t turn into a puddle of mush when fired in the kiln. Still, better people than me created this technique and I bow to their superiority!

Now we have the fused blanks and the fused glass decorations. The next stage is yet another firing: a tack fuse to secure the decorations to the dish, without losing its definition. For those counting, this is now kiln firing number 3.

This firing goes to a lower temperature than the full fuse, but it is still nonetheless about the same amount of time taken, including cooling. We now have fully fused flat blanks, with their decoration. They just need their shape to finish.  They are slumped in to their moulds in the kiln, (firing number 4) – this is the final firing.

To recap, the blanks have been cut and fired. The decorations have been made, frozen, then fired. The blanks and decorations have been tack fused together and finally, they are slumped to take their shape.  The finished product looks like this:

 

 

You now have some idea of the amount of work involved in these little dishes.  And you get all that, for just £14.

 

 

A New Piece – and how it’s made

Just over a year ago, I started making ‘drop vases’. A drop vase is where a flat piece of fused glass is suspended over the kiln on a mould with a hole in it. As the kiln heats up, and the glass becomes softer, it drops through the hole, creating a vase or a deep dish. Pieces made in this way can be stunning but it’s a long process from start to finish and as such, drop vases or bowls tend to be more expensive than slumped pieces.

I’ve decided to do this blog to a) show you a new piece and b) give you some idea as to what is involved so you can appreciate the work which goes into making drops.

To begin with, you have to create the ‘blank’. This is the fused piece of glass, which is flat. The design you make at this stage only gives you some idea of what the end product will be because obviously, things look different when the glass is dropped and gravity takes over. For this piece, I decided to make use of ‘on-edge strip construction’ which is using the edge of the glass rather than the flat surface. Here’s what I created:

Now, a lot of people like neutral colours, and that’s great. But I love colour. When you have such wonderful art glass at your disposal, I just can’t resist using the bright colours. This piece is made up of dark blue and a mix of opal and transparent orange.

The next stage is to fuse the ‘blank’. Here it is in the kiln, ready to be fired. The piece is dammed because it’s thicker than most fused glass, at 9mm instead of 6mm. If this piece was fired un-dammed, it would spread out, distorting the design and making the piece thinner.

When it comes out of the kiln, it looks quite dark but that’s fine, because when gravity takes effect, the colours will brighten. I now need to fire this blank over the mould, in the kiln. I had already made the mould previously, using ceramic fibre board. The piece will be elevated off the kiln floor on posts, as you can see from the set up here:

There is the potential when firing drops, for the whole of the glass blank to fall through the hole in the mould. There are numerous ways of dealing with this but in this instance, I have used scrap glass all around the outside of the piece. These scraps will fuse to the edge of the piece during heating and will then hold the edge of the piece to the mould.

This piece is now fired and overall, including cooling, this takes a massive 30 hours in the kiln. When it reaches the temperature at which it starts to drop (called ‘process temperature’), I then open the kiln in 5-10 minute stages to see how far it is dropping. Bear in mind that the process temperature for this piece is 677 centigrade. To open the kiln at this temperature requires special glasses, an apron to protect my clothes, and thick gloves. This piece was dropped sufficiently after 35 minutes. At this stage, I can forward the kiln programme on to the next stage to stop it from dropping further.

When the piece comes out of the kiln, yet more hard work is needed. As you can see from these pictures, the brim needs to come off. As the brim is very heavy with all that scrap glass, if we were to cut it off right up close to where the piece has dropped, the weight of the brim as it pulls away from the bowl could cause the whole thing to crack. For this reason, there are two processes to remove this brim: cut off the excess with a tile saw, followed by more intricate cutting with a cutting wheel on a dremel. You can see both processes here:

I get Rich to do the cutting because frankly, after all the labour I’ve put into the piece so far, I am just too scared to do it myself! And of course if it goes wrong, I can blame him…..

So, with the brim off, you can see how the top is quite rough so it now needs to be ground and shaped on the lap wheel:

Unfortunately, I can’t show you any photos of this because Rich wasn’t around when I did it and I couldn’t hold the piece steady on the lap wheel and take a photo. I’m sure you can imagine the process though. Finally, after grinding, I can polish the piece using cerium oxide – this gives the ground edges a high polish finish. And this is the finished piece:

I’m really pleased with how it’s come out, even if there are times during this mammoth process when my heart really is in my mouth as there is so much which could go wrong. I hope you like it and can appreciate what goes in to what looks like a simple little bowl.