Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of Stall Holders

Image of craft fair showing stall holders
Does this image fill you with both fascination and fear? Read on…

‘Why you shouldn’t be scared of stall holders’. That seems like a strange title for a blog, doesn’t it? By scared, I don’t mean ‘scared’ as you may feel walking through a dark alley, or as in the sweaty mess you become when you see a spider/snake/clown/buttons (delete as appropriate). I mean scared as in ‘a little bit wary’. But ‘why you shouldn’t be a little bit wary of stall holders’ is frankly a terrible blog title. So. Let me explain what I mean.

Me: in the beginning

I’ve always loved craft, long, long before I learned one myself. For those of you who know me, you will be fully aware that I was not an art success at school. I couldn’t draw, couldn’t summon up the courage to try the potters’ wheel and thought I’d got away with not doing a screen print in Design Technology until I read my report from that teacher which said ‘it’s a shame Rebecca decided not bother with a screen print.’ (I honestly thought she hadn’t noticed – that if I stayed really quiet, slunk under the desk or squeezed between the slats in the blinds…I was a very tiny teenager…that she wouldn’t notice me). In metalwork, I filed my aluminium key fob to the width of a dog hair. Obviously to be a successful key fob, it needs to be wider than this. 

Too scared to approach

Being this inadequate myself meant I loved to visit a craft fair. So many talented people in one place! The downside of this was although I wanted to look at every stall and talk to the artist to find out how they did something, I was just too scared. This wasn’t because they all looked like they’d happily knife you in the head but simply put, I thought, if I engaged with them, they’d expect me to buy. This resulted in me only being confident in approaching a table if there were already people there so I could both look and fade into the background simultaneously. There was one time when I did look at something. I liked it, but under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bought it. I felt I had to because we’d had a conversation. Luckily, it wasn’t a diamond seller. 

From the ‘Other Sideas a stall holder

Life being strange even in ‘normal’ times, I now find myself the other side of the stall. What I notice more than anything from the Other Side, is that there are an awful lot of visitors to craft fairs who think like I did. I look at them to say hello but an awful lot of visitors don’t want this. To say hello is to in fact say ‘don’t you dare leave without buying something from me because I can send you to hell and eternal damnation, just with my thoughts’. Those who do reply then scuttle off as if their clothes have just caught fire and they need to find a puddle of water pretty damn quick if they are to survive. 

Readers, I know how you feel. This was me. But you have nothing whatsoever to be scared of.

I’m rarely enthused. But I am about my craft

Clearly, I can’t talk for all crafters. However, I think I can when I say that we like to talk about what we do. When I was 13, I could talk about Duran Duran until the New Moon on Monday came up. I was that enthusiastic about them. These days, this is how enthused I am with my craft. And I can talk to you for as long as you want to. Want to know how I have done something or how or why I choose certain colours? Want to know if I have a furnace at home? Let me tell you! I am not telling you because if I explain everything that’s involved you’ll feel sorry for me and feel obliged to buy because otherwise I won’t eat for a week. I’m telling you because I love what I do and you’re interested enough to ask.

Of Course we Like to Sell…

Now don’t get me wrong, all crafters like to sell their wares. I am no different. If you talk to me and want to buy something I have made then yes, I am a very, very happy person. I believe this is something a lot of crafters refer to as ‘doing a happy dance’. I can’t bring myself to do that in public so I just say thank you. But inside I feel like a spaniel in a tennis ball factory. 

However, we crafters also know that not everyone can afford to buy; not everyone can find a place for what we make in their home; not everyone who can afford to buy, wants to (one lady told me she couldn’t buy because she’d be dead soon and then what would happen to it?). And do you know what? It’s totally fine! If you have come over to say you like what we’re doing, to ask how things are done or even remark on how shit the weather is, this is all good! Because otherwise, we would all be stood behind our stalls, bored shitless, with each second that passes feeling more like the hours they’re made up of. Selling and talking to enthusiastic people is fantastic. Not selling but talking to enthusiastic people is certainly the next best thing. But not selling and not talking to anyone is just soul-destroying. 

Not convinced? One final tip…

I’ll leave you with this: please don’t be reticent at a craft show. For all the reasons I have stated above, you really don’t have to be. Here’s a little tip: If you still feel uncomfortable walking away with nothing, then just pick up a business card and mutter something about it being Christmas soon. That works, too. 

Note: want to know where we are exhibiting? Click here.

Music at Work: To Play or not to Play

The other day, I wrote an introduction post to Black Cat Glass Designs on our Facebook page. One of the things I mentioned was the music we liked, and ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ in particular. Turns out a lot of people like ELO and it made me think about how music can make a difference, or not, to people’s work or studio environment. 

Working in silence?

Some people like to work in complete silence and I can understand that as there are occasions when any noise to me is intrusive. If I’m really concentrating and trying to make sure I’m cutting glass to the correct size, I need silence. Too many strips have been cut to the wrong size when bellowing out Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. However, mostly when I’m in the studio, I do like to have some music to sing along to, loudly. I like to tell myself that as well as being a glass artist, I could also have been a singer. This of course, is not true, I couldn’t have been, not least because my singing voice can be a little ‘squeaky’ on the top notes. I wasn’t called ‘Squeakins’ at school for nothing. But that doesn’t stop my enjoyment of singing whilst I’m working.

Happiness is…

For real, feel-good songs, you cannot beat ELO. I love Mr Blue Sky (which incidentally was voted the happiest song ever, in a study by Greatest Hits Radio last year). I also love ‘Don’t bring me down’ – it’s happy and it reminds me of my dad, as he loves it, too. There isn’t a song which reminds me of my mother as she doesn’t really listen to any music. I remember her coming home from Stroud one Saturday with a Manhattan Transfer album. Well, that was almost as disappointing as when she came home with a spatula to get more of the cake mix out of the bowl. 

The sad side of music

As well as making me feel happy, I also find music can take you straight back to the past and all the feelings which accompany that. I don’t just mean ‘oh I remember this song’ – it’s more of a physical feeling that I had at the time it was released. Take Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’: when I hear the first few bars of that song, I am straight back to the excitement of being 17, in my first ever job, and going out every weekend to Gas, the popular nightclub at the time; I was finding ‘life’. Problem is, it’s this which means I can no longer listen to that song at all because just as soon as I have the fizzy feeling of being 17 again, it’s immediately followed by the constant shock that I’m now 50 and if I cast my eye to the right of me, I might just catch the Grim Reaper playing along with his tambourine. 

The culture of lyrics

You can define an era not just by the style of the song, but also their lyrics. As you will have gathered, I was a teenager in the 80s and I like most of that decade’s music. I had an 80s compilation CD for Christmas a few years ago and I downloaded it straight onto my phone, without selecting for the best songs. This explains why the other day ‘Never stop me from Loving You’ by Sonia, was played whilst I was working in the studio. This is literally one of the worst songs in the world. The tune itself is ghastly, but the lyrics! Oh my God! Can you imagine a female artist these days singing the lines:

 ‘you’ll never stop me from loving you, it doesn’t really matter what you put me through’ or ‘even when you’re home, you won’t pick up the phone’? 

I mean, get a grip, Sonia! 

Compare this with today’s music – Pink’s ‘U and UR hand’: I’m not here for your entertainment/you don’t really wanna mess with me tonight’; or Lily Allen’s song simply called ‘Fuck You’.  Thank goodness today’s lyrics depict women as the strong, independent women they are. In the 80s of course, I didn’t question this and that makes me feel a bit ashamed. 

The husband’s sacrifice

When Rich is in the studio, it’s got an altogether different vibe. Rich likes rock, particularly prog rock. I don’t like it, mainly because I can’t stand organ music. The difference between us is, I cannot listen to music I don’t like, whereas Rich can. He can just switch his mind off to it. His ability to do this makes me very grateful because there aren’t many husbands who love prog rock, who would attend an Atomic Kitten concert with their wives. Yes, Rich did this. In the early 2000s, we went to see Atomic Kitten in Birmingham. We were by far the oldest there; the mosh pit was more like the ball pit at a soft play park. I think Rich made a real sacrifice there – I doubt he ever told his friends about it. He can thank me for this, later. 

Death’s soundtrack

This all means that when Rich is in the studio, he tends to be in there alone. Even the dogs can’t stand his music. He cuts his glass listening to Cats in Space, Spocks Beard and Pig Iron, to name just three. Most have organ solos in them which sounds like a soundtrack to the slow death of a thousand souls (this is no exaggeration). The other day when I popped in there to take him a cup of tea, there was the most dreadful song on. I asked him what it was – he said ‘it’s Thomas Wynn and the Believers – ‘We Could All Die Screaming’. 

That, says it all.

________________________________________________________________________________

Becci’s Playlist:

  • Mr Blue Sky: ELO
  • The Chain: Fleetwood Mac
  • Magic: Kylie Minogue
  • Uprising: Muse
  • Tatler Magazine: The Struts (love this! Watch it here)
  • Paranoid: Black Sabbath
  • West End Girls: Pet Shop Boys
  • Don’t leave me this Way: The Communards
  • Black Magic: Little Mix

Rich’s Playlist:

  • Anything shit with an organ.

                                                       

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 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

And so the learning continues…..

Hi there – I’ve just got back from running the London Marathon and thought I’d come home and write another blog as I’m not too tired.

Since I last blogged, we have been to Norfolk for two days tuition on using the camera.  Suddenly, it all seems clearer!  We cannot believe how much we have learnt in that time and now feel both ready and able to start photographing all the new stuff.  Actually, I say ready, we have just ordered a new camera so will have to wait for that to appear first – I guess that’s kind of important…..  We both feel indebted and ever-grateful to Ian, our tutor – he was brilliant at explaining to two complete novices (idiots?), and very patient.

And the training continues.  On May 7th and 8th, we are both going to the Warm Glass studio in Wrington, to attend a ‘pattern bar’ course.  I have been waiting to do this course for at least two years but you have to be so quick to get a place – the courses tend to sell out the minute they are advertised on the Warm Glass website.  I booked my place in July last year and at the time, it was the last place going.  Thankfully, they had a cancellation so I’ve managed to book Rich on the course too.  I won’t explain now about pattern bars other than to say they open up a whole new design in glass.  I will post what we’ve done after the course.

Anyway, an update for you: remember these?

IMG_1902

 

Well I’ve now added them to a glass piece and this is what I’ve come up with – a gothic-style candle bridge complete with black roses and thorns.

DSCF0862

I personally love it and am really happy with how it’s turned out.  I will be putting it up for sale on the website very soon.

Hopefully the camera will be delivered some time this week …..until then…

By the way, I’ve  no more run the marathon than I’ve made the Times’ Rich List……

Speak soon,

Becci