The Joy of Craft Fairs……for Crafters and the Curious

The Joy of Craft Fairs……for Crafters and the Curious

If you are 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 completely and utterly soul destroying, depending on a)how well you do and b)whether you are an extreme 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 are likely to think how great it is you get to spend the day selling the products you love to make, and talking to a whole variety of people who you would just never have met at all if you weren’t there! Win-win. If you are somebody who doesn’t really like to socialise, the thought of strapping a smile with the girth of a small ocean to your face all day probably 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 is shining, you are taking lots of money from some gorgeously, 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 will be able to 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, and you haven’t opened your cashbox all day, then it’s hard to go home and feel good about yourself, your life and your career choices. Even an exuberant dog who is so excited to see you, and is tearing round the house with the sheer joy of you being home, won’t lift your spirits (especially if said dog expresses its exuberance and 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 bloody uncomfortable that by lunchtime, you’d sooner sit on your banner pole. The coffee you brought with you in a flask to save you some 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 they loved was that 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. 

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

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.

New Jewellery Range Launch

Today, we have relaunched our jewellery range on the website.  It still shows some of the old favourites but largely, it is a new selection of totally different designs. I am so pleased with the way they have turned out and I really hope that you like them too.  I have had brilliant winter in the studio learning new techniques and designing these pieces.  By the way, I say ‘I’ because Rich doesn’t make jewellery – not really his thing.

Some of the pieces were experimental, prototypes if you like.  This peacock for example:

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I absolutely love this, so much so that I have commandeered it for myself but although I love it, there are things I would do slightly differently with the next one, which will be for sale. This is not a small piece but I think that something so dramatic needs to be bigger and to be honest, you would lose a lot of the detail if it was any smaller.

Some of the techniques I have learned and adapted I can use in other pieces too.  Take this mini round dish:

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It is made in the same way as the peacock pendant.  This piece isn’t for sale as I made it for my lovely mum for her birthday.  (Poor Mum, she gets glass most birthdays but the way I look at it, I didn’t paint any pictures at junior school which she had to display on her fridge so she’s just getting it all now.)

I will be back with an update in the next week or so……until then, please take a look at the jewellery!

Becci x

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?

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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.

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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

A really busy time (which of course we’re thankful for!)

Crikey!  This has been a long time coming – sorry it’s been so long since my last post (and yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s Becci writing this again!)  This time of year is incredibly hectic: we have craft fairs booked for nearly every weekend from now until Christmas.  We are also filling the kiln on a daily basis to fulfil orders.

But I’m not saying this so you feel sorry for me, honestly!  No, it’s great being so productive and having people wanting to buy our stuff.  This is the storm before the calm and I love it.  During the quieter times of year (generally January, February), we can relax a bit and use the less pressured time to design new pieces but in the meantime, it’s full-on and it’s brilliant.

Craft fairs are generally good fun.  There are times when it’s really cold (for some reason, the people who arrange these craft fairs think crafters never get cold) but so long as I’ve remembered my blanket……  Rich doesn’t seem to feel the cold, which is great because we only have one blanket.  If you are interested in where we are displaying, the venues are:

  • Friday 28th November          Worcester Victorian Christmas Fair – all day
  • Sunday 30th November         Worcester Vicotorian Christmas Fair – all day
  • Saturday 6th December         Whitemead Leisure Park, Parkend, Forest of Dean – 11am – 4pm
  • Saturday 13th December       Hartpury Village Hall Craft and Farmers’ Christmas Market – 10 – 12pm
  • Sunday 14th December          Whitemead Leisure Park, Parkend, Forest of Dean – 11 – 4pm
  • Saurday 20th December        Whitemead Leisure Park, Parkend, Forest of Dean – 11 – 4pm

 

So – I best get on.  I have started to upload products for our Christmas shop – please take a look!  I will be adding Christmas tree decorations in the coming week.  Rich is busy in the studio making some more of his lovely gothic, stained glass mirrors so I’ll let him off writing this blog for now.

Until next time…….

Becci x