The Silent Buskers

I entered a bit of a time warp yesterday. It served as a timely reminder too.

I took a table at the Festive Makers’ Market at General Office, alongside my fellow studio holder Louise Blakeway. It was a bit last minute for me. Louise had a stall full of beautifully coherent paintings and prints, and I had a bit of a jumble going on… old drawings, new drawings, a series of small scale works just simply mounted. I also had a few old textile things. Some little felt brooches and some vintage fabric bundles. I sold a few things across the range, not enough to go on holiday with, but enough to cover costs, have a take-away in the evening and a lunch out somewhere nice tomorrow… I might buy some new pencils… but it was a long day for small pickings really, and I was having flashbacks!

When my sons were young, from about 1990-2005 maybe, I did loads of craft fairs alongside assorted part time and sporadic teaching in the local FE college. It all fitted in nicely, kept the wolf from the door. But yesterday reminded me why I decided to stop. At least yesterday I just moved my stuff, already made, nothing specially made for the event, from studio into the gallery through the double doors, threw a cloth over the table and set it up. Easy.

I used to spend hours speculating on what would sell, and believe me I’ve done all sorts: jewellery, bags, home textiles, collage, quilting, embroidery, clothes, painting, toys, children’s clothes… only to find the thing that everyone wanted was the thing I’d only got three of. The one hundred specially made items might as well have had a sign on them saying fuck off. (That might have sold better actually!)

I’d load it all into the back of the car with an assortment of stands and rails and display devices, lamps and clamps, a flask, and never enough food to stave off freezing cold and boredom. I had special clothes, shoes, emergency hat/scarves etc… have even resorted to wearing the stock.

Then there’s the interaction with the jolly old general public. If you smile and say good morning, some of them run like you’ve told them to fuck off. Then there are those who want to tell you that they’re not going to buy anything because they can make it themselves. Then those who take not so surreptitious photos so they basically have a pattern to go home and make it themselves. Those you REALLY want to tell to fuck off while retaining the smile you’ve stapled in at 7am.

(But I should also remember the lovely people who have interesting conversations, and buy things too!)

Anyway…It’s a tough way to make money. And if it hadn’t been easy I wouldn’t have done it. And I can’t say I’ll be doing it again, because for most of the day I wanted to run away into my studio to just draw.

I’m sat here thinking I’ll draw all day Monday. But it’ll take me most of the day to put away all the stuff I dragged out. I dumped it all unceremoniously on my big table. Louise and I then ran away into the night. I think I’d rather do an Open Studio, because although there’s the whole tidying and staging thing, at least I can still draw when it’s quiet.

So… if you are visiting a craft fair or similar running up to Christmas, have sympathy, they’re like silent buskers. Maybe offer to watch the stall of a friend while they go to the loo/Greggs/take a break/have a fag or whatever. Bring cake. Tell them it looks magical, and try to buy something, even if it’s just a card. A few cards sold can make all the difference.

The experience reminded me how far I’ve come, how things have changed, and how fortunate I am to do whatever the hell I want, to be able to make whatever I want, that organically emerges from my thought processes.

Thank you world.

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