Naming fail

I’m having serious doubts about my SkyBlueView name so I’m going to change it. Not being a football fan I had no idea that there’s a sky blue view blog, twitter, facebook account etc aimed at Manchester City fans. Hmmm, football – not really what I had in mind.

Paper collages and an equipment crisis

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I’m quite pleased with my first attempts at paper collage. Compared with acrylic painting it’s a fairly quick and inexpensive way to indulge my love of colour.

I’m planning to scan these and reproduce them as greeting cards but I’m being delayed by an equipment crisis.

When I last moved house I had a clear out. Amid a huge tangle of cables I found various power adaptors. I vaguely remember thinking, ‘I don’t have a Canon printer’ and I suspect I threw that one away. Three weeks ago I unpacked my scanner. Yes, you’ve probably guessed it — it’s a Canon. Doh!

I ordered a new power adaptor, which set me back £36 with postage. Three weeks later I’m still waiting :(

New stall options

After Mehmet and I spent another long day at a craft fair that attracted maybe fifty visitors, I found myself pondering new stall options.

My sales showed a profit but after accounting for money spent on coffees, sandwiches, and a takeaway and bottle of wine to share with my ever-helpful partner, I probably only made about £10 in real terms. That’s not really worth a long day’s effort.

For some time now I’ve been considering renting a stall on a Saturday at Northampton’s general market and today’s ‘not-so-successful fair day’ inspired me to revisit my options on their website. As it happens, the council is currently offering up to 50% discount for new traders with new lines, taking the cost of a prime-time town centre pitch below the cost of an average craft fair stall. Hmmm, if I can turn a profit from fifty people in a dusty village hall, what could I do with a busy Saturday market footfall?

Of course there’s no guarantee of success – craft fairs and general markets are very different environments with different pricing expectations so I’ll have to think carefully about how to pitch it (no pun intended). I have a few ideas I’m off to work on… more later.

Tasty and colourful

Firstly, here’s the tasty – my feta cheese and mint bread, which turned out to be my best bread yet.

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Next, here’s the colourful. I bought some paper punches and lots of lovely bright paper to start on my collage ideas. I’m in colour heaven. If I can avoid drooling on them it’s going to be fun putting these together to make something pretty :)

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Handmade v machine made (bread)

I recently spent some time in Turkey with my partner’s family. After arriving at his family home we headed down to a nearby meadow where his parents were working on their newly created honey bee farm. A simple meal awaited us – fresh salad, flavoured with herbs and lemon juice (squeezed from freshly picked lemons) and hearty flatbreads that had been baked in the ashes of their cooking fire. It was surprisingly delicious.

Bread, or ‘ekmek’ in Turkish, features heavily in the local diet. During my time there I ate a number of freshly and creatively made variations and returned to England with the urge to bake my own bread. I’ve previously had a few disappointing attempts at bread making which usually produced strange-looking lumps, dense enough to be classed as offensive weapons. So, I’m thinking – how am I going to get it right this time?

After trawling some recipes I dive in and start with some middle-eastern style flatbreads that actually turn out alright. Then I make a variation with seeds that although slightly over-baked are really quite nice (my partner Mehmet agreed so I’m not just blowing my own trumpet). I move on to try a loaf which turns out a bit on the heavy side but, looking on the bright side, unlike my previous attempts, you probably couldn’t use it to knock anybody out.

This is all great fun but one downside I’m finding is that making bread is time consuming and fairly messy – creating lots of washing up and flour ‘fallout’ over myself and the kitchen. I become curious about buying a bread machine and spend half a day online looking at different makes and models. Surely they’re cleaner, neater and – of course – labour-saving? Well, yeah… but… I’ve realised I actually quite enjoy the tactile, messy nature of the bread making process and have decided that the feeling of satisfaction when my warm tasty bread comes out of the oven makes the extra effort worthwhile. For now, I’m going to hold off on buying the machine and persevere with hand baking.

I’m happy with that decision and it also got me thinking about a few valuable ‘time well spent’ life lessons, but more of that later – I’m off to bake some more feta and mint bread because we’ve already scoffed the last batch :)

Performance anxiety

Performance anxiety – the blocking of free-flowing creativity when creating to earn becomes a stronger driving force than creating for the love of it. Over the last few months I’ve realised this has begun to affect my art and jewellery making and it’s threatened to suck the joy out of this experimental period. I worked as a graphic designer in the past so I’m no stranger to designing to meet ‘outside demands’. Creating to order is not a negative thing and it’s something I have no problem with in the appropriate context but it’s not in keeping with the spirit of how I’m approaching this venture so I haven’t welcomed this feeling of pressure creeping in.

So how do you solve the dilemma if you’re trying to make money from your creative ventures but you’re short of money and the hoped-for income isn’t happening? Have a ‘day job’ – which is what I have. I’m a ‘retail merchandiser’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘a roving shelf stacker’. It’s part-time, so I have time to develop my creative options without wondering how I’m going to pay the rent.

Now it’s the weekend and I’m off to play with my new set of paper punches :)

One year on

I can’t believe it’s just over a year since I started this blog. A lot has happened over that year and I’m in a fairly different place from where I started.

I started out full of enthusiasm and optimism and produced a wide variety of jewellery stock, learning all kinds of production lessons along the way. Then I hit the brick wall of minimal online sales and the problem of how to market my work to a wider audience – particularly when making one-offs. I’ve done stalls at various locations around the midlands and had successful days, absolutely dreadful zero-sales days, and a few variations in between. I’ve been through two website providers and am about to switch to a third, and I also got round to setting up etsy and folksy shops.

The biggest changes have probably been in the actual things that I’m making. My initial focus was solely on jewellery and I’ve tried a range of materials and styles. Since then, I’ve branched out into other disciplines and now include painting, printmaking and paper collage in my creative ventures.

So… it’s time for a bit of a fresh start, to focus on finding a more defined style and range of products from the huge amount of experiments I’ve done. I have a good idea of where i’m going but I’ve still got some work to do to get there – and I’m really going to try to update here more often :)

My first stall of the craft fair season

I’m part of the way into my craft stall run, that’s why I’ve been too busy to update here. I had plans to blog about my run-up to the craft fairs but that never quite managed to happen. The last few weeks have just been a big blur of making jewellery in every spare moment and not much else.

My first craft fair of the year was on Sunday 4th December – I had a stall at the Christmas Best fair at the Hind hotel in Wellingborough. It was awful. The first hint of bad organisation came when I arrived. I’d had an email telling me my table number was 6 so I asked the first people I met how the numbering system worked. ‘We’ve been told to just pick a table’. Oh. There were two sizes of tables and there were only 2 larger tables left – one tucked away in a corner and one directly opposite the other jewellery stall. I picked the latter which wasn’t ideal but as there are huge amounts of people out there making jewellery I can’t shy away from a competition. Fortunately her style was quite different from mine.

Not being a morning person, I’d arrived a bit later than planned but I still had 40 minutes left to set up. Yeah right, it took me around an hour and a half in all but I was quite pleased with how it looked in the end.

My stall 4th December

My stall 4th December

Unfortunately the room we were in was tucked away upstairs at the hotel and there were no obvious signs outside to direct people in. There were plenty of people in town, they just weren’t where we were. At one point there was a row of stallholders with our faces pressed up against the window, staring at the out-of-reach shoppers like children outside a sweet shop. I had to see the funny side of it :) In the end about 30 people came round, which is a generous estimate. It was supposed to run from 10am to 4pm. The first stall to give it up as a ‘bad fair day’ started packing up at noon, quickly followed by a few more. I lasted until 2.30 then gave up too.

I’ve taken away some positives from the experience and definitely learned a few things. My stocked is now packed in a way that makes it quicker to set up. I got a few more ideas about stall presentation from the other stalls. I also met some nice people and had some good chats with them. Most importantly, even on such a dire day, I still managed to cover my stall costs with a bit to spare. Once the organiser gives me the promised 50% refund on my stall fees then the day will actually produce a modest (very modest) profit.

Narrative craft product photography

I know I’m not the only person to have had the following experience. You pay out good money for a stall at a craft fair selling handmade products, only to find yourself surrounded by products that fall into the ‘maybe possibly handmade at some point, probably in China, bought wholesale and are now being passed off as handmade’ category. These of course are sold at prices with which the genuine artisans cannot compete and could potentially be happening at the online equivalents, places such as Etsy and Folksy.

Most of the product photography I see (including my own so far) take the ‘here’s one I made earlier’ approach. The final product is photographed, hopefully from a few angles / distances – cropped, colour balanced and uploaded. But without being able to handle the item or have a face-to-face conversation with the maker, how do we really know the extent to which the product falls into the ‘lovingly handmade by the artisan’ category? Wouldn’t it be great if we could see at least a little bit of the product’s story in pictures? I’m now trying to take a ‘before and after’ approach to my product photos. The before shot shows the ensemble of beads, findings and tools that will go into the making. The after shot is obviously the final product.

Before - orange polymer clay disc necklace

Before - orange polymer clay disc necklace

After - orange polymer clay disc necklace

After - orange polymer clay disc necklace

Nice timing

I’ve received delivery of some lovely new glass pearls in the last few days which was perfect timing as they really go with some of this weekend’s handmade polymer clay items.

Glass beads and polymer clay

Blues mix - glass beads and polymer clay

Orange mix - glass beads and polymer clay

Orange mix - glass beads and polymer clay

I think you can see where I’m going with these combinations. More on that later :)