After completing the Studio Tour for the Fine Arts Society of Milton (FASM) in early October, I took a hiatus from participating in any more fall/winter arts & crafts show. In fact, I’m not scheduled until early spring for the Arts on the Credit show. I was found myself a bit burned out from schlepping my art and jewelry to and fro events in my Toyota Sienna mini-van (amazing what I can cram in there!). I passed on the temptation of doing a Christmas show, and instead just enjoyed being a shopper on the other side of the booth.
My friend Ray Dorval (a fellow Miltonian) was participating in the One of a Kind Christmas Show & Sale 2014 in Toronto. He had been ‘head-hunted’ at a craft show in Cobourg this summer by OOAK organizers (turns out they cruise incognito looking for fresh talent). Ray was actually feeling a bit burned out himself after doing the marathon session at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, aka the ‘Ex’) this summer, with a record selling of 17 wood carvings on the last day! But after being sweet-talked into doing the OOAK show (the organizers were very persuasive), Ray got into production overdrive with aims of having at least 460 completed works for the Christmas show.
Ray offered me a free ticket to attend the show and visit him at the booth. I dropped by his house to pick-up the ticket and got a peek at his workshop (insulated garage) and some insights into his wood-carving methods to deal with this crazy high rate of production. I’m always curious to see how other artists work and also their business acumen for making an artistic living. Ray considers himself to be a part-time artist, and a full-time dad (he runs a home-based daycare, and is extremely involved with volunteering at his kids’ school). I couldn’t wait to see what Ray’s booth looked like at the OOAK show.
I attended the OOAK show on a weekday (hoping to avoid the X-mas shopping horde) and took the GO train to the Exhibition Centre (to avoid the traffic & parking nightmare). I felt like a celebrity, breezing by the long line for entry with my free ticket. I grabbed a floor map (luckily the OOAK website had a great search function, so I already knew Ray was at Booth P08). The Dorval Designs booth looked fantastic as always! His Baltic wood cravings really ‘pop’ on the black felt backgrounds (a modern take on black velvet paintings). Ray was doing well – one of his pieces was going to be featured on the Zoomer Day presentation on the main stage that very afternoon – a nice shout-out for the quality of his work.
Knowing that I had a lot of booths to see, I promised Ray I’d be back to visit (there was a whole alphabet of vendors to see). But I started first with Ray’s neighbour across the aisle – Lichia Liu, a paper goods artist with her store, Gotamago. Gotamago had just been picked as the consumer’s pick for Best Booth at the OOAK show. (Ray and Lichia joked that they were having a one-up-man ship contest for their respective successes – not bad for a couple of OOAK newbies!).
I worked my way through the show, starting at the A’s. I hadn’t been at the OOAK show in a few years, but I did recognize some vendors from other shows (such as The Beaches, Haliburton, and Distillery District, etc.). The OOAK show is the biggest show in Canada for hand-crafted goods (+800 artisans), and I wanted to get a sense of what it would be like to be a vendor – both on the fine art side and on the craft side, since I like to straddle that particular fence. I like making things from mixed-media paintings to jewelry – and my encaustic mosaics seem to cross that divide as well. So I decided to approach a small sample set of artists (from newbie to seasoned pro) to get a sense of what was involved (application-wise, booth set-up at the show, and ability to sell your wares).
My first interviewee was in the Rising Star section (booth D51) of the show. From the OOAK website: “This section is for first time exhibitors who have less than 5 years professional experience as a full time artisan. Space in this open concept area is sold by the square foot, making your booth fee and your stock more manageable. We supply your carpet and you provide a fantastic free-standing display in-the-round with lighting to showcase your creations.”
Catherine de Abreu is a ceramics artist from Montreal. This was her first time at the OOAK show, and she thought the Rising Star section was a good way to see how her works sold and maybe also pave the way for a successful application into next year’s show (there can be a very long waiting list, depending on your discipline – fine art, no barriers; jewelry – good luck getting in). Catherine said her biggest challenge was trying to maximize the view-ability of her pieces, with the limited footprint of booth space – her idea – go vertical!
Onwards with my tour – I approached oil painter, Stewart Jones about his impressions of being a ‘fine artist’ at a craft show. He had been on the fence about participating, despite having been in the show for a number of years. In fact, since he had signed up at the last minute, his booth was outside of the Visual Art Gallery section (in red on the floor map). This section is only present during the Christmas show, from the OOAK website: “The only thing you will find here is fantastic fine art in this originals-only section. Acrylics, oils, watercolours, hand-pulled prints and sculpture attract collectors and gallery owners, and wider aisles allow for the ultimate viewing space. If you are a visual artist, this is the place to show your work.”
I asked Stewart if he minded being outside of the section, and he said it didn’t really affect how he showed his work – people either really liked it or didn’t. I personally loved his work (very painterly urban street scenes, vibrant colours – it’s what drew me in to speak with him). Stewart said you were almost guaranteed to get in with fine art, but no guarantee at all of actually selling works – it all depended on the right buyer seeing the painting. But considering most of the attendees at this type of show are grandmothers shopping for small gifts for their friends & families – a large oil painting doesn’t quite fit into that equation. We also chatted about other art shows in the GTA – the upcoming Artist Project (would have ranked it highly a few years ago, but Stewart said that the quality of the work exhibited has dropped and the number of participating artists have doubled – now it’s a money maker for the organizers, not the artists), but the Toronto Outdoor Art show, and the Queen West Art Crawl were still good ones to consider.
After that, I approached two different polymer clay artists. I could only find two at the show (I didn’t count the ‘Nugs’ guy – critters made of Fimo that looked like refugees escaped a kindergarten art class – really at the OOAK show???). You might wonder why I targeted these two particular artists for interviews… well; come the New Year I’m planning to dive into the world of polymer clay jewelry (I need to play with something new). I wanted to get a sense of their reception of their wares, and how this event compared to other shows that they had done. I spoke with Candice Ware of Candiware (booth E30), jewelry created with miniature food (with scents!) and Karen Pasieka of Subtle Designs (find her on Facebook) (booth T33), dimensional landscapes and still-lifes.
Candice had participated in Etsy Section this past March, (OOAK Spring show only). From the OOAK website: “The 2015 Etsy Section will feature a select group of 40+ talented artisans. Qualified Etsy Sellers will have the opportunity to exhibit at the most attended and most popular show of its kind in North America.” She found that her jewelry sold well and decided to take the plunge (with her very supportive hubby) and use their vacation time to do the Christmas show. She said that by doing the Etsy show it really gave her the confidence to ‘hit the big time.’
Karen was maximizing her family’s support to take part in the OOAK show. As a full-time mom, she wanted to pursue a craft that she could still do safely at the kitchen table with young children under foot. I admired her use of the white IKEA shadowbox frames (the very same ones I use for my encaustic mosaics). We chatted about the perception (and snobbery) of ‘fine artists’ with regards to our respective mediums.
Polymer clay is still not viewed in the same artistic class as say as other ceramics; instead it is still perceived as a ‘hobby’ medium. (Hmmm, very similar to how acrylic painters are treated by oil painters…). It all comes down to the talent and the vision – anything can be evaluated to ‘fine art’ in the hand of a master (and vice versa – we’ve all seen the ‘starving artist’ rendered oil paintings). We compared notes about art shows in the GTA. Cabbagetown was recommended to me by photographer, Jessica Lynn at the past Beaches show – and sure enough, being a small world – Karen also learned about Cabbagetown from Jessica. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the show’s application form!
And last, but not least – I did do some actual shopping! I had not planned on buying anything (as I told Ray, anything I bought at the OOAK show took away from my art supply budget). However, I got lured into the Old Island Stamp Co. (booth G08) – all the way from Lion’s Bay, BC.
I’m sure I made Dawne Colly’s day, as I quickly scooped up a number of unmounted textural rubber stamps. These can be used in so many ways – on polymer clay jewelry, on acrylic mediums for paintings, on Gelli-plates for monoprints, and of course, on paper! There was one stamp I fell in love in their catalogue which was all sold out – a street map of Paris. I think I’m going to have to order this stamp from their online store…
I’ll be away in sunny climes for Christmas break – renewing my artistic spirit and jump-starting my creative brain for the New Year. Happy Holidays!