Just the Flax, Ma’am

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On Saturday, I was a vendor at a holiday craft bazaar at Ithaca First Assembly of God Church. Over forty vendors set up tables and displayed their handmade items in the sanctuary, the entryway, hallway, main fellowship hall and a smaller side room, which is where I was located.

This was my fifth craft fair since I began this tiny business in September and I’ve attended a couple of humdingers, let me tell you. I won’t mention names, but some were very far out in the country and all, except this one, were not advertised well.

Thankfully, First Assembly is on the ball. There was a Facebook event, an email went out to the participants to share the event with friends on their social media pages, and an email went out to local churches to advertise as well. The women in charge were super organized and knew what Square and Apple Pay were which meant we would definitely have WiFi. The place was clean, brightly lit, upbeat Christmas music played and the people came in droves to shop.

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My table had ornaments, small felt dolls, natural body care products, decorative pillows, and nine flax warming pillows. Honestly, I hoped to sell my ornaments and dolls and pillows along with the rest of my things. And I thought I would because they’re cute and seasonally appropriate. Alas, not an ornament or doll sold. My winter balm, made of coconut oil, shea butter, and lavender sold out. Lots of lip balm and several lotion bars sold as well. But my continual bestseller are these flax warming pillows. Some have lavender flowers added and some are flax alone, but they all come folded and tied with ribbon. I display them in a small treasure chest I found at Mimi’s Attic with a blackboard sign.

When I wracked my brain, I could not remember how I ever decided to make these pillows to begin with. Maybe someone mentioned them to me? Maybe I just bumped into the idea on Pinterest? Anyway, I made four pillows for the first craft sale back in September and I sold out. Every place since–even the very worst sales–I sold a few of these. Well, this Saturday, I sold out of all nine of them. It is interesting what people want. You really never know. Part of me thinks these flax pillows will continue to be a “bread-and-butter” item for my business. Part of me is worried I’ll make up a bunch of these and they’ll sit unwanted on the shelf and people will want something else. I’m going to go with the former leaning and purchase flax seed in bulk from the Amish tomorrow. If I’m wrong, all my friends and family will be getting these pillows as gifts for the next year.

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The greatest part of Saturday, though, even more encouraging than having very good sales, was all the friends and family who came. They hugged me, chatted about kids and work, asked me about myself, took photos, laughed and commented on my items for sale. Many of them purchased things as well. It felt wonderful to have made things for people I love to use or give as gifts. My mother came with my niece–she’s the one that bought my last two flax pillows. Alan was an angel and came twice: once to replenish my ones and fives and again to bring me lunch. When I packed up at 3, my heart was happy. If only every craft fair could be as full of success and a sense of community. Today, as I cut out fabrics for another dozen flax pillows, I felt carried along by the lightness and merry atmosphere of that event. If only I could package that feeling…it would be a bestseller too.

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Day 8: Sunday at Bandwagon

Today we performed at Bandwagon Brewery in Interlaken. As it was a Sunday and the Bills were playing, it was a pretty quiet afternoon.

However, four people from Ithaca came out and stayed for two-thirds of the show. They were so supportive and fun and said they’re our new groupies.

Then EJ and her husband came and cheered for us. She was a trip, jumping up and clapping after every song. The high point of the afternoon was that my son and daughter came to hear us play for a few songs. I proudly introduced them to people, thrilled they showed up. Will gave them ginger beer and EJ chatted to them. It felt like a small family affair. And right before close, we had a surprise visit from Jason and Rose Hazlitt.

When we got back home and unpacked the car, we discovered that Judah had the pizzas started. We ate, talked and played Canasta. All in all, it was a happy, satisfying day.

Day 6: A Book Recommendation

I recently read Jeff Goins’ newest book Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age and recommend you do the same. He wrote twelve chapters on the differences between the “Starving Artist” and the “Thriving Artist”. He included many real-life stories to show how to thrive. Here are three quick and uplifting points to encourage you as a creative.

The Thriving Artist steals from his influences, rather than attempting to be original. 

The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons, rather than waiting for people to find him or her.

The Thriving Artist always works for something, rather than working for free.

Jeff’s book woke me up to the possibility of making a living creatively, helped me understand how things are changing for creative people online and otherwise and how to be healthy and thrive in today’s world. Get a copy and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Day 4: To Market, To Market

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This is one post in a series about creative living, but the message I am hearing from many different sources and discovering the truth of is this: being a creative person means being a business and marketing-savvy person as well.

I grew up shying away from selling or soliciting in any shape or form, whether with a church group or at a personal yard sale. I just didn’t want to force my stuff or opinions on anyone, didn’t want to toot my own horn or be pushy in any way. Talking to artist friends of mine, I hear the same story from them. Who wants to brag about one’s work? Who wants to push one’s stuff or try to navigate the frightening areas of business and marketing. I continually heard,” I am no business person.” “I am not good at selling anything.” After believing this to be true for myself most of my life, I now disagree with this self-talk. I think every artistic/creative person owes it to themselves and their work to learn as much as they can about how to market oneself, how to make connections, and how to become a business person.

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What changed my mind? Last summer, I formed an acoustic musical duo with Alan. We call ourselves The Inner Crazy. We made a list of songs and started learning them and practicing. A friend of his booked us for her private party, and his boss hired us to play at her cafe. But after that, what? No one knew about us, what our music was like, if we would work well in their venue, etc. It’s not like we had a manager. We were it!

I began asking people I knew for venue ideas, Alan and I made a list of places, we made some cover demos and began visiting local wineries, breweries and restaurants. We didn’t have a website or a business card at first, just an email address, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and links to our digital demos. If we couldn’t visit places or meet the person in charge of booking, I sent out emails. It made me nervous, both visiting and emailing, but I did it. Alan cold called places as well. I wasn’t courageous enough to do that.

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In most cases, the emails were not helpful. A few places got back to me and said they were booked for the season already or only wanted bands. Most ignored me. A couple actually booked us without meeting us first. Really, the successes were from all the places we went to and met the person in charge. I had to follow up with a “thank you for taking the time to meet us” email and ask if they wanted to book us. Yes, this felt pushy. Some places got back to us months later and said they would book us. In a few cases, I tried again after several months of no response and received a reply.

We are grateful for every gig we’ve had this year. In between gigs, we practiced a lot, learned many new songs, wrote a couple, designed a business card and built a website. We opened a SoundCloud account and kept posting on social media. I started learning the ukulele. I continued to contact places and researched new ones. We had a lengthy list of places we wanted to play at.

We wanted to play at Six Mile Creek Vineyard and were able to play there twice this summer. Treleaven Wines was another place that graciously gave us two bookings. The Trumansburg Farmers Market had us back this August. Bandwagon Brewery opened around the corner and booked us once a month through the end of the year. The Finger Lakes Cider House and Americana Vineyards were both venues Alan has been trying to get a chance to play at since he was doing solo shows. We connected with the folks in charge of both places but didn’t hear back. So we tried again. And both of them booked us and we are thrilled! The Cider House show will be Friday November 10 from 6:15-8:30 and Americana’s will be March 25 in 2018. We play at Bandwagon this Sunday October 8 from 2-5pm.

We have since designed and distributed posters with our names, faces, upcoming shows and contact info in local businesses in Trumansburg and Ovid. I haven’t even done Lodi or Interlaken yet. But we need to create new ones for next month and start passing them out in another week. It’s non-stop.

I have a lot more to learn. Currently, I have a to-do list that is super long. I need to improve our website and add a “subscribe to get email” feature. I am watching Lynda.com tutorials to learn about graphic design. Tumblr is a platform I haven’t tackled, but should, we need new photographs, some videos on Youtube, new cover demos to send out and a holiday EP recorded. We are also seriously contemplating a combined private art/craft show and Inner Crazy concert at our house for the holidays. This will push us out of our comfort zones again, but could end up being fun and a great way to meet with friends and make money at the same time.

Do you have an arts-related business? Are you in a band? I’d love to read what you’ve learned.

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The Practice of Creative Living (31 Days)