But wait, there’s always an upside... dogs!
My usual (and, mostly reliable) Red Hill Market closes over winter, and there are few good art/craft specific markets operating at his time.
Here in chilly, unpredictable Victoria, July/August are among the worst months to try and sell art/crafts. Unless one is fortunate to find oneself at an indoor (indie) artisans’ market in the city. And even then, enticing the brave souls - potential customers - who venture out, and who are mostly, "just browsing" as they saunter past tables en route to the café for lunch and meet up with friends, can be difficult.
Currently, my funds are low, and I need to buy clay supplies, paper bags/tissue wrap for sales, and pay (in advance) the upcoming spring and pre-Christmas market fees.
I decided on an outdoor “community market” (mostly produce, with some crafts) just under an hour’s drive away on Saturday.
It snowed the day before, a little further up on our mountain, so it was more than a wee bit chilly as hubby and I left home at 5am.
Arriving at the top of the road leading to the market grounds, we were met by an organiser, and were asked to take a number and wait – for one and a half hours – til we were allocated our stall locations at 7:30 am.
We were grateful that we didn’t need to leave the confines of our cosy car, except for a dash to the loo.
At one point, as I peered out the breath condensed passenger window into the pre-dawn darkness, the thought of snuggling up to Jack in our warm bed seemed far more alluring.
Hesitantly, and gripped in a moment of weakness, I suggested to hubby that it wouldn’t take much for me to agree to us turning around and heading back home… if that’s how he felt also?
Really. Knowing how much I needed to attend a market, it was very unusual - for my usually intrepid self - to even suggest such a thing.
And, as this was one of the few markets that didn't require money "up front" at the time of booking, my indecision was heightened.
My mind teemed with less than positive thoughts about precious dollars being spent on a site fee with the possibility of it not being recovered due to scant sales, and worse - with no profit to be made.
All I could think about, were the few customers that would be willing to brave the cold, wet conditions and muddy walkways, slipping and sliding past us hopeful vendors as we tried to mask pleading expressions to buy our wares. Smiles, literally, frozen on our faces.
My emotions were threatening to run away, as my reason failed to lasso them back.
With clay work still drying slowly in a damp environment at home, I really didn’t have much stock to sell. That didn’t help my uncertainty either… "I need to be here, but, what’s the point of showing up, if there is less than usual to sell?"
Push me, pull you. My chattering oxymoronic monkey mind.
Fortunately, hubby’s comment to, "stand your (soggy) ground, and chalk it up to experience, whatever the outcome", calmed me down.
Shhhh, chatter, shhhhhh.
There were quite a few empty spaces, where stall holders had bailed on the idea of facing the day… lugging tents and trestle tables and chairs and myriad boxes, then setting up and waiting, waiting, waiting…
On the plus side, setting up keeps one warm. Although, standing/sitting/standing and trying to stay warm can be challenging, especially when you can’t even feel your toes anymore, as the chill rises up from the drenched earth.
And, I already had on two pairs of socks.
The intermittent rain, and my internal whining, continued to dampen my spirits.
Then suddenly, I thought of the multitudes of homeless and poor, who endure these conditions every day, day after day, season after wintry season.
And, the dear animals in cold tin shelters, shivering, waiting for someone to look into their soft brown eyes and bring them into the warmth of their hearts and homes.
My internal soliloquy ceased abruptly.
I sent hubby to find the coffee vendor. Happy to be on the move and keep warm, he was also (silently) happy to search for a donut van, and returned fifteen minutes later, with two coffees… and a tell-tale dusting of sugar down the front of his sweater - as if I wouldn’t know :)
Eventually, the rain eased and the grey sky lightened.
Sporadic customers, who arrived in the first couple of hours, hardly glanced in our direction as they had one, just one, purpose in mind – to fill their baskets and bags with fresh produce, and hurry home again to the comfort of their kitchens to prepare breakfast and think upon meals for the week.
Ceramics were the furthest thing from their minds.
I get it. And it’s okay. When it’s so uninviting outside, why do anything more than bundle up warm, get to market safely and quickly, buy your farm fresh goodies and get back home ASAP?
Outdoor markets in winter can be very unpleasant. And, I have so much respect for sellers of plants and fresh produce. Throughout the year, but especially in winter.
These "small holdings" growers, toil away in frost encrusted soil, washing root crops clean in finger numbing cold water, bundle, tie, bag and box them ready for sale, then drive for miles in the dark, to a different market every weekend.
And, are rewarded by loyal customers who eagerly purchase the fruits (and veg) of their labour.
Coffee sellers and hot food vendors generally do well also.
After all, armed with a caché of delicious fresh ingredients, what’s better than a takeaway coffee or hot snack before heading back to the car?
So, to be honest, unless one has a birthday gift to consider, why stop any longer than need be, on a bleak morning, perusing for potential gifts?
Christmas is still too far away in most peoples’ minds. Gasp! "Christmas? I don’t want to even think about it", is often the cry.
Our, not so buoyant economy is also another factor. Understandably, with employment uncertainty, the rising cost of goods and services, high taxes and little confidence in our illustrious government, purse strings are drawn ever tighter these days.
Art/craft marketers must work harder to create unusual, quality pieces, and have to sell at "attractive" prices.
It’s a juggle.
Not to overprice, yet try to cover (or at the very least, meet) one’s costs.
Better to sell, than take home almost as much stock as one arrives with.
But, it’s important not to under sell one’s work either.
It’s hard graft. And at times, disheartening.
I’ve had the odd (artisan/indie) stall holder confront and accuse me of selling my work "too cheap", and making the rest of the sellers look bad by lowering prices and, "the standard" of the market, then snubbing me for the rest of the day.
Really? When I work bloody hard at what I do? I’m a perfectionist. It shows in my work. And the high praise from my customers reflects that.
Besides, let's be realistic here, it's a market, not an art show or exhibition. People turn up with a certain amount of cash, and hope in their heart that there might be something they can afford, and be stoked to buy.
I retort that my work is "affordable", not cheap.
And, I’m not one for hoicking my prices in an uncertain economic climate, where art/craft is a luxury, not an essential.
I’ll even give my art away, to the right person, in the right circumstances. Why not pop a little magnet or brooch into the gift bag as a "thank you" to a sweet person who loves my work effusively? Or, to the dear old woman who would like to buy more from me, but can only choose one item, due to her pension restraints?
Oh well. As much as such unnecessary, petty comments hurt me at the time, I get over it. But, I’ll never understand the backstabbing and lack of community attitude, when it comes to some artists. Seriously, I could write a post on that subject alone. I’ve attended enough artisan markets, and seen enough silly behaviour from insecure (I'm sorry to say) females of a certain age. And, I won’t even get started on exclusive cliques among some groups at a market.
The "problem" lies with them. As I usually do well enough in the off season, most of the time, to get me through until spring/summer, and the flurry that is Christmas.
My regular customers return often. That’s all I need for confirmation.
I believe in, and long for, a good arts community. I’m all for supporting my fellow marketers, and happily send buyers their way if I don’t have what they’re looking for. And, I always encourage newbie sellers, who need advice in the often scary, unsure world of self-employment at markets.
I remember the uncertainty of my first market season. Hope mixed with doubt mixed with anxiety followed by the elation of a first sale in an often intimidating environment.
Enough digressing. Get on with it!
As the cool, winter sun finally peeped through the silver clouds, and chased away the early rain, I left hubby to man our not-so-busy stall, and took the opportunity to sneak off and snap a few photos.
The deep, silty, swirling waters of the Yarra River flowed fast, as rivulets of rainwater trickled down the bushy banks.
Shiny water droplets hung in crystal teardrop clusters and mini rainbows were cast upon giant gloomy granite steps.
Where are all the customers? Come one, come all!
Two things I really like about this particular market...
One, that we can drive to our site and unload directly from the back of our car. No lugging heavy gear over uneven terrain and car-parks, whilst avoiding distracted drivers.
And two, the fact that dogs are allowed. Welcome even. Which is not often the case at many markets.
There were more than a few muddy paws padding the rain soaked lanes, and I clicked away at many furkids of all shapes, sizes and breeds, until my camera ran out of charge.
Later, I created a collage of canines…
Despite the still chilled air, the soft blue sky encouraged more people to come out in the remaining two hours.
Although there were many mumblings amongst marketers, when pulling down, of, "not so good takings today", I’m happy to say, that I covered my market fee and clay costs. Only just. But, I’m grateful for that, at least.
And… for my hubby’s steadfast presence on such a shivery day.
That's worth a few more donuts I think :)