Monday, 4 August 2014

The vagaries of markets

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  :)



  1. I love it. And love that you covered your costs. And had someone to share the beauty with. Definitely a multiple donut love.
    PS: Jazz finally succeeded in dragging the magnet you made for me down from the fridge. He is a persistent soul - and your magnet set him a challenge. A small repair and it is back where it belongs. And where I smile at it each day - and pat it often.

    1. Thanks, EC. It all turned out well after all, despite my - I'm ashamed to say - initial internal vacillations :)

      I'm surprised the magnet lasted as long as it did. Top marks to Jazz for his persistence! I can almost imagine him vowing not to let, "that one blasted magnet" defeat him :)
      If you'd ever like another, let me know...

    2. I should add that when he finally brought THAT magnet down, he also brought down no less than ten others. Persistence (and evil) are a huge part of him. And of his charm.

    3. He is a charming, beautiful, ebony, delightful devil, your Jazz. And, I'd expect nothing less than a final victory from a clever character such as he.
      I often wondered, and now I know :)
      Good on you Jazz!

  2. try again... first comment didn't "go through"...

    the other side, of doing-what-you-love-doing, may i say...

    glad you stuck with it, and made, what you made.

    plus lovely photos. the rainbow effect is marvelous.


    1. Thanks Tessa. I'm glad too.
      I will often point and shoot my camera into the sun, never knowing what the result will be. Sometimes, as with the mini rainbow, I'm very pleasantly surprised :)

  3. Love the photos! I'm glad you 'broke even" as we say here. Do you have that saying there? I know what you mean about some artists' attitude. We only have markets up here in the summer because California people just won't come out if it's raining. They'll come up here to ski in the winter, but I'm not close enough to a ski resort to make it worthwhile to open up my studio. I do at Thanksgiving, though, as a lot of people come up here to spend the holiday at their weekend cabins and they do their Christmas shopping then. I used to stay open on weekends all year round, but it got so I wasn't making enough to pay for the cost of keeping all the lights on. The cost of electricty is fearsome here! I hope you sell lots at your upcoming summer markets...I know if I lived near you I'd be buying lots of your ceramics!



    1. Thank you, Victoria. And, I'd love to visit your gorgeous studio, and be the proud owner of your work also :)

      Yes, we sometimes say, "broke even" here.
      Electricity is woeful here too. The cost of running an electric kiln is becoming a serious concern.

      I do wish some artists/crafters would quit being such elitist asshats.

  4. If dogs ran their own artisan market, do you think they would be inclusive? Or would competition in their natures end up with the golden retriever clique looking down on the mongrel clique? I tend to think not. There's probably be a few outright fights, which would make it rather interesting, but maybe with it all being forgotten by lunchtime.

    I'm glad you broke even too. And am glad that you managed to find a way with hubby assistance through the mad mind monkeys. They can be rather perplexing at times, can't they

    1. Dogs wouldn't know the meaning of the word, clique.
      Honestly, I don't believe dogs would discriminate, even if they could - it's not in their nature. Age, sex, breed, colour - it's all the same bottom sniffing to them :)
      And no, nor would they hold petty grudges.

      Artists can be so insecure and threatened sometimes. Needlessly so. Big egos, I think.
      Uh huh, chattering mind monkeys can be a bother, when you least need them to be.

  5. "Christmas is still too far away..." and now it's a day closer! Yesterday while in town I saw the perfect gift for a grandson and started thinking of Christmas laybys.

    I'm glad your day wasn't a loss. I often spend time "just browsing" at market stalls, mostly because I can't afford the offerings, but also because I just don't have room for or need any of them. and often enough there are too many stalls selling the same old thing; our Fullarton Market, open on the last Saturday of every month has stall upon stall upon stall of jewellery, ditto hats and scarves. Far too few have produce and I think the jam lady might not be opening her stall there in future, I overheard part of a conversation last time I bought jam.

    1. Product saturation can be a problem, if market organisers aren't careful. It's up to them to create a cut off point, otherwise there isn't enough diversity.
      That's why I like my Red Hill Market - it is very efficiently run by a great team.

      And yes, Christmas is just around the corner...

  6. Getting all teary eyed here, Vicki... Oh but I soooo understand how you feel. Selling art at all is a tough, sometimes even risky, business. And markets can be fickle thing to deal in. I love that though--"affordable", not cheap... YES! Everyone loves art, everyone's got their taste/style. To be able to afford to buy even a small piece of art is such a thrill. Try not to let the sales snobs get you down. ;o) So wonderful you did the market, that you mustered the courage--that IS courage! Keep on, keeping on, yes... Gotta keep trying! Goodness you inspire, Vicki! Do hope as Christmas nears things and sales will be on the up for you! (It's really not that far away now, Christmas--yikes!) LOVE, love, love the rainbow...*swoon*...And your canine collage is pure joy! And here's to hubbies that stick with us through thick and think. :o) Happy Days ((HUGS))

    1. I know you understand, Tracy. You've been through trials with your own beautiful work.
      Everything seems so uncertain these days, it's hard to see the light in some situations.
      Christmas sales are always appreciated, but it's the quiet times that has one wondering if it's all worth it.

  7. this post read like a novel vicki.
    maybe you should totally put this art on the backburner and become a full time writer. seriously. it's there. talent. pure and simple.
    then you wouldn't have to deal with the arty farty assholes. well. i just turned your beautiful blog into a PG rating. or R. for language.
    the pictures are wonderful. i always feel i can just walk into them. and the rainbow! amazing!
    i wish the dogs could know which artists were the "insert bad word again here" ... and then they would PEE on their work!
    i never said i wasn't vindictive.
    sweet yes.
    vindictive yes.
    love and hugs to someone too good. in every way. xo

    1. Oh Tam, I love you for who you are, and what you say. And... you don't have a vindictive bone in your body - but, you are fiercely loyal ♥

      Sadly no, I don't have the makings of a writer. I'd be ashamed to call myself one, when there are such esteemed beings out there far, far better than I could ever wish to be.
      I just pour out onto the keyboard my thoughts, and hope like hell they make sense to others who read them :)

      Your words are a tonic, and always make me smile.
      Hugs xx

  8. I have always been perplexed over artists who wander over to another booth and tell them, nastily, prices are too low. In the same regard---maybe they need to concentrate on their own booth and maybe their prices are too high! ;) Anyway, your husband was there for you (a blessing) and you did have an adventure (a blessing.) Donuts and coffee outside in the cold taste so incredibly good! (and a blessing) And you got to see all the lovely, sweet doggies (another blessing.) And you wrote this wonderful, thoughtful post with beautiful photos. A blessing to we who read it. You do beautiful work, Vicki. Remember that.

    1. I so agree Charlene. I have felt like "suggesting gently", to such people, to perhaps spend more productive time focussing on their own stall, and less time poking around other peoples' business.
      There's no "industry standard" which artists must abide by when it comes to pricing - not that I know of anyway ;)

      Thank you for your kind words - high praise from an artist whose work is beyond beautiful... it's resonant and deeply soulfull.

  9. I dunno - my dog used to seem to be quite biased against small dogs :)

    1. Jack is extremely "biased" against any German Shepherd he sees. And that is directly attributed to the fact that he was badly mauled by an off lead - and out of control - GSD at a local park when he was a puppy... and he never forgot it, or the breed/type of dog that attacked him.
      Dogs always have a sound reason why they behave like they do around another dog - much of it depends on what they were bred for long ago.
      It's fascinating to look into breed history to understand a dog's natural behaviour.

      Bias is only a human concept, I believe :)

  10. Hullo hullo dear pal!!! Ive worked out how to find the comments option...oh I am soooooo useless with all this technology stuff!!
    Thanks for the wonderful catch up good to hear your voice. Love your posts, love your work, LOVE YOU.
    Keep searching for the rainbows..they are ALWAYS there. dont stop thinking about that FYP!!!!
    Lots of love kindered soul
    miss you hunners
    Rosie xxxxxx

    1. SO HAPPY to have you here dearest girl!!
      'Twas meant to be today - I needed the pep up, and you never fail to deliver, little ray of W.A. sunshine.
      Take care soul sister - Aura photography doesn't lie ;)

  11. Oh! I have so much to say!
    First, I'm trying to write. I'm working on my childrens books but I also have bits and pieces of a novel.
    There! I said it. I want to someday complete my novel.
    And as I read and listen to books on CD, I sometimes wonder how some books become so popular
    and then other times I will read something and feel so unworthy. Their talent blazing off of the page.
    And YOU my friend have IT.
    Every single comment you have ever left me on my blog, I have read over and over again.
    Tammy is right, it's there my friend, pure and simple.
    Second. I've been in two different Art fairs. The first one I sold pins and necklaces of Folk Art dogs and cats. I also had hand sewn Folk Art style Cat and
    Dog stuffies and draftstoppers....I sent so much time and energy on it, to say nothing of the cost of supplies and I didn't break even.
    A few years later, I was in a show with handpainted furniture. I had so many people coming in my booth and praising me but I only sold two pieces. One was a toy box with comical cats and the other was a Twinkle Twinkle little Star chair. Yep. after the cost of the booth space, made $15.
    So I was DONE.
    Now I have almost every wall at the vet clinic I work at, covered in my paintings and prints. The staff tells me that so many people say that they love them but then they don't buy. The prints are priced at $20. and the Original paintings are only $30 and people act like it's too high.
    Yeah. I still have not recouped my supply money on those yet. To say nothing of all the time spent working on them.
    So now I'm on to something else. You are a stronger willed person than I!
    Third, People.... sometimes I just hate them. So many petty people in the world.
    Fourth,...ok, you know I have a "herd" of little dogs and that includes 3 Toy Poodles.
    I rescued them at different times and they are different ages but I'll be darned if those three don't seek each other out to play!
    The Shih-tzu will play with the Chinese Crested and the Dachshund will run a steal all their toys but those 3 are always playing in a group!
    Yep. I got a French Poodle Clique going on here! LOL!
    and finally. Love your dog collage!
    I took Blue to the Farmers Market ONCE.
    Too many people ran up to him and when he saw other dogs he would be friendly but unsure and sometimes he became "protective".
    Yeah, he's too much dog to be holding him back easily. So sadly that was the only time we went to the Market together.
    XOXO - Cindi

    1. There, you've said it... and now, you've got to complete your novel, and your children's books. There's a world out there waiting for them :)

      I know you get where I'm coming from, Cindi. And, so often, it's disheartening. There are rewards, but commitment can be a bitch when you feel down about it all. And, art supplies don't come cheap. It's swings and roundabouts.

      You've got a big heart - as big as Blue's. So, I'm absolutely sure that you'll be rewarded by the Universe, one day.
      Focus on your books. As you say, people like your art. There is a charm and life in your drawings. You capture "character" very well.
      Imagine how awesome your work would be with a story attached and in book form?
      Kids will love them... and adults will love to read them to their kids!
      Just think - people will have their "favourites" and will follow their story. And even liken a character to their own pets.
      It's a deep connection - people and animals.
      You've got it in you. Believe in yourself.

      And, you'll win hearts with the story of big hearted Blue xxx

    2. you two girls . . .
      are simply THE BEST!
      i love you both.
      and i agree gypsy angel... someday the universe will reward you BOTH! major snoopy blue jack hug coming your way! XOXO

    3. Have you ever tried Etsy? I don't know much about it, but it seems to be an online arts fair. I know it's popular and has a large audience.

      I also see that some people sell digital art there. The advantage of that would be once you're set up you don't have to worry about spending a lot of money creating things that don't sell. Or what about having a gallery of your work online? Would blogspot let you do that?

    4. Hello! Yes, I had an Etsy shop for a few years, but, due to postage, it became non profitable.
      Australia Post has the monopoly here, with little to no effective competition. Many Aust sellers find selling through Etsy difficult due to the insane postage + handling costs.
      Even small parcel/packets are exxie. As, some postal workers can be rough, it's important to package fragile ceramic items well - that costs a little more to ensure safe delivery. I've never had an item break en route to a purchaser.

      Before I closed my Etsy shop for good, my last sale was a lovely $16 pendant to Denmark. The postage was $18! Half of which I had to bear, because Aust Post hiked the prices up almost overnight, saying they changed the postal zones and associated costs… a month before Christmas :(
      There are myriad conversations online regarding this issue.
      I'm out of it now, and will focus on selling locally. And, I do enjoy face to face communication (and feedback) with my customers.
      I might look at an Australian site further down the track, as international sales are disheartening.

      Thanks so much for your great comment :)


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