Life on The Road

I have become a travelling salesperson!  I am currently exhibiting at the Great Northern Contemporary Crafts Fair.  I have been invited to the old Granada TV studio in Manchester for the weekend as what is described as an emerging maker – I feel a bit like a moth struggling from my chrysalis!  I am surrounded by the pick of the makers who graduated in the summer and who were with me at New Designers at the Business Design Centre in Islington during June; illustrious company; the award winners; the successful Hothouse graduates; the Fresh exhibitors from the British Ceramics Biennial. I am feeling very humble and rather excited.

Among new friends are the people who’s work is in closest proximity to mine:  Nicola Lillie‘s jewellery is stunning and very contemporary.  She was highlighted as one to watch at New Designers and is one of the award winners here in Manchester. She will go far!

Hannah Tounsend is another close neighbour; I remember her striking ceramics from New Designers and I saw them again at the British Ceramics Biennial, along with the work of another neighbour, Eva Radulova,  in Stoke on Trent on my way to Manchester on Thursday.  I did not realise that Hannah also makes prints which are very beautiful.  So who was it who said ‘Do one thing and Do it well?’  It seems that the energy and creativity of youth can overcome that!

I love talking about my work but can I really cope with the pressure of craft fairs?

I, on the other hand, do not have youth on my side!  It is the third day of standing by my work and talking about it.  Whilst I thoroughly enjoy talking about myself I am now feeling extremely tired.  I have been on my feet almost nonstop since Thursday evening.  My feet, knees and hips are complaining loudly and I am fresh out of ibuprofen!

So how has it gone?

I know that 4 people are considering bespoke commissions.

Well, I have sold nothing so far which I find a bit depressing, but then few other people have either so that is reassuring. On the other hand I have run out of business cards and my husband has twice had to rush over to print additional copies of my artists statement because so many people have wanted to take them away, so I am not too disheartened.  In addition, I know that at least 4 people have taken away the paperwork which I produced about commissioning a bespoke piece so I am hopeful of someone coming back to me at a later date with a specific request.  I am told, by people here who should know, that the trend over the last couple of years has been for potential customers to collect all the information that they want and then to go home, mull over what they have seen and get in touch via email at a later date; the savvy, twenty-first century art buyer!

In addition, I am excited to be here and I have had some fantastic conversations with other makers and also with students who have been looking around a few years further back down the line from me and from schools in the local area.  By far the best bit about being here is the opportunity it provides for talking to people who have expressed an interest in my work.  It doesn’t matter if they buy or not, I just like talking about my work!  – it gives me the oxygen to attract further interest later.

I am too old to stand for 3 days!

On the other hand, in the dim and distant past of year one of the City Lit ceramics diploma, we were told to consider what sort of maker we were and where our work would sell.  I think it is true to say that I probably make for galleries and exhibitions, not for craft fairs.  No-one in their right mind is going to want to carry most of my work home from a fair – The packaging I can supply here has to come from the small space behind the stands.  It is just about adequate.  It does not look pretty and it is unwieldy.  You would need a car to get my pieces home and most people have arrived by coach.  They want small packages to take home on their laps.  So after today, as I lie soaking in my hot bath, there will be a very serious discussion with myself about whether craft fairs really are my thing.

Journey to the Northern Quarter

Manchester craft and design
A wonderful space where maker and customer can interact easily

Last week end found me travelling to Manchester.  Before I went my impression of the place was that it is in the North West so it rains a lot and – they have trams, right?

What a vibrant city!  I walked out of Piccadilly Station into a buzzing lively world.  Yes, the pavements were a bit damp; yes, I have to use my umbrella more that I would chose to; yes, I was almost run down by a couple of trains running down the road.  But look beyond that and you see a city which is a microcosm of exciting, interesting regeneration of old industrial England at its very best.  It is not quite Venice but there are a considerable number of canals and the redevelopment of some of the wharfs along the waterways are wonderful.  There is everything from old Victorian warehouse conversion to brand new build and for ideas on affordable housing, look no further than Islington Wharf where a company supplies slot-together units in which a family has considerable choice about internal layout whilst costs are attractively low because of the simple base unit construct and mass production – clever!

So what about the art?  On Friday I found myself in Caslefield Gallery.  Run by artists this is one of Northern England’s most active and successful organisations for developing emerging contemporary artists and practice.  Their current exhibition, Real Painting, explores the material components of painting and reminded me a bit of some of the exploratory work which I did with Ruth Franklin on a fabulous course a few years ago at City Lit.  It features works by a group of artists which includes  Angela de la Cruz, who lives and works in London and is represented by the Lisson Gallery, Jo McGonical  from Manchester who is currently undertaking a PhD at Leeds University and  David Goerk  who works in New York and is represented by Howard Scott Gallery, New York and Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.  the impression I had was of a gallery which has a real interest in promoting lively contemporary work from a wide range of people and places and this was magnified by the friendliness of the staff who went out of their way to make a stranger to the city feel welcome.

Later I visited the Northern Quarter and discovered the gem which is the Mancester craft and Design Centre.  Housed in an old fish market this space is both studio and gallery for about 30 makers.  Each artist has their own space the back of which is a studio and the front a shop.  Many of the spaces are shared which means that they can be open every day of the week without individual artists having to be present every day.  It represents a fabulous model of a place where the artists can interact easily with their customers on a regular basis.  An arrangement from which all sides benefit.  The café is pretty amazing too!

I was not in Manchester for long and whilst there I had an awful lot to accomplish but I shall return.  I have yet to see the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery, John Rylands Library, the Lowry Centre or the People’s History Museum – treats in store for a rainy day!