Craft Fairs

16 Feb 2010 in Visual Arts & Crafts

My Craft Fair Marathon

Jewellery Designer GILLY LANGTON looks back on her recent Craft Fair marathon, with some tips for craftspeople looking to join in.

I PACKED my bags and set off to London on the sleeper to begin the first of my craft fairs for 2009. It was early October, and Origin was my first stop in the beautiful setting of Somerset House on the Strand, organised by the Crafts Council.

Basket Sculpture at Origin

This year I was in week one of the show, one of 400 makers showing over two weeks. Set up was on Sunday with a fabulous VIP private view on the Monday night, champagne galore, served with the best canapés I have ever tasted!

The show opened to the public on the Tuesday morning at 10am to the hustle and bustle of the best buyers. I always love the first day as the collectors come round. Armed with their Coutts chequebook, I squeal with delight when they say, “I will take one of those, and one of those, and that charm bracelet too!”

Jewellery by Gilly Langton

It’s a great start to the show, I’m giddy, with the hope of every day being like this, but unfortunately there are plenty of Chelsea Craft Fairs down the line, and I know the reality is very different.

Each day has a very different feel, with a constant flow of people, all visiting Origin for different reasons. Some buyers of craft, curators of craft, makers of craft, students of craft, and those that just enjoy looking at craft.

Beware students who come in packs of ten – in most cases they glance at your work only to spy the pile of postcards to grab in their fistfuls. So be warned, hide your cards! That may sound very mean of me, but by the weekend I always have run out and am kicking myself that I didn’t bring more.

Origin is a great show to attend; it encompasses the best retail platform for craft in the country, and you’re also a sitting target for all the galleries who arrive for their annual visit to the Strand. To view the ‘new kids on the block of the Craft world’ along with old-timers like myself! If you work with trade, then be armed with your trade price list; get your diaries at the ready for future exhibitions that you maybe invited to participate in.

Gilly Langton's stand at Origin

It’s great to be surrounded by a wide range of makers, who are at all stages in their career, I feel we can all learn from each other. I’m greatly inspired each year, a weeks worth of networking all in one place. It’s very important to get to know your neighbours, as their knowledge of shows, websites, and new ways of selling may just be your next move.

Six days of standing, chatting, selling and smiling can be very exhausting, so make sure you are fed and watered, most makers don’t have helpers on their stand, as there is not enough room, and it also looks a bit silly, and unprofessional, so be organised and get everything you need for the day, as you can’t just pop out for a lunch break.

Origin, on the whole was a success. Sales were a little down on the previous year, but I was encouraged by returning customers and enthusiastic comments.

Returning home with enough time to wash my clothes and pack my bags again for my next show, the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair held in Manchester, with 142 makers exhibiting. This show is in its second year, a change of venue from a Victorian school to a purpose built marquee in the heart of the city centre.

Origin 2009

The Great Northern is a well-organised event run over three days, along with an opening PV. Manchester is a city of designer shops, luxury apartments, yummy mummy’s and soap opera celebrities, with Granada TV only two minutes away from the site. A show of this kind has been long overdue.

Unfortunately this show wasn’t as good as the previous year for me, with sales only just covering my costs!

I don’t attend a show just for its sales – networking and profiling is important too, but sales allow craftspeople to continue making in these hard times.

Lustre 2009

I have racked my brains for answers to what went wrong, but I just have to put it down to the financial climate. I don’t want you to think the Great Northern is one to forget, as I could not fault the amount of people interested in craft, but I just wonder whether or not they were just viewers and not buyers.

I will still apply in 2010, in the hope that everyone’s pockets are fuller and the last two years have given Manchester a greater understanding of contemporary craft.

My final show took me to Nottingham for the fifth time to attend Lustre, a craft fair that has gone from strength to strength in the years that I have been fortunate to get in. Set in the grounds of Nottingham Trent University in a lovely art centre, it attracts people with a keen interest in all arts, crafts, theatre and dance.

The show is held over a weekend with a PV on the Friday night. It has a lovely relaxed atmosphere, with a simple but affective set up of felt covered tables and makers names on lampshades.

Gilly Langton's stand at Lustre

Filling five rooms, 55 makers take root for the weekend selling textiles, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and glass. With a really friendly group of organisers this is a must show to apply for, although sales at Lustre where also down on previous years, with some makers not making one sale!

Once I was home in Plockton, I assessed my craft marathon. I decided that although sales on the whole were down, it was important to hang on in there and weather the storm, as things will get better. It is important to have a presence at least one high profile selected show each year, to reminder your buyers that you are still making and developing new work.

Lynsey Walters at Lustre

I am in my 13th year of business with a lot of ups and a hell of a lot of downs. I am very passionate about what I do – if you want it enough, you will always find a way to make it work. If sales are low, and will probably remain low for the foreseeable future, look for other ways to sell yourself, teach your own workshops, add cheaper pieces to your collection and do your own event locally.

To apply to any of the shows, you will need at least six professional digital images; competition is very high, so the better the image, the more chance you have of getting in!

Gilly Langton, 2010