Monday, August 24, 2015

Buying at art festivals-don't be fooled

This article is written for all of you folks who like to attend art festivals because you enjoy handmade art and like to support artists.

Art festivals are a lot of fun for attendees. They used to be kind of few and far between but now it seems that just about every weekend you can find an art and or craft festival somewhere. September and October seem to be prime months for art festivals with people returning from summer vacations out to enjoy the cooler weather.

From the artists side, art festivals are a great way to connect with an audience. It's a lot of fun to chat with people about your work, go to new places and meet other artists. On the downside, exhibiting at art festivals is a lot of work and can be very costly.

Station Bay Wholesalers provide letter photography

The artist or crafts person makes all of the work and has to pack it up in order to safely transport it to the festival. Many artists travel a lot of miles to get to different shows. The costs include wear and tear on the vehicle, gas, tolls, food, lodging and booth fees which can range anywhere from $50-$500 depending on the show.

Once they arrive, the artist will spend hours setting their booth up to make it presentable and inviting for the attendees. Once that's completed the artists will sit and wait and hope. Every art festival is a crap shoot that the artist will go home with a profit for all of his  hard work and investment.

There is a big problem at these shows plaguing legitimate artists who create their own work by hand, be it craft or fine art. In the trade, the problem is called buy/sell.
Dichroic Glass Wholesale at Aibaba

Generally unknown to the buying public, promoters of many art and craft shows, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, accept booth fees and admit people into the show who buy their wares from China or some other ready-made source and bring it to an art festival to sell and pass it off as their own. 

These people's products are generally priced much lower than items in the same medium being presented by a legitimate crafts person or fine artist because they are buying it cheaply and have no labor involved except getting to the show. Take a jeweler/glass artist for instance, who is making dichroic glass pieces by hand. All of the costs associated with making their work are much higher than cheap knockoffs that can be bought in China. Most people of the buying public don't understand the difference and only see that the buy/sell item looks somewhat similar and is much less expensive.

The same can be said for two dimensional art where photographs or paintings might look like original art but are also knock offs from China. An instance of this might be the digital pictures that have an image that creates a letter.  If you attend many shows you'll see that either gazillions of people sitting behind their computers making the same exact thing or that they are probably coming from China.

More from Station Bay
This issue is one of several reasons that I have chosen to stop selling my work at art festivals. It's a problem that is ongoing and many promoters are failing to address it, even though they say in their literature that artists are entering a "juried" show.

Legitimate artists cannot compete with these buy/sell people if the promoters won't police their shows and the public is largely unaware.  If you attend the shows because you really like authentic handmade things and you like art and you want to support artists, here is what you can do to help.

If you go to a booth and you're looking at jewelry or a painting or whatever, ask the person about the processes that they use to make their pieces. Ask what kind of links they use in their silver bracelets or how they make their diachronic glass and what kind of a kiln do they use and how long does it take? Ask if they use acrylic paint or oil? That thick paint on there, how is it applied? Is there a coating on the painting? Do they work from photographs, on site or use a model? Did they travel to all those places (like the Eiffel tower) used as letters in all of their photos to get the shot? You get the idea. 
Wholesale acrylic paintings massed produced at DH Gate

If you mostly get a deer in the headlights look or a lot of stammering or what sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, chances are pretty good that they didn't make what they're trying to sell to you. Maybe it's important to you that you are getting a genuine unique, well crafted piece of art. Maybe price is your bottom line and you are happy to go home with something that may show up on the shelves at Walmart if it isn;t there already.  

Either way, it's ok, but buying from real artists at these things is really important to us, because without the support of the public, we may go the way of the dinosaurs. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Remarkable Woman Artist

The other day, I had the extreme pleasure to meet  a really unique and talented woman and visit her made by hand clay or "cob" home studio. A cob house is a mixture of sand, clay, straw and water and ends up looking something akin to an adobe structure because of it's rounded and smooth walls and spaces. Cob structures have been around for centuries all over the world according to Wikipedia, but this girl had never heard of one until last year.

I became aware of this remarkable woman, Cara Graver, and her cob studio a little over a year ago when I signed up to be a part of The Chester County Best Kept Secrets Shopping Tour. I didn't get a chance to meet with her and see her studio then but since I signed up to be a part of this year's tour in November, I didn't want to miss meeting her or seeing it while I was in the area for a meeting.

Cara did not disappoint. First of all, she was such a warm and welcoming person that I felt like I had known her all my life upon our first meeting. When I followed her back through offbeat gravel roadway to her home and the "Cob" behind it, I felt that I was visiting a very special place indeed.

Inspired by the book, "The Cob Builders Handbook,You Can Sculpt Your Own Home", Cara   decided at the age of 55 to go to Oregon, where she lived in the woods with no heat, electricity, or running water for a 6 week course on how to build a cob.

On her return, she and her husband used a backhoe to dig the 3 foot bed where the local rocks would be laid for the foundation of the her building. Then the hand building began with the mix of straw, clay, water and sand. Windows and doors were found at dumpsters and rehab sites. The thick walls retain heat and cold and water is supplied by a well. The structure took 4 years to complete though Cara is continuing with a recent edition, a composting toilet annex!

The cob is a very special place where Cara makes beautiful pottery and gives classes. She is also a holistic healer and just an all around amazing lady. If you would like to visit her Cob Studio located in Chester Springs Pa. or learn more about her, please visit her web page at and tell her Karen sent you :0).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A natural high

Yes, some of it is green and leafy, but it's not that!

I think my best days in the studio start when I allow myself the opportunity to go on a nice walk or bike ride in the morning. I am really lucky to live in an area that's so beautiful. I'm surrounded by wineries and horse farms and there are several trails for me to go and enjoy nearby. Since I usually go alone I try to go at times when I know that there will be other people on the trails. Not that I live in an unsafe area but you just never know.There's nothing better for me than to feel that I am taking care of my body and "working" at the same time. 

  A beautiful day never fails to disappoint. There usually are an assortment of runners, joggers, bike riders and walkers out but not to the point of ever being crowded.  One of my favorite spots is White Clay Creek preserve which sprawls across both Pennsylvania and Delaware. There is a parking area on the Pennsylvania side where I live where I can park and avoid the 8$ out of state usage fee if I wanted to start from a different point in Delaware. From my starting point in Pa a walk to the Delaware line on the trail is only about 1 mile. 

The creek is a beautiful site on those God given sunny mornings. I really get inspired by the glistening water and the leaves on the trees and even the shapes of rocks and small plants

 I don't go out and paint them in landscape form the way some artist do but the leaves and flowers and branches and even the people walking turn up in my paintings and pottery sometimes as a motif, sometimes as a realistic design and sometimes as dream like imaginings of exploding flowers all around happy couples in the trail.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to make clay (or paper) angels

This little clay angel is a cinch to make. It could be easily adapted to using sturdy papers or stiffened gauze for the body and lightweight wood balls.  I am using white stoneware clay  and Amaco Potters Choice Glazes.

The first thing to do is to roll out a nice slab around 1/4 " thick.

I use a small pattern roller meant for fondant that I got at the craft store, but you could really use anything to create  the texture you desire.

Cut the slab into a circle the diameter that you wish to make the base. Mine was measured with a cool whip lid. Make a center mark and cut a straight line of clay from the out.

Fold the clay around on itself until it makes a nice tight sturdy base. If your clay is pretty wet, just a little pressure at the seams will keep it together. Other wise, score and slip. 

I took the corner edge and gave it a little flip to add depth and interest. Roll balls of clay the size that you want your heads to be, poke a hole in them (to deter unfortunate kiln events) and attach to the bodies with slip. 

A handy dandy miniature extruder (also bought at the craft store in the clay section) is great for making textured spaghetti hair.) If your clay is wet enough, just put it on there and give it a gentle push to attach. otherwise slip it on neatly.

From the scraps of you slab, cut the angel wings to the desired shape and attach with slip to the backs.  My little praying hands evolved from the wing leftovers but you can fashion them any way you wish. Have fun and Happy Christmas in July!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My studio essentials

Every studio needs it's basic equipment for whatever it is that you're making. In my studio it is my pottery wheel,my bats, clay and assorted tools. I also have to have shelving to put items on both items in process and finished items. I  have to have my easel, paints brushes and good lighting.

Beyond that there are a few things that enhance the process and just make for a better creative experience. In my case, the outside has as much to do with it as the inside. I love the happy colors that I had my daughter paint on the outside. The yellow, green and purple  greet me with a feeling of perpetual spring, even when we are buried in snow.

My studio is basically a 12 x 20' Amish shed that came to us bare-bones and unfinished studs on the inside. My husband and I finished it with drywall,insulation, flooring etc. We made the ceiling Cathedral which gives the small space a feeling of having more room than it actually does.We added track lighting to shift around the room to light paintings on the wall and I ordered extra windows in the back and large rounded windows on the doors. My window boxes were an essential for me. The flowers that I add them to each spring add a homey touch and contribute to the happy feeling of the exterior.

Inside, some of my must-haves are my little portable speaker which hooks up to my iPhone and plays my music as loud or as quietly as I am in the mood for. This replaces my iHome which stopped supporting my iPhone about two generations ago.

I also have my cute little red IKEA couch for those times when I just need a break or a place to sit and gestate ideas or a home base to wrap and write up orders during open studio.

My coffee pot is essential. I guess I shouldn't called it a pot anymore now that we have Keuregs. We used to be very anti-Keureg in this family because of the waste of all the little k-cups but my husband relented last Christmas and got me a small one for my studio. I have to say that I absolutely love it and the coffee that it makes is just the best. Aside from McDonald's, I don't think there's anywhere that I get it as piping hot. I keep a small refrigerator in my studio though I'm not sure that it's an essential except for during open studio when I put cheeses and fruit in there to keep from one day to the next.  I do also keep some cold beverages like seltzer and beer and soda for studio visitors.

My two other essentials, or maybe I should say three, are my window air conditioner which I absolutely cannot be without in the summer and in the winter I am kept warm with two electric space heaters.

It depends on the temperature whether I need to run both heaters or not, but this winter, given our many days of temperatures below freezing, I had to keep them both running 24/7 to prevent my clay from freezing and rendering it all unusable.

I bought a handy little thermometer which keeps me apprised of such things and therefore is an indispensable studio item. My little wooden figure which stands next to the thermometer, is sometimes helpful when painting people, but he doesn't bend too much so he just hangs around a lot to remind me that I am indeed and artist.

My little "create" sign, a gift from my daughter, serves a similar function, reminding me to get going and do what God intended for me.

  Not sure it's essential, but the Frida Kahlo flower head band that I made last Halloween, is fun to have around and wear when I'm throwing or painting because it feels like I am channeling some mystical creative juice from artists like Frida who came before me. Plus, I just like to be silly sometimes.

Lastly, is what I call my "wall of validation". On it hangs ribbons and plaques that I was awarded over the years from various art shows. I keep it there to look at when I am stuck for ideas, when something isn't going right and I am convincing myself that I stink as an artist, or during those lonely times of creating in my solitary space, it reminds me that someone thinks that what I do is OK and maybe I should just keep going :0) 

Monday, July 6, 2015

My week at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts

I had a beautiful drive through the Virginia mountains down into the Great Smokies to Gatlinburg, Tennessee where Arrowmont is located. It was really strange because you drive through these beautiful mountains and then all of a sudden, you end up on a main street that looks like they dropped the state fair on it. There are places to buy fudge and candy and play mini golf and ride go karts and a giant aquarium and a ski lift and every manner of attraction that you can think of. At first I thought I must be in the wrong place or have missed my turn even though my GPS kept telling me that I had arrived at my destination. On searching my surroundings when I looked to the left I found the sign for Arrowmont wedged between the sign for Cooters Go Karts and a sign for downtown parking. Just about 200 feet off of the road that seem to encapsulate Disneyland was the main office and all the buildings that make up Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

The Aquarium across the street from Arrowmont
Gatlinburg is a strange mix of religion and roadside attractions

Yes, we did...
One of the many boardwalk type attractions

After getting registered and being assigned to my room I went to the cottage called "Teachers". The cottage was really cool and had a big screened in front porch and a common room with a refrigerator and couches which was really nice but the bizarre thing was that my bedroom was located behind a bathroom which was supposed to be for common use. The only problem was that if someone else was using the bathroom, you were locked in the bed room unless you wanted to use the door that went outside and walk all the way around the building to get into the common room or anywhere else that you wanted to go.
My tiny room accessed through a bathroom
The awesome porch
My first night there was pretty rough because the room was tiny and I was assigned a roommate and she snored all night and so I didn't sleep and was really exhausted for my first day of class. Fortunately, she asked to be moved and I had the room to myself and no one else used the bathroom so the rest of the week was fine as far as that one.

I was so excited for my class because my instructor was Jason Walker a sculptural ceramic artist from outside of Seattle, Washington. His work is exquisite with the quality of construction and finely painted detail that I can only dream of ever mastering. I wanted to take Jason's class because having been a painter for so long and now being in love with ceramics, my goal is to learn to paint better and better on my own ceramic work.
City Animal: Squirrel by  Jason Walker
A porcelain cup by Jason Walker

porcelain cup detail

Jason's class did not disappoint. He is a fine teacher and a really lovely person. He was very humble and encouraging to all of us students. He was very thorough in explaining his process and very patient with each of us as we try to master the skills from construction to painting. I didn't have such an easy time with the three-dimensional construction. Hand building has never really been a great love of mine and I was hoping that the class would turn me more in it's favor. I'm still not sure that I have the patience for it and the piece that I worked so hard on ended up collapsing.

 Clay can be a heart breaker and that's part of the learning process as well. Jason's class was about a creating a personal narrative and developing images and ceramic pieces that told a story, whatever your story happened to be. Everyone in the class seemed to have a good time with that premise, creating all kinds of dreamlike and whimsical figures. There were some in the class who were very prolific creating about six different pieces and then there was me, who ended up with my  one 3-D piece breaking and coming home with only one completely finished piece and one piece that didn't make it into the kiln. But that was okay because I didn't go there to come home with a lot of finished stuff.  I went to learn a process and that's what I spend my time on. 

I learned from Jason how to layer under glazes to give them more depth and to use shading and crosshatching much like I do with paint to create texture and form on my pieces. I'm very proud of the piece that I came home with and I look forward to applying what I learned to my new pieces. I'm not sure that I want to make sculptural pieces like Jason does. I'm going to try hand building again but I like throwing on the wheel the best. I want to make art pieces but I like making beautiful functional pieces as well. My work and process is always unfolding and new, so who knows where my new found skills will lead me...

Jason demonstrating construction 

My friend Michele aka "Cindy Lou" working on a wall piece 

Jason working on fish wall piece

My 3d work in progress

detail- trying to emulate Jason's brush work but I have a long way to go

My finished piece going into the kiln