BCTF 2018

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Tomorrow I’m heading off ‘up north’ to The Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate to set up for The British Craft Trade Fair.  To be honest I’m relieved that it’s finally arrived, I have been worrying and preparing for my first trade fair for weeks and weeks and weeks.

It’s been a proper roller coaster and I can’t thank Nik enough for his support, patience and endless proof reading.  He’s even coming with me to help on the stand, which is a huge relief as it’s 3 days from 10am to 6pm.

This was a test setup at home for my stand, although the picture frame is going on the wall!

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Doing this trade fair has really made me up my game.  I have completely overhauled my postage stamp kits and they are looking really sexy in their new packaging.  I’ve introduced another 8 cards to my printed range and their might even be some prints of my larger works in the very near future.

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Here’s the new packaging for my kits, the envelopes have an old fashioned button and string closure on the back.  I love them!

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See you on the other side…..

Reflections on Oxfordshire Artweeks 2017

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On New Year’s Eve 2016 at 4pm, just 8 hours before the online application deadline, and with a dinner party for 6 starting in a few hours, Nik and I decided that we were going to do the Oxfordshire Artweeks event in 2017 for the very first time. Within 45 minutes we had found the all-important image that would go in the catalogue and written the accompanying text.  We congratulated ourselves and then got on with seeing the New Year in.

During January we both agreed that we had a lot to do and that leaving it to the last minute would be a big mistake.  We wrote a long ‘to do’ list, with tasks for the Artweeks exhibition, and many more to do with getting the house and garden ‘exhibition ready’.  All good stuff, we smugly congratulated ourselves once again on being so organised. I remember saying that even if we didn’t sell anything during Artweeks that at least we’d have got some long outstanding DIY done.

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Suddenly it was April. Artweeks was starting in 6 weeks, where was that list of ‘things to do’?! Obviously, there was way more on the list than we had time for…  In the next 6 weeks, we finished painting the kitchen/dining room, cleared out the porch, painted it white and turned it into an additional exhibition space.  And then arranged for our very overgrown garden hedges to be cut (on the day of our opening preview but beggars can’t be choosers)!  We also made time to take up old carpet from the garden which had been down nearly 4 years suppressing the weeds and replaced with wood bark.   A good tip here – it had worked brilliantly. The grass was growing through and on the top of it, but the carpet just rolled up to reveal weed free soil. 

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 On top of all that we were frantically creating all the artwork for the exhibition, mounting, framing, labelling, pricing, etc. etc.  Just 2 weeks before the opening, we also decided that having greeting cards to sell was a good idea and we even managed to get physical proofs and then 500 cards sorted in 8 working days!  By the time our opening preview arrived, it is safe to say we were pretty exhausted. I should mention here that Nik was selling fine art photography and he would describe his subject matter as challenging!  Have a look for yourself www.nikstanbridge.com

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Was it worth it? 

Yes. I had the most amazing time.  Real people,  people I didn’t know, took the time to come and see my work and many of them took it home too!).  For 9 days we had an open house from 11am to 6pm and during that time 250 people choose to come and see us.  And all this despite the weather which, for many of the days, was really very horrid.  Oxfordshire Artweeks is a long standing event and is now one of the largest Open Studio Festivals of visual arts in the country.  As a result, it has a good following.  The very first visitor came through the door 4 minutes after opening on our first day.  During the conversation it transpired that she had marked 80 venues to visit during the 3 weeks of Artweeks. That morning she had already been to Witney, visited several venues and had bought several items including furniture.  Within 15 minutes she was on her way having left a red dot on one of my framed items and carrying a postage stamp art kit.  During the week I lost count of the groups of 3 or 4 friends enjoying a day out together, saying “we do this every year!”.

What did I learn? 

  • The image and words that you choose for the catalogue is very important.  I am so grateful that completely by accident I got that right in just 45 minutes on New Year’s Eve. 
  • Leaving all the prep so late is a very bad idea (ok I knew that already). 
  • Don’t be afraid to be different and stand out. 
  • Have lots of ‘pick-up’ items for sale.  Plan food for the week ahead of time.  As we were using our kitchen/dining room, we couldn’t cook ‘smelly food’ for 10 days.

We are already planning for next year!

You’ll find some photos from Oxfordshire Artweeks here.

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Where do you get your Postage Stamps?

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The question I am asked most at craft fairs and events is ‘Where do you get your postage stamps?’ My reply these days is specialist stamp dealers. Although since I started upcycling postage stamps I have bought them at car boots, auctions, and charity shops, and kind people have given them to me.

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Car Boot Bargain?

My first postage stamp purchase was a box full of mixed stamps ‘on-paper’, that means a little square of ripped envelope with the stamp still stuck on.  I was very pleased with myself because the whole box was only £3.  I did some research on the best way to remove the stamps and discovered that you had to float the paper on water so that the envelope absorbed the water, the stamp stayed dry but the gum was softened enough to allow the stamp to peel off.  I duly did this and almost a day later I had 580 stamps to show for it.  I worked out that taking my time into consideration they were costing at least 75p each.  At that price my pictures and kits were going to be very expensive.  My rule now is only to buy stamps ‘off paper’!

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Ever wondered why people who make artisan, hand crafted products are sometimes very cagey when asked where they source their materials and how it’s made? It takes a lot of work to find the right suppliers, with lots of trial and error to get the right quality and price.  Although we love to talk about our work and may give hints and tips about our processes, please don’t ask us to give away months, often years worth of work in honing our craft. That knowledge is valuable to our businesses and we’ve earned it the hard way.

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Where do you get your stamps?

I buy large quantities of postage stamps from my specialist stamp dealers.  If I’m lucky they are in little bundles of 100 all the same, that means sorting them into the curated colours that I use is easier.  If not then I am to be found of an evening in front of the TV sorting 1000’s of stamps so that you can buy colour curated stamp art pictures or kits.  Buying my stamps from dealers also reduces the risk that I stick down, cut up or give away a really valuable, rare stamp!

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I love Auctions – Upcycled Geek Greeting Cards

I love auctions.  My favourite ones are held monthly in local village halls, you never know what is going to be there.  There are no online listings in advance, you have to go and have a look, take pot lot, sometimes there are rich pickings, sometimes nothing.  If I can’t make one I do feel regret at what I might have missed!

In January I left the house just as it was getting light to go and have a good rummage at my favourite monthly auction held in a village hall  in Radley, Oxfordshire. I came home with two lots, a small box of old toys and games and this delightful handmade 14 drawer storage chest full of electronic spares.  I’m guessing it’s previous owner did repairs in the 1970s and 80s.

At first my intention was to sell the contents on ebay and use the chest to store my postage stamps. But then my creative side kicked in and I decided to upcycle the contents and make some new greeting card designs.  This involved buying a soldering iron –  I do love a new bit of kit.  It also took me right back to my very first job working as a lab assistant where I first learnt to use a soldering iron, and at one point ended up with a trip to A&E after flicking some solder into my eye!

Here are the first designs I have made, both have sold well in the lead up to Valentines Day.

The geek card is my favourite and will be staying in the range.  I’m very excited and looking forward to playing and making some different ones soon!

Enough is enough – My craft workspace is not working for me

There’s comes a time when enough is enough.  This happened to me at the end of last year.  After a very busy few months leading up to Christmas, with many craft fairs, customer orders, online selling and keeping my outlets stocked up, my craft workspace/ office looked like a  bomb had hit it.  I had been aware for some time that the layout and storage was not working for me.  I didn’t have enough surface space to work.  My storage was all in the wrong place, there wasn’t anywhere to put the big crates I use to carry products to events, I was tripping over boxes, and nothing was put away.  It was really getting me down.

I made a plan.  I listed what was wrong and what I needed to find storage for.  Then I did extensive online research to find a solution.  It turned out to be a much bigger revamp than I first expected.  Pretty much the whole room was stripped out and replaced with some shiny new furniture from IKEA.  Wow, what a difference having a purpose designed space is making.  I really enjoy being in my new ‘Studio’, whereas before I felt unmotivated and fed up, its now light and bright and having somewhere to put everything means I actually put it away.

I am looking forward to being far more productive and creative in 2017!