Sunday, August 12, 2012

Comfort Zones

Comfort Zones
and how important it is to challenge yourself

The first thing you need to know about me is that I don't do well around large groups of people. They exhaust me. My day time job provides me with enough social interaction that when I am off work, I prefer to be home making things or reading, or going for a walk or hike with my hubby. You know, things that don't involve large groups of people. So what I am about to tell you goes against everything I am comfortable with and was the hardest thing I have ever decided to do, and continues to be the most challenging thing I do every year.

Many years ago, I decided I needed to sell some of the treasures that I make in order to be able to justify making more. Also, even though I love everything I make, I needed to find out if anyone else liked my jewelry enough to buy should it be available.

I did a lot of research into galleries (too intimidating), consignment (too iffy), and focused on various art/craft fairs, and found many were too expensive, too far away from home, or just were not the venue for me to participate in, so I finally decided to try out the art fair in my community that I had been attending for years as a buyer and really liked and looked forward to attending every year.

At first, I found out it was not a juried event, even though it was supposed to be limited to artisans only, I still found a lot of imported things for sale. (Gradually, though, throughout the years I am happy to say that the organizers of the event have made it a juried event and have tried vigilantly to weed out the resellers.)

So, I filled out the application and was accepted. Panic attack! What in the world do I know about doing a craft fair? Nothing...but I had attended plenty! The first year, I was too busy making inventory and worrying about a tent, table, etc., to worry about actually having to TALK TO PEOPLE. I'll gloss over the set up (thanks to a very supportive hubby who remains uber supportive to this day!) and get to the meat of doing an arts/craft fair. It is exhausting! Long hours, having to actually talk to people, uncertain weather conditions, few and far between potty breaks, not eating right, etc., but I find the rewards more than make up for the hard parts. Really!

Remember I'm not what anyone would call a people person? Well, I found out, after working though my initial awkwardness at finding myself behind a booth selling things I made, that people respond to someone being nice to them. No secret handshake, no decoder ring needed, just be nice. I had a great time the first year and made enough to go back the next year, and the next, and the next, etc. Now roughly 14 years later, I still show at the same arts fair and have many repeat customers. The location has changed, and the arts fair itself has evolved over the years into a more artist centered event, but the people who attend are still the same.

Over the years I have found it is still challenging to do the event, but not because I stress out over inventory, tents, etc., but because it is still exhausting for me to interact with so many people. So why do I still do it? Positive reinforcement! It is simply because I love having people tell me how beautiful my jewelry is and how they think I have the best jewelry they have seen in the entire show, or over many shows, and when they buy something they are so thrilled to have met the person that actually made it, they go away with a big smile. I have sold jewelry to people from many different countries, and to people from many different states. I have lots of repeat customers and people who just stop to say hi because they saw me the year before.

I also demonstrate various jewelry making techniques such as chainmaille weaving and using wire and gemstone beads to make jewelry. I love demonstrating, and interesting people enough into stopping and watching me make something, or explain how a piece is made and what goes into the handcrafting of a piece of jewelry. I have my booth set up so it is wheelchair friendly, kid friendly and welcome people to touch everything.
I get huge satisfaction in answering questions from people and kids especially, and seeing a spark of interest in their eyes as they handle the sample of jewelry or chainmaille I give them to feel and they realize that YES I MADE EVERYTHING ON MY TABLES!! The eyes don't meet up with their brain until they hold something and realize it was entirely hand made by me.

You see, it's not all about people buying my jewelry, it's about people knowing that there are artisans out there actually making things with their two hands. I believe people need to see artisans at work making what they love to create and seeing the difference between mass market and artisan made items. I believe in encouraging people to go out and make something, even if it's not perfect at least they tried.

So, while I still find participating in Arts In Action every year outside my comfort zone and exhausting, I always find it very rewarding and worth the effort and I'm glad I participate every year.

2012 Arts In Action
My modest booth set up for Arts In Action- Wired jewelry on the long side and Chainmaille on the short side where I also demonstrate jewelry making techniques.
The short side where I have my Chainmaille jewelry and keychains set up and the tray I use when demonstrating jewelry making techniques...this year I demonstrated various Chainmaille weaves.

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