Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sugarloaf Craft Festival and the realities of creativity

This weekend, we headed out to the illustrious Garden State Exhibit Center for the bi-yearly visit from the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival.

My mother used to have her own craft business, making engraved glassware and hand-painted pottery, so I've always had an affinity for shows like this. A few years ago, I was the one helping her pack up the pottery and chatting to customers as they browsed the stalls.

It's quite a punishing life; and for surprisingly little reward. The vendors I spoke to were an eclectic bunch - from all over the United States.

There was beautiful furniture being made from a company in North Carolina, fine jerky from a producer in Pennsylvania and leather work brought down from upstate New York (and it was beautiful - I bought myself a cowboy hat and made a taciturn promise to buy the producer's Catskill farmhouse when she puts it on the market in two year's time.)

This sort of event always appeals to Mummy Militant because it inspires her to consider her own artistic proclivities. She's wildly talented at arts and crafts and loved the atmosphere and camaraderie between the stall-holders (many of whom have traveled the country with each other on the Sugarloaf circuit.)

Because of my mother, I always have an interest in pottery stands, like Willow Creek

It would make a change from selling promotional pens and custom printed envelopes, although all that marketing experience would be ideal; not just for promoting whatever business she wants to start up, but also promoting the fairs and events that are often the life-blood of the small craftsman.

But if my experiences have taught me anything, it's that nobody got rich pottering around craft fairs. They do it as a labor of love - much like I pursue my writing. I'm lucky enough to get paid for writing, but I know I'd still be doing it even if I didn't. Writing isn't a vocation to me - it's a compulsion. The piles and piles of beautiful sculpted owls and donkeys in my mother's house suggests that she feels the same about her creative outlets.

Making money is something different. That involves taking a step back from what you love about the business you're in - the creativity and expression - and embracing the less romantic realities of marketing, promotion, invoicing, billing and getting mentions on the Trade Show News Network. As somebody once warned me - running a business quickly gets in the way of running your business.

I'm not sure if there's any way to consolidate doing what you love with doing what you need to do to keep the wolf from the door. Once thing, though, is becoming increasingly clear. Doing something you don't love earns you the financial security to do what you do love.

Maybe that's a tradeoff more of us should be willing to make - rather than trying to find a compatible solution to two incompatible concepts.

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