DIARY OF AN ARTIST: Exhibiting at British Craft Trade Fair 2018

 

Earlier this month I exhibited at the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate for the first time. It was my second ever trade show after exhibiting at Top Drawer in September 2017 and quite a different show in contrast. As a designer-maker I know it can be really hard to know what these shows are like before attending them and to choose what is best for your brand. Hopefully this post may give a little bit of useful insight into what this show was like for anyone interested in exhibiting there.

Me on my stand at BCTF 2018
Me on my stand at BCTF 2018

 

Much like it was at Top Drawer, everyone was given the day before the show opened to set-up their stand which was the Saturday between 9am-6pm. However, unlike Top Drawer, the walls are not so solid so it is not possible to screw or nail anything into them, only to stick things to them and use hooks to suspend things from the tops. This meant I had to think a little more creatively about how to display my heavy stone coasters and placemats. In the end I prepared a shelf panel that could be hung from the wall which actually made set up much simpler on the day and I quite liked the appearance of. Hanging framed artwork on the other hand was really tricky as everything wobbled about and I managed to break one frame in the process. I used zipper hooks suspended on nylon cables which were difficult to keep in place being so lightweight so a lot of sticky fixers and gaffa tape ended up getting used behind the scenes. It worked in the end but took a lot of time and I ended up finishing at 6:15pm.

My Stand at British Craft Trade Fair 2018
My Stand at British Craft Trade Fair 2018

 

The show was open Sunday, Monday and Tuesday which was the same as Top Drawer again. The atmosphere felt quite different though. Overall it was quite relaxed and friendly. I felt less intimidated by buyers this time although this may have been due to having more experience by then. I think the time of year was probably a factor as well though as in September a lot of buyers were keen to get orders in in good time for Christmas.

The British Craft Trade Fair is fairly small but very well curated and has a much more niche craft and artist led focus than some bigger retail events. It was clear that most of the buyers had come from galleries and from a lot of rural places in the UK. Buyers were predominantly from the North and Midlands area which suited me well as I mainly had stockists based in the South before the show. Unfortunately the footfall did feel sparse and by the Tuesday the time really went by slowly. I got a really great outcome out of exhibiting but I feel fairly uncertain about whether I would exhibit there again due to what I gathered sounds to be a decline in attendance and the long distance to travel.

Dawn Maciocia and Joanna Coupland BCTF Stands
Dawn Maciocia and Joanna Coupland

 

Here are a few images of my favourite stands of other exhibitors there. There was a beautiful array of work on show including ceramics, glassware, artwork, textiles, sculpture, jewellery and greetings cards. There was quite clearly a lot of nature inspired work which explains why the show attracts a lot of rural based retailers.

Karen Risby and Rachel Thornton BCTF Stands
Karen Risby and Rachel Thornton

 

Pack down is on Tuesday between 5-9pm immediately after the show closes. I was very glad to have booked my Air BnB for one extra night so that I could make the journey home when I was fresh in the morning. Doing BCTF was a great experience and I’m very glad I tried it out. I wanted to use the show to gauge whether selling my original paintings with galleries would be a viable opportunity and it certainly helped me to answer that question. I had a wonderful response to the paintings I took with me from several galleries so I will certainly be continuing to do more painting in future which is really exciting! Otherwise, I am sticking with Top Drawer for now as far as trade shows go and will be exhibiting there again next year in January.

Sky x

 

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My 10 Biggest Lessons Learned from Sky Siouki

No biggy, just a quick little blog post today I told myself. My Ten Biggest Lessons Learnt Ever, that’s nice and easy right? So clearly I’m mad but this is a post I’ve wanted to do for ages and hope will be a fun little exercise for myself if nothing else at least. I find it so interesting and inspiring to hear about other independent businesses’ stories and downfalls so hopefully this may help a few fledgling businesses out there by learning from my mistakes!

1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS.

Be it for help, advice, moral support or just drinking partners even! Since joining forces with the Bristol Girl Bosses group (read more about us here) I have felt so much more motivated, supported and positive about my business and honestly I think I’m probably just happier in life for having more friends around me. If you’re like me and perhaps pride yourself a little too much in being independent and self-driven, never under estimate the value of a creative network. Honestly. Seriously.

Bristol Girl Bosses Group Photo

2. WALK BEFORE YOU CAN RUN

This was quite possibly my lesson number one and I learnt it the hard way. Without any real-life business experience it’s all too easy to believe that as soon as you offer something to buy to the general public that it will just effortlessly sell itself. When putting it like that, it sounds pretty stupid actually, but I went ahead and produced way way too much stock (and not cheap stock either) right at the start without really knowing how well it would sell. Now I make a very small run of every new product type to test the waters first. Take baby steps and see where the path takes you.

3. TIME IS MONEY

Something I think a lot of independent makers and businesses are all too shy of admitting and I have to say I still struggle to admit too. When you enjoy what you do and making your business work is your passion then it is hard to get away from that mindset of ‘oh but I don’t mind spending time doing that because I enjoy it’. There are of course exceptions, and when you’re starting out doing everything yourself is a good way to keep costs down. BUT if there’s a menial task you’re spending hours over such as hand-making something that doesn’t have to be, or packaging cards for example, consider whether that time could be better spent on something that will actually create more revenue for your business and if that revenue would outweigh the cost of outsourcing said jobs? I was kicking myself when I discovered Photoshop has an automate function and I’d been wasting ages on manually re-sizing and saving all my image files!

4. DON’T UNDER-VALUE YOUR PRODUCTS

I’m realising now these are beginning to sound quite obvious but I suppose there’s a reason for that, being that they are all very easy traps to fall into. I reckon just about every designer-maker out there has done this. We all think to ourselves ‘oh but no-one will want to spend that much on my work.’ Well shut up because you’re wrong and they will! If your work is original and different from anyone else’s and you spent time and care creating it then that has a huge value! I often end up discussing with the Bristol Girl Bosses group how easy it is to forget that: you are not your customer. Someone quite different from you is, who quite possibly can only dream of having the skills you do and also quite possibly has a much larger income than you as well. The Design Trust has some really great articles on pricing your work.

5. FAILURE CAN BE GOOD

I recently listened to a new podcast called Failure By Design and I love the concept of that title in itself. The host introduced the first episode explaining how failures are branded as such a bad thing that we feel shameful of and hide, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. In failing, you were brave enough to take a leap knowing full well that you may fall and that’s surely something to be proud of! Ok, I’m not saying anyone’s happy about it when they fail, but there is always, always a lesson – or lessons – to be learnt from failure. I mean that’s kind of the whole essence of this post, and I tend to find if I learn something from failure, I learn that thing well.

You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying

6. TRY AND TRY AGAIN

So following on from point 5, when you do fail the important thing is you pick yourself back up again. Not everyone is resilient enough, but chances are if you made the choice to run your own business, you probably are! There have been maybe two or three occasions when I can remember really contemplating what the hell I was doing with my life and if I should just throw in the towel or start a second ‘supplementary’ career path (crazy I know)… and I’m so glad I didn’t! If you need to step away to re-assess then by all means do, but stay focussed and remember why you started this journey. Think about what is working and go from there. I personally think giving up is harder than giving in, but that’s probably because I’m so stubborn!

7. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS AND GOALS

Back in January a mentioned a book called Your Best Year Planner by Lisa Jacobs in my blog post HOW TO… Be a Go-Getter. This book has given me so so much and, as I explain in more depth in the post, a really key thing I’ve learnt from it is to write down my goals and to keep going back to them, checking if I’m making progress towards them and reviewing each month to check in with myself. Measuring my goals, writing plans down and creating habits have all been such major game changers for my business since mid-2016 when I first got Jacobs’ book. I would highly recommend it!

Your Best Year 2017 Book

8. EXERCISE

Ok, so not everyone is a big fitness fanatic or perhaps very able to move about, but then again I didn’t used to think I was. Even if it’s just taking 30 minutes out to go for a light walk I seriously cannot recommend the stress relief that exercise provides enough. For me it gets me awake and energised for the day, it takes my mind completely away from everything else going on in my life and I feel healthy for it too. Working from home used to make me feel really lethargic by the end of the day because half the time I’d barely use my legs all day but then when I realised all the other health benefits of sweating it out each morning I was hooked!

9. CARE FOR YOURSELF

Today I saw this little motivational post on Instagram: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. It really struck a chord with me because I am so guilty of this. It made me think about the contrast of how drained and de-motivated I felt on Tuesday following a couple of nights of limited sleep, and how much fresher and better I felt today following three nights of much better sleep. Things like sleep, and time off enjoying yourself with friends and family have more value than you know. I can be awful for never taking days off, or even the evening to relax, but make sure you do at least sometimes because you really can’t run on empty.

You Can't Pour From An Empty Cup

10. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

As Einstein famously said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Lisa Jacobs uses this point in her planner mentioned in point 7 and it resonated with me. When I bought her planner in 2016 I was forced to be a lot more honest with myself and I had to basically face up that by Einstein’s standards I was insane. Somewhere down the line you are almost bound to need to make change, so be brave and be honest and ask yourself what is and what isn’t working. Do this each step of the way in fact because as I see it, a business is an ever evolving thing that can always be strengthened and improved.

Einstein Insanity Quote

 

Ok. That felt like a good hour of intense self-reflection. Think I might do something creative now! I really hope this post is useful to a few people out there, I’ve certainly found it interesting to see just how much I have learnt. To start with I wasn’t sure if I could think of 10 things, but now I feel like I could go on and on!

 

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Sky Siouki at The Bristol Artisan

Last weekend I exhibited at The Bristol Artisan at the Arnolfini. Anyone who’s been following my blog or Instagram will probably know I was very excited for it as well as a little nervous about setting up my first professional trade-show style stand. With Top Drawer booked for September it was the ideal opportunity for a practice run and I’m so grateful for the experience if only just for that. It was a lot of hard work and a pretty stressful set-up but I’m so pleased with how the stand ended up looking in the end and so pleased to have received lots of lovely comments about it too.

I made all of my shelving using reclaimed wood from Bristol Wood Recycling Project – a fantastic discovery in itself. The guys there were very helpful and you can borrow their saws and workbenches once you’ve purchased the wood which was super handy. The wood had to be sanded down and waxed so it was quite a bit of work but I felt that using recycled materials with a natural finish was only right to fit my brand’s ethical focus.

I also managed to find a gorgeous little set of vintage drawers from Rhubarb Jumble which was perfect as a place to discreetly tidy away extra stock and packaging materials. I wanted to evoke the feeling of a colourful and eclectic living space as best I could so also used a wooden chair and ladder shelving for my display and added a vase of eucalyptus leaves and a little vintage jug for pens on top of my drawers. I think this worked well to create a feeling of home without being cluttered.

I also added a rail to hang all of my tea towels so the full designs could be seen. This is something I wish I could do at every market as it really helps for customers to get to see the full designs and worked really well. I had planned to get an amazing laser cut sign made but had some issues with timing and so had to give it a miss this time. Considering everything else went to plan, I think I did pretty well. I was so caught up thinking about putting it all up the night before that I barely slept!

Sky Siouki at The Bristol Artisan

Sky Siouki at The Bristol Artisan

The event itself went really well. It was so so lovely to meet a few people I’ve spoken to on Instagram in real life and incredibly flattering to hear that what I do encourages others. The show looked amazing, the quality of work was really high and every single stand was so well put together. Lots of people came along, especially on the Saturday and I hope to have made lots of new Sky Siouki fans who will be ordering online in future. For anyone thinking of attending Designer/Makers‘ next The Bristol Artisan event I would say to expect more of a consumer led event rather than trade and so it’s good idea to have a broad range of products available for sale. Unfortunately I felt that the Arnolfini didn’t do a lot to help promote it which was quite disappointing but thankfully the Designers/Makers team had worked hard to get lots of people through the door. I felt like the event had a lot of potential but whether the organisers are willing to take on feedback in order to improve for next time remains to be seen.

This Sunday I’ll be selling at The Frome Independent so catch me there for all your stone coaster and bird based tea towel requirements! I’ll be near the top of Catherine Hill.

Made In Bristol Gift Fair 2016

Last Saturday was my second Christmas fair of the year where I’ve become a bit of a regular. The Made In Bristol Gift Fair at Colston Hall! There will in fact be three more gift fairs held by Made In Bristol at the same venue but this year I only managed to book the one. Here’s me looking awkwardly jolly behind my stand!

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Having produced so many new products this year it was a little challenging fitting it all in this year but I just about managed to make my stand presentable! My table will be even smaller at Crafty Fox Peckham in a couple of weeks time so I think I’m going to be hunting for a nifty shelving unit in the meantime.

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The fair lived up to it’s usual standard with lots of people about and a lovely variety of handmade gifts available. It’s always enjoyable being able to look across at all the different platforms throughout the venue seeing people coming up and down the stairs. I have to admit the fair wasn’t the busiest I’ve seen it and given a second chance I would have chosen to book a December date instead as I think perhaps not everyone is ready to Christmas shop just yet in November. The clash with Black Friday weekend may have also stolen away some trade, who knows?!

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It was really nice to see some repeat customers who had found me last year and wanted to come back to buy from me again! That alone makes doing the Made In Bristol fair each year seem worthwhile. One thing I regrettably have to admit is that the melancholy music just really let down the festive atmosphere. Hopefully it might be better next time!

Next up I’m selling at the Crafty Fox Market in Peckham‘s CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Building on Sunday Dec 11th! I’m so excited to meet some new customers in London for the first time. If it goes well I may well be selling again in London next year! It will also be my last Christmas event for the year but don’t forget you can always shop online of course!