Chickens and eggs

Oh Re: Craft & Relic, I’m very disappointed in you.

So when this show was pitched to me by the original second in command (they’re on their third one of those, btw. They’ve also changed their layout twice and raised their fees twice. Portentious, or merely noteworthy? For me, it’s starting to sound like people in way over their heads and scrambling. But what do I know.) it was pitched as a fine junk meets fine craft meets fine art arrangement. Which sounded AWESOME. And everyone I tell that to says it sounds awesome. And my neighbors 3 Wren Street, the pickers that I was back to back with for most of the times I’ve done the show,  and I found such sales mojo in that idea. People asked me “Where do you find all this stuff?” and I would turn and point to them, and people would ask them “What do you do with this kind of stuff?” and they would turn and point to me. It was wonderfully symbiotic and profitable for both of us.

The first couple of shows there was a good mix of the aforementioned species of vendor. Fewer fine artists than crafters or junkers but that was ok. It was still a category well represented. And I did alright there. Not bangarang by any means, but certainly worth going and worth committing early to the next date, even though it was a lower profit show because thanks to travel costs it was as expensive to do as Lakeview. But I had total faith in the vision of uniting under one roof all of the Things.

There are two main ways of running a show, broadly speaking. You can be strict about what sorts of vendors you have, trusting that the vibe you create will draw the crowd you want for the kind of event you want to have. And it will. It won’t pay off as quickly, and you have to do a lot more legwork, but if you build it, they will come. Or, you can just let a sort of Darwinism rule and the kinds of vendors who apply to your show will naturally slant towards whatever the crowd that’s handy wants, because that’s who does well there and keeps coming back. But you end up with more of a flea market than an art/craft show. Which is exactly what’s happened with Re:Craft & Relic. I was one of four fine artists this go around. There were few fine crafters (fine craft includes things like jewelry and body products/home products too), and everybody else was either a junker or people who quite clearly were doing the least amount of work possible for their products. So your event starts looking like a Hobby Lobby or a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store crossed with a flea market. The average demographic of your crowd starts moving towards older women and moms who are not looking to spend any more than $20 on anything. And the natural result is that the actual makers who can’t compete with people who aren’t making a damn thing stop doing your show.

So. Here we are, RC&R. I had me some real talk with your number 2, and it was not reassuring. She told me you never billed yourself as a fine arts venue, which isn’t entirely true, but isn’t entirely false either. She also gave me the, “Well, that’s what this area wants” kind of thing. Which is true, but doesn’t have to affect the show if you’re willing to put in the time. Franklin is a very churchy, conservative area. But Milwaukee is right next door, and Wisconsinites are extremely willing to drive to get to things, unlike Chicagoans. Traffic and parking in a city this size makes everyone want to stay within a few El stops of their homes, but Milwaukee and its environs is totally different. You can get a city crowd to come to BFE in Wisconsin, and they did at first. When they were actually trying.

Bottom line is, if this isn’t my crowd anymore, it’s not my crowd and that’s just something I have to deal with. But the total lack of discrimination when it comes to who they’re allowing to vend there is disappointing in the extreme. I would never in a million years knock a good flea market. If this were turning into one then I don’t belong there as a vendor but I would part with no regrets. That’s not what’s happening though. What’s happening is what happened to ren faire and so many other solid shows. They’re going profit over content, not being picky if the “handmade” is done in China, but still billing themselves as a show that promotes unique handmade goods. Those that are actually making such things are left to struggle to get their prices with people who are definitely not. And the majority of the crowd really doesn’t know the difference. All they see is something priced at $20 versus something priced at $40. Those who know and appreciate the difference stop coming to the show because there’s nothing they want. And so it goes.

Part of me thought it was too tasty a concept to work in the long run. I guess my skepticism was well warranted. Though it was groovy while it lasted. I’m still on the fence as to whether to give it one more go in November. I had been doing fine there right up until this time around. Though the vendor profile has changed rather abruptly.

But this kind of thing, in case anyone was curious, is why all of us makers of things are always hollerin’ shit like “buy local” and “pay the artists” from the rooftops. Because resellers will infiltrate the best of shows, and it’s important to know the difference between something someone made and something someone bought wholesale.

If you believe in handmade, walk your talk. Don’t patronize the shows that let a buncha mass produced crapola pass as art. Don’t be lied to. Support the arts by going to the shows that support the artists (slash crafters, slash fine junkers, slash upcyclers, slash insert word for not made in China here.)



Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

“Where do you find all this stuff?”

Number two question I get asked at shows. The answers, in order of preference, are:

Flea markets! I love me a flea. It’s the best of all possible junking solutions. It’s not necessarily the cheapest, but here’s why that’s ok. I could spend my every weekend going to all the estate sales in my area in order to acquire for the least possible dollar amount maaaaybe trunkfull of items I might be interested in, or I could let the pickers do it for me, hit them all up in one spot, and pay their (usually) very small markup, which you can negotiate down anyway (you’re not being mean by haggling, pickers expect you to haggle and work it into their price structure because it’s all part of the game at a flea). I consider it a convenience fee and I’m happy to pay it, because I’ll spend less in gas and time, and come out ahead overall. It’s the same reason I’ll go to “hip” second hand stores. Because they’ve done all the legwork of going to every single Goodwill in the city and dug through the piles of polyester and whatnot, to find the cool stuff for me. The prices aren’t that much higher and I only have to go to one place. Plus, some pickers do it for a living, but some do it because they’re born scavengers and it’s a compulsion not unlike popping bubble wrap, and there are enough of those just trying to make back what they spent that you’re gonna get it so cheap it’s practically dumpster diving. They’re in it for the love of the hunt. I can relate.

Estate sales! When someone dies and their family (or whoever, if they have none) doesn’t want to deal with cleaning out their house, they hire a company to catalogue, price and sell everything. Estate sales usually happen Fridays through Sundays. On Friday, you’ll get the best selection of stuff, but the prices are way higher. These companies work on commission, so they’re motivated to get top dollar. On Friday they won’t haggle with you and they won’t give you a bundle deal. On Sunday however, they absolutely will, because it’s their last chance to make any money. On the last day of the estate sale, prices are usually down by 50-75%, they’ll take less, and they’ll bundle. The down side is you’re usually picking through dregs because all that’s left is the stuff that’s on its way to Goodwill or the dumpster. If you’re an artist, this doesn’t matter too much. If you’re a picker, this is not your day.

Yard sales, Goodwill, etc! You can find some awesome junk at these places. They’re my least favorite because you usually have to hit up many, MANY of them before you get anything like a worthwhile trip out of the adventure. The exception is church rummage sales. Like a flea, there are multiple contributors to the overall junk selection, but because it’s basically 30 households or so having a yard sale in the same place, the prices are low. Downside is it’s mostly kid stuff. Which, if you have a kid is great, but if you have an art project is a bit limited.

Lastly, because it’s an opportunistic act rather than something I do because I need junk for art, is dumpster diving! I don’t dive on the regular. It’s more of a magpie thing. If I happen to see shiny I investigate. Now at a flea market, don’t be too proud! There’s great shit in those dumpsters (stay AWAY from the ones near the food vendors though). I’ve found doll heads and vintage books all for the bargain price of free because someone decided there was no money to be made with them and chucked ’em (pro tip: the pickers at the flea check the dumpsters too, and many have admitted to putting what they find on their own tables and selling it). But mostly I just keep my eyes open on trash day because you never know. One day I was walking the dog and found two child sized chairs sitting in the alley. Good quality ones, too. If you’re following me on the Facebooks, you’ve seen what they turned into. I’ve found an old chippy, peely cabinet, antlers off a 6 point buck that are at least 50 years old, anatomy and neurology text books from the 60s, broken dolls and various and sundry awesome rusty shit, all in my tiny neck of the woods. A friend in New Orleans once found a huge, hand made Indonesian mask! People throw out the damndest things, so don’t let those opportunities pass you by.

So, that’s where I find all this stuff. Any other junk lovers out there are welcome to hit me up if you want someone to go junking with. I go to Grayslake just about monthly, and I’m always up for company. Just don’t mind the weirdo caressing an old, rusty piece of farm equipment or a half decomposed accordion, mumbling “My preciousssssss”. That weirdo is me.

That work/life balance thing

I was having lunch with an artist I share some shows with not too long ago to facilitate a creepy doll transfer, and while talking shop we happened to turn to the whole make stuff people like, or make stuff you like, conversation.

In a perfect world, your customers are attracted to whatever it is floating your artistic brain boat at the moment, and cheerfully buy it all up. In the actual working life that’s not always the case though, and the question of whether or not to devote time to commercially viable stuff you don’t love to make just to pay the bills is one that every artist making any kind of living with their art asks themselves and each other. I know that answer is personal and situational, and I’ve waffled on it numerous times, as I’m sure I’ll waffle again depending on life stuff. It’s not a hard and fast rule. At least not for me.

Last winter I spent an insane amount of time making mini shrines. I had like 125 of them by the time my season started. It was redonk. I had them laid out by the dozen like cookies on trays in various stages of completion. I did this because I couldn’t keep them in stock the previous season, and they’re my biggest online seller. But by the time I was done, I was DONE. It happens. You get on a groove with a thing, and it’s like you exhaust the energy you have for that particular thing and never want to look at it again. And interestingly, the second I ran out of energy for those, they stopped selling so hotly at shows. They’re still my biggest online seller, but more people are getting into the  assemblage than the folk art in person. My aforementioned luncheon companion (A miz Margie Criner by name, you guys should look her up on FB if you dig awesomely weird dioramas. I know I do.) put forth the notion that if your heart’s not in it, it comes across to customers. I think that’s absolutely true in some ways. Consciously or not, when you’re less enamored of a thing, you’re not working as hard for it. But regardless of whether I’m putting out some “done” vibe or not, when you’ve moved away from something, you don’t enjoy doing it, and it becomes tedious and harder to do. In some professions tedium is just par for the course. Nobody thinks working on the line in a factory or being a plumber is super stimulating, but some people work to live, some live to work. If everyone had the same needs, we’d have nothing but artists or rocket scientists or whatever, and nobody to manufacture cars or pick up the garbage or service the gas lines.

I’m a live to work person, and can’t seem to handle feeling a thing is tedious (bullshit threshold of 2, remember). And I’ve definitely come to feeling that way about shrines. I’m always going to be into mythology and belief systems and all manner of nerd-tastic anthropology stuff, but I don’t wanna make ’em anymore. I’m happy to do them for custom orders, but I’ve already stopped replacing sold out stock.

I had a gal on FB ask me at one point if I did stuff people wanted, or stuff I wanted. And the answer was “both”. And it still is. But, and what ratio of commercially successful to personally satisfying you’re going to have is totally subjective, I find I have to constantly check in with myself and ask how I feel about a thing. If I’m getting bored, it’s not getting my best attention and energy. The quality of the work doesn’t suffer, because I started creating as a crafter and crafters learn to be persnickety as hell (Just ask my bestie, who has had to deal with my dissection of his creations before I deem them ready for posting. It’s taken him from tradesman to crafter*, but is probably annoying AF.). Eternal gratitude to my crusty old leather monger teachers for that quality having been drilled into my brain. However. When your heart isn’t in it, especially when it’s something artistic, there’s good reason to ask yourself if it’s worth continuing to do.

For some people that answer is going to be “yes”. Blue dog guy seems to be making a decent living, though he’s got to be sick of painting that dog by now. Though I could be wrong. Blue dog guy might just be totally obsessed with blue dogs and that’s all he wants to paint. Either way, not judging. I guess in some ways my not making of a decent living leaves me freer to make the decision to stop making time for things that don’t stimulate me anymore. If I were making 50 grand a year on shrines, the answer might have to be different.

There’s also that pigeonhole thing. You get to be known as “That Guy who…” for anything and suddenly your options get narrowed. Both by your own sense of responsibility and by the expectations of others. By far the most favorited things on Etsy are the shrines. The irony of an atheist being popular for her religious folk art is not lost on me, but whatevs. I still don’t want to get boxed in. Again, for some people, this isn’t a problem. They really love painting fairies or blue dogs or busty fantasy novel cover babes, or whatever their thing is and it’s totally cool that that’s what everyone wants from them. For me, not so much. If I suddenly want to take up oil pastels or sculpting with ground beef and Marmite or what have you, I want my customer base to be like “Sweet. Here’s some crazy new shit she’s on to.”, not “But it’s not a saint covered in glitter…hashtag sadface”.

Sometimes I wish I was that guy who. That I had a thing that was so absorbing to me that it was the focus of my life. But I have no such thing. I’m in love with all the things. Very problematic for making a living. Maybe. Unless my customers are all, “Wheeee!” on board the S.S. Frankenjunk with me. Then, maybe not.


*PS – Said bestie has never referred to himself as an artist, so I don’t call him one. If he ever decides to, he’ll be one according to my philosophy of “It’s Art If You Think It Is”, and I’ll change the nomenclature.


Happy Equinox!

The leaves aren’t doing much hereabouts just yet, but it’s definitely on its way. You can smell it.

With autumn comes the end of the outdoor show season, but the beginning of the INDOOR show season. You know what that usually means? I don’t have to set up a tent or worry about the weather. I realize it’s not as exciting for you as it is for me, but that’s ok. I’ll be excited for both of us.

So! This is where I’ma be at for the rest of the season.

THIS WEEKEND!! The very last outdoor show of the year (for me, anyway)! Edgewater Fall Arts Fest on Granville between Broadway and Kenmore. 11-6 Saturday and Sunday. A boatload of killer artists of my personal acquaintance will be there. I can totally vouch for the content of this show, if not for the beer. Which I hope for your sakes there will be. But if not, you know I won’t tell on you. Winkwink.

ALSO! Monday the 12th of October brings a small, cozy popup art market in Evanston. The Prairie Moon restaurant on Sherman will host me and a bunch of other rad makers between 5 and 9 pm. There will definitely be beer, and food and if I’m lucky, the cake lady will be doing samples again.

NOVEMBER! Busy busy month for your holiday shopping pleasure. Milwaukee-ans, on the weekend of the 14th and 15th, I’ll be at the indoor sports complex just south of you in Franklin for Re: Craft and Relic, a brand new show featuring upcyclers, vintage pickers and funky indie crafters of all sorts. Come support local indie makers in yer ‘hood you guys!

Then on the 22nd I will once again be supporting homeless puppies, kitties and bunnies at the Red Door Animal Shelter’s Holiday Bazaar! Held at the Warren Park field house on Western from 11-5 that Sunday. There is a cookie bake sale of truly epic proportions, and you can bring your critter (the four legged kind, though I’m pretty sure Santa will let your kids in on the action too) for a picture with Santa, who I know for a fact is secretly a sassy ol’ biker dude who loves puppies.

Lastly in November is the Black Friday indie craft hootnanny known as the Late Late Craft Show! Hosted by Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro on Lincoln Ave., this event starts at 5 and goes till 11 pm. There is food and whiskey and art. Which is all I need for a recommendation, really. Cooooome!

If all goes as expected, December will bring us Shop Jarvis Square to close my season out. The event is trying to change management, as the organizer said eff this noise and moved south and west away from this godforsaken latitude after the last blisteringly cold winter we had up here. Who can blame her? But I haven’t heard if she’s managed to pass the torch on, or if it’s happening this year, or what, so stay tuned for updates on that score.

Otherwise, that’s the rest of the season mah peeps. Enjoy the turning of the leaves and the gutting of the gourds and the begging of the candy!

Northbrook: Highlights, Lowdowns and WTFs

It’s official, kids. I’m not leaving the city limits again. You can’t say I haven’t given the suburbs a shot. Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Shaumburg, and now Northbrook. It’s been a thorough investigation. And while I didn’t totally tank at most of these places, neither did I do well enough to return when the costs versus profits were tallied.

Northbrook was the first one I actually lost money at. Being both monied and close to the city, I thought some of the mojo would spill over, like it does with Evanston (which I haven’t given up on, actually, my last show there having gone quite a bit better than I’d expected given the size and newness of the event). I had been prepared to not do really well, but that I did this poorly did come as a surprise.

I know we got hammered by a major storm on Saturday, but till then we had a crowd, and Sunday we had a crowd. They just weren’t into it. Many vendors I talked to were unhappy, actually. I think the reason was the composition of the crowd. It was mostly retirees and families with young children. Which may be all of Northbrook, come to think of it. But I’ve noticed that an art buying crowd doesn’t have their kids with them and isn’t trying to move to an apartment after 40 years in a 3 bedroom. Also, I had lots of nice compliments, but didn’t have many business cards taken, which is indicative of the general reception my stuff is getting with that crowd. In Spring Green, I almost ran out of cards. If you took out the one big sale, I didn’t move much product there, but interest was really good, so I feel I can build an audience.

So highlights: EM Events is one of the promoters hereabouts, and the experience with them that I had was a good one. They’re organized and helpful, and I didn’t have any hassles. There were email updates all weekend long regarding weather, the condition of our tents post storm, prize winners, et cetera. So, SUPER communicative, which is awesome. The judges were pleasant, introduced themselves and had a brief chat. My kind of stuff doesn’t win prizes, so I’m not concerned about their presence or the impression I’m making on them, but I do find a rude or standoffish judge unnecessary (*cough* Shaumburg *coughcough*) and it tarnishes my overall experience of the show. Cuz who likes some judgy judge getting all pretentious in your face when you’re trying to be charming and have fun? Nobody, that’s who.

Load in, check in, load out and parking were all easy peazy. I couldn’t drive up to my spot, it being in a park, but the tents were all along a path for easy carting to and from, and there was plenty of blocked off parking on all sides for us to stage from, so we weren’t fighting with each other or residents for the spaces. The artist amenities were contained in a big, air conditioned space and they had very nice ladies staffing the noshies table, which had fresh fruit in addition to the usual sugary carb fest that is the free breakfast typically offered at these events.

The organizers did their job well. They brought the people. The people were simply not into my glittery shenanigans.

Lowdowns: Lost money, first off. That’s pretty low. My immediate neighbors were also not pleased with their day, so it wasn’t just me. Which, again, points to the composition of the crowd rather than a lack of bodies. If a crowd isn’t into glitter and skeletons, that’s one thing, but my neighbors and I couldn’t have been more different in flavor. The only similarities between us were that we were all pretty colorful. Maybe Northbrook likes more of a day spa color scheme? Beige, mas beige, super beige, super ultra beige….

Also, bring your own food. There is nothing worth eating in Northbrook and the event has exactly one food vendor and a DQ cart. All the restaurants easily accessed on foot are overpriced and underwhelming. Sushi? Only if you’ve never actually had Japanese food or have really low expectations. Italian? Sort of. The one ok-ish place was a burger joint whose typical burger joint fare was decent, but whose menu offered Greek-ish and Mexican-ish dishes that were not great. Good fries though. And 3 ice cream parlors on the same corner, so if that’s what you’re into you’re all set.

The crowd was not fun. By not fun I mean generally not playful or engaged. They mostly walked by without entering and didn’t seem to be interested in talking to you. They’d come in if invited, but my guess is because they didn’t want to seem rude. It was a polite crowd, but a seriously disinterested one from my perspective, which, after 22 years at ren faire I feel is pretty well trained in the crowd vibe sussing department.

WTFs: Higher than average number of handsy little kids. I get kids engage with the world by touching it, I do. But ya gotta reign that in if you’re taking them to an art show, particularly one within spitting distance of 3 ice cream parlors. I personally didn’t have it happen to me, but more than one vendor I chatted with complained loudly about ice cream covered fingers on their wares. One guy selling clothing of some kind was particularly cranky about that, for obvious reasons.

Lots of people getting in my way during pack down. Like, people wandering the show who apparently didn’t come early enough to look around during actual hours of operation, but instead waited till everyone was busy, hot, tired, in a hurry and desperate for a shower and a beer before deciding to plant their asses in front of the one thing they hadn’t packed yet and stare at it, chat about it with their companions, and generally make themselves a tripping hazard at a time when one was not feeling hospitable any longer. (And one guy who felt the need to stand there staring and commenting on how “strong” I looked. Wtf is that supposed to mean? Was he flirting?) We’d get that at ren faire all the time, too. You’re two seconds from dropping the tarps for the night after a 13 hour, 90 degree day in a corset, when someone decides they want to look around. Not shop, mind you. No. Paying me would go a long way towards securing my patience. But these people never seem to buy anything. They’re “just looking” while you’re just trying to go the hell home. There are always going to be one or two, but there seemed to be a boat load of this going on here for some reason.

I have no objection to someone coming in to ask for a card real quick, or if they had intended to come back for an item and didn’t realize the show was closing or what have you. I have no objection to someone standing outside and out of my immediate way to look at what is left on the walls and asking questions or talking to me while I work. But do not cross my threshold during pack down for ogling purposes! I will not love you for it.

So yeah, not going back to Northbrook. I don’t know who had a good day, because I didn’t wander far, but the only things I saw walking by in bags were prints and small yard art. So there you go.

The voodoo that Boo do

Ermahgerd, we had such an incredible weekend.
Fall Art Tour is always a good time for us, but this year was extra saucy with awesome.
We got to hang out with so many lovely people, and splurged on a boatload of art. Not something we normally allow ourselves, being on severely restricted budgets (he’s a student, I’m an on call, very part time electrician’s assistant with a shady side business dealing in bones and glitter), but sometimes you’ve got to be ruthlessly self indulgent if you’re going to have a life worth living. Ya know?

We blew into town Friday and stopped at my favorite place for all things rusty and funky, Raven House (, go!), to pick up a map of the participants and touch base with the fabulous proprietress, who also runs the Sunday Market I was going to be vending at while I was up there. From there we hit the studio of Maday, a quilter of epic talent whose work exceeds the standard idea of a quilt (, go!). Her mixed media fiber creations are a story and an art and all around day-um fabulous. I’ve been drooling over her stuff on Facebook for months now, so when I heard she was to be part of the Fall Art Tour I got jazzed, and budgeted some dough for goodies.



Then we hit Helen’s Daughters studio (, go!), makers of fine and unusual handbags, for a browse through their gorgeous garden, the various artisans housed in it (unbelievable jewelry, basket making, and batik), and a yack with Char and Mariella, the daughters of Helen, who make these incredible bags. I myself don’t have much occasion to use a fancy purse (more’s the pity, cuz they’re seriously awesome), but they also make extremely practical packs, pouches and other means for stuff holding. I got myself the perfect pouch for my street shows, with an adjustable strap so I can wear it over the shoulder or around my hips, and generous enough to fit my two strapping monkeys. Win.


Our last stop on the local leg of the tour was the studio of an illustrator and puppeteer by the name of Anne Horjus, whose beautiful work can be found in the children’s book, Sleep, with writer Charles Anthony Silvestri (, go!). He also does wood block prints and paintings, lives in an amazing old Victorian, and is a really nice guy with an awesome sense of humor. We had a great time there talking puppets, Jim Henson, and Labyrinth/ Dark Crystal, both of which, we all agreed, were the top puppet movies of all time.

After a meal at our favorite Little Village Cafe (really, it’s all about the pie), we headed to Con Amici wine bar to have a few glasses of delicious adult beverage, and get our caricatures drawn by local artist Ryan Biddle (, go!). Hey, it’s art tour weekend, you gotta support the arts. And also, silly and fun, which we’re all about.


Adult beverages consumed, back to our Baraboo roost, WilloWood Inn (, go!) for Real Genius (Val Kilmer in the 80s, is there anything hotter?) and bed.

Saturday morning found us abed later than we had intended, but whatevs, vacation. Our first stop was back to Raven House to do a leetle shopping.


Then we were off to Spring Green. The entire town was having a yard sale, lucky us, but what had caught our eye there were a pair of graphic artists. One, sadly, had bowed out to move to Colorado, but the other one, Kim Russel (, go!), was stationed at a local gallery. We spent a good half hour chatting with her, gushing over her work, and eventually deciding on which prints we wanted to take home. I have a thing for cranes, a critter I never clapped eyes on in the flesh till my 38th year, but now can’t get enough of.


Taking off from Spring Green we drove though hills on fire with fall leaves, heading for Loganville and our next stop, The Bricolage, a huge farm at the end of a dead end road, which is the home, studio, and retreat of Don and Ali Kauss. She makes lovely silver jewelry and he does assemblage (, go!), and they both rent out spaces in barns and revamped chicken coops to visiting artists and people just looking to get away from everything. Mah boo wanted to talk bow hunting with him, but I just wanted to drool over his amazing assortment of skulls, bones, rusty junk and generally awesome stuff that he turns into creepy assemblage that I totally want all of. In mah house. Right now.

We only hit two studios because we wanted to be back at Con Amici for their Pinot and Picasso night. A thing in which they handed out hooch and art supplies to a bunch of willing folks, with an art teacher handy to offer guidance and keep a progressively drunker group on track, and let us try and make art. It. Was. Awesomely fun. I’ve never painted, mah boo has never art-ed at all, AND he’s colorblind. But we’re both more than willing to suck at something in the name of fun (watch me bowl sometime and you’ll see what I mean), so we were all, “Where do we sign up?”
A bottle or so of wine and a couple’a hours later, we had…tree like things!


And a nice buzz. And a painting (no like, a real one), because our caricature artist from the night before is a hella good painter too and had one on the wall priced crazy low.
Ruthlessly self indulgent, remember? I don’t have a picture of this one. Because I suck. And it’s not in my house, it’s in my honey’s, so I can’t fix that.

So, Tank Girl (Lori Petty, droolz), bed, up at crack for Sunday Market.

Which happened to coincide with a Packers game, so not as populous as we would have liked, but still, a good time was had. I got pancakes and an accordion, and did all my produce shopping for the week to the tune of $4.50 (broccoli/kale hybrid is made of awesome. I’m not making this up.). I call it a win.
Hugs all around as we packed up the car and headed to our very last stop, back to the studio of Maday Delgado for some Cuban love (we laugh, we cry, we yell a lot) and a wonderful, touching parting giftie, which now lives in my room beside my bed, under three Buddhas, a Chinese dragon, Eleggua and Bastet. Which I think is completely appropriate.


So that was my vacation. Woodland critter count for this trip includes two feeding red tailed hawks, six migrating sandhill cranes, and eight wild turkeys. And one partly skeletonized roadkilled deer, which of COURSE I forgot to pack rubber gloves and a cooler. Oh well, it’s not like there’s gonna be any bugs to clean it till spring. In other words, stinky.

We had a ball, as usual. Everyone was super happy to see us again (we’re getting pretty recognizable at this point, going up two or three times a year like we do), and made us feel like we were seeing old friends rather than being tourists. It was a much needed and welcome cap to a busy summer.