Winter 2008 Shadow Art Fair

One of my favorite events in Ypsilanti is the Shadow Art Fair. Since getting a digital camera for WaffleCon 2K6: CTP I've made a hobby of wandering around and taking photos, and about a year or year and a half ago something clicked in my head and I went from thinking my photos looked boring to thinking they looked kinda neat. So I decided as an experiment to try selling prints, as well as seeing how well the zines I made went.

Unfortunately, I never got around to thinking about signing up for the Summer 2008 SAF until after the deadline had passed, but some sort of miracle happened and I got stuff done in time to apply for the Winter Shadow Art Fair, and managed to get accepted. In addition to the photos and zines, I decided to try something out: Bespoke Haiku. You'd give me a subject, and I'd on-the-spot come up with a haiku, and if you liked it for a dollar I'd write it on a nice little card. The Thursday before SAF there was a shindig for the artists and volunteers, and based on some chatting with folks there I came up with the idea of doing Haiku Gift Certificates (perfect for this or any season). You could either give it to someone, who could send it to me to have them mail a haiku, or you could take it and send it to me indicating that it's a gift, and I'll send the recipient a haiku saying that it's a gift from so-and-so, and they wouldn't even be expecting it.

The weeks leading up to the fair went quickly, as I ran around getting stuff ready, and stapling (I think) somewhere around 300 zines. Setup went quickly. I was next to Josh Sanchez and Tom Quigley (and other folks) from Ann Arbor selling a wide range of zines, which was good placement. The place was pretty much consistently packed. To shove everyone in the space between rows of tables was really narrow, and there were no chairs (I didn't even think of providing one). After about seven hours of standing I wanted to sit more than anything in the world. Fortunately, the folks across the aisle (they sold decopage jewelry, and I've forgotten their names, which is annoying since I chatted with them Thursday night for at least an hour) had a spare chair when the guy ran off to do some errands, so I could sit for a bit. Then fellow Bike Ypsi-er Tom Lennon stopped back with a chair I could use the rest of the evening (I nominate him for sainthood, if the Pope is listening, or even if he isn't). I did find, however, that if I was actively talking to someone the urgent signals my feet were sending were ignorable, it's only when I was standing there just looking around, or saying hello to folks passing by, did I notice it, so I guess it wasn't all that bad. Still, it felt really really good to be able to sit down.

Some of the organizers had the idea of "Hugs and Gumbo" — for $5 you would get a bowl of gumbo (vegan even! so I could partake (I can hear the gumbo purists scowling as I type)), a sticker, a little zine (haven't had a chance to read it yet) and a hug. It was really good gumbo (and I'm not just saying that because it was the only food I ate that day, other than a PB&Jagel at the Ugly Mug), and the hug wasn't bad either.

My prints seemed to get a good amount of positive comments (and the folks at Adorama did an excellent job of printing them), although I didn't sell that many. I had a decent number of people asking if they were postcards, which I didn't even think of (I may try doing that next time). I think people were turned off by the price ($10 for a 5x7 print). They were high-quality prints on photo-quality paper, not something done on a cheap inkjet printer, and I think one would get at least $10 worth of enjoyment out of one during its lifetime. But I can also see not wanting to pay $10 for something that you could get for pretty cheap down at your local photo printer. It's that ever-present problem — I didn't think any of them were worth an excessive amount of money, but I also did spend a lot of time wandering around taking a lot of pictures and I do think some of them look really good. There's also the point of not making things too cheap; if something is really inexpensive, so people think it is worthless, etc. etc. I may adjust the price down next time, but I'm still thinking about that.

I sold a decent amount of Late Night Thinking and Haiku a day. I chatted with Linette Lao, who happens to teach a creative writing class on zines at EMU, and she wants me to stop by her class next semester and wants to use a couple issues of LNT in the class (hey, maybe I can break into that lucrative college textbook market....) I think a zine class is an awesome idea, and we also chatted a bit at the fair about the zine library the Ypsilanti District Library has (not that you can find it on their webpage at all, which I think is a huge problem).

The bespoke haiku, and the haiku gift certificates did pretty well, though. I did 26 haiku at the fair, as well as selling 15 gift certificates, which was awesome. I could tell that some people were really excited by the idea, especially the gift certificate when I told them they could send a haiku to someone that wouldn't be expecting it. As an added bonus, in making the gift certificate and making a price list for the table, I learned a little bit more about LaTeX — I like LaTeX, but making everything look like a dissertation is a bit boring. I figured out a little bit more about fonts and doing other weird stuff, which is useful.

About the only downside (other than standing for seven hours, which is certainly easy enough to fix next time) was not really being able to visit any of the other booths. My bank account is probably happier for it, but still, there's always some cool stuff there. It was busy enough pretty much all through the day that there was only a couple of times I was able to get away to get some gumbo, or get a glass of water (or, erm, to make some water). It did make the day go incredibly quickly, though.

Financially, well, I won't be giving up my job to live the life of an artist full time, but I sold enough to pay for the vendor fee and have a nice chunk of money left over. I wonder, though, if the teller at the UMCU Plymouth Road branch thinks I moonlight as a stripper or something; along with my dollar saving plan (I should write about that sometime) and taking in currency this morning I've stopped at the bank with a large stack of singles three times in two months. Oh, well. And in any case, I still have a bunch of prints left over, and after chatting a bit with folks at the shindig I think I may setup an Etsy account to sell some of the rest off. It's cheap enough, at least, and couldn't hurt.

In the end, it was an amazing amount of fun, and seriously one of the coolest things about Ypsilanti. I'm pretty sure I'm going to sign up for the next show. Photos I took of the event can be found here (at least they will be as soon as they stop burbling across the Intertoobes.