Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Report: The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin

My sister (an art teacher) loaned me The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin recently. It's a handy little guide that covers all the finer points of selling handmade goods online, at craft fairs, and to shops. It also expounds upon marketing tools like social networking and practical, must-know information such as state sales tax laws. Although I already knew most of this stuff, I found the book to be compulsively readable. It reminded me why I got all excited about marketing my work in the first place. I'd recommend it to anyone just setting up shop, especially people who don't have a support network (such as the illustrious and ever-helpful EtsyNJ street team, to whom I direct all my burning questions).
I think my favorite part of the book was the section on blogging. Chapin sites blogs as the most potentially powerful marketing tool at a crafter's disposal. She also wrote that no matter how professional a crafter intends for his or her blog to be, personal elements will inevitably creep in. Both tidbits warmed my heart, as I've long considered this blog to be the glue that holds The Tote Trove together. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and Etsy are great. But you just can't beat a format that allows you to write about your creative process, inspiration, triumphs and setbacks, and, yes, your favorite ice cream flavor or that weird thing that happened to you on the subway. It's all this stuff that makes our art special, and documenting it all is an art in and of itself.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Tote Trove Moves On

If you watched Nick at Nite in the early 1990s, then you may remember a commercial about a "serious message" featuring a cartoon dancing squirrel at the bottom of the screen. I think the "serious message" was preventing accidents in the home by watching Nick at Nite, and the dancing squirrel was to serve as a distraction for "those who could not handle a serious message." Well, I'm stealing their idea and posting a photo of my Toddland cheeseburger wallet from Fred Flare ( before dropping this bomb: I am no longer doing craft fairs.
I've already sent my regrets to the coordinators of the eight remaining shows on my roster. Two were kind enough to refund my entry fee, which was completely unexpected. So, why the big drop out? I was, I'm afraid, overwhelmed. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. It dawned on me slowly that craft shows weren't the best venue for marketing my work. At first I told myself that I wasn't doing the right ones, that I needed to find my niche in venues more receptive to my funky wares and that the way to find this niche was to sign up for as many shows as possible. But after vending at shows offering different locations, different entry fees, and different aesthetics, I realized that I was mostly selling a few small items here and there regardless of where I was. I made as many little girls' stretchy bracelets and tiny totes as possible before each show because I knew that people would buy them. But in doing so, I wasn't challenging myself creatively. I felt more like a factory than an artist, and that didn't feel good.
So, my new plan is to tackle all the projects haunting my imagination, even if they end up taking a lot of time and/or money to produce. You'll be able to see the results posted on my Etsy shop,, and, of course, here on this blog. So stay tuned. I promise there's good stuff to come.

Photo Shoot Friday

I'm ecstatic that it's Friday again! I have nothing on tap this weekend except for fun. But first things first. I have an odd mix of outfits this time. I wore the first two while in Ocean City with my parents earlier in the week. I didn't have my picture taken for the remainder of the week, so I dipped into my archives for picture number three and fished out one of me in winter clothes. Think of it as my own personal Christmas in July.

Top: Marshalls
Skirt: Macy's
Flip flops: Kohl's
Bag: Delia's
Plain pewter bracelet: Gift from Mom, Macy's
Thin rhinestone bracelet: A. C. Moore
Bead bundle bracelet: Hallmark
Rhinestone pewter bracelet: Gift from Mom, Macy's
Ring: B Fabulous

Dress: Venus,
Flip flops: J. C. Penney's
Bag: 9 & Co, Kohl's
Orange bangle: Silver Lining, Ocean City boardwalk
Blue bangle (glarey though it may be): J. C. Penney's
Rings: Assorted forgotten beach shops

Dress: Macy's
Cardigan: Gift from my sister, Express, Marshalls
Boots: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Gift from my sister, Rampage, Value City
Stockings: Gift from my mom, Express
Necklace: Kohl's
Purple bangle: The Icing
Orange bangle: Strawbridge (now Macy's)
Brown ring: Charlotte Russe
Orange ring: Old Navy
Headband: Gift from my sister, Express

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Report: (Another Walk) Downtown with Anne Rivers Siddons

The other day I finished re-reading the novel Downtown by Anne Rivers Siddons. I thought that maybe I wouldn't enjoy it as much or be as moved by it the second time around, but I was wrong. In fact, I think it moved me more.
Downtown is the story of 26-year-old Smoky O' Donnell, a writer living in Georgia in 1966. Sheltered and green, a surprise phone call impels her to leave the safety of her parents' house and her insurance job to write for Downtown magazine in Atlanta. Mesmerized by the city, she immediately falls in love with her independence, the eccentric, close-knit Downtown staff, and the burgeoning civil rights movement. Yet her bubble of happiness is punctured by conflicts, both professional and personal, that are born of the times and challenge who she will become. Hers is an extraordinary story, heart-wrenching in its idealism, and shyly courageous between its considerable layers. It's funny too, touched by the kind of gentle, inside-joke humor that pulls you into the characters' inner circle and makes it hard to leave. I hesitate to call it a "coming of age tale" or "historical fiction" or anything else that slides it into a generic box because it's so much more than that. Indeed, Siddons's characters and breathtaking prose will echo in your head long after you've turned the last page.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"If you ever discover that what you're seeing is a play within a play, just slow down, take a deep breath, and hold on for the ride of your life."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tales from the Trove - Brigantine Summerfest

I first heard of Brigantine's Summerfest, put on by the Presbyterian Church, when I was opening my business bank account a couple of weeks ago. The person (associate? account manager? I'm not sure) helping me said I should do it because it always attracted a crowd. So, I looked into it and found out it was billed as as flea market. This sort of gave me pause, as my very first show had been a flea market. I sold $20 worth of jewelry, $10 of which was to my mom, and I was the only crafter there. Since then, I'd vowed to never do a flea market again. But this one was just a couple of blocks from my house, and the entry fee was only $40. Despite the nagging feeling that I was making a mistake, I could feel my resolve melting. I decided to give it a try.

The event was to go from 3:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., which was a departure from the usual 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. shows. This meant that the bf and I didn't need to get up at the crack of dawn, which was nice. I took advantage of the free time by sleeping in a little and doing some much-needed housework until noon rolled around and it was time to load the truck. I hadn't been outside all day, and when I took my first step out the door I gasped. The heat was oppressive. I felt a wave of panic and guilt. How could I sit out in that all day? How could I ask the bf to set up in such conditions? Suddenly the easy location and low entrance fee didn't seem as enticing as they once had.

But we had to press on. We loaded up and made our way to the church lawn, setting up our tent between an elderly man selling used toy trucks and a group of women selling the church cookbook. I wondered how these elderly people would fare in the heat and felt a bit chastened.

Sale-wise, it wasn't as bad as I'd expected. I easily made back my fee and then some, thanks, in part, to the patronage of our out-of-town landlord, who was visiting family for the week, and one of the bf's customers. As usual, many shoppers expressed interest in my wares, and several were impressed by the detail work of the totes. Although some said they were too expensive, no one said anything hurtful or out-of-line, and for that I was grateful. At an event where the offerings included half-priced thrift store jewelry and "mystery bags" for $1, it was the best I could have hoped for.

It was strange and a little bit eerie to still be sitting out there as darkness fell. Because of this (and honestly, because of our fatigue), we began breaking down half an hour early. Although I'd consumed only fruit, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a popsicle, and soda all day, I still wasn't hungry.

I'd packed up just about everything when a little girl accompanied by two older little girls approached me and asked if she could still buy something. I said sure, if she saw something she liked. She said she'd wanted a bracelet. I happened to be filling a box of bracelets just then, and began unpacking them so she could have a look. She pointed out the one she wanted, a simple piece made of large, colorful wavy-disc beads. I told her it was $5, and she started counting out coins. She clearly did not have enough, and something in me twisted. This whole business was hard, hard on me and hard on the hordes of little girls who walked by, wanting stuff that their parents wouldn't buy. "It's okay," I said. "I want you to have it." She just looked up at me. "Go ahead, take it!" urged her friends. Then she tried to offer me the coins, but I said she could keep them. "Say thank you!" urged her friends. She did, and then the three of them ran off in an excited flurry.

And that was that.

Next stop Cape May Promenade Craft Show, August 14-15.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Tiny Totes - Purple on Parade

Tiny Ice Cream Cone Tote

Tiny Dragonfly Tote
Painting on purple and blue canvas has always presented a challenge for me, but I've learned that metallic paint and any paint mixed with white work best. These designs are variations on some I painted (and sold) previously. I'll have the chance to fly them proudly under the tent tomorrow during Brigantine Summerfest. In the meantime, they can be found in my Etsy shop at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

And now for one of my favorites:

"Sometimes I think the world has gone completely mad. And then I think, "Aw, who cares?" And then I think, "Hey, what's for supper?" '

New Handmade Buys - Fuzzy Figure Fun!


Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man


At last year's Handmade Faire (hosted by Abbie Galie, the EtsyNJ team's fearless leader), I met fellow crafter Oscar Robles, who makes just about every character imaginable out of -- wait for it -- pipe cleaners. The bf and I bought a few, and I ended up ordering another one later that year. During a recent Etsy surf session, the bf said he thought his sister would get a kick out of the Tigger incarnation. I ordered it, along with the Marshamallow Man for the bf and the unicorn for me. If you have a yen for out-of-the-ordinary knickknacks, then check out Oscar's Etsy shop at and other Web site, It's lots of fun!

Some Additions to the Animal House Family

On Monday I came home from work to find two new Animal House friends waiting for me on the kitchen table: the peacock dustpan and the snail tape dispenser. (The bumblebee scrubber is pictured also because I don't remember if I posted him yet. And even if I did, he's cute enough to be pictured twice!) I immediately carved out a place for them among the others on my kitchen shelf, delighted by the burst of color they lent to the already-bright display. That bf, he's just full of surprises. Want to start your own zoo? Check out the Boston Warehouse Web site to get started:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tales from the Trove - Ocean City Summer Indoor and Outdoor Fine Arts and Crafts Extravaganza

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, as the bf and I were loading the truck, it was raining. And thundering. (No lightning.) I thought, "This doesn't bode well." But by the time we arrived at Carey Stadium next to Ocean City High School, it was hot and sunny. We were set up on the football field, and each tent was an island, set up so that shoppers could enter through either side. This was different from all the other shows I'd done, when the tents had been arranged side-by-side with no route out the back. Once we were set up, the bf had to go to work, so I settled in with Cosmopolitan and my much-loved copy of Downtown by Anne Rivers Siddons. And so the waiting began.
It was a slow, gauzy-hot sort of day. Sometimes a soothing breeze would whip through. At one point it uprooted one of the tents, sending it wheeling across the football field. I sold a few things. Among them were my Medium Midnight Jungle Tote, which was one of the first I painted, and my French Fry Fanatic Necklace and Tiny French Fry Love Tote. These last two went to a three-year-old girl who happily donned the necklace immediately. I heard a lot of nice comments about my work, others not so nice. Such is the gamble of presenting to the public.
Popo Flannigan, my neighbor, stopped by to say hello. You may recall that she is a landscape painter and dubs her body of work "Smileville." It was nice to see a friendly face.
Incredibly, a couple of first-time craft fair vendors asked me for advice. They wanted to know which shows to do, and what sort of earnings constituted a good show. Although I've done about a dozen shows and have a dozen more on deck, I still haven't a clue as to the secret of craft show success. But I smiled and said I could email them lists of shows I'd done, along with contact info and entrance fees.
My parents came once again. Always my champions, they made a purchase before circling the grounds to browse the other vendors. They found a charming painted gourd birdhouse to hang in their garden.
Five o' clock eventually rolled around, and I began to pack up my wares. Then the bf came to break down the tent, and we headed home to clean up before going out to dinner. There is nothing as nice as being clean and eating a delicious, civilized restaurant meal after a grueling day beneath the big top.
Next stop, Brigantine Funfest at the Presbyterian Church next Saturday. I hear they have a dunk tank.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Tote Trove Takes Japan

Large Proud Peacock Tote

Large Outlandish Owl Tote

Medium Undersea Tote

Medium Hearts & Stars Tote

Medium Punky Pear Tote

Well, maybe. A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to sell these five totes as wholesale samples to a representative for Japanese departments stores such as Beam and United Arrows. They were pleased with the samples and expect to place a larger order in the coming months. Initially, I was reluctant to post about this because I thought I may be jumping the gun. Or even jinxing myself. But then I remembered that the purpose of this blog is to chronicle all the steps of this crazy, mixed-up journey, not just trumpet the sure things and done deals. So there it is. I'm pretty darned excited about it.

More Tiny Totes for Tiny Hands

Tiny Pink Proud Peacock Tote

Tiny Up Up and Away Tote

Tiny Mr. Turtle Tote

Tiny totes, coupled with little girls' stretchy bracelets, remain my top craft show sellers. So, I decided to start replacing the amount I sell at each show before the next show. This was a great idea in theory. However, I sort of forgot to factor in going to work. And eating. And sleeping. As a result, I've painted just three new tiny totes for tomorrow's Ocean City Indoor & Outdoor Summer Extravaganza to replace the eight I sold last weekend at the Haddonfield Fine Arts & Crafts Festival. As for the bracelets, I didn't even get to them. But I think that's okay. One of the things I'm learning from this endeavor is to manage my expectations and recognize my limits. Tomorrow's forecast is hot and sunny, which is good news.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hooray for Cherries in the Snow

As I've mentioned before (and as evidenced in my Photo Shoot Friday posts), I wear Revlon superlustrous creme Cherries in the Snow lipstick every day. So, one day I decided to Google it to find out if it had any other fans. Happily, I discovered that it did. Enter the blog Lollipop 26: Beauty Views and Random News, British author Laura dubs her corner of blogland as "just another place for me to obsess about cosmetics, beauty and all things shallow." Although a self-professed red lipstick-a-phobe, Laura fell in love with Cherries in the Snow after seeing a designer use it in a video and has been hooked ever since. I love her fun, conversational writing style and am sure you will too :)

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"When I think back on all the blessings I have been given in my life, I can't think of a single one, unless you count that rattlesnake that granted me all those wishes."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tales From the Trove - Haddonfield Fine Arts and Crafts Festival

Tee shirt purchased from SquidFire

Bracelet purchased from Whimsicology,

Pee Wee Herman-inspired Pocket Mirror purchased from Original Abbie,, by my sister and gifted to me.

Necklace purchased from Yin-Yin.

I knew that it would rain on Saturday. I'd been stalking all week, my apprehension increasing as the estimated precipitation jumped from 40% to 60%, and finally to 80% just a day before the Haddonfield Fine Arts & Crafts Festival. So it was with a resigned mood of that I watched water pour down from the sky and sluice off of tent roofs. Truth be told, it could've been worse. Only minimal raindrops sneaked through the creases in my tent, and there was no thunder or lightning (always a good thing when you're fenced in by a metal structure).
This show was kind of different than any I'd done previously. For one thing, the two hundred-plus vendor tents were set up right on the street (King's Highway) in the downtown district, an arrangement that required everyone to arrive before 7:00 a.m. to set up for the 11:00 a.m. show. As for the art, it ran the gamut from fine jewelry to hats to pottery to wall art; quite honestly, I'd never seen anything like it. This, my friends, was art with a capital A. It made me feel a tad bit sheepish about my luridly colored plastic jewelry and cartoonish totes.
Yet as always, The Tote Trove was something of a curiosity spot for the passers-by. Several browsers told me, "You can't walk by without smiling!" and "This is the most colorful booth ever!" In a way, this was what I came to accomplish, which made me smile.
The rain stopped somewhere around 2:00 p.m., which wasn't so terrible because the show ran until 8:00 p.m. My parents dropped by just before 7:00 p.m., even though I told them it was too far of a drive. They also bought a bunch of stuff, even though I told them not to.
It goes without saying that the bf went above and beyond. He dutifully awoke with me at 4:30 a.m. to load our rented U-Haul, assembled the tent upon our arrival, hung all of the totes, and assisted and engaged the customers. Although the tone of this blog coupled with my outlandish outfits may suggest otherwise, I'm kind of shy and not always comfortable talking to the public. The bf, on the other hand, is very charming, approachable, and friendly, and for this I'm eternally grateful.
EtsyNJ team leader Abbie of Original Abbie,, was two tents down from me. My sister, who was kind enough to hang out all day Sunday, bought one of Abbie's art blocks as well as a pocket mirror featuring a genie and the Pee Wee Herman reference "meka leka hi meka hiney-ho," which she gave to me. Hilarious. Of course, she also bought more than a few things from me. Oh, that family of mine.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Marisa of Purplicious,, who was also vending, and Stacey of Deepshade Creations,, who was shopping. It's always very interesting to meet fellow EtsyNJians in person. I don't often have the opportunity because most of the shows I do are in Atlantic County, by the beach, and most of the group members are located toward Philadelphia or North Jersey. On the flip side, I saw only one of the vendors I've come to know from my usual shows.

True to form, I couldn't help but do a little shopping of my own. I was especially glad to find Janet of Whimsicology,, in attendance. I purchased one of her polymer clay fruit barrettes at the Brigantine PTA show last year (I wear it often, as evidenced in my Photo Shoot Friday posts) and had been wondering where I could find more pieces. Having spotted her booth, I happily snagged a matching fruit-themed bracelet as well as the all-important business card. You know, for those future purchases. I also nabbed a colorful flower necklace from another polymer clay artist and a funky fruit tee shirt from an outfit called SquidFire. I must confess that I never bought anything at craft fairs before I became a vendor. But now I have an inside perspective, so if I see something I like, then I get it.
That's about it. Next stop Ocean City on Saturday.