16 April 2018

British Craft Trade Fair

So long no blog! I’ve been meaning to write at least one post a month then March just went! April is already half way through, which means my first event of this year, British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) has been and gone. Today I’d like to share a little about the show, especially since this was a trade show and wasn’t open to the general public.

If you have been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember that I attended this show in 2013 with a huge bump, expecting my daughter Sabrina. I was in a new comer stand and very nervous. (You can see more in this post)

But I must tell you, this time was worse. I was more nervous than the last time. Probably because I knew how tense this show can be, but more so because this was my first trade show for many years as I had a studio break in between, and also I am now full time self employed. I have not worked with galleries for years and worried how my new tableware would be perceived today.

The major part of preparation is the stand display. Unlike other ceramic events, we are not there to sell individual items to the general public, but to present your sample work to professional buyers. Your work needs to be shown in the best possible way to stand out among more than 500 exhibitors.

Display is not my forte. I always admire other people’s stands for their professionalism and uniqueness. Still, you can learn and experience over time. So I have written some tips that I have learnt and hopefully you might find them useful, especially if you are a new maker.

1. collect ideas
2. think about materials that flows with your work
3. think about wall space
4. think how you transport and store them after the show
5. plan time scale

Display plan doesn’t come just over night, so you will need to develop over time. To help your ideas grow to exactly how you want, it is useful to collect ideas and visual examples. I did this using Pinterest and Instagram. Not necessarily from show display, but images of someone’s kitchen shelve, shop display and wall decoration can also be useful. The more you collect, you can narrow down your own idea. 

For the main display materials, you may consider using your own furniture or buy a new product or even make your own plinths etc. Whatever you use, think about the materials that flow with your own work. They can be wood, glass, metals and steels… almost anything, but make sure the materials are harmonise with your work. 
In my case, I used wood. Tableware is based at home environment and I wanted to make it ‘warm’ ‘home-like’ setting, so I used an old table that I already have and built wooden shelves to go above it. 

Last time, I didn’t use the wall space effectively, so I have decided to provide panels myself this time. Panels are hung with metal brackets, which is much securer than using S hook. BCTF actually offers panels and shelves if you would like to pay, but this would be one off, so if you would like to keep your display kits for future, make your own.

handmade panels that used for a corner of my stand

Unless you have a big car and house with plenty of space, you will need to consider how you transport your display kits and where/how to store them after the show. Ideally you can utilise the display materials for another shows so double the usage, but this can need a little planning as each show has different stand size and scheme.

The table I used was actually the same one I used in 2013. It is my usual photo shooting table and my wrapping station. Already exists mean that there is a space for it. (I must admit that I was lucky to live close to the venue so that we did not need a long journey with the table on the car roof!)
The wooden shelves are made to be dismantled so can be transported flat. Also they can be adapted to other ceramic events I will be attending in the future. So no waste.

After all, I must say a huge thank you to my dear husband who always listens to my design ideas and implements it with his DIY skills. (and coping with my nagging!)

Whether you need building and painting your display materials, make sure you put that time into a work schedule to avoid last minute chaos. As makers, you may stretch time to make maximum stock as close as possible to the show, but preparation of display itself can also take time. I have set at least a week worth of time slot dedicated to this. 
If you have children at home, you will need to put that into the consideration too. You know what’s going to be like with running around child next to your precious materials!

My apology for rather poor quality of photography, as I struggled with those artificial lightings. Nevertheless, I hope you can get an idea.

1. think about theme and style of your work
2. think how your work want to be seen / plan for eye levels & other eye views
3. think about effective background
4. props or no props?
5. use advice if available

Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted my display to look like someone’s home. Be it dining cabinet, table setting or wall decorations, that you can enjoy looking at. This idea applies in every part of my display, otherwise it won’t harmonise each other.

This is about deciding how your work wants to be seen.
Eye level is the first thing you have to consider in order to draw the viewer’s attention without them walking pass. In my case, the top and second shelves of my dining cabinet is the eye level point, and there I have displayed my ‘rakugaki’ series. Unique and individual blue and white decorations are good to catch viewer’s eyes but also makes you feel at ease with symmetry display, rather than tiring with over-loaded display.

Once you draw your visitors into your stand space, you can create another view point and close up. Like tabletop display, which is a bird eye view as they look down and physically handle your work. I displayed my ‘mazekoze’ series as if I was styling the table for friends gathering to create inviting feel. 

Wall space can create maximum impact if you use it well. I used two panels in the corner to display two series of work, with carefully chosen items that explains each character. 

‘mazekoze’ series is aimed for everyday use to mix up colours. So I scattered plates randomly on the surface and added a little shelf to display my new cups to maximise the use of colour palette.

‘rakugaki’ series is about spontaneous doodling. Here I have selected oval platter that shows large surface decoration and spoons for irregular shapes, which I hoped to be eye catching.

I must admit, the most exciting part was to display the paintings by Debbie Georgie. Debbie is one of my most admiring painters today. She paints flowers and ceramics in such a beautiful and somehow nostalgic manner. Prior to this show, I asked her commission for painting with my pottery. Aren’t they just wonderful? Thank you so so much Debbie. 

In the past, I used to settle with all white display. Although nothing wrong with all white, I went for bold colour to make my work to stand out. But be careful with the choice of colour, because you don’t want it to crash with your work or overtake the impact. My choice was dark grey, which is bolder than white but still understated colour and works with almost any colour. I had some beautiful paint left (called ’downpipe’ from Farrow & Ball) from our recent living room renewal. (See this post.) This was used on the background of shelves as well as two wall panels.

Using small props can be effective for your display as they can provide mood or seasonal touch. However, if you over do it or use wrong materials and/or theme, it can ruin the whole picture. 
I used natural linens, green herbs, wooden spoons and pears (yes pears!) for the table styling, carefully selected to match the theme. Hope you like the look.

For a little space left on the side, I used our bedside drawers. Stand doesn’t have storage space and you are not allowed to leave any storage boxes there, but you will need some space to store paper works, stocks and so on. So having drawers is very useful without looking cluttered. On the top of them, I displayed some bud vases and cherry blossom from our garden to give a sense of spring.

One of the great things about BCTF is that you can get advice from the organiser, be it display or price setting. I found it very useful, otherwise you may stuck with your unsolved problem. If you have advice available, of course do use it!

Over all, it was a good show despite my nervousness.

I had so many positive feedback about both my work and my display. I took a small notebook to record visitor’s information and it came back almost full. Many of co-exhibitors came and left me positive comments too, which is really encouraging and supportive.

Except, I had one lady stopped by and left me a negative comment. “Your work is too simple, too domestic.” to my face then she walked off! I was stunned and did not what to say, so I just said “sorry”.

I ranted a little bit over Instagram post but after reading some comments, I had a second thought. Maybe I should take this as a compliment. Because I know that pottery is never simple. It takes practice, skills, knowledge and effort. It also takes time to get “simple” right. You can easily overdo things in pottery, almost to “hide” the lack of skills or weakness. So if my work appears to be “simple and domestic”, it means that my aim of everyday tableware has been achieved. Maybe this lady actually helped me refocus what I am aiming for! 

Anyway, I must say I am very happy with the show result, as I have received Christmas exhibitions offers and a good numbers of orders from galleries that keeps me busy for the rest of year. Some galleries that had my work back in 2013 have come back and ordered many, which is truly grateful knowing that they are happy to have my work again.

Hope you enjoyed behind the scene of BCTF and some photos. Thank you for reading. m x