Sunday is my last outdoor market selling cards. Ever. I am committed. 2 people are coming during breakdown to take my display pieces. Some time next week, someone else will be by to take my tent and weights. I. AM. DONE.
By the way, anyone who read the title and thought I was going all Walt Whitman, can exit through the side door now. Thanks.
Calliope kind of began in the primordial soup of the Boston outdoor market scene. I started doing the South End Open Market in 2008 with (wait for it) fill-in party invitations. I had 3 or 4 designs that were all made from just paper. No illustration or lettering. Just patterned scrapbook paper, ribbons, and open stock from Waste Not Paper (basically the same as Paper Source.) Here’s my very very first booth at my very first craft show:
Back then I was Sweetheart Table Design. Because Rob and I did it together. Awwww.
The tent was borrowed, and with my punk-rock color scheme, it was very emo in there. I had all my packs of invitations in these plastic drawer things from Container Store. I had made chandeliers out of foam-core which drew more attention than my product. We also jammed that black side table from Ikea into Rob’s Honda Fit WHOLE.
Back then (haha), the South End Market ran from May to October, every Sunday. After one season, 5 Sundays over the course of the summer of ’08, I realized people were not into my invitations. I was super bummed. But I regrouped and started making cards. Over the wintertime, I made illustrated cards with my Gocco printer (moment of silence for the dearly departed Print Gocco…) and the next season was MUCH better. People were super pumped with my cards. I think they were $3 (!!!) each. My booth was only slightly improved. Baskets were involved.
Mighty Joe Pesci the blue Honda has been with us the whole way. Look how easily everything fits! HAHA! Ohhhh how things have changed.
I made goofy cards, some note sets, and I also started doing these perpetual calendars which people liked. They were basically 5×7 flat cards hanging on a ribbon. I think my friend Stacey still has one. Oy.
I went along doing SoWa (as we called it – for South of Washington Street, where the market was held) for a couple years basically just breaking even. A very time-consuming, expensive HOBBY. But I did love it. I loved making cards, loved being in Boston, and most of all, I loved when people would pick up my cards and laugh or smile or just say how cute they were. I mean, they were. They WERE cute.
This is a terrible photo that was used for a show application (omg) but these were 3 of my most popular cards. The “You Are Here” one was the first one I ever sold on Etsy. The owl card was knocked off by another card maker in Boston who shall remain nameless but I guess you’re not nobody unless someone’s ripping you off, yeah?
After a year or two of this, I realized I needed to make something with a higher price point. I didn’t have enough card designs and the Gocco supplies were getting scarce. About the same time I realized I need to learn to go digital with my card design and printing, I started making coasters.
Oh those damned coasters…
Also, my name changed. I was sick of people thinking I sold tables. When I started making cards, I changed to Paper Doll. Guess what they thought then? Again, I was changing my products and so with that, a name change. I had some screenprinted cards, some that I had made in Illustrator and printed. I dabbled briefly in tote bags. And now I had these coasters.
After some trial and error; smelly, sticky, error, I had a formula that worked but was time-consuming. For those of you who remember my coasters, would you like to know how they were made? I mean, you used to ask all the time…
Feel free to use the following steps to start your own coaster-making business:
Take a 4×4″ ceramic tile. You can get 100 of them in a box at Lowe’s. Trim off the corners of the paper or fabric you have already cut to 6×6″ squares and glob on some Mod Podge (but not too much!) which you will buy by the gallon. Affix to tile. Let dry overnight. Heat up yo glue gun, betch. Sit for a couple hours and wrap the edges of the paper/fabric around to the underside of the tile and hot glue that shit down. I would do at least 48 at a time and tear through whole seasons of Sex & The City.
Next comes more Mod Podge. Each tile gets two coats on the top and bottom. Stink up your house with that shit. Do two coats on the top and sides, and let dry overnight. Then two coats on the underside. Pinterest would tell you you’re done now! Well let me tell you something, Mister: Mod Podge is WATER-BASED. What does that mean? If you stop here, your customers’ sweaty-ass drinkware has fucking GLUE ON IT NOW. These coats of MP are to keep the next substance to go on the tiles from staining the paper.
Now set up a couple tables in your stupid-small laundry room (make sure they’re level in your ram-shackle New England house!) cover with newspapers and upturned Solo cups. You heard.
Each paper-wrapped and Mod-Podged tile now gets a coat of two-part resin which can only be mixed in small batches, enough for about 8 or 9 tiles at a time. Set your tiles on top of the stupid cups, only about 24 or so can fit across the two tables. Mix up your resin, which, by the way, will make whatever it touches sticky, slimy, and permanently fused. Put an eye-balled amount that over time you have just “figured out” onto each tile. Now, go back with a popsicle stick and smooth the resin across the whole top AND THE SIDES.
Here’s why the cups: the resin is dripping down the sides, isn’t it? And if the tile was just sitting on the table, it would stick, wouldn’t it? Smooth resin on your 8 tiles. No, no, now go back and scrape the drips from underneath. Repeat two more times. Because you have 24 tiles on that table, don’t you? Now? Now pick up each one and BREATHE ON IT because that’s the only way to get the tiny bubbles that formed in the resin from stirring. Anyone who says you can use a hair dryer is a liar.
After 24 tiles are done go back AGAIN and scrape off the new drips that have formed on the undersides. An hour later? Again. With any luck, the resin will have started to set and no more drips will form. Hopefully. Now the coasters have to cure for 24 hours. They cure best in HOT weather. Which is fine in the summer. When you make these in your laundry room with no heat in the dead of winter to get ready for a holiday show? You’ll need a space heater. All night.
The next day, take them off the cups and check for drips. Find any? You are sanding those down now. Done? Nope. Time to affix the cork. Fire up your hot glue gun and stick on a 4×4″ square of cork that you bought in a huge, unmanageable roll from the art store. It’s best to cut your cork into a big stack of squares so you can just bang these out.
OMG Guess what. NOW YOU’RE DONE! If you have a full-time job, as I did, this has taken you three days. And now you have 24 finished coasters. Which almost always sold in sets of four. A lot of people bought two sets. So at best, you have just made enough coasters for six customers. At worst, two. TWO PEOPLE. Because people went absolutely WILD for my coasters. They were super shiny and good quality and friggin cute, man. So they’d buy A LOT.
Side note: next time you go to a craft fair and say “That’s too expensive!” (No, it’s not) or “I could make that!” (No, you can’t) or any other ABHORRING, idiotic thing that we crafters have heard since the dawn of time…think about it. Think hard and maybe re-read this. Then BUY IT. Because it’s beautiful, well-made, and the person fucking CARES, ok?
Sorry. Deep breath.
Like I said, people went wild for the coasters. I was making them with every spare moment I had. 5 AM before work, coming home at lunch for a new coat of Mod Podge, then into the night. The whole house smelled like glue and there’s probably still a thin coat of EnviroTex on the floor of my guest room. I couldn’t make them fast enough. I was doing more shows than just SoWa, then post-season holiday shows; cards and coasters in tow.
I also had more cards, new cards, and people loved those, too! I had a steady selling stream on Etsy and even a few wholesale customers!
2015 was the year we took a turn. I had opened my online shop. I was going to take this show on the road, literally. I signed up for a full season, 26 Sundays, with my new, mini card store.
New displays, portable cards walls, and it all still had to fit in the Honda!
I had an extremely positive reaction to my offerings that summer but every Sunday was a killer. There were rainy days, WINDY days (those were scary) and sweltering days. Arrive at 7 AM, set it all up, hope to sell as much as possible, then break it all down at 4 PM, pack it up, back home by 6. Ish.
November of that year I did my one-week pop-up in Inman Square, and as you all know, that was the week that changed everything. I was now full-steam-ahead on having a shop of my own but without a prospect in sight, I signed up for another full season in the South End. And then I found a space in Natick.
I started to wind down on making my own cards. It was never part of my plan to make my own cards forever. I was just never that passionate about it. For a long time I thought it was what I wanted, and I had even tried letterpress! I bought a tabletop press and got so frustrated, I sold it and never looked back. Mad respect for you letterpress artists reading this. MAD respect.
That 2016 season was BRUTAL. I had a brand new storefront, a new schedule that included Saturdays away from my husband, and then every Saturday after close, I’d pack up half my shop, put it in crates, load it into the Honda, and Rob and I would spend our one day together a week under a tent in a parking lot in Boston. Tuesday morning I’d come back to the store and put everything back. Rinse, repeat, for 4 months.
But we survived. We survived a VERY windy season, the first and only time I had half set up, and then the wind took one of my big walls, acrylic shelves and all, and face-planted it, so I broke down and we packed up and left before the market even opened.
We survived a dicey situation involving a bitter turf war between our market manager and the landlord of the lot we had vacated the year before, which resulted in that landlord setting up a SECOND market just like ours, in our old spot, confusing customers, and eventually all the vendors moved to the second market and at the end of the season, the original South End Open Market died.
This year, I signed up for 6 Sundays at the new SoWa market. Because of the accident at Calliope, and weather, I only made it to 3 or 4. And this Sunday will be the very last one.
Man, this ended up being so damn long! But I spent a LOT of my time doing this. NINE YEARS. Nine years of making things I hope people would like. And buy. Nine years of trying to figure out new product, of churning out cards on my own dinky printer, packing them in individual sleeves, and cranking out the fuckin-a coasters. Packing it all up, carting it around, unload the car, load up the car, set it up, take it down, up the stairs, down the elevator, tent is broken, shelf fell over, OMFG it’s raining PROTECT THE CARDS! pack it up, take it down, do it all over again. And again. And again.
And I am DONE.
I have my store. I am moving on. I am SO happy and relieved to leave that all behind but first, 2 things:
- A huge thanks to Chris Masci, the New England Markets manager, for creating the markets that gave me and so many other artists a place to just START. For $100-ish a week, you could pop a store (!!!) in a hip neighborhood and sell your art, whatever it was, and people would BUY it! Unless you made shitty fill-in party invitations. I don’t know where I would have started or when without the original South End Open Market.
- I am going to miss the people I saw every week for 2 seasons. I used to hide in my tent and never talk to anyone but when I started doing full seasons, I couldn’t hide. These people were my co-workers! I made so many amazing, talented new friends and now I won’t see them nearly enough. I will miss our camaraderie and the days when sales are so BAD we stand in the aisles eating our feelings and just chatting. But even on those bad days, we are all still living our dream as small business owners.Just kidding, three.
- I will miss my Boston customers. Those people who buy my boldest, sassiest cards, my curse-word pencils by the fistful, and even those assholes who take pictures of the cards and text them to their friends instead of buying one and PUTTING IT IN THE MAIL which is totally against what I’m trying to do here!! Ok maybe not THEM.
So that’s it! The end of an era! I will also be closing my Etsy shop the end of the month. And then it will just be me and Calliope! Happily selling cards and paper treats where it never rains, it doesn’t matter if it’s windy, and I never have to dismantle my card wall and pack up my shit. ever. ever. again. And I’ll tell you who is more excited about this than I am. No, it’s not my husband.
It’s the Honda.