The first time I did a craft show I was terrified, worried about dealing with bad weather and mean customers. Happily I can report that I have never encountered a single mean customer at any show and have had pretty good luck with the weather. (Knock on wood!) Going to craft shows has become really fun for me. Here are the top reasons why I like them.
#8. The food
There's usually something delicious to be found at fairs and shows. Whether it's a chowder made by the ladies of Saint Paul's in Ludlow or amazing chocolates from the vendors at stART on the Street, there is something yummy to keep me energized.
#7. Visiting different towns
I'm not a particularly adventurous person. Give me a weekend with nothing to do and I'll stay at home 95% of the time. Craft fairs get me traveling around the state, seeing towns that I've never visited before. I get to see them at their best, usually from their downtown or another prominent location.
Holyoke Puzzles might seem like a one-woman show. While it's true that I do all the designing and puzzle production, my family is an essential ingredient in the puzzle magic.
My husband Sean has the biggest support role. He is chief child-wrangler, shipping clerk, and errand runner. If Sean didn't keep the kids occupied, I would never have time to get into the workshop. From September to June when I'm busy with my other full-time job during the day - teaching - he runs boxes to the post office and picks up supplies. He's always willing to step in and lend a hand when crunch time comes up. With Celebrate Holyoke coming up this weekend, Sean and our oldest son Gabe helped me assemble and package up several dozen puzzles that I cut over the past few days.
Sean isn't the only family member who has had an impact on Holyoke Puzzles. Gabe is my chief inspiration officer. He has his finger on the pulse of the 9-year-old set. A number of the puzzles that have made it into production began with his ideas, including the saber tooth cat and my redesigned bunny. Unfortunately I can't keep up with the speed of his imagination, so I keep a list of puzzle ideas by my computer for when I'm in a creative mood.
My youngest son, Xavier, is not yet in a place where he can help out in a practical sense. But he keeps me going in his own goofy way. Xavier has a rare genetic condition that ends up looking a lot like autism. Building my business is one way that I can help create a better life for him and pay for the medical equipment and specialists that he needs. Xavier inspires me to keep going despite whatever hardships come my way.
Another main player who is an essential support for Holyoke Puzzles is my mother-in-law Linda. She steps in to babysit the boys so Sean and I can have a night out to recharge. This weekend she'll watch the kids so that Sean can accompany me to Celebrate Holyoke. With the festival ending at 11 p.m., I'm sure to need him to prop me up by the end!
I'm not unique in relying on my family for support to make my small business successful. I'm lucky to have great people around me and to live in the business-friendly city of Holyoke. Behind every small business success story is a family and community.
Thanks for reading! - Barbara
I'm not exactly an art expert, but I've had a fair bit of exposure to modern art through my French classes. My husband, Sean, however is well known for his preference for realistic representations in art. So you can imagine that we had somewhat different opinions of the art at Mass MoCA. Here are a few of the exhibits that we both enjoyed:
We loved "Here Comes the Sun" in the Kidspace. (It figures that we would like the kid-friendly art the best!) The use of bullets, sneakers, books and other common objects to create animals and nature scenes was very entertaining. It was fun to try to identify the objects that the artist used and to find puns and other visual jokes in the works.
The Sol LeWitt exhibit of wall drawings was also engaging. I loved the colors, patterns and textures. The Mass MoCA galleries are so gigantic that it's possible to put together immense walls. It felt immersive, like walking through a painting. As an artisan, I found the designs so inspiring.
For our second day, we ventured down to Pittsfield to visit the Berkshire Museum. I loved that this museum has displays of art, history, science and culture under one roof. There is even an aquarium in the basement! It was just the right size for a one day visit. The Finding Raven and Living on Earth exhibits were particularly impressive.
Although it was only two days away from home, I came back feeling creatively recharged and ready to get back to puzzle making. What gems in the Berkshires should we visit the next time we're looking for a getaway? Let me know in the comments!
I wish I could take credit for the idea to add crystal eyes to my jigsaw puzzles, but that recognition goes to my husband, Sean. Early on he realized that the puzzles needed something extra, a little spark to make them stand out. I don't remember exactly how we settled on the crystals, but I know that it is one of the first things that customers comment on when they see my display at craft shows.
There are a couple of places where I like to purchase the crystals, jewelry wire and adhesive that I use in my puzzles. I started off buying from Northampton Beadery, a local shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, which sadly closed its doors recently. The owner had great advice about adhesives and wire gauge when I was just beginning to integrate the crystals and wire. There is no substitute for the wisdom of an experienced artisan when you're learning a new craft. I'll be forever grateful to Heather for her help.
With the Beadery's closure, I have started using the Artbeads website, which has a dizzying array of Swarovski crystals in every shape, size and color you can imagine. Really, it's intense.
I have explored using generic crystals available at local craft stores, but there really is no substituting for that genuine Swarovski sparkle.
Now I'm pondering new ways to use crystals and wire in my designs. I have some thoughts about a steampunk airship puzzle and orchids with silver wire tendrils. I don't know when I'll get to those designs, but I'll file the ideas with my "puzzles-to-do" list. Stay tuned.
After cutting the board down to a manageable size, it gets a sanding with 80, 100, 120 and 180 grit sand paper. I use a temporary spray adhesive to attach the paper pattern to the wood. Lots of testing in my workshop has shown 3M General Purpose 45 Spray Adhesive to be my favorite. I give the pattern a light spray, let it sit for a minute, then position it on the wood. Finally, I cover the paper with clear packing tape. The plastic tape stops the pattern from ripping as I cut and lubricates the saw blade.
If the puzzle has any cut-outs or a jeweled eye, I pre-drill those spots.
Once the prep work is done, I can start cutting the puzzle. I use this very nice DeWalt scroll saw fitted with a fine blade. (Blade choice is another piece of woodworking geekery that I'll save for its own blog post.) Cutting a puzzle takes between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on the number of pieces and the hardness of the wood. You can watch me work in the time lapse video below.
Once all the pieces are cut out, I move to my sanding station. A sanding mop is the best way to smooth all the intricate curves in the pieces. I have the sanding mop loaded into a drill that is held down on the workbench with an array of clamps that looks like it came out of Frankenstein's lab. While not a pretty system, it works perfectly.
As a last step, each piece gets a dip in a tung oil finish, mineral oil bath, or sprayed with shellac. Once the finish is dry I add any crystals or jewelry wire that the design requires and the puzzle is ready to go to a new home.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing the puzzle making process. Questions? Leave me a comment and I'll be happy to reply.
Barbara Bitgood, Artisan owner of Holyoke Puzzles in Holyoke, Massachusetts.