Tiny Expo: Buy Indie in Ann Arbor
Shadow Art Fair takes a break from selling, A&D alums start their own holiday tradition
Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.
I've always been grateful for the winter Shadow Art Fair for providing the perfect way to mix a little hipster action into your holiday season. Where else might you get accosted by a gorilla while inching your self and your beer stein towards a table of hand sewn mittens made out of recycled sweaters, conveniently located next to the table of “reindeer poop-on-a-stick”? (The latter makes a great gift, by the way!)
"Buy Indie in Ypsi" was always the slogan. Shadow made it possible to feel remotely good about the tradition of Christmas giving while at the same time having a jolly good time and contributing to the local economy.
So, when the organizers of the Shadow Art Fair decided to focus their creative energy on throwing a Krampus-inspired costume ball this winter instead of the holiday fair, admittedly, there was some grieving and not just by me.
That's when Dylan Strzynski and Helen Gotlib, along with Peter and Michelle Baker, decided to step in and fill the Shadow void with an event here in Ann Arbor. “Honestly, it was an idea we’d been tossing around for awhile actually. I mean, why do all the cool, indie events have to be in Ypsilanti anyway? We have hip people in Ann Arbor!”
It turns out these two hip people take the Art Fair circuit very seriously. Get this: since they graduated from A&D, they have been making their living from their art, and largely through selling at art fairs and craft shows.
So, when Shadow folk decided (understandably, I might add) to take a break from the vendor aspects of the fair, Helen and Dylan knew it was important to step in and give artists an alternative venue. “Heck, last year Shadow Art Fair sales got me through the winter,” says Dylan.
And so Tiny Expo was born. So far, 22 vendors will be showing their wares. Ted Kennedy will be providing the venue, conveniently located in Braun Court and, yay, in Ann Arbor. Helen admits, “we wanted a venue that was no farther than right around the corner from our house.”
Dylan and Helen graduated from A&D in 2001 and 2003, respectively, with, as they put it, “no clue about how to make a living as an artist. In some ways, we were taught to look down at art fairs, but, on the other hand, not many alternatives were given.”
Helen's entrepreneurial nature took over pretty quickly, and she paid her rent after college with sales from an “optometrist poster” created out of individual oil paintings of beetles that she had made for her senior project.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Helen always had a fantasy as a kid : “One day I’ll have a booth at (the Ann Arbor) Art Fair.” So when Helen and Dylan graduated, they thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to take a summer and travel around the country doing art fairs?” It was then that they discovered they could actually make money at this endeavor. Now almost every month of the year, they pack their Chevy Astro Mini-Van with art work and hit the road. “It’s a great deal,” says Helen. “I don’t have to answer to anybody, I set my own schedule. I love it.”
Somehow, Helen’s work hits the sweet spot for buyers at these events, so she has managed to have a predictable income from fair sales without feeling compromised artistically. She also sells on Etsy and has been picked up by two galleries, but it’s the art fairs that really pay the bills.
Though Dylan did well at the fairs, sales weren’t as predictable for him. Rather than trying to create work specifically to sell, which he claims he is terrible at, he turned to other means to make a living.
But one day Helen saw this drawing of a robot in Dylan’s notebook and said: “these will sell.” And Helen seems to know about these things, because sell they did.
Dylan opened an account at Etsy, started making t-shirts from his sketches, and the whole thing took off. Through his company, International Robot, he now sells his t-shirts to over 40 stores across the country. Big websites like ThinkGeek and Xtreme Geeks have picked up his stuff, which can also be found locally at the Robot Store in downtown Ann Arbor.
Dylan says it’s easier this way, he can clearly separate out his commercial business from his art practice, although “I still don’t have a clue what is going to sell. I’ve found whenever I try to predict it, I totally fail. I’ve just got to have fun in the drawings and hope for the best.”
Luckily, Helen has some kind of pulse meter for geekville and urges him on as to which drawings are the most sellable. "I knew zombies vs. robots would be a bit hit."
If you want to see more of the above t-shirts live and in person, they will be on sale at Tiny Expo on December 11th, 2010, along with the work of other vendors. Since Dylan and Helen didn’t have an application process this year, Helen says, “we just ended up inviting artists that we liked!” Find out more details on the website (designed by Pete and Michelle Baker!) or you can also visit their Facebook page for more info.
And, here's a sneak peak of a few other vendors you'll find at Tiny Expo:
Amanda Holt / Vintage In Retrospect
Artemisia Herbals/ Caryn Simon