The past few months of my life have felt like a summer novel. A beach read. A paperback from a garage sale near a cottage.
I have strengthened several friendships (new and old) and the muscles in my arms and back. I feel deeply connected to people around me and those I speak to on the phone.
I did not have a romantic fling with a small-town hero type, and I am very okay with that, haha.
And the pattern my life has revolved around is my weekly markets on Sunday and Thursday.
Twice a week, I check my packaged art stock and the battery charges on my phone and square reader and load up my cart. It’s a true-green plastic monstrosity that looks like one of its ancestors was maybe a milk crate. It’s about two feet wide and four feet long, on pneumatic wheels. The label on the side says 'Farm Tuff'. The only time I loaded it in and out of my basement storage locker was a whole body workout (each way), and I wasn’t 100% sure it would even fit.
Lately, the cart has been carrying a very specific and predictable load:
- four concrete weights
- one collapsible metal tent
- one plastic folding table (that always has bits of paper pulp stuck to it)
- two IKEA bags of art and display boxes
- one Safeway bag with miscellaneous market essentials (fire extinguisher, handwashing station, bungee cords, tablecloth, tent cover)
- and as of mid-August: a wooden dining table chair, because I’ve decided I want to sit and that’s what I have.
I get all those things out of my apartment on the second floor or basement storage locker and load them into the cart. I then pull it 6 blocks (Thursday) or 2 blocks (Sunday) to the 124 Grand Market: a pop-up farmers market. Once there, I put up my tent, strapping a weight to each leg to keep it from sailing away (the Sunday location can be particularly windy). I set up my table, hang my art in whichever configuration I’m experimenting with at the moment, and arrange cards and books on the table in a hopefully inviting fashion.
It’s been my habit to go a little early every day, so I’m not stressed and rushing, and also so I have time to wander and say hello to everybody. I’ll stop and help someone with their tent (although as we come to the end of the season, most of us are quite capable of doing it solo. Everyone has their system). I catch up with organizers and other vendors (gossiping about camping trips and terrible dates), and the Haskap Berry girl and I compliment each other’s outfits. It’s not exactly the same cohort for every market across both locations and the whole season, but there are a lot of familiar faces.
As I mentioned, I have changed my display a few times throughout the summer. I’ve also had to troubleshoot transportation issues. The cart described above is market cart 4.0. Cart 1 was too flimsy and broke halfway to the first market of the season. Cart 2 was awesome, a large green metal contraption with fold-down sides (so you could sit on it) but it was stolen in June, the same day my Instagram account was hacked (I'm @penrosepress.ca now!). Cart 3 was a metal grocery cart that was only meant to be an interim solution. It carried a light load and still couldn’t handle it.
For a while, my display also included a hanging frame of my own design. It was a 6’ by 6’ canvas stretcher frame (the ones from the art supply store with the interlocking corners) spray painted gold and strung with several rows of picture framing wire that I would then clip my art to. I brought a hammer with me every time I used it. The opposite pieces attached to the framing wire I would roll together, and the other two sides would fit into a long, compact cardboard bundle. You can see it in the images of carts 2 and 3. My specific transportation requirements provoked creative lengths most people don’t need to bother with. Ultimately, I decided that it either required people to enter my tent to view prints (many are reluctant to) or blocked off my ability to converse easily with people, so it had to go.
My latest booth design seems super straightforward but there are a couple of key things that make it work: the banner is hung lower which means if a visitor is over 6' tall we can still make eye contact. Most importantly, everything is easily visible from the front of the booth; no one has to step inside or look behind anything.
I spend the next four hours talking to people about my art (as well as their reading habits, sources of comfort, and anything else they cared to share with me). Sometimes these exchanges result in purchases, sometimes they don't. Many of them are rewarding regardless.
And at the end of the day, I pack up and haul everything home again. I lock up the cart in the parking spot I have no other use for, deposit some things in the storage, and some things in my home. Then I eat something or take a nap until it's time for the Tosswill family weekly video call on Sundays at 6 MST. Or in the case of Thursdays, let myself be talked into going out for a drink with the Strathcona Spirits crew. Once you're a certain degree of tired, you're not tired anymore? Also, sometimes the food people give away their surplus to other vendors and it's amazing.
Now, the big question is: is it all worth it? Do the time, physical and social energy, and logistical planning all pay off?
Well, to be perfectly financially transparent, I made an average of $246 at each market, with wild fluctuation: some days were double that and some days were almost nothing. Multiplied by an average of 6 markets a month (missed half of July and was rained out twice) it pays my essential expenses. It doesn't quite feel like thriving yet. So in a financial evaluation, yes, it's worth it, barely.
However, there are other considerations. I have met nearly all of my comfort project protagonists at this market (the ones who aren't related to me) and so this artwork, for one, would not exist without it.
I've also become (what I can only awkwardly describe as) micro-famous in the Edmonton arts community. A friend posited that if someone lives in YEG and self-describes as a bibliophile, they are probably familiar with my work. This is undoubtedly thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of conversations I've had with market visitors over the last two years. It's pretty cool, especially during a time when the tools that artists and small business owners have been relying on to promote ourselves *cough*instagram*cough* have been shifting in frustrating and concerning ways. I feel lucky to be able to make an in-person connection, however brief, instead of only existing to people through their phones.
Now, in the off-season, all of my work is available for sale, here on this website! I will also be appearing at several pop-up markets inside in the fall and winter. The best way to keep track of them is to sign up for my mailing list (scroll to the bottom of the page). Whether it's digitally or in person, I hope to see you soon!