From Art to Enameling Career

I would first like to introduce myself. My name is Jaime Frechette and I am a studio artist from Cincinnati, Ohio. I received my BFA from Kent State University in 1993 with a concentration in Metalsmithing and Enameling, and then took some time off to start a family. I’m currently in my 9th year of doing the art show circuit and would like to discuss the trials and tribulations of my ventures.

My intention with this and future columns is to not only offer my views and opinions from my experiences, but to help those who are interested in pursuing an art career in this way.

Nine years ago, when I was getting started, I was doing a local art show. It was summertime and I was set up next to a ‘crafter’ with crocheted toaster cozies. A woman, B. J. McHugh, came up to me and said and I’ll never forget this – “Honey, you don’t belong here.” She gave me her card and told me to give her a call, I did, after the show.

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Rain or shine the show must go on and
Rain or shine the show must go on and “Big Blue” takes me there. She’s not much to look at but gets the job done!

She explained to me that there are different kinds of shows and one needs to do some research, then gave me a list of about ten Midwest shows to take a look at and apply To my great surprise, my booth was next to hers the following spring – at one of the shows she had recommended. How exciting – a total stranger, a peer, and my competition, went out of her way to help lead me in the right direction. After that, the rest was up to me. Though to others, I’m still ‘new’ at the game, I feel I’ve come a long way since then, and hope to continue to learn and expand my knowledge, art and business.

At this point in the year, I’m looking into new art fairs and sending out applications almost on a daily basis. Quite a few deadlines for spring, summer and fall fairs are due to be postmarked by the end of January – middle of February. I get quite a few new ones in the mail – obviously from someone’s mailing list. I’ll also receive e-mails from Zapplication and Juried Art Services. Some other sources I find useful are craft magazines, the internet, State Arts Councils, The Art Fair Sourcebooks, fellow artists, and even patrons who attend the shows. It is important to research ones of interest to make sure they are reputable, of high quality, and work within m1, budget. I personally only apply to juried shows, and with the last couple of years, have come across quite a few with Enamel as a category. How exciting this is!

Year after year, factors beyond my control can make or break a show. To build a successful business, I have to consider these when reapplying. I like to go back and review my sales receipts to see if I made a profit after expenses, what kind of items sold, and in what price range. I keep a log and jot down notes to help refresh my memory. Included in that is a record of the hotel I stayed in the previous year. This saves on time, and allows me to feel more familiar with the town I’m in.

Check out the crowd at this show! Let’s hope we see this in the 2009 season. I even displayed a “Made in America” sticker in my booth.

A common topic of discussion that is on the minds of everyone – even the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper reporter that interviewed me last year at a holiday show – pertains to the current economy. Obviously, this impacts the shows. Art isn’t a necessity (nor a priority) for the Common Joe. In the last four years especially, I have noticed an unfavorable trend when it comes to purchases. 2005 was the beginning of the decline in sales of small pieces ranging in price from $80-$250.

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Keep in mind, my booth differs from most, ranging from vessels, wall sculptures, switch plates and lamps to jewelry, which is my newest addition. I guess I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket. I remember a while ago talking to an artist with the booth adjacent to mine, Dick McGee, and him telling me, “In times of crisis and economic deficiency people tend to adorn themselves to make them feel better.” He backed this up with research he had been conducting for a number of years, and to me, it made sense. At that point, I ‘sucked it up’ and started a jewelry line in addition to enameled mirrors. Surprisingly, the mirrors were a hit.

More recently, I’ve altered my strategy. Not only have the costs of most everything increased, but my three children continue to increase in size too, which requires additional income. Large pieces, ranging from $2000-$4200 have become my concentration. Those fortunate to still have money, WILL spend it, but it is important not to discount the smaller items. Reiterating what I said early on, I have to keep in mind the regions where I display. I have found success in Northern Indiana, Ohio, and Western Kentucky especially. I’ve been keeping closer to home, which cuts down on expenses.

My booth from a 2005 show
My booth from a 2005 show

In conclusion, my best advice is to not give up, stay positive, and keep your eyes open. There are still plenty of opportunities to increase sales and grow a business. I’m also working on getting additional commission work, obtaining more gallery representation, and teaching workshops. This takes a little pressure off the uncertainty of the art fairs and at the same time, helps broaden my horizons.

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At this point I would like to encourage you to write or e-mail any thoughts, comments or questions you may have. Please send them to joime@onamelartist.com. They will be answered and discussed in future columns of ‘studio: Beyond the Walls.’www.enamelartist.com

By Jaime Frechette [Volume 28, Number 3, June, 2009]
In association with
glass on metal
Glass on Metal is the only publication dedicated to enameling and related arts. Technical information, book reviews, how-to articles and insight on contemporary enamelers highlight each issue.
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