And so, as they say, to Ross-on-Wye, for a pootle on the bike, and to drop in on one of the lovely shops who have had the foresight and good taste to stock my Red Flannel Elephant cards. Rather nervous about turning up unannounced, as my last attempt at cold calling was a bit of a disaster. Someone had recommended a toyshop in Chipping Norton as being a possible outlet, and after much sweating and beating of heart I did call in to introduce myself. As an ex-shop worker I am well aware of how unwelcome these visits can be, so I made sure the shop was empty and put on my best manners. Initially I was somewhat put off by the stony faced chap behind the desk, who to be honest looked more like a used car dealer than a jolly toyshop owner. After agreeing to talk to me, he told me he was quite happy with the range of cards he had, and that mine would have to be 'pretty special' to change his mind. After a cursory look, he declared that they 'weren't for him' and no, he wouldn't be interested in looking at any more designs in future. I don't mind being turned down. Well, I do, but it's something I've got used to, being freelance. I did mind the complete blank rudeness, the lack of warmth and inability to smile. Maybe, as Andy said, he just didn't like me. I left the shop feeling two inches high and my worst fears of direct approach confirmed. But my experience at Crow's Feet couldn't have been more different.
It was bustling. Vicky, one of the owners, was serving a happy bunch of customers, and I waited unobtrusively (as much as a 6ft person in bike jacket and boots can be unobtrusive) until she was done. On finding out who I was, I was greeted like a long lost friend, and indeed, after only five minutes it was clear that she was, as Anne of Green Gables would say, 'of the race that knows Joseph'. If only I could find an agent who 'got' my work as much as this dear lady did. Is there anyone out there? I was offered coffee and then I brought out the samples of my new card designs; to my delight they were pounced on and exclaimed over. I tried to hide (unsuccessfully) in a corner while she extolled them to customers who all seemed to appreciate them. Star of the show was a card I almost didn't bring - remember the sad little rabbit? Well, by experiment, I turned him into one of my designs, thinking that perhaps he was a bit melancholy for retail.
But he was loved by all, and I think The Adventures of Fred (for such is his name) will be turned into a full set of different scene cards. But maybe not all quite so - poignant. However, Andy, who had temporarily vanished at this point, (gift shops not being a comfortable place for a tall chap), turned up in time for coffee too, which arrived in dear little rainbow spotted mugs, and we had a good browse, while I took photos of the marvellous displays.
It was impossible to move without falling in love with this trinket or that treasure. Vicky and Howard have an impeccable gift for picking the most charming, delightful and downright beautiful wares, and all arranged in gorgeous, eye catching arrangements which would tempt the tightest of purses - even mine...I ended up with a handful of exquisite cards, including three hare designs by different artists. I really wanted to show all of them together, as they are all unique and yet compliment each other beautifully, but I can only show two, as I haven't heard back from one of the artists - (I'm a bit of a stickler for copyright and it is not polite at all to reproduce a creatives work without their permission where possible).
The left hand artwork, 'Spring Fever' is by the artist Sonia Rollo and is published by Canns Down Press, and the right hand work, 'Mad March Hare' is by artist Julia Manning, who is also an independent card producer. I haven't collected anything for years (apart from books, letterpress equipment, toys and bread tins) but I might start an album of hare related ephemera. I'm sure I've got just enough room...
Over coffee I was formally introduced to the shop mascot - his home is on top of an old cabinet, keeping a watchful eye on the goings on, but he took time out to have his photo taken with another shop treasure, the sweetest little pink enamel vintage cup. I fell in love with both of them and had I been a little younger would only have been parted from them kicking and screaming. But I am far too mature for that kind of behaviour now!
We left Vicky and Howard with samples of the new card designs, and many good wishes on both sides. We will be back, soon. For those of you who love delightful shop interiors, the full set of photos can be found here on my Flickr page. And for those of you who cannot visit Crow's Feet, the new cards are also on my Etsy site, as singles or packs of six. Including Fred.