Millennial Artists Keeping the Ann Arbor Art Fair Tradition
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is regarded as one of the most prestigious art fairs by artists and collectors worldwide. As the event nears its 60th anniversary, a younger generation of both artists and attendees are starting to discover one of Michigan’s finest summer traditions. Here are 12 Millennial artists (divided into two parts) you should check out at this year’s event.
Part One: Return Artists
Part Two: First-Time Artists
Part One: Return Artists
This ceramic design studio located in Detroit is the product of Kaitlyn and Ryan Lawless, partners in life as well as business. 2017 will be their second appearance at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, although Kaitlyn was familiar with the event growing up in southeast Michigan and attending the fair in middle school and high school.
This year, Ryan and Kaitlyn hope to reconnect with clientele they met last year, as well as visit with more of the other artists at the fair. “A highlight from 2016 was getting to visit and talk shop with Paul Eshelman, another ceramic artist and Ann Arbor Art Fair regular,” said Ryan.
When you stop by the Corbé booth this year, you’ll discover some of the products that helped them secure the 2016 Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair’s first place ribbon. From succulents planted in ceramic pots to the handcrafted porcelain dishes shaped as the state of Michigan (yes — both Upper and Lower Peninsulas are included).
“We have talked about Ann Arbor since we left Ann Arbor,” Kaitlyn said. “We are really looking forward to coming back this year.”
Many past Art Fair attendees will be familiar with Katie’s work. In 2015, the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair asked Katie to design that year’s poster design. “For years, I taught special education and just didn’t feel like my creative needs were being fulfilled,” Katie recalled. “It was after Karen from The Guild asked me to do design the Summer Art Fair’s poster that I had the courage to quit my job and pursue art full time.”
Making that transition was incredibly challenging. “Going from being a teacher to doing art festivals was one of the hardest learning curves ever.” Katie credits mentor and Ann Arbor Art Fair artist Kate Morgan for helping her navigate the transition.
In 2017, Katie’s excited to showcase her newest pieces. “Collectors who are familiar with my previous work may notice that my art is taking on a more free, gestural style this year.”
Katie is also looking forward to connecting with her fellow ‘art gypsies.’ “It’s an awesome group of like-minded people, everyone is willing to help. I still feel like I’m learning and appreciate collaborating with artists who have been doing art shows for 20 years.”
Returning to the Ann Arbor Art Fair for his second year, Michael is a young artist with an old Midwest soul. This is evident in his work as many of Michael’s paintings feature old white barns in various surroundings and seasons.
“One comment I hear a lot is the scale of my paintings may make it difficult for collectors with limited wall space to go home with one of my pieces,” Michael said. “When that happens, I let them know that I do smaller commissions. The real payoff comes years later once you’ve participated in the same show for a few years and built that relationship.”
Michael is looking forward to his Ann Arbor Art Fair return. “The quality of work is incredible. The art fair attracts people who are genuinely interested in purchasing work. Downtown Ann Arbor itself is really alive in the after fair hours. I loved walking around and grabbing food from various places.”
A local Ann Arbor area artist, Lisse Williams grew up attending the Ann Arbor Art Fair. “It was inspirational growing up in an area with access to amazing art. The Original Fair continues to present really inspiring work.”
Now, as she looks forward to her second year attending as an artist, Lisse loves being able to engage with young kids experiencing the art fair with their families. “Art fairs provide that opportunity to build a connection with people that isn’t always available at galleries,” said Lisse. “I love having conversations about my pieces, sharing they stories and mythology behind them.”
Another one of Lisse’s favorite facets of the art fair culture is being around other artists. “It’s fascinating to learn what artists are willing to sacrifice in order to live this lifestyle. There really develops a camaraderie among the artists.”
One of the more tenured Millennial Ann Arbor Art Fair artists, 2017 will be Dan’s fourth year participating in the event. “The Ann Arbor Art Fair is pretty incredible,” says Dan. “There is an amazing energy over the four days. There’s always so much to see!”
As a young artist, Dan can relate well with buyers who are shopping on a limited budget. “I’ve noticed that many people visiting my booth will be attracted by the larger marbles and are then really pleased to find I have smaller pieces as well. That way, customers are able to start a collection and then build to it over the years.”
“I was really amazed that I was able to attract return collectors during my second year. I was really honored that attendees sought me out. At other shows, it’s taken a good five-to-seven years to develop that kind of relationship with collectors.”
Dan also really encourages visitors to engage with artists at the booth. “Glasswork is very unique. Often, by explaining the process, it gives people some insight to how much work went into crating a single piece of glass.”
Another return artist to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, Joe will be making his debut at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original this year. What started with selling handcrafted cutting boards at music festivals has now evolved to fine wood sculptures and furniture (although cutting boards remain available).
Joe, who was at a D.C. art fair earlier this year mentioned that his pieces are also perfect for young art enthusiasts just starting to build a collection. “I create pieces that can be purchased and displayed individually which can be added to over the years. Eventually, the individual totems end up making a larger, single piece.”
Fair attendees may also be drawn into Joe’s booth to check out his, large wood textured panels fashioned to echo abstractions of waves and shorelines.
As an Ann Arbor native, Carolyn has early memories of navigating the Ann Arbor Art Fair, “hunting through the masses of humans in the hottest week of summer for the most fabulous thing I could find! Within my bottle return/chore-allowance savings budget, that is. It was a tradition.”
2017 will be Carolyn’s seventh year participating, and she has developed a lot of experience working with potential buyers, especially those working with limited budgets. “I think the first step when you become interested in art is to begin by collecting artists. Take their card, sign their email list, follow their page, follow along with their evolution and artistic journey.”
Carolyn also encourages people to ask if artists have prints available if the original piece is out of your price range. “They may not, but if you really love it, asking may influence what they try to make available in the future. As an artist, I want people who are inspired by my work to have it! I try to make all work, especially prints, as affordable as possible, especially at the Ann Arbor Art Fair where the people who often show interest in my work are younger and at stages in life without much disposable income.”
Part Two: First-Time Artists
Hedy is a “graduate” of the New Art, New Artists (NANA) College Student Mentoring Program managed by The Original Ann Arbor Art Fair. Now ready to take the plunge of managing her own space, she’s incredibly appreciative of the veteran artists who gave advice, provided mentoring, and showed relentless support in the past.
If her name sounds familiar, then it’s possible you’ve seen the viral video featuring Hedy employing the Bubble Glaze technique (it was shared by Brad Takei) and has more than 40 million views!
Hedy’s implementation of the Bubble Glaze technique creates a marble appearance on her pottery ranging from large vases and pots to everyday dishware.
“It’s really important for artists to provide an accessible line of products. Last year, the small juice cups were my biggest seller. Often, someone would pick up two in the morning and be back for more by the end of the day!”
A first time Ann Arbor Art Fair exhibitor, Katie learned about the Ann Arbor Art Fair from Michael Miller. “I had heard great things about Ann Arbor in the art festival world,” said Katie. “Artist always talk about great shows and places they enjoy visiting. Ann Arbor is known as a competitive show attracting people who come to shop and get to know the artist. I’m always honored when someone wants to add a piece of my art to their collection.”
For Katie, this summer is even more significant. Calling it her “Come Back Tour,” Katie was previously diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. “It’s going to be an awesome summer now that I’m healthy again.”
Katie also has some encouraging words for people who are at the fair. “Art is my passion. I love to talk about my work or art in general. At the end of the day, talking about my work is going to mean more to me than an actual sale.”
Katie’s paintings reflect her appreciation for the simple things in life — take her paintings of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for example. She is very fond of the quote by Mark Hyman, “Don't get me wrong, I admire elegance and have an appreciation of the finer things in life. But to me, beauty lies in simplicity.”
Another first-time artist at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, J. Bird is looking forward to bringing her eclectic style of artwork this far north for the first time. “My ideal customers will engage my art with a sense of humor, perhaps leaning a little morbid versus quirky.”
Perhaps best known for her collection of Antique Pet Photos, J.Bird specializes in giving antique photographs the digital touch, replacing the people that once graced the vintage photos with furry (or scaly) friends. “Seeing people’s reactions will be exciting. That’s how you know you’re doing it right. The reactions — whether good or bad — they tend to be extreme either way. There’s no in between.”
Other artists have been recommending the Ann Arbor Art Fair to J. Bird for years. “People tend to stereotype a lot of art fairs as a place where only collectors go to buy. The reality is that any art fair offers something for everyone.”
San Francisco artist Leah Staley is very excited for her first Ann Arbor Art Fair. “I’ve heard so much buzz from other artists when I’m attending shows. It’s definitely known as the best show of the year. I had a pretty well-developed fear of missing out as a result,” said Leah while laughing.
Even though this is Leah’s first year in Ann Arbor, she has been participating in art fairs and craft shows for about five years after a jeweler in Baltimore, “opened up my eyes to this whole world and showed me it could be a career path.”
Leah is building a following around her iconic Comma earrings. “I love all the pieces I’m making and it’s rewarding to see how different people respond and engage with my work. When I design, I try to be budget conscious because everyone deserves to own some original art.”
Leah is also planning to extend her stay in Ann Arbor so she can spend some extra time in town, connecting with locals and exploring the area.
New to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, and the art show circuit overall, is Amanda Outcalt. “Since I started to do shows, Ann Arbor has always come up as a favorite amongst other artists. This is really my first year of traveling, so I was thrilled to be juried in and excited to be accepted!”
One of Amanda’s favorite things about doing shows is to talk to people about her work, explain her process and the stories behind her pieces, and hear how others connect with the work. “My mixed media pieces are very narrative, and people like to tell me what my work reminds them of and how it connects to their lives and their story. Knowing how much my pieces mean to the people that see and purchase them makes me so happy and honored.”
Amanda also recommends that novice art collectors buy work that has a specific connection to their life. Her philosophy is, if you’re able to see some reflection of yourself in the work you buy, then the work becomes even more valuable because of your connection to it.