When Carl Booth left school with no qualifications he felt isolated, alone and had little hope for the future.
Dyslexic, he had always struggled with written work, but it was his battle to find words that unleashed a hidden artistic talent.
Now Carl is one of 30 city arts and crafts people showing off their skills by selling their work at a major new market that has been launched in Birmingham, which retail chiefs hope will provide a shot in the arm for the city’s creative industry
Called Handmade Birmingham, the market opened for the first time last weekend in Edgbaston Street parallel to Bull Ring Markets, and will run every Saturday and Sunday from 9am until 5pm, selling everything from jewellery, ceramics, textiles, fashion, photography and fine art – all produced by crafts people and artists from Birmingham.
Carl, 53, of Castle Bromwich, whose graffiti-style art is on sale from between £10 to £100, says he was thrilled he had been given the opportunity to showcase his work.
“Other cities like London, Bristol and Manchester have markets that demonstrate their talent and Birmingham has been sorely lacking that,” says the father-of-two.
“Birmingham is a difficult place for talent to rise to the surface, but there’s certainly not a shortage of talent here, and I think this market is an amazing opportunity to prove that.”
Carl, who describes his work as “alternative and insane” says he also hopes the market would open up art and crafts to the “ordinary man”.
“I think art galleries can be very intimidating, hopefully with the market being in such a central location it will be open to the masses who may not normally consider buying this kind of thing,” he adds.
Carl turned to art after becoming fed up with his factory job when he was in his 20s. He enrolled at art college but didn’t complete the course after being offered a job working as a trainee graphic designer for the BBC whilst doing work experience with the TV corporation.
“What’s exciting for me about this market is that all the work I will be selling is very personal to me,” he adds.
“After being made redundant from the BBC I became a freelance graphic artist and I do a lot of commissions, which is great but they are very prescriptive and don’t allow the same freedom of drawing from my heart.
“I love free sports like skateboarding, which has certainly inspired my work. I hope people will see it and think that you don’t necessarily need a degree to become a successful artist.”
Karen Sheppard is hoping the market will help her to fulfil a life-long ambition of turning a hobby into a successful career.
The 44-year-old, of Northfield, quit her job as a primary school teacher in July to launch her own company creating handmade rag dolls.
“I’ve always loved sewing since I was a little girl,” she says. “I started making rag dolls for friends and then they started asking me if they could buy some off me so they could give them to people as gifts.
“Word seems to have spread and I’m already flat out with orders but this is the first public way I’ve had to sell the dolls, which is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I’m so proud to be part of it.”
The dolls sell from £14.95 to £22.95 and can be made bespoke to order with a choice of hair colour, outfit and style.
“I think there’s something quite magical about things that have been handmade,” she adds. “It’s lovely to think that rather than a machine mass producing something, someone has spent their love and time hand-making it.”
Erin Power has also ditched the classroom in the hope her artistic prowess will prove to be a money-maker.
The 35-year-old from Bearwood quit her job as a teaching assistant after giving birth to her daughter Eleanor three years ago.
She joined a Birmingham group called Crafty Muthas in the search for like-minded mums who enjoyed being creative.
It was through the group she met Francine Schokker, one of the organisers of Handmade Birmingham, who has persuaded Erin to sell her photography at the market.
“This is a jaunt into the unkown for me and it’s very nerve-racking putting myself and my photos, which are incredibly personal, out there to the public,” says Canadian-born Erin, who moved to the UK 13 years ago.
“It’s a brilliant chance for me and it’s great to be able to sell my work alongside so many other talented people.
“I think it will also help to improve the image of arts and crafts, which some people may see as old-fashioned, but hopefully the market will show it can be very funky and contemporary.”
Backed by Marketing Birmingham and Retail Birmingham, both set up with the aim of boosting the city’s economy and profile, it is hoped the market will help to put Birmingham’s shopping sector in the spotlight nationally and attract people from across the country to not only spend their cash at the stalls, but also in the city’s bars, restaurants and hotels.
Daniel Cremin, of Birmingham-based Dynamic Arts, which has helped establish the market along with Birmingham City Council and the City Centre Partnership, says he believed the market will help provide a boost to the region’s economy and is a potential source of creating jobs.
“Currently Birmingham does not have enough opportunities for crafts people to sell their products, which is seeing local talent instead taking their skills and independent businesses elsewhere,” he adds.
“A high-profile city centre arts and crafts market is critical if the region is to retain its creative graduates and harness the region’s innovation capital.”
The market is being sponsored by Creative Open Workshops (COW), which has been running a similar monthly event at the Custard Factory in Digbeth.
Daniel adds: “Despite the low footfall of the Custard Factory with its location slightly outside the city centre, the market run by COW has been incredibly popular and has more than 174 traders registered with it.
“That has inspired the idea to come up with a similar market that is more frequent and in a landmark location.”