Monday, October 22, 2007

Partially Failing Lens

Back in May I mentioned how the mirror on my camera broke and I did the $5 MacGyver repair to fix it. Well, a few days ago I went for a quick mid-afternoon photo shoot and discovered that my 18-55mm lens is not acting up.

Anytime I'm zoomed between 18-24 mm, if I have the aperture set to anything other than wide open, the picture fails and the camera gets an error 99 and locks up until I power it down and back up. Not sure if this is a problem I can figure out how to fix. Might be time to look for a new lens. here to read more!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Second year of art shows completed.

The Northville art show that I did almost a month ago was my last show for the year. After a somewhat disappointing 2006 (where my first show was good, but everything went downhill from there), and a disappointing start to 2007 (where my downward slide continued for the first few shows), things eventually turned themselves around, and I had a pretty satisfying year.

I did eight shows this year, and only the first 2 ended up being a disappointment. Of the remaining 6, 4 were very good and 2 were decent enough that I'll probably give them a shot again next year.

Of the two that were bad, I definitely won't be back to one of them. However, the other I've already prepaid to be at. I really wish I hadn't done that now. When you don't know there are better options out there, you often cling on to what you have and hope things will work out. At the time I had only done one show that was good and it was THAT show the year before. Little did I know the rest of the year would be filled with better shows. Oh well, whats done is done. Hopefully the show will improve and be as good in 2008 as it was in 2006. I have no options that weekend that are good enough to justify writing off the $200 I prepaid in order to go somewhere else instead.

My newly purchased TrimLine canopy ended up not being used. I stuck with my EZ Up for the last 2 shows. I hadn't had enough time to practice with the TrimLine to be comfortable using it. I wanted to set it up a few more times at home first. Since the weather for both shows looked great (not even the slightest suggestion of rain), I figured it was safe to stick with the EZ up a couple more times. I'll start with the new booth next spring.

At my last couple shows, I experimented with a couple of semi-large panoramic canvas prints, and those were quite well receieved. Lots of comments and I sold one of the 2. For next year I think I'll try offering a larger number of them in a couple of sizes and see how they do. here to read more!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hard Drive Failures

I know I haven't posted in a little while. My last post was the day before my South Haven show. The following weekend I was sick, and then the weekend after that was my Northville show. I planned to post an update here, but I had a few things to catch up on around the house, so that came first. Then, to completely distract me, my computer suffered a hard drive failure. And not just a single failure, but 2 hard drives at once.

In the many years I've been using computers, I've been lucky enough to never experience a hard drive failure. I've had several drives that worked reliably through as much as 8 years of use, with never a single problem. Yet, I knew my luck had to be running short, and with my photography business starting to take off, I figured a hard drive failure would be a bad thing. Even if I had all my data backed up, the time to get a new drive, reinstall applications, and restore all the data would be a terrible distraction if it happened in the middle of the show season.

Protecting data: Backups and RAID

To protect myself from such a problem, in addition to backing up all my data periodically, I also bought a second drive and utilized the RAID controller on my motherboard.

For those not familiar with the concept of RAID, it basically means having multiple hard drive appear to the computer as a single hard drive. There are several ways to configure a RAID system. Some give you better performance, some give you data redundancy, and some give you both.

I had my computer set up with a RAID-1 configuration, which means that both hard drives were identical copies (known as mirrors) of each other. Every last file is exactly the same at all times. If one of the drives fails, you can remove it from the system and continue to use your computer with no data loss. Then, you get another drive (ASAP!), put it in the computer, and all the data gets copied from the old hard drive to the new one and you are protected once again.

One risk you run is that you could lose both hard drives at once, so you definitely need some sort of backup plan in addition to RAID to handle that. All of my data was burned to DVDs periodically. So I was prepared for the worst, but I certainly wasn't expecting it. I mean, what are the chances of both drives failing at once?

Really....what are the chances?

Well, one day when I powered up my machine, something in the computer was making a strange sound. I thought it was a fan, but determined it was actually a hard drive. So I powered down, made sure the connections and fasteners were all tight, and then turned my computer back on. That hard drive started making a clicking sound and kept restarting the computer before it could even get a chance to start booting Windows. So I took the drive out, and just as I expected, the RAID system worked. My computer booted up and everything was intact.

I started looking into my options for replacing the drive, trying to see if I should buy the same model, a different brand of the same size, or maybe take the opportunity to upgrade to a larger size. The next morning, when I turned on my computer, a few programs complained that their config files were corrupted. Windows screwing up a file isn't exactly unheard of (and maybe it had something to do with the failed drive causing errors) so I ran scandisk to fix the problem and thought little of it. Later that day, I ended up with more problems. I knew that was more than coincidence, so I ran a surface scan on the disk and it found a bad sector and fixed it (marked it as unusable). That was concerning me, but I figured it was fixed so that was that. However, a few hours later it began finding several more errors. I rand scandisk again and it found more bad sectors, and again it fixed them. A few hours later, the same thing happened again. The hard drive was obviously toast.

Why did this happen?

So, how exactly does something like this happen? My best guess is that my RAID controller (which is built into the motherboard) isn't a very good one. I suspect that the second drive to fail had actually failed first, several months before, but that the RAID controller was detecting the problem, "fixing" it by getting the data from the other drive, and then (most important of all) not bothering to tell me that there was any sort of problem. Once the good drive failed, it was no longer able to cover up the problem and things broke down quickly from there.

The end result

Anyway, I've got 2 new hard drives now and I've got most things restored. It looks like I didn't lose any of my photography related stuff. Any of that stuff that did get damaged had already been backed up. I only ended up losing a tiny bit of data from a single non-important file that is updated once a month and hadn't been backed up recently.

Even for that one file....though it isn't important, it would be nice to have, so I have an ace up my sleeve. Though the data was ruined on the drive with the bad sectors, I suspect the copy on the other drive (the one that wont start up) is probably intact. Buy how do I get it if the drive wont start up? Well, there is a well know and often successful trick for getting data off of a drive that fails in such a manner. Put the drive in a ziplock bag, put it in the freezer for 24 hours, and then when it's nice and cold, quickly plug it into the computer, boot it up and copy the data. It doesn't always work, but often does. Its not known for sure why this works, but the common belief is that when the metal gets cold and contracts ever so slightly, it's enough to get something to line up where it wouldn't before. Whatever the reason, if this trick ends up working, you usually have anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to get the data off the drive before it stops working again. Even then, people have reported success with refreezing it and repeating the process several times, getting a little more data each time.

Anyway, with things starting to get back to normal, I hope to make a few posts soon about how the end of my show season turned out. here to read more!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Upgrading to a better canopy - Part 3

My Trimline tent arrived a few days ago, and I've had a chance to set it up. Well....sort of.

Like building the jugsaw puzzle?

Not at all. Assembling the pieces and figuring out what goes where wasn't so bad. I've heard lots of reports that it's quite confusing, even after you've done it many times. In fact, at one show earlier this year, there was an artist working on his trimline when I arrived, and by the time I set up my entire booth (almost 2 hours) he was STILL working on it because he kept putting it together wrong.

So, after this I was expecting it to be a bit of a horror. I was thus relieved that it wasn't so difficult. In fact, I read through the instructions once very carefully, and then went about assembling it. I immediately knew where every piece went and didn't have to refer back to the instructions at all.

Granted, my spacial perception and mechanical assembly abilities are quite adept. I'm good at visualizing things and assembling them in my head. That may give me an edge in the process, and may explain why it was so easy for me. Other's experiences may vary.

First assembly

First off, my goal for building it my first time was to do so on my own. I will be doing a show by myself this weekend, and I wanted to see if I'd be able to handle the booth on my own.

Putting it together for the first started off pretty good. I had the roof frame fully assembled in about 15 minutes. It took another 15 to attach the sta-bar, unroll and align the roof, and play with the vents to see how they worked. This all went pretty much without a problem.

Next step was to attach the legs. This is where things didn't go so well, at least not by myself. I think this wouldn't have been so bad for a 7 foot tent, but I got the 9 footer. Getting it raised that last foot or two was the really difficult part. I finally managed to get it on my 3rd try, but it wasn't easy. Hopefully this will be like most things and get easier with experience.

Next, I put on stabars, the awning frames for the front 30" and the rear 54" awnings. I attached the rear awning. Zipping it on was a bit of a pain. The material is quite heavy, and it's hard to hold up while getting the zipper started. Once the zipper starts, it's a piece of cake.

This is as far as I got. UPS arrived laster than I'd hoped, and after unpacking, reading instructions, and getting oriented, I had only a few hours before sunset. In fact, by the time I got the poles bundled up and ready to carry inside, it was almost dark enough to require a flashlight to check the lawn for left behind parts. So I didn't get a chance to attach any of the walls or zipper strips.

Issues I had

I only ran into a few small snags during setup. The first was that the canopy roof changed slightly, but the instructions haven't been updated to match. It seems they replaced some adjustable clip straps with velcro instead, but the instructions say nothing about it.

I also screwed up putting the roof on. I didn't notice until I had it up on all 4 legs, but the roof was slightly crooked. I didn't lay down the material perfectly. I wouldn't have even noticed it, except that the zippers (for the walls and awnings) don't lineup correctly, and my awning didn't go on right.

Attaching and detaching the sta-bars was also a little tricky. It was just a matter of finding the correct angle. Something I'm sure will get easier with experience.

The only other problems I had were failure to follow directions properly. I put the easy riser L brackets on backward (extremely minor...had no ill effect), and I forgot to attach the riser poles before I put on the roof material.

Using the canopy at a show?

So now the question I ready to use this canopy at a show? I was hoping to use it at my show this weekend. However, plans have changed, and I'll be handling the show by myself, including setup. So far, the weather is looking good for the weekend, so I'm debating if I want to try setting it up by myself, or just use the easy up for another week. After that, I have a few more weeks before my next show. That will be a little extra time to practice setting up.

Any Doubts?

Before I started, I realized the first setup was going to be extra difficult while I learned correct techniques. However, even taking that into account, it was still more difficult than I imagined. I'm wondering whether the 9 foot height was overkill.

I'm hoping my doubts will quickly subside. After all...when I did my first couple shows last year, it was a lot of work, and I do remember thinking "my god...what I have I gotten myself into". I wasn't sure whether I'd want to continue on doing shows, considering how difficult it was. Yet this weekend I did my first solo setup for a show (my wife was sick). In addition, I did it in the morning of the show, not the previous night, and I had only 2 hours to get it done. The surprise is that I managed to get it all done no problem, without any sign of panic. Hopefully, with time, setting up this new canopy will become as routine and unstressful. here to read more!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Upgrading to a better canopy - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the many reasons why I decided to upgrade my canopy. The next step in the decision making process was deciding which tent to order, and then which options to order it with.

The field of candidates wasn't very large to begin with. My starting options were
Trimline (by Flourish)
Craft Hut (now owned by Flourish, also)
Light Dome (by Creative Energies)
Finale (also by Creative Energies)
Show Off (by New Venture)


There were lots of differences to consider between models, and many of them weren't better vs worse choices, but rather a tradeoff with advantages on each side.


The Light Dome is built with a more or less dome shaped top (thus the name). Every other canopy uses a barrel shaped design.

The Light Dome FAQ explains that the dome shape is better because it offers less wind resistance. However, considering that a closed up tent already has a 10'x7'(or larger) flat surface exposed, I don't believe the tiny extra bit on the end of the barrel canopy adds to that significantly. And as far as when your booth is opened, the dome would seem to act as an umbrella, whereas the barrel shaped canopy all have vents (either standard or as options) to relieve air pressure.

In addition to my intuition, the fact that every other canopy in this comparison uses the barrel shaped design gives me a bit of pause about the possible merits of the dome.


The Trimline tent uses a steel frame construction. Every other tent uses an aluminum frame. This is one of those areas where there is a definite tradeoff.

Aluminum has the advantage of being easier to work with. It's lighter, thus easier to handle and transport, and easier to lift as you are assembling the frame. This can be especially important for people with injuries, or older/smaller people without much strength.

Steel frame, on the other hand, has the advantage of being more solid. Its added weight is a definite advantage when it comes to standing up to strong winds. It's also more durable...being more resistant to bending. Even with the added weight, I've spoke to other artists using the steel Trimline tents, and even some late 40's, smaller women told me they were able to set it up on their own when necessary.

Being that I'm a relatively young guy in good shape and health, the added weight posed no hindrance to me, thus I saw steel as an advantage.

Available Options & Pricing

Most canopies had roughly the same set of options, but with slight variations in implementation. All have various size awnings. With the exception of the Light Dome, all have vents and skylights (either standard or optional).

Again, in pricing, all of the booths start in roughly the same price range...about the $825 (give or take $25). However, digging a little deeper, I began to see more variation in pricing than was immediately obvious. The Trimline includes an assortment of options in the base price that are extra on most of the others. Roof vents are $70 extra (each?) on the Show Off, and the Finale doesn't list a price. Skylights are also standard, but cost $70 extra on the Show Off, and the Finale (again) doesn't list a price. Awning can zip on any side of a trimline, but require optional zippers to be installed on the other tents.

When it comes to options, again the Trimline seems to have the price advantage. For a trimline, a 2.5 ft awning is $105, and a 4.5 ft is $115. Compared to the Show Off, thats a bargain. Showoff awnings start at $135 for a 2ft and go up to $225 for a 4 foot.


In the future, I'll likely want to upgrade to a double wide tent. Most of these tents have a rain gutter option so that you can buy two 10x10 tents, place them side by side, and then connect together with the gutter. The Trimline takes a different approach. Instead, you buy extra parts and a 10x20 canopy top and use that instead of your 10x10 top.

Each way has advantages. The rain gutter option advantages are:
1) Setting up a smaller 10x10 is easier than a 10x20, which can be a bit awkward and is definitely a 2 person job.
2) If you want to use the tents separately you can. For example, if you are a husband/wife team, it would be possible for you to each take 1 tent to different shows one weekend, and then the next weekend put them together to do a 10x20.

The advantages for the Trimlines combined 10x20 are:
1) Fewer parts...there are no redundant legs in the middle. This means less weight to carry, and fewer parts to assemble
2) Slightly faster to assemble than 2 individual canopies.
3) Less chance of leakage in the middle connection (not that I've heard of any cases, but it's one less possibility)
4) More open. Since you don't have the half circle ends in the center, the roof appears more seamless and your booth more open. Supposedly this gives better airflow, too.

On the above matters, its sort of a draw to me. I can see the merits of both systems, and it's difficult to say which I'd prefer.

Taller tents

One option that's been on my list has been to get a tent taller than the standard 7 foot design. This gives the opportunity to have more wall space inside the booth to hang more pictures. The Trimline tent has options for an 8 foot or 9 foot tent. The Light Dome and Finale say they have taller options, but aren't explained in detail on the website. The Show Off does not (as far as I could tell) have any option for taller canopies.

Marketing and Presentation

This is where I really have to give a huge applause to Flourish. The Trimline tent is very thoroughly explained, with each feature and option covered in great details. You can see every option available from the website along with it's price. Everything from extra illumination tops, lighter or darker awning materials, darker side walls, zippered walls, zipper strips to zip up without removing awnings, etc. When I finished reading their website, I felt almost as if I had already assembled one of these tents in person. I knew what the parts were, how they go together.

About the only thing missing from Flourish's site were more detailed prices for when you order the 8 and 9 foot tents. They give you the upgrade price for the base model, but don't mention how much extra the wall zipper options are.

The Light Dome and Finale were on the absolute opposite end of the scale. The website included prices for the base model and absolutely nothing else. I have no idea how much an awning is, or a vent, or a skylight, or extra stakes, or a replacement part, or ANYTHING AT ALL. Certainly I could call them up and get pricing, but thats not the way I work. I like to have a full list, and look over it many times, considering different options and the value of each one. Sometimes I'll be lying in bed and think "you know, what if I went with much extra is that feature". If I need to talk to a salesman to get even a rough estimate of cost, thats a big turn off to me.

As far as descriptions go, the Light Dome and Finale weren't described in much detail. I could get the basic overview, but nothing more than I could have learned from a tri-fold pamphlet.

The Showoff is more in the middle. All of it's options are laid out with prices. However, it had very little in the way of descriptions.

In terms of website design and ease of use, the Trimline website was by far the winner. It was very professional looking and the easiest to navigate in terms of layout. The Light Dome and Finale web site way by far the worst. Horrible to navigate and felt like it was designed by someone who made their first website. Once again, Show Off was somewhere in the middle. While something like this shouldn't really matter when evaluating the canopy, I can't help but think it does tell you something about the company that designed and will service that canopy.

Making a Choice

It's probably obvious by now that I had a lot of really good impressions about the Trimline, and that is indeed the choice I made. However, I'll give a quick summary of each anyway.

The Craft Hut was never much of an option. Although it is still sold and serviced through Flourish, and I'm sure they do an excellent job of supporting it, I can't help but feel they treat it like a second rate canopy. I could foresee a day when they stop supporting it, but the Trimline will likely enjoy a much longer life.

The Show Off was eliminated by it's much costlier options. In addition, it didn't appear to have the taller height options.

The Light Dome was eliminated because it seemed to have fewer options available, and its unique design didn't seem to bring much to the table. In addition, the frame design seems a bit more flimsy to me.

The final decision was between the Trimline and the Finale. In light of all the things discussed previously, I felt the Trimline offered a better deal, and I was more comfortable about knowing how it was designed and what I'd be able to do with it.

Choosing Options

Here is what I decided to go with for my trimline:

10x10 booth with the 9ft tall option
enhanced illumination top
stabar kit (strongly suggested for a normal booth, more so for the 9 foot).
easy riser kit (to make it easier to put up by myself)
1 wall with a middle zipper
1 wall with a 2 zipper universal door wall
3 awnings - a standard 30", a standard 54", and a black out 54"
substitute 3 way connectors instead of L-brackets on 1 awning (so I could use all 3 at once)
4 zipper strips (so I can close up the booth without removing the awnings)
extra pair of spiral stakes

The tent came out to $1660, and then another $130 or so for shipping. I was told it would probably ship Monday unless some parts were not in stock (the 9 foot booths aren't as common, so parts may be less readily available). Being that it's now Tuesday night and my credit card has yet to be billed, I presume something was indeed out of stock. However, I was told that I would definitely have it before my Labor Day Weekend show. I'll post an update sometime in mid to late September to say how I like it. here to read more!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Upgrading to a better canopy - Part 1

When I started preparing for art shows a few years back, my objective was to minimize my entry investment so that I didn't lose too much money if things completely flopped on me. In order to achieve that goal, I had to make sacrifices in several areas. One of those areas was my canopy. With the better canopies running $1000 and up, getting a cheap ez-up style canopy for $200 was a great way to reduce my up front costs. However, upgrading to a better canopy was always on my agenda.

I've had a few good shows recently, and this run of good fortune has allowed me to build up a bit of savings in my bank account. With the bank balance growing, it certainly is tempting to walk away with the profit (or should I say, recoup some of money I've previously invested). However, I decided to reinvest the money back into my business and buy a better canopy.

Pressing my luck

In anticipation of rain problems, I've already made some modifications to my booth. Although they've worked so far, they are far from perfect.

Even with the modifications, I've already had one incident of rain leakage. Luckily I got off easy on that one, only suffering minor damage to about $20 worth of mat board. Since then, I've been keeping an eye on the weather before each show, paranoid of another storm. A few shows ago, I went out and bought some waterproof spray (2 bottles at $8 each) and recoated my canopy. I've been calling my wife at home each night before I close, to have her take a last minute look at the radar. If it looked like something might happen, I put away my expensive items each night.

At my last show, there was rain scheduled for Sunday, but as of Saturday night it wasn't forecast to show up until mid Sunday afternoon. I figured all was well, but the next morning I woke up, checked the radar, and already the area was covered by a giant green blob. Fearing the worst, I made the 45 minute drive from home to the show, leaving an hour earlier than planned so I had ample time to clean up whatever mess there was. Luckily for me, the showers ended up being scattered, and they completely missed the show area. Certainly a relief, but I think I've pushed my luck too far. And besides, I could have used that extra hour at home.

Other reasons to upgrade
In addition to being paranoid about the rain, there are other issues with the cheaper canopy. First, the legs wobble a bit, and it's sometimes difficult to get everything setup straight so that the 4 walls zip up. Even when you do get it right, all the walls seem like they are each about 1/2 inch too small, so zipping up the last corner is a real pain.

My canopy came with one of the nicest awnings I've seen on an ez up. Most ez-ups have no awning or a cheap awning, but mine has an awning thats very nicely built. Unfortunately, the walls won't zip up when the awning is retracted, so you have to leave it up. Sometimes thats not a great idea, though. Especially in windy weather, or when you are concerned another patron may drive through and hit it with a car. In those cases, I needed to unscrew the awning supports from the frame and reattach it the next morning.

Attaching the walls each time is a pain. They velcro around the frame in 5 places on each wall. It's time consuming and tedious. To make it easiest, I've resorted to attaching these walls before I fully extend the legs. However, that doesn't work on windy days, and I'm left spending 20 minutes attaching the velcro from the top of a ladder (a bit awkward, tiring, and stressful).

Some of the velcro that holds the top in place has started to wear down and come loose in windy weather. I've sewn on some additional straps with snaps to counteract this, but it's not perfect.

I'm sure there are a few other reasons I'm missing, but I think the point has been made clear enough. The cheap canopy fulfilled its purpose and got me by for a year and a half of shows, but it's time to step up to something a little better designed and with a bit more peace of mind.

Next time I'll talk a bit more about what canopy I chose and why, and also what options I went with. here to read more!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tip - How to roll up a canopy wall by yourself

In the couple years doing shows now, I've been fighting with the trick of rolling up the wall tarp of my canopy. When my wife is there to help, it's not a problem. However, when I end up having to open by myself, it can be a real pain.

Previously, the way I did it on my own was to:
1) Start rolling up the wall at one end.
2) After you roll it a few times, you'll see that the other end of the wall isn't rolling. At this point, I put a clamp onto the rolled up wall so I can let it go without it unrolling
3) Move to the other end and repeat the process.
4) Move back to the first side and repeat steps 1-3 until the wall is fully rolled up

This works, but it's a huge pain.

Lately, I've been looking at upgrading my canopy. In the process, I was browsing the flourish website and I found a gem of a tip in there. In case that link ever stops working, I'll summarize the process here:

Grab the 2 bottom corners, one in each hand, and fold them inward onto the canopy until they form a point at the bottom middle of the wall. If you are having trouble visualizing it, think of how you make the first folds of a paper airplane to create the pointed nose.

When you get the point made, use one hand to hold both corners together, and use the other hand to grab the newly formed point. Step back as far as you can so that the wall is as close to horizontal as possible. Let go of the 2 corners with your first hand and use both hands to start rolling up point. Once you get it started rolling, the entire wall, edge to edge, with roll up with it.

What once used to take a frustrating couple of minutes is now just an easy 15 seconds of work. Its a small tip, but it makes things less stressful, and if you are ever late opening your booth in the morning, less stress and an extra minute or 2 is a great thing. here to read more!

Quick update on Sterlingfest

With regards to my Sterlingfest show report and the credit card that I mentioned was declined, I am happy to report it has been taken care of. On Friday, I received a check in the mail for the full amount, so that made Sterlingfest officially my most profitable show yet.

However, that title wasn't long lived. I did another show this weekend and beat my sales record by $10. In addition, expenses for this show were slightly lower, and it was a shorter show. I think I probably blew away my previous records from just about every aspect. I'll post more about the show in a few days. here to read more!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sterlingfest Show Report

After going through the first year of shows with declining sales, and then starting this year with the worst 2 shows yet, I then had my best show ever. Now this past weekend, I've continued this positive trend by having another great show. It almost squeezed its way past the Wyandotte show to become my new most profitable show, but one thing didn't pan out, so it will be my second best.

The show was 3 days long. The first 2 days, the weather was quite hot (90+ degrees) and very humid from the storms that hit the area the day before. That made the show quite uncomfortable. However, day 3 was more tolerable, with temperatures in the high 80s and humidity a bit lower.

Attendance was pretty poor for most of the first 2 days, though it did pick up in the evening. Most likely, the extremely hot weather can be blamed for that. There were several cases of heat stroke, and the local TV stations covered the story telling people to stay home instead of going to the show. The third day saw considerably better traffic.

The show ran from 10am to 8pm each day. Each night, there was a free concert scheduled right as the show ended. As a result, many people were showing up for the concert and walking through the show. The concert Saturday night was actually pretty good...the lead singer of Styx performing several Styx songs (that kept us entertained as we tore down the booth). As a result of all the extra people, many booths stayed open past the 8PM closing time.

Sales were alright the first day. Not spectacular, but not terrible. About inline with what I anticipated for the first day of a 3 day show. I stayed open 20 minutes past close but didn't make any sales. However, I did have a lot of people come in, and its hard to say whether or not any of those people came back to buy another day. The extra time may or may not have been worth it.

The second day was a bit better in sales. I stayed open almost 1 hour past close. Again, I made no sales after close, but I don't know if any of those people came back on Saturday to buy.

On Saturday (the final day) I was expecting sales to pick up considerably. Initially, I thought they would. The first 2 days I didn't get a sale until about 1PM. However, this time sales started immediately, and I had several sales the first 2 hours. After that, traffic continued to be very nice, however I went on a 6 hour stretch without a single sale. After those first few hours getting my hopes up, that was a very discouraging 6 hour letdown. After that, I had a few more sales, but when the show reached it's 8PM close time, the final tally was that day 3 was my worst day. I felt very disappointed.

After having no sales the previous 2 days after close, I was tempted to just start packing up right away. However, traffic was incredible, and I kept my hopes up and decided to stay open longer. About 30 minutes after close I had a good sized sale, and then more came in. We started packing up about 45 minutes after close, and while we were, we got a few more customers. By the end, we ended up making over $400 in sales in the final extra hour.

One Problem
When I got home and added it all up, it appeared that this was my best show yet, surpassing my last show by about $75. However, when I got to phoning in my charge slips, I ended up with one problem: a $120 sale was declined. I waited until monday and tried it again and it was still declined. I mailed a letter to the customer on Monday asking her to call me back, but as of right now I still have not gotten a response. Although I still have a bit of hope that I can get it resolved, as of now I'm counting it as a loss, so this is only my second best show. Thats still great...I'm more than satisfied.

A Few Accomplishments
Its always great when something notable happens at a show...something I can remember later on. This show had 2 of those moments.

Before my first show, I picked out 25 photos in a variety of styles and printed them up in 3 different sizes. Over the previous 8 shows, there have been about a half dozen of those prints that have never sold a single copy. I was starting to give up on them, but on Friday I ended up selling one of those photos. That was quite memorable. However, even more memorable was when I sold a second copy of that same photo on Saturday.

The other accomplishment was selling a framed photo. Selling something framed is pretty rare. Yet on Friday I sold a framed copy of my most popular photograph. I had my wife run up to the store and get me another one of those frames so I could replace it for Saturday. I ended up selling the second one on Saturday night after the 8pm close time.

Other notable events from the show include a guy who looked at a photo that I sell for $345 matted/$585 framed and offered to take the framed copy off my hands if I'll give it to him for $ took all I had to not laugh at him and tell him to get the hell out of my booth. Then there was the lady that got pretty upset with me because she found a couple of prints that didn't have labels and thus she didn't know where they were from. I'm not sure why she got so bent out of shape about it...I was standing right there and when I noticed they were missing the tags I immediately told her where they were from. I think some people are just searching for something to be unhappy about.

The show was pretty well organized. Things were laid out decently. The show was a bit smaller...under 100 artists, so it was a bit more personal feeling, rather than being some giant fair. The show was held in front of the library, which was opened the whole time, so we had air conditioning to retreat to every now and then, along with bathrooms with running water and a refrigerated drinking fountain. Even after the library closed, the lobby remained open so we could get to it all.

There was plenty of artist parking immediate behind all the booths, so nobody had to walk very far. In fact, I was able to park my trailer directly behind my booth. That was quite convenient.

It was a good show for me, and I'll definitely be back next year. I made enough money from this show that I think I can now afford to upgrade my EZ up canopy to something much better. here to read more!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wyandotte show so far

I just returned from a vacation a few days ago and realized I never posted my show review. Better late than never.

After starting the year off with my worst 2 shows yet, I went into my next show in Wyandotte a bit concerned, yet hopeful and with a promising gut feeling. When it was all said and done, it was a long 4 days, but my best show yet.

Setting Up
When I went to setup Tuesday night, it was very windy. There were scattered thunderstorms in the area, and although it looked like they weren't going to hit the show area, there were some very strong winds that did affect the area.

When I arrived, before I even turned onto the street, the first thing I saw was the bent up frame of an EZ up sticking out of the dumpster. Not a good sign. As I turned the corner onto the street where the show would take place, the road was blocked by 2 more tents lying upside down in the road.

Being that I also have an EZ up style tent, I was a little concerned. However, I chose to setup anyway, because 1) My tent was a sturdier design than a lot of other EZ ups, and 2) once setup with my weights, gridwalls, and cross braces, I've got around 250 pounds holding it sturdy. My tent had survived through stronger winds in my backyard (however I didn't have the advantage of anchoring it the grass as I did at home).

Setting up was a bit of a chore, and when I was done with the tent and walls, I decided it probably wasn't prudent to be setting up merchandise yet, so I just left everything in rubbermaid containers in the middle of my tent and closed up.

I went back early the next morning to start hanging up frames, filling the print bins, hanging signs, etc. When I got there, the front corner leg of my booth was pushed in about a foot. At first I thought maybe some idiot had hit the booth with a car, but there didn't seem to be any indication of damage (no dents, marks, scuffs, etc). I concluded that the wind must have just pushed that corner in overnight.

A Long Show
The show was quite long. My longest so far had been two 8 hour days. This show was four 11 hour days. 44 hours total, plus driving back and forth each day, plus time to replace inventory at night. All said, I had almost zero time to rest (though I made sure to get plenty of sleep...didn't want to be sleep deprived for such a long show).

The show ran from Wednesday to Saturday, and I was really expecting most of that time to be a waste. I honestly didn't think there would be very many people there on Wednesday/Thursday. However, I was very wrong. Every day except Friday was pretty well busy from about 15-30 minutes after open until 15 minutes after close. For Friday, the traffic didn't really pick up until about 1PM, but was pretty steady after that. Other than that, there were very few lulls in the crowd on any of the 4 days.

First day sales were terrible, but that was exactly what I was expecting for day 1. Most of my sales were cheap gift cards. Day 2 sales were pretty decent. It would have been disappointing had it been a weekend show, but given that it was a Thursday, it actually exceeded my expectations. Day 3 I was expecting to be considerably better, but I actually had lower sales...about the average of the previous 2 days. The final day ended up being a great day, though...over twice the previous 3 days combined. While not a spectacular amount for a long 4 day show, it was my best show ever, so I consider that a success.

Mostly Well Organized

Overall, I was very pleased with how well the show was organized. I'll start off with the few small complaints I have. First, the setup seemed like it could have been a bit smoother. Unlike most other shows I went to, there was no check-in...just show up and setup your booth. That wasn't a problem for me, but other artists had issues. A few artists couldn't locate their spot. Others had someone else already setup in their spot. Asking other artists if there was someone around to help with setup just resulted in shrugged shoulders. Now, perhaps there was someone running things further down the street (the show was 4 blocks long), and all one had to do was go down and find them. However, if so, this was still in contrast to most of the other shows I've done, where the volunteers were very visible during setup.

The other complaint I had was regarding parking. With 350 artists at the show, we were given a lot big enough for maybe 50-100 cars to park and then just told in the informational packet "there is plenty of parking around the downtown area". True, there was plenty of parking in lots and streets, however almost EVERYTHING was labeled as 2 hour parking. I figured the police would not be enforcing it for the show, however, if that was the case then the welcome packet didn't say a thing about it. I chose to play it safe and ended up finding a free (and mostly empty) lot about 15 minutes later.

Other than the 2 small complaints, things were handled nicely. Booths spaces were only 10'x10', so that meant no back space. However, the show had booths laid out in 2x2 quads, which meant that every booth space was a corner space (for no additional fee), and double booths were double corners.

In the morning, there were free cookies, donuts, and coffee in the city hall. Several times a day, volunteers would come by and hand out free water, cheese or peanut butter crackers, or mentos. They had teams of volunteers come by every hour or so to sweep up any trash. In addition to the standard awards, they had an additional award where artists could choose their favorite artist. My only complaint was that you were allowed to vote for yourself (and artists were expressly told so), so I imagine most artists voted for themselves (I certainly did). The award would have been more meaningful if that were prohibited. Finally, on the last day they gave out a free battery operated fan to anyone who filled out the show survey.

Quality and Variety of Vendors

While there were a few booths with low quality "arts", overall I felt most of the booths seemed to be good quality. In addition, despite this show being much larger than the other shows I've been in, they kept a good variety of arts in the show. The number of photographers in the show was about what I've become accustomed to in shows half the size, and their wasn't a whole lot of overlap in subject matter. I generally felt the same way about the other categories, too.

Talking to Other Photographers

Early on Saturday morning, I left my wife in charge of the booth and went to speak to some other photographers. The first one I spoke with had stuff similar to mine. He complained about how poorly he was doing, and when he stated his sales so far, my heart sank a bit...3 times what I had done. When he told me he had been doing art shows for even less time than I had, it sank again a bit further. However, when I continued on to talk to a lot of other photographers, many of them weren't having a whole ton of luck. That was a bit reassuring, but still, it definitely made me stop to reevaluate a lot of what I do. If someone with even less experience and comparable work was doing better, there are definitely things that I need to change.


When it was all said and done, I felt that it could have gone better for me, but since it was better than anything I had done so far, I was satisfied. I'll almost certainly be going back again next year. here to read more!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Marketing and Salesmanship: The evolution of my approach

I just finished up a 4 day show, and it was a great success. I'll talk about my experiences there in a few days, but for now I want to talk about something thats fresh on my mind: marketing my work, and actually taking on the role of salesman. Over the last 8 shows (since my first show ever in June 2006) I've noticed how some changes to my selling style have impacted the results of my business.

Interacting with I started out
I'm on my second year of shows...5 shows last year, and 3 so far this year. At my first show, I was standing in the booth or right at the front, because being new, I hadn't thought to construct a doorway to a back or side space. So I stood the only place I could. I talked to a lot of people that came in and greeted everyone.

After talking to other artists at my first couple shows, and observing what other photographers tend to do, I started changing my approach. First, I added my little doorway so I could sit behind my booth. Second, as I noticed MANY artists seemed to take a hands-off approach, often even sitting in chairs on the opposite side of the street from their booth, I really started to believe I had the technique all wrong. So I too started to take a more hands off approach, and really only engaging in conversation whenever initiated by the patron.

I followed that model for several shows and saw my sales drop each time. While I realize there are other factors to that (some I can identify and others I can't), I can't help but feel that my change in sales technique in some way (even if only to a small degree) contributed to that decline.

Going contrary to common practices

In most businesses, there are set of common practice...things that pioneers over the years have figured out worked well, and thus became adopted by most everyone one. However, throughout my life I've talked to many very successful people that have become successful simply because they bucked the trend. They had the audacity to throw knowledge out the window that had come to be commonly accepted as correct. I've been wondering if this hands off sales approach I've seen so many artists taking was actually the wrong thing to do.

I just finished a 4 day show last night, and I really tried to get out there and talk a lot more. It ended up being my most successful show so far. Again, I realize there were a lot of factors involved, including the length of the show and the high traffic level compared to other shows, but like before, I can't help but feel my sales technique was a contributing factor.

How I interacted with people

My general approach was to sit as little as possible...stand in doorway in the back corner of the booth. As soon as someone makes eye contact, say "hello" or "how are you doing" or something equally greeting.

After looking around at all the photos on the wall, or after finishing looking through the print bin, before they could even begin to attempt exiting the booth (basically...when I suspected they were just about to exit) I would ask if they had any questions about any of my work....where it was taken, or whatever. Even though all of my photos had name tags labeled with the location, it seemed so many people (even many that looked at the tags) didn't realize where the photo was from, and often that got a response of "oh my gosh..that came from THERE? I LOVE that place" and conversation ensued.

If people looked through a bin (and whether or not I had already greeted them) and seemed to stop on some image for several seconds, or if they pulled it out and held it up, or went to flip it over to read the information on the back, I always stepped in and said "that was taken at so and so" and if I had any sort of quick story to go with it, I immediately volunteered it. I did this even though they could have quickly figured out the answer on their own from the back of the print. From that brief interaction, I could usually very quickly realize whether it was the type of person that enjoyed personal contact or wanted to just browse in peace. If they wanted peace, I just stepped back and let them finish uninterrupted. But if they seemed to enjoy my interjection, I then stayed right there and told them the location of any photo that they spent more than a second or two looking at. If they continued looking at the same photo, I often elaborated on it, telling something of my experience there, or how the scenery has changed since I took the photo, or how much I like the surrounding area.

If a pair/group of people were browsing through the bins and seemed to be discussing suitability of photos (as in "no....thats really not the right color") or anything that suggested they might have something in mind, I always asked "do you have any questions about the photos, or is there a particular type of subject you're looking for today" and very often that would lead somewhere. The downside of this is that if they are looking for something particular and you say you don't have it, they often stop looking and leave. It's always possible that something they weren't looking for could have caught their interest, and that you actually just sabotaged a sale, but I suppose that works both ways.

Likewise, if a pair or group were debating the subject matter, I tried to join in the conversation, to tell them where it was, what angle it from, etc.

In summary, I used any slight opportunity I could to inject myself in the conversation (or start a conversation where none existed). If they seemed receptive, I expanded on it as best as I could. I was always passionate about what I said. I never let on that they were the 237th person I had given that exact same explanation to that day.

The results of those interactions

There were several instances where I remain convinced that the sole reason a person purchased something was because I had spent so much time with them and/or because I really created some sort of personal connection to the photo (even if they had never been there in their life...perhaps they had turned my story into some grandiose mental image). Sometimes that sale was only a $5 greeting card, but $5 for 15 minutes when I had nothing better to do (plus possible enjoyable conversation that came out of it) is a welcome sale.

There was actually 1 instance where a lady really appeared to like 1 of my greeting cards, looked at the price, and sort of made a "you have to be kidding me" face and put the card back. I then walked over and started up a conversation with her about that one card, asking her if she had ever been there, and then asked about her experience, shared mine, and went back and forth telling each other about places we didn't know about in that location. She was initially too appalled at the price to buy even 1, but ended up buying 5 card from that location.

Why does this interaction work

Part of that, I think, can be attributed to people not realizing just what goes into the work. I think we've all had those people who come by and say (and I quote a patron from this most recent show) "all he did was stick a picture on a card and he wants $5?".

I am amazed by the number of people that show surprise when I inform them that I in fact took all of these photographs myself. I sometimes wonder if these people initially think I'm just buying stock photography off of, printing it up at the drug store, matting it up, and then having the nerve to charge exorbitant prices for my $1.50 investment. Perhaps they've just become so jaded by all the cheap buy-sell "artists" at festivals that they assume everyone is doing the same.

My top end product right now is a bit pricey compared to a lot of other items in my booth (though still cheap by many other artist's standards). I've had a number of people express near outrage at the price. But as soon as I explained the work that went into it, how all the decorative matting details were hand cut, the high quality of the materials used, etc, suddenly many of them changed their tune and even wished they could afford one for themselves. I honestly expect there were still going to be a handful of people that maintained their stance with a mocking "still, that IS a lot of money" response, but not once did I get that response.

When they realize just what goes into it, most people are understanding of the price, and some of those people are suddenly receptive to a purchase. Whether its because they suddenly value it more, or they realize the uniqueness, or perhaps they appreciate and want to support a true artist, I can't say. All I know is that it works.

Did I forget to mention...

I'm terribly shy and introverted, horrible at marketing, horrible at understanding how people think, and just all around not a very good people person. If I can do this, I have to think that anyone (or at least those with enough guts to sign up for a show in the first place) can do this too. here to read more!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Company Comparison: Frame USA vs Frame Destination

Following up on my last post comparing Crescent and Bainbridge, this time I'd like to present a comparison of another pair of companies I dealt while choosing new materials for this years product line. In choosing frames, I looked at a number of options, but based on a number of factors (price, style, flexibility, etc) I narrowed my choice down to 2 frame suppliers: and

Frame USA

Frame USA offered a large variety of frames in a number of colors, and they also offer samples for $1 each. Unfortunately, they only offer straight samples, not corner samples, but I figured I'll take what I can get.

After picking out about 30 different samples I wanted, I called their 1-800 number as directed on the website. However, I was told that for a sample order that large I would have to send them the list via email. She gave me the email address and I hung up. However, when I went to order, it turns out she gave me an invalid email address (strike 1). No problem, I just went and got the email address from the website and emailed off my order.

The next day I received a call to confirm my order and get payment information. However, I was informed that 3 of the samples I had ordered were not in stock (strike 2), but I could order 4x6 frame shells for just a tiny bit more. I decided I'd replace 2 of the samples with 4x6s but that the 3rd sample was similar enough to another that I'd just forget about it.

Now came the matter of payment. On the website it specified that sample orders shipped for $2.95 per order. However, it turns out the shipping cost would be more than that. When I inquired I was told that the $2.95 is only for a small order, and that 30 samples would cost more (strike 3). However, I wasn't given a specific amount and was told I'd be emailed with the exact amount when the order was ready to ship and had been weighed. I said ok, and also suggested they clarified the policy about this on their website (which, 2.5 months later, they never did).

I was also told I'd receive a separate email with a confirmation of my order. Well, guess what: I never got a confirmation of my order (strike 4), nor did I get an email confirmation of shipping cost (strike 5). Later on, I eventually figured out the shipping charge was almost $10!

Now, I'm a pretty reasonable and easy going guy, and I didn't really let the previous problems get to me too much. They were a bit troubling, but I wasn't going to make a big deal about it.

About a week later, I finally received my package. I opened it up and started looking through the samples, and this is were I really started to get upset. First off, when I read over their website, the website said "Real Wood: Unless noted, all of our wood frames are made from REAL, solid wood." However, what I received was almost entirely compressed particleboard (strike 6). In reviewing their website, I will take partial blame for this mistake. They did denote on all the pages a little BonanzaWood icon, however I must have overlooked it. I definitely read all the text, though, and the text said nothing about it.

To examine this detail a little further, when a company says "all of our products are X unless otherwise specified", I believe that should mean the majority of products are X, and the few exceptions are noted. However, now knowing what to look for and re-reviewing their website, I realized that with very few exceptions, almost their entire product line is bonanza wood. That certainly doesn't fit my expectation of "all...unless other wise specified". I felt very misled.

Now, back to my order. As I started going through the items, I realized that my two 4x6 shells and one of my samples was missing(strike 7). I called them up and complained, and they said they'd look into the matter and get back with me.

Two days later, and I had received no call (strike 8). I called them up again, this time, for the first time I was irate with them. I was told that the order was already being processed and that they'd ship the two 4x6 shells out the next day. But wait a minute. He didn't even seem to know I was missing the 1 sample (strike 9...good thing this isn't baseball...that's an entire inning). When I angrily questioned him he said they could make sure that gets shipped too. I inquired as to why exactly there were unaware of it, even though I already made it clear in the earlier call that it was missing. I never got an actual answer for that.

However, with that out of the way, I tried to patiently wait for the remainder of my order to arrive. Several days later, it finally did. I opened up the box and discovered two 4x6 shells....and that's it. For the second time, one of my sample was missing (strike 10). I angrily called them up again and they promised to get it out to me. Sure enough, a few days later I received an envelope with my last sample...and a sucker (is that supposed to make up for everything that went wrong?).

By now, I felt like this had been a waste of time and money. The products weren't what I wanted, and even so I didn't feel like I could trust them to be a reliable supplier for me.

Frame Destination

At the same time I did all of the above, I simultaneously pursued the matter with another vendor. Frame Destination is a vendor I've dealt with several times previously (mostly for clear bags for my prints). They've always had great prices and been very responsive. They carried a very basic lineup of Nielsen wood frames...a couple sets in 7 colors each.

I picked out the set I liked best and inquired about obtaining samples. I was told I could have straight samples for free, but if I wanted corner it would be $10 including shipping for as many samples as I wanted. I though that was great. Corner samples are so much more useful, so I gladly opted for them. I told them I had to order some other items from them and I could just pay for it with the rest of the order, so they instructed me to put the request into the special instructions. I also asked about getting samples of their 4 different acrylics and they said that would be not problem either...just put it in the special instructions.

After placing the order, I received a call (the next day, I think) saying that my main order would ship right away, and that the samples would ship out in a couple days (since the corners required assembly). However, the $10 included shipping so there would be no additional charge to ship separately, and this way I'd get the rest of my order more quickly.

When I received my order, it was exactly what I wanted. The samples were solid wood, and beautifully stained. The acrylic samples were full 8x10 samples ( I was expecting just a small 2x2 sample or something).

Making a Decision (and an order)

Not that it really needs to be said, but I was completely underwhelmed by the service I received from FrameUSA. On the other hand, Frame Destination provided the same sort outstanding service I've come to expect from them.

When I went to place an order, I obviously chose Frame Destination. I ordered three 16x20s and three 24x36s, all of them with museum grade anti glare/anti UV acrylic. As I needed my order soon (by middle of the following week, and this was on a Wednesday) I paid for 2 day shipping and asked to be notified if they were not able to to ship it by Friday. By Monday I had heard nothing back (usually I get a tracking number), so I was a bit worried and decided to give them a call. It turns out the lady that handles those notifications was on vacation when the order shipped. She looked up the tracking number and informed me that it had actually shipped on Thursday and was in fact already on the FedEx truck for delivery. I received it a few hours later.

The product was exactly what I requested and was packaged very carefully so that it was well protected. I was thoroughly satisfied with my order. Those frames are now being hung in my booth and are already getting very positive feedback.

If you need frames, clear bags, matboard, or just about anything else framing related, I'd highly recommend giving Frame Destination consideration. here to read more!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Company Comparison: Crescent vs. Bainbridge

As I wrote about several weeks ago, one of the things I was trying to do was change some of my matting. In trying to evaluate the different matbaord options available and choose a color, my ideal plan was to obtain corner samples of the Crescent RagMat, Michael Graves, and Moorman Suede series. However, there in lies a problem.


In looking around, very few places sell matboard corner samples. Of those that do, many don't do it for the RagMat series, many more don't have the Moorman Suede series, and nobody that I could find carried the the Michael Graves line. Furthermore, one seller that I've been dealing with for a while has had a message on their website for a long time stating that they couldn't get the samples from Crescent. That message went away for a short time, and now it's back stating that crescent isn't providing their distributors with corner samples and that they needed to be contacted directly.

I figured dealing with them directly shouldn't be a problem. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. First I called their phone number. The only option I came up with was to leave a phone message and they said a local rep would contact me back in 24 hours. Well, 48 hours later (96 hours counting the weekend) and I hadn't received a response back. This time, I decided to email them and make the same request. A day and a half later and I still hadn't received a response.

At this point, I was getting a little bit fed up, so I posted on the ArtShowPhoto message board asking if anyone knew how to contact Crescent and explained my problem. Well, it may have just been coincidence, or maybe not, but a mere 10 minutes later I finally received a call from a crescent representative.

I explained that I was looking for corner samples for a few different lines of matbaord. Unfortunately, the rep informed me that Crescent did not have samples for the Michael Graves line and wouldn't have them until later in the summer. However, she informed me that she could send me a specifier sheet for those mats. I accepted the offer and asked if I could also get corner samples for the other mats I was interested in. She said she could do that.

Well, it was more than 2 weeks before I received my samples in the mail. When I received them, I was a bit disappointed. I received no corner samples...only specifier sheets. And I didn't even receive all of them (nothing for the Moorman line). For the most part, the specifier sheets did at least have actual mat samples glued to the page, so what you saw was the actual material (color, texture, and all). However, for the Michael Graves collection, it was just printed on the page. In addition, I believe the printing is not very accurate. I've seen a few of the Michael Graves mats before and was quite impressed. However, what I saw in front of me wasn't the least bit impressive.

So what I receieved was some samples that were good and some that I believe weren't very accurate, and none of which I could actually use like corner samples to see how it looked on a print. In summary, what I received is only slightly better than nothing.

At this point, I'm very disappointed with the lackluster support I've received from Crescent. Either they aren't very interested in promoting their products, or they just don't care about smaller customers like me. I could accept the latter...many big businesses don't want to deal with small customers. However, by failing to provide even their distributors with the necessary corner samples, they've left me no real good options here.


At this point, I decided to give up on Crescent and give Bainbridge a see if maybe THEY want my business. After my last experience, I was expecting another nightmare. However, I was very happy to be proven wrong.

Upon phoning their toll free number, I was presented with a very simple menu selection. I only had to make one menu choice and was put on hold. Within 30 seconds I was speaking to a real person. I asked her how I could go about obtaining the corner samples. She told me that they supplied them for free, that I only had to pay for shipping, and that they'd be shipped in 3 or 4 business days. She took a credit card, and I was off the phone in less than 5 minutes. Shipping cost ended up being something in the area of $20-$25 for around 300 different corner samples.

In less than 2 weeks, the samples arrived. I had everything I had asked for

To sum it all up:

Crescent: Left voice mail, waited, sent email, waited, finally got a response, made my request, waited 2+ weeks, didn't receive what I asked for.

Bainbridge: Got a real person in less than 60 second, made my request, waited less then 2 weeks, and received exactly what I requested

Needless to say, I'll now using Bainbridge matboard instead of Crescent.

On a final personal note, I really hate when companies do this sort of stupid thing. I'm a bit sorry to say it, but I've been using Crescent all along and the thought of switching to another company never even entered my mind for a second. Through sheer stupidity, the company has driven away an unquestioningly faithful customer and sent them straight into the arms of their biggest competitor. here to read more!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Saint Clair Art Fair 2007

I had heard many great things about the this show, which was the entire reason I signed up. I had some high hopes, but in the end it was one of my worst shows sales wise, and once expenses were figured in, it was my biggest loss yet.

I'm kind of at odds here. On the one hand, I can't say enough good stuff about this show. I thought it was incredibly well run. There was plenty of convenient parking for the artists, both close to the booths for setup and teardown, as well as nearby for show hours. Communication with the artists was good. From what little I got to see, the signage was good. There were a few signs several miles from the show. Hours were reasonable (10-7 saturday, 10-5 sunday).

The booth layouts were nicely done. Every booth space was officially 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep. However, many of the booths were not crammed side by side, so there was actually extra room beyond the 15 feet. In addition, almost every booth had some form of back space, and many of them had huge back space. The space I had ended up being about 18 feet wide by 15 feet deep. The few booths without backspace were those that were in the covered areas (basically hallways), so they were a little tight on space. However, from what I saw, most of those booths had extra room to the side to make up for it. In the end, I couldn't imagine any of the artists feeling they were short on space. About the only downside to the booth layouts were for the people near the water, where the ground was at a bit of an angle.

We were given free snacks Saturday (bagels, donuts, and coffee), and there was a free breakfast buffet at a nearby restaraunt Sunday morning (free for the artists, $7.50 for any additional guests). The buffet was very nicely done.

I'm also aware that the show has shrunk in recent years. I was told there used to be many more booths. Many shows, when faced with a decline in applications, would make up for the difference by letting in lower quality artists. Yet at this show, they didn't seem to do that. Despite the reduced size, I only saw a couple of booths that I thought were more craft than art, and there was only 1 booth I suspected of having buy-sell items. It's encouraging that they'd choose to maintain the quality of the show rather than maintain the size.

In spite of all the good things I can say about the show, the end result was that the customers just weren't there for the most part. Traffic was slow a lot of the time, though there were a few decent rushes. However, I was told by many that it was only a fraction of the traffic in previous years. Although I did see several people walking away with large prints, the majority of people who bought stuff were only carrying very small bags.

In the end, I'm not really sure what to say about the show. From what I could see, everything was done incredibly well. It just didn't pan out. It makes it a bit of a shame, because I'd really like to go back to this show. However, I just can't justify doing so the way things went. here to read more!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Livonia Art from the Heart 2007

As I posted yesterday, the Livonia Art from the Heart show was a very good one for me in best show of the year. However, 2007 was nothing at all like that.

In fact, almost every single artist I talked to had the same opinion, including those that had returned from the previous year like me. On a per-capita basis, I think I actually did better than last time. However, attendance at the show was WAY down...I'd estimate somewhere between 10%-20% of what it was last year. That was more of a drop than my better performance could make up for.

So what contributed to the poor attendance? Hard to say. The economy, especially in Michigan, is probably a significant contributing factor, but there had to be other factors (ones NOT outside of everybody's control) that contributed.

Last year, I saw a TV commercial for one of my art fairs. However, I can't remember if it was for the Livonia or Lathrup Village show. I definitely didn't see any commercials on TV this year, so if it was this show, that certainly might be part of the decline.

Another factor seemed to be poor signage. There didn't seem to be much street advertising for the show except in the very near vicinity of the show grounds. They probably needed signs further away to draw people there.

On the topic of signs, I was also upset that they couldn't be bothered to update the signs from last year to accurately reflect this years show. Last year, the show ended at 5PM both days, but this year they extended it to 6PM. However, all the signs out still said 5PM. The few patrons that came by after 5PM were mostly trying to rush through before the booths closed. That extra hour was an absolute waste.

In the end, even though I lost money, I decided to go back again next year. I don't have any better prospects for a show that weekend, I'm not about to give up on a show after a single year when it previously did well, and that show is incredibly close to home, so it makes it a very convenient show, especially when it's my first show of the year and I'm just getting things back in order (however, I can't say whether or not it will be my first next year).

Another factor that contributed to me signing up was a $50 discount if you pay for it on the spot. However, this is also a point that made me a bit angry. Apparently they also had this same $50 discount available last year, but nobody bothered to let me know about it. In fact, I even talked to a volunteer after the show, and I told him I was definitely thinking of returning for 2007, yet he never mentioned the discount. After complaining about it, they offered to also drop the $20 administrative fee for my 2008 application to make up for the mistake, but I'm still out $30. here to read more!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Year #2 - a bad start continues a bad trend

So far this year, I've done 2 shows, and I'm off to a very bad start. At both shows, after accounting for booth fees and travel expenses, I actually lost money. In fact, these 2 shows have continued a disturbing trend thats been going on since my very first show: each show has been less profitable than the last.

My first show ever (last year's Livonia show) was a very good show for me, but the next 2 shows showed a considerable drop in sales. By the 4th show, I lost a tiny bit of money. The 5th show, and my last show of 2006) saw about a $50-$75 loss. However, I tried not to let that bother me because A) I'm still getting started and have a lot to learn, and a lot of improvements to make, and B) I got some very good photographs on that trip, so it wasn't a total loss...more of an investment.

Determined to turn things around for 2007, I created some new works and put together a more impressive display. Being that Livonia did so well for me in 2006, I had high hopes for 2007. However, in the end, I ended up losing somewhere between $75 and $100. My second show was scheduled to be in Saint Clair. I had heard many positive things about this show from many people, and once again had high hopes. However, I ended up losing between $150-$175.

However, in spite of all the negatives, I try to look on the bright side. The first and most obvious bright spot: My next show is local, which means no hotel fees, and the booth fee was only $190. That means in order to break my current trend of smaller profits (and now bigger losses), all I need to do is sell 1 or 2 prints and not spend any money on food (which is easy...I bring lunch and snacks from home). That may be a little victory, but I'm actually much more hopeful than that. This is a big show (and long...four 11 hour days) and theres been some advertising done already. I'm hopeful that it wont just be a smaller loss, but actually return me to some degree of profitability.

My other positive outlook on the matter is that I wasn't the only one doing poorly. At each show, a large majority of other artists were doing just as terrible. This means it isn't just me. Perhaps I can figure out something to make me stand out and become one of the few who do succeed, but at least its not a case of just me doing something blatantly wrong.

In the next couple of days I'll post some more detailed reports on these first 2 shows. here to read more!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Working with suede mats

As I mentioned in my multi-part series on improving my presentation, I had been considering suede mats for my new, higher end prints. Well, I ended up buying some, and I've had a little bit of time to work with them, and I have a few thoughts to share.

How I Chose Between Two Brands
(and how I ended up with both)

Originally, I was thinking about the Crescent Moorman suedes line. However, I was having some trouble getting Crescent to provide me with corner samples. Thats a bit of a story, and is probably best left for another post. My first show was getting closer, and I really needed to figure out some colors to with my photos. I had debated ordering some corner samples from ebay, or even something stupid like blindly guessing what colors I wanted from the little swatches on the specifier sheet (as if you could predict what a half inch wide sample will look like when scaled to a 4" inch wide, 36" inch long border).

With time really running out (less than 2 weeks to my first show) I was really desperate. Trying to come up with an idea, it occurred to me that the framing counter at the Michaels store had a big rack of mat corner samples. I went up there to play with them and was very impressed by the Bainbridge suede samples. After some further research into their product line, I decided I would go with Bainbridge for my new mats.

Having picked out 7 colors I liked for a group of prints I was going to frame, I went to buy the mats. I had trouble ordering online, and to make a long story short, I found a local framing supply wholesaler that carried them, so I went to pick them up in person.

For one of the colors I needed, they only had a partial quantity in stock. However, they had the same color in the proper quantity in the Crescent line, so I ended up buying all Bainbridge suedes except for that 1 color, which I replaced with Crescent Moorman suedes.

Similarities Between Bainbridge & Crescent

Many of the suede colors are identical between the 2 brands. Apparently, both companies get their fabric from the same source. The end result is that there is a lot of overlap between the 2. That was convenient for me, since I was able to get the exact same color in the Crescent when the store didn't have enough sheets of the Bainbridge.

Differences Between Bainbridge & Crescent


The first difference between the 2 is completely obvious the instant you pick up a sheet. The Bainbridge suedes are quite flimsy. With normal matboard, you can stand them up on edge and lean them against a wall with only minimal bending. However, with a Bainbridge suede, thats not possible. The mat practically collapses under its own weight. Even putting several sheets together in the same bag with some other cardboard sheets didn't help. On the other hand, the Crescent Moorman suedes are the exact opposite. They are MORE rigid than standard matboard. Whether 1 sheet or many, they can easily support their own weight.

The rigidity issue brings up a few other issues. First storage of the Bainbridge suedes is a bit difficult. I've got a bin where I usually store my mats standing up on edge. However, that probably won't work well with the Bainbridge suedes. For now, I've just been storing them laying down flat. Not a good long term solution, but since I knew the matboards would all be cut up within a week, that was fine.

Another issue is when you go to cut down the mats. With a typical mat cutter, unless you've installed it to be flush mounted, the matboard sheet will only be supported in 2 areas: the main cutting board and the edge along the squaring arm. Other than that, the rest of the sheet is left to support itself. With normal matboard, I haven't found this to be an issue. The board usually supports itself. However, with the Bainbridge suedes, the matboard just sags. That makes it difficult to ensure you have things squared up properly. The solution I found was to stack up some 16x20 foam boards to approximately the same height as the cutting surface and to use these to prop up the matboard.

Ease of Cutting

When I went to trim my matboards down to size, I noticed the next major difference between them. The Bainbridge suedes cut like butter...perhaps a tad easier than regular matbaord. However, the Crescent Moorman suedes are a pain to cut. When I cut my first sheet, I thought I had somehow damaged the blade or that it was more worn than I thought. However, I went and cut another sheet of Bainbridge and it was smooth as silk again.

I haven't yet done any bevel cuts (I've only cut the sheets to size), but based on my experience so far, I'm not really looking forward to the experience with the Crescent mats.


In an attempt to figure out why there was such a difference between the 2 boards, I decided to take a look at their construction. I very quickly realized what was different. The Bainbridge suedes are the same thickness as typical 4-ply matbaord. When you consider that part of this thickness is accounted for by the suede fabric surface, the actual thickness of the supporting paper is thinner than typical matboard. Considering that fabric is a whole lot more flexible than paper, it quickly becomes apparent why the Bainbridge suedes are more flexible.

Taking a look at Crescent Moorman suedes, you can very easily see why the opposite is true for those board. They are considerably thicker than a standard 4 ply matbaord...I'd estimate somewhere between 25% and 50% thicker. Even looking at just the paper layers, it's still thicker than standard 4-ply. That would make this matboard considerably stronger than normal.

Quality control and damaged boards

With standard matbaord, it isn't unusual to have damage. Every now and then you'll find a board with a mark or dent on it. That's kind of par for the course, but it usually isn't too much of a problem. However, based on my small sampling, it seems that there are serious quality issues with suede matboards.

The first issue I noticed while still at the store (luckily, since it's about 40 minutes away). I needed 4 sheets of one particular color, but the store only had 2. Instead, they got me 4 sheets of the matching color Crescent. To be sure the colors were identical, we went to compare a sheet of each, side by side. However, when I pulled out a sheet of Bainbridge matboard, I found it had tons of black marks all over the tan board surface. The board was absolutely unusable. When I went to check the other board of this color, I noticed that it too had the identical damage.

Now, typically when there is damage to a matboard, you never know where it happened along the line. It could have happened in the factory, during shipping, while stocking, or even by customer handling. However, in this case, I had just removed the board from a factory sealed plastic bag. There is no place these marks could have gotten on the board other than in the factory.

After that, I quickly checked all of the other boards, and everything appeared to be alright, so I bought them. Several days later, when I went to start cutting them, I noticed that there was various sorts of damage to several of the other sheets.

The worst damage I found (not counting what I found at the store) was a pair of Bainbridge mats that had a sort of wrinkle in the fabric that extends all the way across the board. It was a very distracting defect...very noticable. Luckily these were colors I was planning to use as a bottom layer mat, so only a thin line of this board will be exposed. Hopefully, I'll be able to mask this defect somehow (brush it out or something), becuase even if I wanted to drive all the way back there to exchange it, they have no more in stock and wont for at least a week. I should also mention that the 2 sheets which had this defect were of different colors, so it wasn't an isolated defect on a single run of matboard.

Below are 2 photos I took of the defects. The first shows the defect on black matboard (which I had to brighten to a gray to make it visible on a monitor) running left to right. The second photo shows the same defect running top to bottom.

defect running left to right

defect running top to bottom

Next, I found a Bainbridge mat that had a small and subtle black mark on it. I tried brushing it off, but it wouldn't come off.

black mark

I also found what looked like indentations in the fabric on 2 other Bainbridge sheets. Some of it brushed out with a little rubbing. It's possible the rest of it will with a little more effort. I don't have any photos of this.

Finally, on all 4 of the Crescent Moorman Suedes, there were a couple of little marks in the fabric. It looked like a little nick and a tiny bit of fabric was missing (maybe 1/32" in diameter). I have no photos of this damage either.

In summary, of the matboard I had dealt with, here is how the damage breaks down

2 sheets Bainbridge - extremely serious black mark
2 sheets Bainbridge - pretty serious wrinkle
2 sheets Bainbridge - somewhat minor indentations
1 sheet Bainbridge - very minor dark mark
5 sheets Bainbridge - no defects at all
4 sheets Crescent - moderate nicks.


I love the look of this matbaord. Even in spite of the significantly higher cost and the difficulty in handling/storing it, I'm very happy I chose to work with it. However, considering the damage issues I've experienced, it makes this matboard a bit of a gamble. If I order it online, I can't inspect if before I get it, and at that point I'm not even sure how I'd go about exchanging it. Matboard is sort of expensive to ship, and difficult to ship safely in small quantities. It seems best to buy this stuff locally. However, locally it ends up being a bit more expensive. In addition, the only place I know so far to get it from is a considerable drive away, and they have limited quantities on hand. I'd hate to drive all that way, find a damaged sheet, and then find out they don't have any more in stock. And given that I didn't even see some of this damage when I looked while at the store, I don't know that I can count on someone there to find all the damage before I make the drive to pick it up.

I guess like a lot of things, it's a love hate relationship. I'll probably continue to use the matboard, and just deal with the problems as they come. Perhaps when I get some time, a letter to Crescent and Bainbridge would be in order, just to see what they have to say about the issue. here to read more!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Improving my presentation - Part 8: Better Signs

So far in this series,I've talked about, bigger prints, better framing, and better matting. To wrap up this series, I'll address the last major area for this year's big round of improvements: better signs.

Improving my signage isn't such a drastic overhaul, as some of my other changes were. It's more just a series of little details that come together to give a more professional appearance.

The first area to be addressed here is name/price tags for my framed prints. Previously, I just printed up some basic black and white tags on card stock. Those tags contained just the name of the photograph and the price. Now they have a subtle certificate-like border, and contain the title, location, date photographed, brief description of the scene, brief description of the print/media, and price for the photo framed and unframed. All of this information fits on a card about 3.5"x2.5" in size. Finally, to protect the cards, I found some inexpensive 10 mil laminating sheets that don't require heat to bond together.

Next up is to replace pricing signs, for both the matted prints and for my greeting cards. Not a lot to describe here...I just need to make them a bit prettier and to include the new print sizes and matting options. For these signs, I also found some 3 mil laminating sheets.

Finally, I obtained a roll of 17" wide indoor/outdoor vinyl for my new printer. My intention is to make some sort of sign for my business. However, at this point I've been too busy worrying about all the other details to get this one worked out. I was hoping to have a sign ready for my first show, but I don't think that is going to happen now. Hopefully I'll have it done in the 2 weeks before my next show.

That mostly concludes all the changes I'm making for this year. Perhaps in a month or so I can try to followup with some photos of the results of some of these changes. Until then, I've got a list of items I've been wanting to write about but been putting off to avoid interrupting this series. here to read more!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Improving my presentation - Part 7: Improved Matting Techniques

In previous parts of this series, I talked about bigger prints, better framing, and choosing some nicer mats. Now I'll talk briefly about better techniques for cutting my mats

Matting Technique

Aside from just choosing new materials to work with, I thought it would be a good idea to examine options more more interesting matting techniques. So far, I've just done single or double layered mats with a simple rectangular beveled cutout. However, I was thinking about other things I could do. On idea that came to mind was cutting V-Grooves, so I went and ordered a V-Groove addon for my Logan 650. When I received it, I instantly gave it a try right away and made a decent simple rectangular outline groove. Next, I tried to cut a more complex pattern of 2 overlapping rectangles and it worked wonderfully.

Also, to go along with the V-Grooving, I'm planning on cutting my mats with notched corners. I figure that would add another level of interest to the mat. Finally, for some of the prints, I'm considering going with 3 layer matting.

Applying the Changes

One of the issues with these changes is whether or not to use them on all prints. It's not very reasonable to do it on the smallest size prints. V-Grooving and notched corners takes a lot more time to do, and the better matting is more expensive. There isn't a whole lot of profit margin in the smallest prints, and it can be difficult to bump up the price on those prints very much.

However, in the end, I think I might be able to use this all to my advantage. I've been thinking about creating incentives for people to buy larger sized prints. I think a big incentive can be better matting. If I left my medium sized mats as is, downgraded my smallest mats to only white single-layer matting, and introduced these new mats and cutting style for only my largest prints, I think it could convince some people to upgrade to a larger size. If there is a demand for the better matting in smaller sizes, I could always choose to offer a custom made print for an extra fee. here to read more!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Improving my presentation - Part 6: Better Matting

In previous parts of this series, I talked about bigger prints and better framing. The next logical item for improvement would be better matting. As far as better matting is concerned there are 2 ways to approach to topic: the matboard itself, and how the matboard is cut and presented.

Better Matboard

In choosing better matboard, there are 2 aspects to consider: better quality and better appearance.

As far as quality goes, so far I've just been using acid free matbaord for all my work. Acid free matboard, especially from a quality manufacturer like Crescent or Bainbridge, is actually a very good quality product. In fact, it would likely be decades before you ever saw any ill effects from such matboard. However, as good as it is, it's not considered archival. Rag mat, on the other hand, is made from better materials and is rated to be safer for the photo for a much longer timespan. Thus far, acid free matboard has not been a problem for ill effects, and nobody has ever even bothered to ask me about the topic. However, someday someone might ask, and if I'm ready with the answer they are looking for, it might mean the difference between selling and not selling. However, even if nobody ever asks, archival matting can be used as a selling point. People often don't know what to look for as far as details go, and explaining the difference can help make a sale also.

On the topic of appearance, I've been looking for something with a nicer look. So far, almost all of my mats have been untextured, solid colored matboard. However, I do have a textured white and a textured tan in my collection (they have some very subtle raised bumps), as well as 2 speckled pink colors. Those are some of my favorites in my collection. So, what I'd like to do is find something with a more interesting appearance. I've been looking at several options there. A couple of options stand out as being really interesting. The first is the Crescent Michael Graves collection. It has some interesting patterned designs. Another option that I find quite interesting is the Crescent Moorman Suedes collection. However, I've been a bit displeased with the support I've received from Crescent (I'll talk about that some other day), so I'm looking into giving Bainbridge a try instead.

Matting Technique

Aside from just choosing new materials to work with, I thought it would be a good idea to examine options for more interesting matting techniques. So far, I've just done single or double layered mats with a simple rectangular beveled cutout. However, I was thinking about other things I could do. One idea that came to mind was cutting V-Grooves, so I went and ordered a V-Groove addon for my Logan 650. When I received it, I instantly gave it a try right away and made a decent simple rectangular outline groove. Next, I tried to cut a more complex pattern of 2 overlapping rectangles and it worked wonderfully.

Also, to go along with the V-Grooving, I'm planning on cutting my mats with notched corners. I figure that would add another level of interest to the mat. Finally, for some of the prints, I'm considering going with 3 layer matting.

Applying the Changes

One of the issues with these changes is whether or not to use them on all prints. It's not very reasonable to do it on the smallest size prints. V-Grooving and notched corners takes a lot more time to do, and the better matting is more expensive. There isn't a whole lot of profit margin in the smallest prints, and it can be difficult to bump up the price on those prints very much.

However, in the end, I think I might be able to use this all to my advantage. I've been thinking about creating incentives for people to buy larger sized prints. I think a big incentive can be better matting. If I left my medium sized mats as is, downgraded my smallest mats to only white single-layer matting, and introduced these new mats and cutting style for only my largest prints, I think it could convince some people to upgrade to a larger size. If there is a demand for the better matting in smaller sizes, I could always choose to offer a custom made print for an extra fee. here to read more!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Quick Update

I just wanted to get a quick update in. I haven't posted much here for the better part of 2 weeks. I've only made 1 post in that time, and it probably looks like I'm returning to my old ways. However, I have an excuse this time (although don't I always).

First, I got my Canon iPF5000 almost 2 weeks ago and have been busy playing with it, evaluating prints, trying to learn more about it, and researching papers I'd like to order. I'll post more on the printer soon.

Second, I just got back from a 6 day trip through the Smoky Mountain and Blue Ridge Parkway National Parks. In the few days before that, I had some planning to do. And now that I'm back I have some catching up to do. I'll try to post some of those photos once I get a chance to go through them.

Third, a week before I was to leave, the mirror on my Canon Digital Rebel broke. It was a $200 repair, and that gave me 2 issues. For one, I'm not really sure the camera is worth investing $200 into (its 3 years old). For another, since I was leaving for vacation in a week, I didn't exactly have time to wait for it to get repaired. Well, I did some research and found out how to repair it myself for $5. The repair worked great. I'll post more info on that soon, also.

Hopefully in the next few days I'll pick up where I left off in my multi part series. here to read more!