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!