Sunday, October 11, 2009

Packing early...I've surrendered my badge of honor

I've had some bad shows in the past. Despite how badly things go, I take some pride in sticking things out. Other artists pack up and head out early, but I feel a duty and obligation to stick it out to the end. In general, I really don't even start packing up early, much less leave early. If things are going badly and I'm not very busy, I might start packing up some of the less important frames a bit maybe if I get a booth where an outside wall is usable and I fill it with my extra "rarely sell" photos, I might start putting those away slowly over the course of the last hour of the show. Or if I've got those sort of photos inside the booth (like if I sold one of my frames/canvases and I use them to fill in the space), I might start putting them away 15 minutes early. But in general, I wait until the actual show end time to start packing.

However, all of that is now out the window. For the first time ever, a show went so badly, I felt the need to pack up not just an hour or two early, but more than an entire day early.

The show, and why I picked it

The show in question was the Fall Into Dearborn show in early October. It was a 3 day show...a 4 hour charity preview party on Friday evening, and 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday. I picked the show on a whim, simply because I had nothing else that weekend, it was close to home, and I wanted to give an indoor show a try.

Early signs of trouble should have been a clue

Early on, there were a few things about the show that should have indicated to me what was in store. First, the application indicated a booth size of 9'x9'. As anyone familiar with art show configurations knows, a standard booth size is 10'x10'. This should have been an indication something was odd. However, I wrote it off, as some indoor shows merely offer enough space for a table...maybe 5'x8'. I thought maybe this one was a being bit more generous, and figured I could work with 9'x9' with a few adjustments. It turns out they just didn't realize the configuration of a typical booth. They ended up rearranging and making the booths 10'x10' anyway after several artists expressed concern.

The application specified a date by which you would be notified of the acceptance or rejection. Yet, 10 days later I had heard nothing. I had to email the show organizer to get an email response confirming I was accepted. Shortly there after, I got a letter in the mail indicating acceptance and stating that I would receive more details in early September. Well, as of September 29th, I had received no followup info and once again had to email the organizer to get the info.

Also, on the application there was a box to indicate whether or not you wanted to donate an item for the charity auction, and it stated that donors would be given preference for booth selection. I checked the box and didn't think much more about it. Then, 2 days before the show I was contacted to ask what item I would be donating. I had no idea they needed to know ahead of time and thus hadn't given it any thought, so I said I'd need to think about it. I was told they would call back to get the details later that day or the following day, yet I never received a followup call. Needless to say, I never had an opportunity to give any input into my booth location. As far as preference, there seemed to be no advantage given to anyone in particular. In fact, the artist right next to had the advantage of a corner space (which was not a paid feature at this show), and they didn't even show up for the Friday preview, so I'm fairly certain they didn't donate anything for it.

What went wrong

The show officially started at 4PM. By 4:15, I realized where they had setup the auction and went over. I indicated that I hadn't been contacted about my item. Someone followed me back to my booth to accept it. While I was digging for it, they realized they didn't have an auction tag for me. They asked if I had called to let them know what I was donating. I told them they said they would call me but never did so. I was told to hold onto my donation for the moment. However, nobody ever came back to ask for it.

The Friday night preview party was a dud. It definitely seemed like less than 100 people showed up. I don't know what the actual number was, but from what I saw it seemed like maybe 50, and a lot of them were mostly standing at the front, not browsing artists booths. I ended up making a $5 sale to another artist, and a $50 sale to a show patron. That was it.

Oh...and about that auction. I took a look at a number of items and saw very few that received bids. There were at least 50 items up for auction. When the auction was over and they announced the winners, I wasn't paying careful attention but it sounded like no more than 10 items had been bid on.

In chatting with other artists that evening, it turns out I wasn't the only person who had received poor communication. Pretty much everyone else had the same problem. One person hadn't even been notified of their acceptance until 2 days before the show. Unbelievable.

What went wrong - day 2

Based on Friday's results, I had low expectations for Saturday. The show was set to start at 10AM, so I figured I'd show up around 9:30. I didn't imagine there would be many customers there for the first few hours (at least). Imagine my surprise when I pull in and couldn't find a parking spot. The main lot was filled. People were driving up and down isles. I had to park in the much less obvious side lot, and even then I had to walk a decent distance. I said "oh my gosh...this place is packed. They've got to be lined up at the door to get in". I practically ran to the room only to find it empty and nobody outside. So what were all the cars there for? Well, it turns out there were 1200 people there for a multi-level-marketing seminar, and they were using most of our parking. Apparently, the organizers had no idea that event was going on. Humorously, one of the artists was reading an article (I think it was in Sunshine Artist magazine) talking about how lack of parking will kill an art show.

However, the seminar turned out to be probably the best thing that happened. They took an hour lunch from 12 to 1. Since there was very little food offerings in the civic center, most people had to leave to get food (which cleared up parking for a bit, not that we needed it). However, a small number stayed there and visited the show. It was so few people, you'd never notice it at an ordinary show. However, these were virtually our ONLY customers, so it was welcome. I made 3 small sales in that hour, which (other than a sale to another artist) were my only sales of that day.

Discussing with other artist what had gone wrong, the topic of advertising came up. Someone had mentioned that there was a large LCD sign out in front of the civic center, and that the art show wasn't even listed on the sign. I went out and watched the sign for several minutes, as it went through the complete cycle 3 times, and there was no mention of the art show. When we informed the organizer, she insisted that it was being shown, and that she had seen it on her way to work every day for the last 3 weeks. However, when told that it wasn't there now, she went to check. She confirmed that it wasn't there, and claimed it had something to do with a power outage that occurred the day before (though I'm not certain how that worked, since everything else, including the 1200 person seminar, was being advertised). They needed to call someone in to reprogram the sign but had no idea when it would get done (I suspected they wouldn't be able to get him in on a weekend).

Also on the topic of advertising, one patron had mentioned she heard about the show on the TV news. Great, right? Well, according to her, it wasn't even clear that the show was taking place indoors. She had understood it to be an outdoor event, and with the rain coming down she hadn't intended to come. It was only because there was a break in the storm that she decided to come check out the show...only to be surprised to find it indoors. I wonder how many others made the same mistake, and either didn't come because of the rain, or simply couldn't find the show because they were looking for a bunch of white tents.

Talking with other artists, very few of them had just barely made back their booth fee. Many hadn't received a single sale at all. I walked around and did a booth count, and came up with about 45 artist booths (there were a few more that belonged to the community art center, which I didn't count). With the show scheduled to run until 6PM that day, at about 1PM, the first artist began packing. About every 15 minutes after that, I did a walkaround of the show (yes, it was so empty, I had zero concern with leaving my booth empty while I took a brief stroll), and each time I found another artist packing up. Sometime by about 3:30, there were now 11 artists who were either gone or in the process of packing up. Several more indicated intentions to pack at the end of the day, or to come pick up their stuff Sunday morning. My estimate was somewhere between 25-50% of the artists would not be there for Sunday.

At that point I called my wife up at 3:30 and said "I've never done this before, but I'm seriously considering leaving". I told her I'd call her back in an hour with a decision, and she said she'd come help me pack if I decided to leave. In that hour, virtually nobody showed up, and my only sale was to another artist. I tried hard to think of a reason to stay but could come up with nothing. Almost nothing had gone right, and on top of everything else, the show was destined to look like a ghost town on Sunday.

It was a decision that was a bit difficult to make. It involved a conflict between pride and practicality. In the end, practicality won out. At 4:30 I made the call and asked my wife to come help me pack. By 6PM, my trailer was loaded just as the show was ending. As I made my final walk towards the exit, I looked out the window of the civic center to see a lovely double rainbow. It was almost like a sign to me that I was making the right move. Here's a picture (and by the way, what you are looking at here are all that remained of the 6 or so booths that were along the back wall).

Day 3

Although I wasn't there, I knew another artist who stuck around. I was told that there were about 10 artists that didn't leave. Everyone spread out and gave themselves double booths to make it look more full (one artist spread his sculptures out over 4 spaces). Apparently hardly anyone showed up that day. There was a marine reserve symphony at 3PM, and a bunch of people came for that, but very few of them came over to the art show. In short, I'm absolutely certain I made the right decision to leave. I had much better ways to spend an entire Sunday.

What went right

Setup for the show was actually pretty straightforward. We had a few doors we were able to pull our vehicles right up to and unload right into the room where the show would be held. Setup went more or less without a hitch. From that aspect I had nothing I could complain about.

At the preview party, they had a nice food/drink offering for the guests which was also made available to the artists. There was a good variety of food from a number of local restaurants. At least I got something good out of it all.

Other than that, the only things that went right were my decision to leave, and a group of very friendly artists to spend the weekend chatting with (except for one lady who was a member of the community art center and tried guilt tripping the people who packed up early).


The booth cost $160 + $15 jury fee. I sold $167 in merchandise (and $65 of that was to other artists). I didn't even recover the fees, much less gas, materials, and time spent. Wow. That's a heck of a way to end out my art show year. This will certainly be memorable. here to read more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Organizing with Propanels and Velcro

I've had my Propanels for 2 summers worth of shows now, and I'm absolutely loving them. As I wrote about last summer I've gone crazy for Velcro with the Propanels. In that article, I wrote about some hooks I made. Well, I've found another way to make use of them...organizing my work area.

What you are looking at here is the back side of the back wall of my booth (the area out of sight from the customer). This is where I do all my work. When I ordered my propanels, I had 2 of the panels fitted with shelf slots. One of those shelves is in my booth with some materials for the customer to view. The other panel is along the back wall and turned around, so the shelf can be setup on the back outside wall. I use this to write receipts, stack up some of my supplies, assemble gift cards, etc.

Well, I also took some of my extra hooks and started using them to hang up some of the things I use often but want to keep out of the way. Scissors and a pack of price stickers hang directly on the hooks. My receipt book and knucklebuster slips are in a plastic pamplet holder, which is hung on another hook. I also hang up my watch when I don't feel like wearing it, as well as a damp cloth for cleaning things (or at hot shows, I soak a rag in cold water to help keep me cool...and I hang it from a hook below the shelf so it doesn't drip on the shelf). I also hang a garbage bag from a hook placed below the shelf. My calculator (seen here sitting on the binder) also has velcro on the back so I can keep it out of the way when not in use. I also have a few card that I velcro to the wall. One is a business card, so customers can see how to spell my name when writing out a check. The other is a list of credit card instructions, for when my wife it watching the booth, so that she knows how to make a credit card sale. here to read more!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Square cement weights

One of the most common ways to weight down your booth is with the round PVC pipe filled with cement. Several years back I posted a how-to on the topic: PVC and cement corner weights. At the Northville show last month, I saw an interesting variation on the design. The weight was square.

The artist that had these had originally made the weights from round PVC, but she didn't have any handles on them, and she got tired of them rolling. So she found the square tube, put her existing weights inside the square, and filled the gap with cement.

Although she wasn't sure of what the tubing was from, I'm pretty sure they are meant for vinyl fencing (you use a 4x4 wood post, anchor it in the ground, then slide on the vinyl tube). This means the tube itself is probably made from vinyl instead of PVC. I'm not sure what implications that may have for strength and durability. It might be thinner and crack more easily, but I'm not sure that would be a problem once it's filled with hardened cement. However, if you do decide to put handles on them to help with carrying, that might be a bit stressful on the vinyl. It might be a good idea to make sure the bolts are long enough that they stick quite a ways into the pipe. That way when the cement dries, the handles will be anchored to the cement more than the tube. You could also do the 2 nuts + 1 washer thing like I did for they eye bolt if you are concerned.

There is also the issue of how to seal the bottom. Round PVC piping has nice caps you can put on the end and seal with PVC cement, but for fencing, the caps I recall always seem to be decorative. I'm not sure what options you'd have there. If you can't find a nice, simple, flat end cap, then you might have to resort to custom cutting a piece of wood, some styrofoam, or whatever works, and then finding a way to prop up the tube really good so that when you fill it with cement the bottom doesn't fall out. If you use a thick enough piece of wood, you could drill some hole and screw through the tube and into the wood, holding it in place. You then may have to caulk it to seal it (I'm not sure how easily cement would leak through a crack).

Remember, I've never tried this, so I can't vouch for how well it will work. If you decide to try it, you are on your own. Maybe my concern about the strength of the vinyl isn't warranted and it would work great. Whatever the case, if anyone does decide to try this, send me an email when it's done (with maybe a photo or 2) and let me know how it works out and how you sealed the bottom. here to read more!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Catching up for 2009

It's been quite a while since I updated, so what have I been up to? I spent a lot of time enjoying myself, catching up on other hobbies, getting some stuff done around the house, all with some photography thrown in here and there. But as of June I'm stepping things back up again.

Late last year I upgraded to Lightroom 2.0 and discovered that my computer was way too slow to deal with it. So, this April I built a new computer and everything is running great. In June I took a trip to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons (and hit a few other places along the way), and although the weather wasn't the most cooperative for the photography I wanted to do, I managed to get by (though I got almost nothing in the way of sunrise/sunset, unfortunately).

I did my first show of the year in late June...the Northville Art in the Sun show that I was at last year. Whereas last year was pretty darn bad (just about broke even as I recall), this year was alright. Not superb, but better than a lot of shows I've done recently. I dropped the Livonia show I usually do in early June, as it has been absolutely terrible the last 2 years and I wasn't very thrilled with the way they were running the show. In exchange, I picked up 2 shows in mid September and early October, so I have 6 this year (and maybe more...I'm considering picking up 1 or 2 in Nov/Dec if I can find something worthwhile).

That about covers it for the most part. Not a whole lot beside just working on some new works, printing, matting, etc. I'm trying not to change a whole lot this year, as my goal is to keep costs down and try to actually turn a profit this year. I've been taking losses up to now because of how much money I had to spend between supplies, my camera and lenses, my wide format printer, the new booth and panels, etc. If I stick to the basics and most of my shows go decently, I'm hoping I can make it. It's not easy, as I'm always researching and thinking "I could buy this to make things easier, or build this thing to help organize things, or buy that to make my display nicer". For someone who is continually searching for ways to improve everything, it's not an easy thing to do, but I'm trying to restrain myself. here to read more!