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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The first art show

If there were a book for aspiring traveling artists, one of the first things in the book would be… to find opportunities to show work. Having saved references to shows for a few years, ever so slowly an index of places that provided good information started to reveal itself. There are a lot of places and a lot of events during some times of the year. Most well established events require applying many months in advance. Sometimes, there is the luck of circumstance. Some experienced fair gipsies use this kind of thing to their advantage. But a newbie can dive into this pool and suffer death by a thousand places to look, or worse, go through this process and then suffer death by going to the wrong kind of events.

There are a lot of reasons finding suitable events is a challenge. Some events don’t have a very large attendance, some are intended for $3 to $5 dollar and other inexpensive items. If you are at one of these selling something for $10 or more, you probably won’t have a great show.

Some great places to look for events include what you’ll find at the following links. Note that some of these sites require membership.

Don’t limit yourself to the search locations noted above but they display only some of the shows in the area. Some of the best shows are shared by word of mouth.

I remember reading about an event at Auburn’s Emerald Downs Race Track and thought: “Wow, a Holiday crafts festival at a race track. There will be 100 vendors. Sounds like a good prospect.” So I made the booking and the 10’x10’ space I rented for the event was about $155 for a 3 day show. It included electricity. I should have opted for a corner booth for a few dollars extra, but declined it. That was a mistake as I found out at the show that corner booths are nearly always a better choice because you can display more stuff and most importantly more people can see your stuff if they can see it from two sides. Oopse for me.

It turned out to be a good work out for a first venue. I arrived and found it was impossible to use their loading dock. First there were dozens and dozens of other vendors waiting to use it, and next, it had a stairway, which rendered my cart named the “Shlepper” completely useless. And more to the point, would mean I’d have to lift hundreds of lbs. of boxes and other things. No thanks. So, I parked near the front of the building, and started to load my stuff into the building through a side door, along with about many others.

It was supreme chaos.

Not only was the loading area not well designed for this many people to be using at the same time, it was horribly designed for volume use in general and everyone had to take turns loading a few at a time into 1 freight elevator for a ride to the 3rd floor. There a few people and their full carts would unload, then more people with their empty carts would load, and the elevator would descend back to the loading dock are where the doors opened open in front of many more people with full carts.

Despite this tortured process, and to my amazement, most were in good spirits. I’m not sure exactly why but perhaps just bowing to the absurdity of so many people confronting common obstacles had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the group of Sisters who were amongst the rest of us as the Nuns too were setting up a display booth. It is amazing how a group of people of faith can bring an end to so many typical comments made by people who are busy pinching fingers and legs on things and running into bigger things, while everyone was trying to do something between cooperating and competing with each other to get their stuff to their area so they could setup their booth.

On a personal note, many of the randomly acquired boxes for my art works would not fit through the doors because the boxes were too wide. Some of my art was too tall to fit through the doors when using the Schlepper. This meant I got to load the Shlepper, move it a distance, then unload it and hand carry stuff through the doors and stack everything up against a wall. After that I’d reverse the process to reload the Shlepper. It added a lot of work to the day. The ultimate instance of this ritual in moving was when I found my Pro Panels would not fit through the doors. And this was only one of the many nuanced details that were part of a nearly 10 hours it took to get the booth setup. It was a very good work out.

Solving puzzles is a part of doing these kinds of shows. As I’ve learned, so is waking up at 3 in the morning with some kind solution to a problem.

The day after load-in was a Friday and that was the day the show opened to the public. I returned to the facility about 2 hours before the show’s official start, so that I could finish setup and generally be nervous. During the drive in I snacked on about a dozen Tums to try and soothe my acid stomach. It didn’t entirely work.

Once I got to the show and fussed in the booth for a bit, I took the opportunity to distract myself and look at nearby booths. That let me settle into a nice sort of apprehension.

One of the first booths I noticed was another photographer at the show, and who had a beautifully done 10x20 display. His works were presented like something you’d see at Cabela’s. As soon as I saw the display, I realized I too needed a bigger booth space. My panoramic works are up to about 6 feet long and you can really only get a few of those into a 10x10 booth. The next thing I noticed was that there were a lot of people selling very inexpensive things such as holiday ornaments, baby clothing, candles, beads, and so on. There were some selling more expensive items ranging from various art objects, to trip planning to beauty aids and services, to fine jewelry. The event participants offered a wide variety of items.

I returned to my booth to find some neighbor vendors looking at my work and I started to talk with them about the work and about the show and shows in general. It’s actually a lot of fun to talk with random people about art and other stuff. I asked a lot of questions of my neighbors and received some really great feedback on a wide variety of topics. Things like never eat in the booth as most visitors are too polite to interrupt so they walk past the booth. This can cost a sale or more. Things like - it is good to have pricing prominently displayed, so no one has to ask. Things like it’s not great to offer a lot of hand-outs, because most end up in the trash or forgotten in one of the bags that people hand out. Things like: It is good to make what you hand out unique. I regret that I was too busy to take more notes.

Time marched on and the event transitioned from being there early into a trickle of people walking past and many detouring into my booth to look at my works and talk. Over the course of the event I talked with what seemed like several hundred people and the pace was mostly non-stop, so not enough got written down.
Other vendors said they felt that the event was not very well visited. I later learned from the organizers that about a thousand showed up over 3 days. While that is a poor turnout, for me it was ideal and I got to start to learn about the nature of my potential customers. My work received lots and lots of positive feedback. I sold a few works and also received some excellent recommendations on other places to show.
Getting out of the building was nearly as much chaos as was getting in, except that it took place right after the event ended, and nearly everyone was tired. My partner Jan helped all day Saturday and Sunday, and she also helped pack the exhibit back into the trailer. Due to her help, the load out time was about 3 hours. Of course, it was night time and raining while loading stuff back into the trailer. To add to the fun of this, my SUV decided to blow a fuse when the trailer’s interior lights were left on for more than a minute. Loading a trailer in the dark, what joy!
Once back home, I wrote down a bunch of notes and reviewed what I wrote while at the show and planned a number of changes. The first was to bring a flashlight with replacement batteries for the trailer! I also had to find out why the SUV was blowing a fuse when the trailer lights were on. In addition I made some changes to how some things were presented, by adding a table and some smaller print bins. I also thought to change how nearly everything was packaged, but didn't get around to doing this for several more shows. I also looked into what was needed to expand my display area to fit a 10x20 space. Not too much was needed for that, as it turned out.

It was a great first event. After months and months of work, and lot of Tums, I was happy to see the event complete with few problems. In fact, the only negative other than the car’s blown fuses, was that some of my smaller print bin works disappeared at the show. Hmmmm.

Next time, event #2 and what happens when a newbie gets to sell to a crowd.

PS: I will be at the Seattle Home Show, held at Century Link Field Event Center between February 16 and 24. You can find my exhibit in the Marketplace section in booths 5019 and 5020. Look for Justan Elk or look at my web site, which is . For information on the show see

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