Thursday, January 31, 2008

How to find the right shows

Have you ever applied for a job before? Chances are that most people reading this can say that one time or another in their careers they’ve researched located and applied for a job. It’s never a fun thing to do, or at least it never was for me.

Partly because of that, I’ve been self-employed since my early 20’s. I hate rejection. Not that I ever applied for a position thinking that I wasn’t right for the job, but once learning that I wasn’t hired I didn’t know if it was the rejection of not getting it or the lame excuses why I didn’t that bothered me the most.

“We were highly impressed with your résumé, but we found someone else better suited to our needs.”

“Your work record looks impeccable and we would love to have a person with your skills work for us but, you just aren’t as qualified as the other applications.”

“The quality of your portfolio is magnificent, but we thought that you wouldn’t be as good of a fit as others we looked at.”

Enough already, I get the picture.

Well, an artist goes through that same scenario for every art festival they apply to. If you’re a busy artist that attends many different shows each year you know what I mean. Imagine applying to 30 different jobs a year. Every application comes with the ever-present chance of rejection. That’s exactly what the artist goes through each time they send in their application, jury fees and images of their work. Then they wait for the thick postage paid envelope to arrive (obviously filled with the slides/cd/photos you submitted to be juried) informing them that,

“We were highly impressed with your artist statement and the slides of your work were some of the most impressive pieces the judges have looked at this year, but, we’re sorry to inform you that you have not been chosen to participate in this years festival.”

WTF, how can that be? They said they loved my work. That is what we go through every time we roll the dice and apply to a festival. The process makes my stomach turn. I always start the year by making sure I have an ample supply of Rolaids and Tums available.

That said, there are ways to minimize these inevitable rejection letters. The first (and probably the most important) step in the application process is finding the best show for your type of art. If you’re an abstract surrealist, it doesn’t make sense to send in an application to western themed dominated show in the southwest. Likewise if you paint old west scenes you might want to stay clear of a show held in the SoMa district of a large urban city.

Go where your market is. Staying in the old west vernacular, don’t use a shotgun when a rifle is a better choice. Pin point your applications, don’t just apply to every show out there. First off, you’d go broke in jury fees alone and more importantly, sitting through a 3 day festival watching patrons stir clear of your booth like you had a sign hung in the front of it informing people that you have a deadly contagious disease is really a bummer.

Again, go where your market is.

Well, how do you find the right show? There is no one right answer but there are a series of thing to make your chances better.

1. Ask fellow artists what shows are working for them. Be careful on this one because some artist’s guard which shows are the best like their life depended on it and their financial life might, especially if you both do the same type of art.

2. Read trade journals and festival directories. These will at least give you the names and dates of the shows but not necessarily which ones are the best for you. The one I find myself using the most now days is The Art Fair Source Book. The owner of this publication, Greg Lawler, is not only a friend but in my opinion, a genius when it comes to offering unbiased, researched show information.

3. Subscribe to on-line directories. This is after all, 2008. If you are still complaining that shows aren’t accepting slides any longer and they require you to submit your application and images digitally, wake up. Those antiquated days are over. An ever-increasing percentage of the Top 100 shows are already on ZAPP, and for a good reason, it works. Instant processing of your application, your images are stored on their severs so you don’t have to worry if you just sent off your last booth slide to another show.

Even if the better shows aren’t signed up to use ZAPP now, they are adopting many of the digital image requirements into their submittal process and will probably be just a matter of time before they too, only except apps through ZAPP.

I’m currently finishing off a video tutorial on many of the features that artists find so “scary” with ZAPP and I’ll post a link to it when it’s done. I’ll be covering every thing from how to set your ZAPP account up, image preparation, artist statements and more.

To try and not turn this post into a novel, I’ll cover a few other methods on finding the correct shows later.

PS. Happy 54th birthday Dennis Brady Studio ☺

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How to survive on the art festival circuit

Because I’ve been very busy lately getting ready for the up-coming 2008 art festival season, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the many new-comers who will venturing out into this world of direct selling their art to collectors at the various art fairs held around the country.

Through out the year I will be writing a series of articles that will offer visitors a look into the world of art festivals. Thousands of artists a year make all or part of their income by producing some sort of artwork and selling it through a network of festivals.

Every single weekend of the year, promoters provide venues for artists to meet with and hopefully sell their art to the end user. In other words, this transaction takes place between artist and the person who will own their art. This direct selling approach offers the artist the opportunity to explain their art as well as how it’s produced, directly to the buyer. The consumer appreciates this direct contact with the artist and the artist keeps a greater piece of the pie for each piece sold. In comparison to art galleries where sales commissions can run as high as 50%, this means of marketing can offer the artist a higher profit per piece sold.

That is the upside of being a traveling artist. There are however, many aspects of this lifestyle is not as glamorous as what the public sees. The long hours spent away from home and in many cases, families. The thousands of miles that is driven each year to attend these festivals. Each hour on the road is an hour not available to create art. The escalating expenses ranging from increasingly high jury and booth fees, lodging expense, food, gas, lose from stolen or broken art pieces and the dreaded mechanical breakdown.

I’ve developed many techniques during my art career, not all of which are used in making my art. Part of the reason I am as successful as I am is because of the techniques I’ve learned that enable me to sell my art. I will try to give you a glimpse into the artist’s world but more importantly, I will offer a platform where artists can turn to for information to make this lifestyle easier, more profitable and fun. Some of the topics I will be covering are:

• How to choose the right show for your type of art.
• How to prepare your festival applications to “get you in.”
• How to price your art to make you more money yet keeps it affordable to the buyer.
• How to set up your booth and display area to maximize visibility as well as salability.
• How to “close the sale” in a friendly way.
• How to keep cost down on the road.
• How to resell to past customers.
• How to write a professional “Artist Statement.”

These topics will become posts as they become relevant during my season. I’m in my preparation stage now, submitting applications to the various shows I want to do for 2008. This is one of the least liked jobs an artist has to do each year, but it is one of the most important parts of building a successful career selling your art.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What are fractals?

I thought it to be obvious but in case you’ve been wondering what form of art I create they are called fractals. They are a sub class of 2 dimensional digital art that I do on a computer.

The computer, though an intregal part of the design process is NOT the creator of the art, the artist is. It only facilitates the millions of mathematical iterations necessary to create the design. Without the artist inputting the formulas that control the shape and color the computer would be useless.

Once rendered, my fractals are printed on various materials, the most common being photographic paper and then framed to finish the piece.

Let me try and define fractals for you in a little more detail. They are geometric patterns that are repeated over and over creating self-similar shapes, many of which are found in nature. Examples such as fern leafs, trees, snowflakes and clouds are but a few fractal designs that naturally occur.

Trying to define fractals to a layman can be rather confusing but a common dictionary definition of fractal is this: "A geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that can not be represented by classical geometry. Fractals are used especially in computer modeling of irregular patterns and structures in nature."

Fractals as an art “style” first captured my attention during the psychedelic poster art heyday of the 60’s rock scene. Although the term “fractal” would not officially be associated with this form of art until the next decade, these colorful, artists with “fractalized” minds certainly created free form designs that adorned these early posters.

All of this aside, I use mathematics as my “paint” and my computer as my “brushes.” Just as if a more traditional painter would dip their brush into the paint and then apply it to the canvas I select a formula and turn it into a piece of art with the aid of my computer.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A different type of artist

Artists come in many different forms. Painters, photographers, weavers, ceramicists, writers, digital artists etc. One type of artist that isn’t usually thought of is the computer programmer. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing this post in my blog. I wouldn’t be able to create the fractal images I do on my computer. The Internet that you’re reading this on wouldn’t exist. The behind the scenes coders write the programs that enable us to do what we do on these magic little boxes.

Many of you are at the least, casual gamers. Programmers create the wonderful world that you spend those many hours in. The code is their art. Different than what many of us think of when we think of art, but art none the less.

One of my regular blog reads is Jason Kottke’s site.

A post there yesterday brought me to a programmers site that I other wise would have never found because I am not a gamer and thus wouldn’t have any reason to check him out. The creator of this little game has a statement about the games meaning but playing the game prior to reading the programmers thoughts on it was, for me at least, much more poignant.

Jason Rohrer’s game Passage and more importantly, his story caused me to do something that I’ve never done before in all the years of Internet use. I placed a small donation into his PayPal account. I’ve been directly supporting authors of software programs for years by purchasing their programs, but this donation was the first time I’ve ever “connected” with the programmer.

You see, Jason doesn’t charge for his art, his program. He asks for small donations to help him support himself, his wife and daughter in their earth friendly lifestyle.

If you’d like to experience a different form of art than you may not have ever thought of before, check out Jason and his game, Passage.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Every now and then things just click. You know, fall into place, come together, and merge with the cosmos. What ever you call it, you’ll know when it happens. Maybe it’s something that you’ve been working on for some time. Or maybe it just falls into your lap, but when it happens, you’ll know it.

Selling your art, like any other profession that requires trading goods for money needs a network for distribution. The reason that I am able to support myself with something that I love to do, create art, is because I’ve developed a way to get my prints into the hands and then walls of thousands of different people each year. I touched on this briefly yesterday.

I use my website to allow people all over the world see and hopefully buy my art. I’ve procrastinated for 3 years over whether or not to add to my already crowed day by journaling my life as an artist trough a blog. You’re reading this blog so you know my decision on that. I travel all around the country, setting up my temporary, home away from home canopy and display my art to hundreds of thousands of people who attend these festivals looking to buy art. What a concept.

The one aspect of selling my art without me physically being there (whether personally running my site or being at an art fair) has so far alluded me even though I’ve put some effort into making it happen. I’ve wanted to find a working relationship with a distributor to sell my art to their already existing market. That was much harder to find than I imagined when I started looking a few years back. Sure there are hordes of existing sales rep firms and manufactures distributors out there. Just google it and you’ll be overwhelmed with the choices. I did, and spent countless hours researching, interviewing and in a few cases even started relationships with people who for many different reasons, didn’t pan out.

Finding someone else who has a passion for what they do (sell art) as great as the passion you have (create art) is the Holly Grail. I knew it existed but I just couldn’t quite find it and hold onto it long enough to make it work, for the both of us. Because of that, I put it aside, stopped thinking, no obsessing about it and went along with what was already working for me.

Remembering that “good things come to people who wait” or in my case forgot about it, I was pleasantly surprised when I got an e-mail from Teresa Coppla of Starshine Arts last December. She introduced herself and said that a mutual friend recommended that she take a look at my art to possibly be included as a greeting card line in her catalog. She asked for samples and because I already produced a line of cards that I sell on my site and at art festivals, I was able to send a few off for Teresa to examine the next day. Because I’ve gone through this exercise before, I wasn’t getting my hopes up.

After a month of correspondence, I’ve entered into an agreement with Teresa and Starshine Arts to distribute my line of fractal greeting cards. The working relationship is just beginning, a new chapter in my life as an artist trying to support himself doing something he loves. Considering I’ve never met Teresa except for our exchanges of e-mail, I still get the feeling of trust, mutual admiration and financial success with our dealings so far.

One never knows when you’ll find that missing piece, the connection. I think I have.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Websites, blogs, festivals & art

Not necessarily in that order but being a successful artist, especially a digital artist that wants or needs to sell your art in order to pay the bills, requires a presence that gets you out of the studio and into the real world where your clients live.

There are many ways to do that. You could gather some of your best works and drive around to local and regional art galleries hoping that the proprietor decides to place you art there, all the while relieving you of 40-50% of the profit once and IF one of your pieces sells. Now don’t get me wrong, the art world needs galleries. Without them, a great deal of the art buying public would not connect with you. Those types of collectors are conditioned to doing it that way. Some don’t know that there is, in my opinion, a better way to buy and own art.

There are 100’s of ways to sell art. As an artist it’s your job not only to create the art but also to sell too. The aforementioned gallery outlets are one way but you could also reach out to potential prospective buyers through your own website or possibly a blog. You could also launch auctions on eBay and hope that the 180211 (current as of today) other auctions selling art don’t drown yours out. EBay auctions can and do produce art sales for the artist but in ways that I’m sure your not thinking about now. More of an unconventional way than just placing one of your pieces up for bid. I’ll cover this topic in more detail in a later post.

You could also participate in the world of art festivals. There are tens of thousands of art fairs held all around the world each year in every conceivable venue. This means of marketing your art places you directly in front of the buying public. The direct connection between the buyer and the artist is by far more rewarding for both parties than simply clicking on the “Buy it now” button at eBay.

On the surface, this method seems perfect, but there are many pitfalls with art festivals too. Way too many to go into detail here, but I am planning on a whole series of articles based on my life as a traveling artist through out the year. I set up and sell my art at approximately 30 festivals a year, which generates 90% of my income so you see, I have a great deal of experience with this marketing method.

My festivals normally start in early March each year and ends in mid December. This schedule works for me. It allows the greatest exposure to my buyers plus it gives me a much needed wintertime break. That break is quickly coming to an end and I’ll be packing up my art, canopy and displays into my truck and trailer and heading out, to what we full time traveling artist call the circuit. Here I will reconnect with old friends and new buyers and hopefully make 2008 another profitable year.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Life's distractions

Sometimes I consider myself a prolific artist. I am able to sit with my computer, unobstructed with outside distractions and just create. There might be an image that I can’t get out of my mind that somehow just flow effortlessly from Ultra Fractal, the software program I use to do my fractal art. Other times, which are increasingly, becoming more the norm than I’d like, I can’t seem to concentrate long enough to finish a piece.

Granted it, most of my current work involves dozens if not more individual layers that make up the final image and that just takes time to do. I’ll sometimes work hours on a single layer of a fractal because it is crucial to the over all theme of the design. Times that by 25 and you start to see how long it can actually take to create a piece.

That said life is starting to interfere with my art. Doing digital art on a computer is often an envious position I hold with my fellow artists, the more traditional ones painting with acrylics or molding hunks of clay. Their art is created using various “tools” of their trade, be them, easels, paint brushes, welding torches or potters wheels. Mine is a MacBook Pro laptop that opens to reveal my studio wherever I am. At home, on a plane, a bench in a park or during slow sales times at an art festival I’m at for the weekend. My art studio sits on my lap or my desk.

Of course there are other devices I employee to finish my art. I use various printers with the workhorse being a 2 ½ year old Epson Stylus Pro 4000. This printer produces 95% of the prints I sell. Over the years, I’ve used many different printers. HP, Canon and other models of Epson’s but hands down, this it the best printer a digital artist can own. I’m considering upgrading to a wider format Epson, but I’ll hold off talking about that until a later post.

Back to my dilemma, I have too many distractions lately. Why do I need to have a browser window open on my computer? Do I really need to google that idea that popped into my head right now? Wikipedia is wonderful, I can’t remember what I did without it. Yes I can, I got up from my desk and walked to the bookshelf and pulled out the encyclopedia and hunted for the answer to my question. But do I have to go off on a tangent at that very moment; do I need the answer that bad? Of course not, it can wait, but the convenience a computer hooked up to the Internet through a WiFi connection makes this distraction from my art easy, which is addictive.

Do I need MailPlane reminding me that an e-mail has just came through from someone wanting my valuable attention more that I need to create art? I think not, but it is convenient, for the sender anyway. Are three different e-mail accounts that all need hourly feeding essential?

Hopefully you can see where I’m going with all of this. Life is one big distraction for an artist, especially for a “wired” digital artist. Am I ready to pull the plug? Not today, but I have come up with what I think is a workable game plan to curb the distractions. Like a diet, I hope I can stick to it. My MacBook Pro’s battery last about 2 hours, give or take a few minutes either way. In the morning, over coffee, I plan to do any of my Net essential chores while my battery power lasts. E-mail correspondence, web surfing, and reading blogs through the various RSS feeds I subscribe to, etc. Net stuff. Once I get the “low battery” warning me to plug in, I cut the wires to the Internet. Figuratively speaking of course. After that, I’m a distraction free artist.

Impossible? Maybe. But it’s worth a try. Of course my favorite music streaming through iTunes in the background is OK. And I could write a little widget that pops up every few hours reminding me to take a minute and see what earth stopping e-mail requests I have in my in box. And oh ya, there are the podcasts that feed my curious mind and that image file that has to be ftp’d to the publisher and ooo… what happens if someone posts a photo on my Flickr page that I need to see right now or what about Twitter, my FaceBook wall, MySpace? Let’s not forget my blog.

I’m doomed, just pass me the ADD meds.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Starting Out in 2008

My winter break never seems long enough. I normally end my show circuit season almost 1800 miles from home, which gives me 3 long days of drive time to examine how the year turned out. Not that I don't already have a good idea of how successful the season was, but this solo drive gives ample time for contemplation.

Once home, Christmas is right around the corner. My daughter is home from college and we are busy making plans for our other 3 son’s trip back to the snowy climate of North Idaho. That always presents a problem because they live in 3 different states along with their wives and our grand kids and the nearest one is 1000 miles away.

With the logistics of that over, I settle down for the next few weeks and try not to think about art, festivals, driving or anything else related to my life on the road as a traveling artist. Well, those few weeks are past and I am “back in the game” full throttle I’m in the studio creating new works, answering e-mail from prospective clients, handling orders for my wholesale accounts and applying to this year’s batch of festivals.

I swear I was just finishing my 2007 season just a few short weeks ago and here I am, back on the merry go round again…and loving every minute of it.

I’d like to finish this post by wishing my wife a happy anniversary. It’s been a wonderful 20 years.