Thursday, March 27, 2008

Set up day

Actually I should say, “set up night” because the Festival of the Arts here in Tempe AZ starts shutting down the various streets that contain the artist’s booth around 8:00 PM tonight. With nearly 400 booths to be built and art to be hung by 10:00 AM Friday morning, the only way to get this all accomplished is to let those artists who choose to, start setting up the evening before the event starts.

A number of years ago when I first did this art festival I made the mistake of deciding to get to the show early on Friday morning to set up my booth instead of staying up past mid night on Thursday and fight the massive crowd. I reasoned that because most artists were going to erect their booths as soon the festival director and the Tempe police department allowed, it would be much easier getting parking close to my assigned spot in the wee, dark hours on Friday morning.

As I pulled up to a nearly deserted festival site around 3:00 AM the next day, the first thing I noticed was that probably 95% of the artist’s booths were already set up. I was rested because I was sleeping when these other artists were busy setting up their booths only a few hours earlier. With a cup of hot coffee in one hand and a map to my booth space in the other, I found my way to an empty parking spot directly in front of where I was to set up. Sweet, I thought.

I started unloading my canopy, tables art and other supplies from the back of my truck and started to lay out the metal poles and corner connectors that would soon make up the skeletal structure to my booth. Because the festival is held on Mill Ave in downtown Tempe, all of the booths are laid out with neighbors not only to both sides of you but also behind your both. This grid pattern allows you exactly the 10” x 10’ space you paid for. Because I chose to set up in the morning and all artists surrounding me had set up the night before, I needed to squeeze my booth into the existing space that turned out to be 9’ 6” and NOT the 10’ x 10’ that I was entitled too. If I had another type of booth instead of the ridged metal Trimline tent that I use, I might have been able to adjust the width of my booth to the space available. EZ-Ups and Caravan canopies are much more flexible and don’t have the ridged horizontal poles that mine has so I could have made do to this smaller space.

I started looking around for anyone in charge that could have helped me with my dilemma but everyone I talked to said there was nothing they could do and I should wait for either one of my booth neighbors to show up and ask them to move over a bit. As I explained to those who would listen, it wasn’t a matter of having the one artist to the side of me slide over a few inches, there were 15 or 20 tents set up each tightly touching each other and it would require them all to move which would have been out of the question.

After an hour or so of the same lecture about “this is why we recommend artists to set up the night before so you don’t run into this problem” my frustration was starting to get the best of me. It takes me 4 plus hours to properly build my mini art gallery and I was starting to run past this necessary time window because I couldn’t get anyone to make a decision as to what I should do. It’s kind of an un-written rule that once a both is set up, you don’t touch it, even though it encroaches into your space.

Not wanting to upset the artists to either side of me by scooting over their booths a bit in order to fit mine in, I waited to finish my build until I was able to talk to my neighbors. The first to arrive was an artist I had never met before so I first started by introducing myself to her and then explained my problem and asked her if she could move over a few inched in order for me to fit my booth in. She had one of those flexible EZ-Ups I talked about earlier and it would have been a cinch to scoot her booth over enough for me to fit. She had none of her artwork hung on walls that she would have needed to remove before we slid her booth over so I figured she would happy comply. Instead, I got a firey lecture from a sleep deprived woman about me being lazy and not wanting to stay up late the night before, “like the rest of us” to set up so, FORGET IT. I was stunned and found out that there was no reasoning with her.

A few minutes later the neighbor on my other side arrived and to my dismay I learned he was a potter. That meant thousands of pounds of clay pots that were arranged on his shelves would need to be moved in order for him to slide his canopy over enough for me to fit. I thought, “no way is he going to do that” and slid deeper into my despair. What this very cool artist said next renewed my beliefs that traveling artist were a big band of brothers and sisters that did what it took to help the fellow artists out. He said “grab the end of that shelf help me slide it over. We’ll get you enough room to set up in.” What a relief and what a polar opposite attitude from the artist to my right.

After explaining to this new “best friend of mine” what the other artist said about me being lazy and not wanting to stay up late like the rest of them in order to get my allotted space, he just laughed and said “Karma is a powerful force” and then he smiled and said “let’s get it moved.”

Well, I did manage to get my booth up in time for the start of the show and although tired from the hurried pace, I was happy that I was about to spend 3 days to be next to a truly considerate artist/friend who understood the meaning of neighbor.

I had a great show, almost hitting my highest sales totals I’d ever had. My potter friend also had a record setting show and my sleepy neighbor who refused to help me out, well, it turned out that she was on the tail end of her art show career (which is maybe why she didn’t care any longer) and complained almost non stop about how bad this show was and how unsophisticated the buyers were and that she hadn’t even made both fee expenses. In our business, attitude is paramount; she exposed hers on set up day. I’m sure that carried into the other 3 days of the festival. Not wanting to be too analytical about her poor show, I’ll just leave it like my potter friend said the first day, “Karma is a powerful force.” At that, I too smiled as I packed up my truck Sunday night after the show.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the road again

Well, I'll be leaving for a 3 week, 2 show swing through Arizona early Saturday morning so posts for the next short while might be a little sporadic. As long as I can find reliable WiFi access from the show or where I'll be staying, I'll give you updates as they happen. If access is non-reliable, these posts will occur when I can hook up to the Net.

I really hope connectivity is OK because one of the main reasons for starting this blog was to give aspiring artists a detailed look at what it's like to do shows from the artist point of view. There isn't better way to do that than reporting right from the show.

Next update- somewhere south of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Mandala 21

Here is the 21st piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 21

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mandala 19

Here is the 19th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 19

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Every artist experiences it at one time or another during his or her careers. I just got a healthy dose of it last night.

As mentioned before, we artists apply to a variety of shows and festivals in order to secure ourselves a spot where we can set-up and sell our art. The application process is both time consuming and gut wrenching at the same time. When the application is filled out, your cover letter is written, your photos are selected and included in the envelop and your check is made out and signed you are now ready to hand it off to the postal service of your choice. At this time it is advisable to kneel, say a quick but heartfelt prayer to the jury gods and with fingers crossed, drop the envelope into the slot at your local post office and forget about it.

That is until the day when you receive either your confirmation or rejection notice back from the show. There is one other possibility that can befall you in regards to your status in the festival. The dreaded “wait list.” This is the purgatory of the art festival world.

The letter you receive back from the show director can either tell you that were not selected for this years show but reminding you to make sure you jump through the same hoops and pay the same non-refundable jury fees for NEXT years show. Or, it can start with the always-welcome salutation “Welcome to this years (fill in the name of the show here)” or lastly it can inform you that your art was just good enough not to get s**t canned out of the show but not good enough to be out and out invited to participate. They call this “the wait list”

Personally, I hate the wait list idea. It only stands to benefit the show’s director and in my opinion, does nothing except add to the artists already growing aggregation with the whole jury process. This is our purgatory. We are in but not really and were out but not yet. Smart artist have already double applied, especially for prime summer weekends as not to be left without any show to do for that time slot.

Double applying is our choice and a very smart one at that. This is our business and those who treat it that way, usually succeed. Show promoters on the other hand, hate us artists to do that, double apply. It means more work for them. What do I mean, well say that show “A” wait lists me. I also applied for show “B” and got accepted into it straight out. When the promoter of show “A” gets a cancellation for their show and goes down their list and calls me up informing me that they now want me in their show, I have to tell them I accepted an invitation to show “B” and I won’t be able to attend theirs. I’ve actually had promoters get upset with me turning them down (from the wait list) and tell me not to bother applying next year. You can always tell when their emotions are getting the best of them because of the extra work they now need to do in order to fill their show, because a smart promoter will say thanks and conclude by reminding you to not and forget to send in your application and fees again next year.

Well, yesterday I got my consolatory “wait list” letter from a show that I’ve done extremely well at for the past 6 years. They must have known how badly I wanted in this year because they asked me to “please keep the dates for our show in mind and don’t book anything else for that weekend, we MIGHT call you at the last minute” Because they really want to make sure that if they get a cancellation I will be ready and willing to drive the 1000 miles one way to their show with possibly only a days notice they must feel obligated to say that I guess.

Ya right, sure I will.

Expecting that my luck might run out with this show in 2008, I already applied to 2 other shows for that weekend. Just in case.

Mandala 18

Here is the 18th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 18

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mandala 17

Here is the 17th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 17

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My first extended trip of the season

WARNING: long post ahead.

I’ve been attending art festivals in Arizona for a number of years. Although these shows take me 1800 miles from home, they have always been worth my time and the expense necessary to do them. Typically I do the fall shows in both Tempe and Tucson AZ. but for the first time I will be doing those same two shows this spring.

I just finished doing some gas mileage calculations and discovered that with gas nearing $4.00 a gallon pulling my trailer will add over $400.00 to my expenses. Because I use my 6’ x 12’ cargo trailer to both carry my booth, art and supplies to enable me to set up my mini art gallery at various art festivals PLUS use it as my mobile hotel room (I sleep, eat and bath in it) leaving it home usually isn’t an option. Even though in the previous years that I’ve “moteled it” I always found the cheapest accommodations I could, usually Tom Bodett’s Motel 6. But now that my home away from home rolls with me behind my truck I’m going to be hard pressed to leave it behind.

Packing what I normally take to shows under the canopy of my 2005 Chevy Silverado truck and NOT in my trailer is going to take some serious planning. I used to do it but since I started pulling my trailer I’ve become used to the extra room and thus have not been as careful with what I take and what I leave at home. If I revert back to my set up prior to using my rolling print bins, I can take 6 2’ x 4’ tables to support my framed prints instead of my large rolling bins that I couldn’t lift into the bed of my truck. This will save a ton of room.

If I also only frame as many images as I think I’ll need for one show instead of two, I can take hundreds of un-framed prints with me and cases of glass and then frame what I need for the second show between the festivals. That way I will save half of the room I would need if I made up my entire inventory at home. A little more work but that way I can do these 2 shows without my trailer.

This trip will have a few additional benefits that all traveling artist should be taking advantage of, namely, book shows close to family or friends you’d like to visit. Not only can you write off the expenses you accrue with these visits because your main reason for these far off trips are to conduct business at the festival but you may also be able to save additional money by staying with these folks.

That’s exactly what I’ll be doing this time. I have a son, daughter-in-law and two grand kids that live near Salt Lake City Utah. By leaving early in the morning on my departure day I can make it to Idaho Falls in a long but doable driving day. This first stop is about 550 miles from my home in Sandpoint, ID. By leaving my trailer home, I’ll need to book a room for the night, which will cost me about $45.00. The next day I’ll have a causal drive to my son’s home.

After spending the night with my family I’ll drive into Arizona as far as I can make in one long day of driving and then I’ll need to book another motel room which will run about the same as in Idaho Falls. The next day’s destination is Mesa AZ. which is where my other son and his family live (starting to get the picture?) Mesa is only 15 minutes from the Festival of the Arts in Tempe so I’ll be able to return each night to stay with my family and NOT need to stay in a motel.

Between my show in Tempe and the 4th Ave. show in Tucson I will also be staying with my son saving over $200.00 in lodging fees plus giving me opportunity to play grandpa to my 1 ½ year old grand son. I can’t wait.

The 4th Ave. show is another 3-day affair so I’ll be heading south towards Tucson on Thursday morning which will give me ample time to set up my booth that afternoon. For that night plus the next 3 I’ll need to call Motel 6 home once more which will set me back less than you might think. Tucson offers some of the best lodging prices anywhere in the country. The 4 nights there will only run about $130.00. The age and condition of the Tucson Motel 6 is less than I’d like but I am only sleeping and bathing there so I hate to spend more than I need to for this.

Monday morning I’ll start my long trip back to Idaho and even with a long day of driving I usually only make it to southern Utah. Chalk up another nights stay and expense but this time the Motel 6 I use is one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in. Go figure. To keep the night’s lodging consistent all over the country, Motel 6 must some how subsidize the newer and fancier hotels because the difference between the one in Tucson and the one in Cedar City UT. is night and day.

The next day I easily drive back to son #1’s house in Salt Lake City, spend another day or two playing grandpa to my two other grand kids then it’s back on the road. After about 10 hours behind the wheel I pull into Missoula MT. and hook up with a friend and old neighbor of mine from when we both lived in Santa Cruz CA. We catch up on old times while consuming a few adult beverages and get a good night sleep without forking over and money to the hotels night clerk.

The next day I say goodbye and head home. It’s only a 6 hour drive which is a piece of cake so I’m driving back to my mountain ranch home before dark.

Because this trip will keep me on the road for nearly 3 weeks and if I needed to stay in motels the entire time I could easily spend close to $1000.00 on lodging alone. By staying with family and friends I reduce this expense to under $400.00, which coincidently is what I would have spent on the additional gas to pull my trailer.

Planning shows you do that allow you to take advantage of my couch surfing plan will not only save you money but allow you to write off your family trips too. Believe me, this can be one of the best benefits a life as an artist can have.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mandala 16

Here is the 16th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 16

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catching up is hard to do

One of the things I look forward to when I start my show season and hit the circuit is catching up with old friends. Most of us have taken at least some time off over the winter and the first show back allows us to see what we’ve all been up to since we last saw each other.

I have many friends but some of the closest ones I have are other artists. Were all on the same wave link, sort of. We can relate to each other better than our other friends do not who travel selling their art. A few of my dearest friends, the ones who I could pour my soul out to if necessary, live many states away from my home and in some cases over a thousand miles away. But because we see each other each weekend at the various art festivals we attend, they’re like my next-door neighbors.

Try explaining to one of your customers that walks into your booth how tired you are with being on the road, away from your family selling art all day long and chances are you’ll get a look from them like “hey you live a glamorous life filled with travel and surrounded with beautiful art, what are you complaining for?”

But when you mention the same statement to your booth neighbor, the other artist that is just as burnt as you, a look of mutual understanding comes back at you. Grant it, we’re not out in the hot sun laboring all day digging ditches but none-the-less, we still get tired.

Anyway, back to catching up with old friends. The one thing that you don’t expect when greeting someone who you haven’t seen in awhile, is finding out that something bad happened to him or her since your last meeting. That was the case with me last weekend. I greeted a close friend with my customary hug and asked her how she “wintered over?” That’s a term that unless you live in the snow country, you might not understand. She smiled and said “fine” but I sensed that she was either ultra tired or not telling the truth. We parted ways and I headed back to finish setting up my booth. I really didn’t give it another thought until I latter found out (from another artist) that our mutual friend had lost a family member since the last show we did together and she was just too upset to even tell me about it. Totally understandable, but I would have loved to be able to reach out to her and just let her cry on my shoulder if she needed.

Thankfully, most of my catching up with friends was on a happier note but I also found out though the grape vine that another close friend was in the hospital under going tests to determine if something was wrong with his liver. I talked with his wife and she was going to call me this week to fill me in on his results. No call yet, I’m worried.

Boy, these folks are my age and although were not teenagers any more, were all too young to be having these scares and loses. Life just sucks some times, even for us “happy-go-lucky” artists. Send your good thoughts their way, please.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1 down, 25+ to go

I returned home from my first art festival of the year late Sunday night tired, satisfied and somewhat encouraged over customers interest in art for 2008.

What I mean by that statement is that for the past few months I’ve been reading about this down turn in our economy and have been in contact with many of my artist co-hearts who have expressed their concerns over what these bad economic times are going to do to our art sales.

It is true that when times get tough art purchases seem to get put on the back burner. Combine that with 2008 being an election year and you have two legs of a doomsday trivecta. (write me and I privately tell you what the 3rd leg is if you need to know) Although my sales for this latest show were off about 10% from the same spring show in 2007, I felt pretty good about that. I heard other artists complain about being off 50% and some, even more, so all in all, I feel I did pretty well.

I asked the promoters about attendances figures and got the canned company line “we are right on track to meet last years numbers.” Bull. I realized that they need to keep financial and attendance figures confidential but even rookie in this business could tell that there just weren’t enough customers to make for a successful show for 300 plus artists. Not a very good sign for the 2008 season.

The one thing I need to report though is that this show is made up of primarily “Country Crafters.” I was one of maybe 25 artists selling wall art. I know this next statement is a generalization but the type of customers that purchase “Country craft” type items are more likely NOT customers who came to by a fine art wall piece. There is a slight cross over of these buyers but typically someone who attends this show looking for a dried flower arrangement or cute toys for their grand kids are not my customers.

The majority of buyers who attend predominantly heavy “craft” shows tend to be middle or lower income households. Although everyone should be concerned, these income levels are impacted greatly by the skyrocketing price of fuel to run their vehicles on. Regular gas in Spokane Washington is $3.39 a gallon with diesel hitting $4.00. People have to think about filling their tank up in order to make it to work on Monday so frivolous spending is usually out for these folks. Based on this type of show and crowd, I feel fortunate to have had as good as sales as I did.

All but 3 or 4 of the shows I book yearly are “fine art festivals.” These shows draw a much more affluent crowd which typically has more disposable income in which to buy art with so I’m hopeful that the bulk of my shows are up over 2007.

The next set of shows I do are in the great state of Arizona. One is in Tempe and the other in Tucson. I’ll post links to their website in the next day or two.

Warm and dry weather, here I come.

Mandala 15

Here is the 15th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 15

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How to make a living as an artist

Kevin Kelly of has written a poignant editorial on how artists can make a better than "living wage" by establishing a "True Fan" base of 1000 customers. A must read for any artist wanting to support themselves with their art.

Mandala 14

Here is the 14th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 14

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mandala 13

Here is the 13th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 13

T minus 10, 9, 8, 7…..

During the show season, Mondays are usually spent behind the steering wheel of my truck driving home from a far off art festival. Most shows run something like this.

Thursdays are spent setting up your “mini art gallery” under the roof of your canopy and stocking it with your art.

Friday, Saturday and Sundays are “show time” where you hope to entice enough people to walk into your booth and hopefully leave with a piece of your art.

Sunday is also break down day. After the show has finished there’s a mad dash to pack your art and display gear and either start your drive home or head back to where you’ll spend yet another night on the road and rest up for your drive home the next day.

So starting next Monday, a week from today that all too familiar routine starts for me again. Hey, 2008 show season, here I come.

Today though, officially starts the count down until I jump in the truck Thursday and head off into the great white open. (Literally, we’re having a whale of a snowstorm as I write this post) This first show of my season is sort of a local one for me. It’s held in Spokane Washington, which is only about 125 miles from home so I consider this my only local show of the year.

The name of the event is “Custer’s 31st Annual Spring Arts & Craft Show.” From the name you can see that this show has been around along time and is run by the daughter and son-in-law of the founder, Jim Custer. This well attended and professionally run event, although smaller than more shows I do, is one I keep coming back to because the cost to sales ratio, ease of set-up and closeness to home makes this the perfect show to start my season with in order to work out my winter time cobwebs.

So even though I spent a great deal of time over my break creating new art, getting it framed and reading myself for the next 10 months on the road, today begins T minus 10 and counting. I’ve been able to print nearly 500 pieces of my old standbys that I ran out of last year plus my new 2008 creations over the past month and today I’m selecting 100 or so to frame in order to take with me this week.

This selection process is always a headache for me. I stock over 200 different images in 5 different sizes and then try and fit them into a 10 foot by 10 foot booth and still leave room for me and my customers, I think you get the picture.

To make my selection job a little easier this year, I finally took my wife’s advice and culled a few dozen of my slower selling images, which will give me some much, need display space I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

This strategy does two import things. One, it frees up space for better selling pieces and two, it lets these image take a break from the publics eye for a few years. Once I bring them back, they’ll seem fresh and new even though some of them might be over 10 years old.

So, it’s back to my framing studio to wrap up this batch of 8”x10” prints and get ready for Tuesdays batch of 11”x14” and 16”x20”.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mandala 12

Here is the 12th piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 12

How I frame my art

Years ago, before launching my career as an artist, I was attending an art festival as a customer and I found myself admiring a wide variety of art that I would have loved to purchase but couldn’t afford. The main reason for this was the pieces I wanted were elegantly framed, thus escalating the sales price above what my budget would allow.

I was able to leave that day with a few smaller pieces that were matted and not framed. Indeed, I owned the art but until I framed them myself they couldn’t be hung on my wall. Purchasing art this way enabled me to start my collection on a small budget. Typically artists sell matted and “bagged” prints this way in order to accommodate people who want to support and buy their art but couldn’t afford to purchase one of their framed pieces.

This way of thinking seems to be universal in the art world. It makes some sense. Framing is usually expensive. At least well-framed art is. Matted and clear-bagged prints can usually be bought for 25- 50% of the price of the same piece of art framed. Seems like a good solution for both the buyer and the artist, right? Well here are a few reasons why offering your art this way might be a great idea.

If you are purchasing art this way you have to remember that in order to hang your new masterpiece it will need to be framed. As mentioned before, framing can be expensive. Budget for it at this stage or you might end up like me with a substantial art collection with many pieces still in their matted and clear-bags, just the way I bought it from the artist. Even now, as a professional who makes his living creating and selling art, I fool myself into thinking that I’ll buy the piece un-framed and do it myself to save money. Funny thing, I think I still have some of those early purchases sitting in my studio waiting to find the time to frame it properly.

Procrastination is my middle name after all.

By now you may get the feeling I’m steering you towards either passing up on that wonderful piece of art you discovered from that artist your sure is the next Jackson Pollock or that I am suggesting that you break the bank and pop for it nicely framed at a rate that could be hundreds of dollars more than the same piece just matted.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered about selling art (if you are an artist pay close attention because this secret can add tens of thousands of dollars to your yearly sales) is that many people that attend art festivals aren’t necessarily shopping for themselves. They might be looking for a gift. This is especially true during the holidays. If someone comes into your booth and tells you they are shopping for a some one, admires your art, picks out one of your matted and clear-bagged pieces and says “I’ll take it” then hands you their credit card, you might be doing them an injustice if you don’t at least warn them that whoever receives this present with have to spend a fair amount of money to have it framed in order to hang.

I know, you’re thinking bummer, they like it, they want it and once it leaves your booth it isn’t your problem if the $25.00 8x10” print you just sold actually might turn into a Ben Franklin after it’s framed. For those of you not familiar with the term “Ben Franklin” think, hundred dollar bill, get it?

What a dilemma, but I say buy it, we artists need to eat too.

Actually there is another way. Because I didn’t want my customers to be faced with this hurdle without a solution that made both of us happy, I decided to “frame” my art in Quadro Clip Frames.

These are “real” glass frames that use simple metal clips to hold the art piece sandwiched between a masonite backing board and the glass front. The look is very contemporary and fits with many different styles. The best part about Quadro Clip Frames is the price. Cheap, but classy looking, a rare feature in the world of art. When my customer leaves my booth after buying a piece of my art I know that there is nothing else for them to do except hang it or gift wrap it. Remember what I said earlier about procrastination, we all have it to some degree. Even well intentioned buyers might not get around to framing their new purchase, so by using clip frames, my customers pay a reasonable price plus have a ready to hang, framed piece of art. A definite win-win situation if you ask me.

If you would like more information on these frames, click here.