Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Art Under the Elms

Smaller shows by and large seem to be the trend for 2008, at least for many of the artists I’ve been talking to lately. With costs at most of the larger venues raising significantly over the past few years and then add to that the astronomical fuels costs getting to these further away shows, many artists are staying closer to home and doing smaller festivals.

That’s not to say that ALL artists are leaning this way but I am seeing that trend grow.

I stayed rather close to home last weekend (if you feel that 200 miles is close) and did a little show in Lewiston, ID called Art Under the Elms. I’ve done this show for 5 years in a row and usually I start thinking about giving a show a breather and take a year off if I start to feel that I am saturating the market by attending it year after year. That isn’t the case with this show because it’s set on the campus of Lewis and Clark College. Being a college show, I’m always graced with a “new crop” of buyers each year due to the turn over of students.

This is a three-day show that really needs to become a 2-day affair. It has become apparent; at least to me by way of doing an informal poll of my customers that the attendance numbers would remain the same even if the show were cut to Saturday and Sunday only. I hope that the promoters take note of my comments on their survey they hand out to each artist for our feedback.

The cooler weather and sporadic rain showers on Friday kept the buyers at home. Sales were way off for everyone I spoke with. Saturday and Sunday’s sunshine and warmer weather really brought out the crowds though. Sales were fantastic and more than made up for Friday’s lack of people.

This year the festival needed to be moved from it’s original spot to a lawn area a half a block away but still on campus. The college is building a new wing and the show’s previous location was chosen for the new building. A move like this in usually a bad sign but the close proximity to the old location made it seamless to us, the artists, as well as our customers.

Parking at festivals is almost always a problem for the artist. Once I unload my trailer and set up my booth I must try and locate suitable parking for my rig. Because I sleep in my trailer, I’m always on the look out for a space close to my booth as well as somewhere that isn’t too noisy. This year I was lucky enough to find just the spot on one of the side streets close to the show. I set up on Thursday night and enjoyed a peaceful nights sleep both that night and Friday night too. Before parking there I asked a person who looked like they knew what they were talking about and got the go a head to park my truck and trailer there for the weekend.

All was well until 6:00 AM Saturday morning when I was woken by what I can only describe as dragsters driving up and down the street. Load, obnoxious roars of these engines were enough to get my attention, as was the phone call to my cell from the show promoter. It seems that the person I asked about parking there neglected to mention that there was going to be a car show set up on the street I was parked on. Over 100 vintage roadsters were setting up their cars for a “show and shine” all while I was trying to catch a few more winks before I went to my booth.

Even without the promoter asking me to move my rig it was apparent that unless I wanted my 2005 Chevy Silverado sitting right in the middle of this car show, I was going to have to get nearly 100 tricked out cars to move enough for me to drive my truck and trailer out of the area.

The first few drivers didn’t seemed to mind backing up a few feet in order for me to squeeze by but the next guy was evidently peeved enough with me for parking there in the first place that he refused to move. After trying to calmly reason with this Fonzy want to be, I decided to inform him that scratching the bumper on my truck or trailer wasn’t that big a deal to me but if didn’t want the $10,000 plus paint job on his 1968 Chevelle harmed, he better back up a few inches.

Now I did say that with a grin on my face, which I thought, would have mellowed his attitude a bit but he still refused to budge. Not only do I have my show’s promoter calling again saying I have to get my truck out of there ASAP, I have dozens of angry car guys honking and yelling at me to split. I decided to give the Fonz one more chance and informed him that I would gladly pay my car insurances $500.00 deductible when I unfortunately plowed into his car if he didn’t move. I think the thought of all the hours this guy had into his car brought him to his senses and he backed up enough for me to get my truck by.

I moved out of there and found another parking spot and tried not to let this stress ruin my day. It didn’t and look, it even turned out to be a great story to pass on.

Art Under the Elms

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A big move

For the past year I’ve been thinking seriously about renting a new space in the town I live in to start my own gallery. Even though I currently show in one of the established galleries in Sandpoint already, I’ve always felt that if the opportunity presented itself, I would set up my own solo gallery/studio in a different location.

Artworks Gallery in downtown Sandpoint is where I’ve sold my art locally for the past 4 years. The majority of my sales still are through the various art festivals I attend plus my own website, but it’s nice having a brick and mortar location to send people to view my work at. That’s the problem with Artworks. Because I am a consigning artist in that gallery (one of nearly 60 different artists) I’m only given a very small amount of wall space to display on. I’ve always had a problem selecting which new piece I should hang and which old one I should replace.

That’s when fate showed its face. I’ve casually put a bit of effort into finding my own space but being as busy and on the road as much as I am, I never found the right space at the right time. Well, that changed last week. Through another artist friend of mine, I heard about an already renovated space in the rear portion of the most prestigious art gallery in town. It’s a great location, right in the middle of down town. The owner of this gallery has been using this 1000 square feet of space for back storage but had always intended to expand the main gallery there in the future.

His decision to rent out this space instead of using it himself looks to be my good fortune. The problem with keeping open my own gallery/studio has always been my constant travel schedule. In order to make the gallery work I would need to hire employees to work it when I wasn’t in town. That was just not feasible. Because the two spaces adjoin each other, Jim, the owner of the galley I’m looking at has offered to handle any sales that I have when I’m not there in exchange for me watching his gallery occasionally when I’m in town. Perfect!!

An additional benefit is that he farms out custom printing of different editions for a few of the artist he already represents because he never wanted to invest in the wide format printers to handle these sporadic custom sales. I already have these printers and would be glad to supplement my income a bit by doing his printing for him. I love win-win situations.

So, after a few details are ironed out I’ll be moving my print studio into my own retail gallery. After it’s set up, I’ll be posting a bunch of photos here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

4th Ave. Tucson, AZ

What a contrast between Tempe and Tucson, AZ. A casual observer might make the obvious comparisons that both are southwestern dessert towns but that is about all these two towns have in common. 125 or so miles separate these cities but in reality they are universes apart in style and culture.

The festivals I attended in both places were just as different as the towns themselves. For artists that usually do the Festival of the Arts in Tempe and are thinking about to applying to The Fourth Ave. Merchants Association show in Tucson, (which is held the very next weekend) I have one warning.

Don’t expect the same Tempe vibe in Tucson. Although both are college towns, the hip nightlife scene and upscale lifestyle of the Tempe venue is contrasted with a more laid back, funky, almost 60’s retro feel on 4th Ave. If young street people that might ask for spare change concern or offend you, don’t waste your jury fees on this show. If the last time you saw hippies was on the cover of Time magazine when it covered the Height Asbury movement in the 60’s and you feel that that was close enough for you, pass on 4th Ave.

If alternative lifestyles, people of color, interesting body piercing and sexual orientations that don’t mimic your own bother you, this show isn’t for you.

Now if you’re cool with all of that or can at least set aside personal prejudices for a few days, you’ll be in for a treat in Tucson.

The layout for this show is that of a typical street festival. Back to back booths set up down the middle of the street. This is a large show. 6 plus blocks long bisected with food booths and entertainment stages on some of the perpendicular side streets. The one knock on 4th Ave. is that they allow commercial, buy/sell vendors into the show. This is not true. The promoters and fair board alike reject buy/sell artists but unfortunately cannot stop property owners along the sidewalk from renting space to these other vendors. That is a harsh but true fact you need to take into consideration when doing 4th Ave.

I took an informal survey of people who walked into my booth about the un-official artists on the street and everyone I asked knew that they were not part of the juried event and most didn’t seem to mind one way or another. I’m sure that some of the money that might have been spent in juried members booths was spent with these un-authorized vendors but because I can’t control that fact, I just don’t let it bother me. I have enough to worry about that I can control so I let this one slide.

A more attentive, courteous event staff could NOT be found. With temperatures reaching into the 90’s all 3 days, the ice-cold water and munchies that the volunteers brought around every hour or so was a pure delight. All I had to do was ask for a booth sitter and one was provided for me. Kurt Tallis, the event director is one of the coolest promoters on the circuit. Kurt was on the street for the entire show, from set–up to break down. He was constantly checking in asking how the show was going and if there was anything he or his staff could do for me. That’s a welcome change over the show promoters that stay behind the scene.

One thing to note about move in day is that 4th Ave runs north and south. Even numbered booths are set up on the east side of the street and odd numbers on the west. Because the east side is reserved as an emergency fire lane (dictated by the fire department and not the show) artists with booths on that side are not allowed to use awnings. The morning dessert sun is very hot and if you are like me and have a crowded booth to begin with and rely on sitting under your awning on the outside of you booth, prepare for 3-4 hours of pretty intense heat.

Also, artists are only allowed to park on the west side of the street during set-up. Cars left parked on the east side will be towed. Again, this is per the fire marshals rules not the promoter. So if you want a parking space in front of or at least close to where you booth is you’ll need to get there very early on Thursday. After 9:00 AM, all available parking spots are already filled. Take that into consideration if you are traveling to Tucson on Thursday. Set-up usually begins around 2:00 PM but through the efficiency of the staff this year, the street was readied for us to begin setting up about 1:00, good job guys.

Even though I heard some artist say that their sales were down from previous years, I didn’t experience this down turn what so ever. My sales were on par or better than other shows of this size. The street scene doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I thoroughly enjoy this show and will keep it on my festival list as long as the jurors allow me in. Kudos 4th Ave. You deserve it.

Here is a link this show. FAMA- The Fourth Ave. Merchants Association

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tempe Festival of the Arts

As I mentioned before, one of my favorites shows is Tempe’s Festival of the Arts located on Mill Ave in downtown Tempe AZ. With few exceptions it has every amenity I look for when selecting festivals I want to support. If they would only bring the cold water and snacks for us artist directly to our booths and not make us leave our art unattended while we walks blocks away to the hospitality tents, the show would score a 10 in my book.

Although I heard rumors that volunteers were making the rounds delivering water, coffee and snacks, I never saw them. They very well might have come by but I was slammed constantly for the entire 3 days and just might have missed them.

Another big plus for this show is their use of booth sitters. This little offering allows us solo artists a few minutes away from the booth to grab a quick bite to eat of use the port-a-potty. It’s amazing what 10 minutes of down time can do for your well-being. Because of the volume of sales I normally do at this show, I always get antsy to return to my booth ASAP. Booth sitters are not allowed to take money on your behave. They can only hand out literature and make sure nothing leaves your booth without being paid for. Customers don’t wait. When they want it, they want it NOW. If I’m not there to handle their transaction, often times, they’re down the road. I’m fortunate though, that if they like my style of art they aren’t able to walk down the isle and find another fractal artist to purchase from. So they usually come back and talk with me once I return from my break.

This years set up went smoothly, as did break down. No artist rage incidents I’m aware of. Because my son and daughter-in-law live in the area, I can always rely on them giving me a hand to break down and pack out on Sundays, I enjoy their help and company more than I think I let on to them. Thanks Jed and Tara and you too Kaden (my 2 year old grand son)

I had the additional pleasure of having great booth neighbors. With in 5 booths of me were 2 other artists that I’m friends with. A wooden puzzle maker from Oregon and a sculptor from Washington state. Go figure, we all drove 1600 plus mile to get to this show and out of 400 or more other artists we got placed next to each other. That’s way cool.

My immediate booth neighbors were a couple from northern California who weaved their own cloth and then created lovely women jackets out of it. They were about my age and we hit it off the moment we introduced ourselves to each other. Another great connection in the cosmos we call art festivals. I may never see they folks again but they touched me in a way that I’ll never forget them. A major side benefit of being a traveling artist.

If I had any gripes at all about this show it might be that the proclaimed attendance figure were added to heavily by the people who were in town to attend the Tempe Music Festival that was held on the end of Mill Ave. at the same time our arts festival took place. It’s been my experience that even though these are extra bodies that potently walk by your booth they almost NEVER stop and buy. Who wants to carry a newly purchased piece of art into a concert? I wouldn’t. So a new artist to the show might be swayed into thinking that their customer base was 300,000 buyers instead of 225,000 but I’ll take even the lower attendance figures any day.

Another negative comment I heard about the show (I’m sure from artists having a bad show) was that there was a bunch of commercial buy/sell merchandise being sold as art. Although I never got a chance to walk the whole show when we were open those booths I did see contained very nice, artist produced artwork. So the buy/sell comments from others, at least of what I saw, didn’t hold up.

For those of you thinking about applying to this show I highly encourage you to do so. If you are proud of your work, are willing to work fairly long hours, can put up with a late night move-in on Thursday, don’t mind thousands of people perusing your art and making a bunch of money, this show is for you.

Here is a link to the festivals website.

Tempe Festival of the Arts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My bad

I discovered a very important blogging lesson over the past few weeks. Trying to keep an accurate, up-to-date blog record of my art show doings while at the shows is near impossible. As I stated earlier, I travel and do all of the festivals I attend solo. So, finding time to blog at the event just doesn’t work for me.

During the last two shows nearly 600,000 people attended them both and it would be a fair guess (based on the great placement of my booth in these shows) that 90% of the fair patrons passed by my booth. Now, not all or for that matter not even 10% walked into my booth to view my art but still, a substantial number did show interest in my fractals which kept a constant stream of visitors coming through every minute of each of the 6 days I was at the shows.

That said, casually writing a blog post during the show is impossible. I did try to creatively write up-dates after show hours but after putting in 12-14 hour days I wasn’t able to find the juice to spend another hour or so on the blog. That’s my lesson, blogging at the shows aren’t going to happen, so the best I (and you, the reader) can hope for is a timely update once I return home which I did the day before yesterday.

Tomorrow I’ll report on one of my favorite shows in the circuit, the Tempe Festival of the arts. (Sneak preview, FANTASTIC)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mandala 22

Here is the 22nd piece in my new Mandala series.

Mandala 22