Just got back from the Main Street Fort Worth Art Festival, and man, what an experience! First off, let me just say that this festival deserves its reputation as one of the top shows in the country. Spread out over four days, it is staged over five blocks in downtown Fort Worth. Festival tents are set up along Main Street, and an additional group of artists use their own canopies in a parking area between Commerce and Main. Most artists elect to erect their own canopies under the show structures. I wondered why the show went to all the trouble to set up tents, when most artists have a solid canopy. Well, the reason is the wind. Aside from the show we did a few years back in Rising Sun, Indiana, where Hurricane Ivan closed us down early on Sunday with 70mph steady blasts, the wind here is brutal, violent and destructive. Setup is on Wednesday afternoon, with staged load-in times. The show runs from 10AM-8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10AM-6PM on Sunday. The music continues later, and many artists choose to remain open, making sales until the music’s over at 11PM. Long hours, but generally worth it.
Weather at this mid-April show runs the gamut from hot, stifling Texas heat, to high winds and thunderstorms. This year, we were lucky, in that the storms that rolled across the state on Thursday night did not touch the show. Hail up to 2″ in diameter was reported as close as 20 miles from the site, and tornadoes killed two people up in Tushka, Oklahoma. Friday, the winds gusted up to 60mph, taking many pieces of artwork to the ground, and leveling some artists’ tents. Our tent, in the artists square, stayed standing, but not without assistance from Karyn, who leaned against the corner panel much of the afternoon. I helped our neighbors, Jeanne and Sam Maddox, take their artwork off the walls, and lower the tent to half height. One of the corner joints failed, and no amount of bracing and tie-downs kept it standing upright. By evening, the gusts had died down. Sam came back later, and rejiggered it for Saturday’s show. Saturday, the crowds were out in force. Sales were steady all day, better than Thursday and Friday. But mostly it was smaller prints. I did send a couple of good size pieces home with lucky customers on Thursday, and had great sales all four days of the show.
But the saddest part of the show happened to us on Thursday night. We had visited our trailer Wednesday morning, which we left parked and locked at the Marriott Towne Place Suites, just a few blocks from downtown. We got a couple of things for the show, and walked over to open up the booth. After a long day of visiting with patrons, we managed to get back to the hotel at around 9:45PM. Coming around the back of the hotel, Karyn asked me,” Where’s Artan?” (The trailer’s nicknamed the Artanic). There was a big hole where the trailer had been parked. The chocks for the back wheels were still on the ground, and the blocks under the tongue jack were still there. A long white arc in the cement showed where the foot of the tongue jack had been dragged along the ground. Evidently the thieves had towed or hauled the trailer out the back entrance to the hotel.
The big art trailer is affectionately know as Artan for short.
We immediately went to the front desk and asked the desk manager if the trailer had been towed for some reason. She had no knowledge of any towing operation, and went to get the general manager, Brian Tigner. We sat down with Brian, and gave him a full report. Brian called the Fort Worth police for us, and after waiting twenty minutes or so, an officer arrived to make a police report. We went out to look at the empty spot again, hoping that perhaps we had just misplaced the trailer. Of course, that wasn’t the case. The police officer gave us a report number, and a phone number for the police department. Brian gave us his cel phone number, and told us if there was anything he could do to help, to call at any time.
The good news is that we were already set up for the show. The bad news is that all of our back stock and extra exhibit equipment was on the trailer. That included five ProPanels, a good Hollywood chair, the double canopy top and all the extra Trimline parts to set up a double booth. I also had a large number of prints, spare mats, frames, glass and framing parts on the trailer, as well as a full framing toolkit. The canvas racks were full, as we didn’t hang any canvas at the show — just the black and white work, and the new color stories. I also had a couple dozen spare framed pieces on the trailer.
We made it through the show okay, but I spent several sleepless nights worrying about whether the trailer would be recovered in time for our load-out on Sunday night. I need not have worried, since we never got a call from the Fort Worth police. On Saturday, I made a call to U-haul, and reserved a trailer just in case. Saturday came and went, with lots of selling, and less wind, much to the relief of the artists. Many of them had heard about the theft, and came by to offer sympathy and assistance. Thanks to all of you who stopped by, and especially to Vince and Julie, who offered to let us park the rental at their house west of the city if necessary. As it turned out, I needed that U-haul. Sunday morning I picked it up, and made a stop at Home Depot to get some plywood to make a ramp, some tie-downs and a replacement dolly.
In the meantime, I made a report to our insurance agent, who is presently working on establishing a value for the trailer and its contents. I still do not know exactly what will be covered, but I do know that this is a significant loss of both time and money for me. I will be rebuilding the storage drawers for the mats, glass and prints, as well as the rack system that carries our panels and the canopy parts. A new trailer will have to be acquired, and it will be several weeks before I can get that ready for shows.
I discovered several things about trailer thefts during this experience. Several states don’t require a title for a trailer to be licensed, and some don’t even require that you have a license. These states include Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky. Here in Michigan, you must transfer title to a new owner and you must register the trailer with the state department of motor vehicles in order to tow it on public roadways. The hotel that we stayed at, the Marriott Towne Place Suites, chose not to install security cameras in the back of the hotel. They did, however, block the entrance by parking a van across it at night, so they were aware that there was a theft problem. Too bad the trailer was stolen during the day! They also posted signs saying that all valuables should be removed from vehicles, and that theft was not their responsibility. This wasn’t just the theft of an iPod, though. It was an ENTIRE TRAILER. But at no time did they ever warn us that it was a high crime area. Brian Tigner, the general manager, led us to believe that their insurance company would be helping us to cover the loss, but when I spoke with a representative on Wednesday, she informed me that the hotel did not have insurance to cover this type of incident. I tried several times to speak with Mr. Tigner directly on Monday, but he was “not available” or “off the property”. I checked out without ever speaking to him in person. He did not offer any kind of compensation for our loss. I was hoping that he’d at least offer to comp the room, but evidently they don’t really give a damn. I do not recommend that anyone stay at this property. (It is a franchise, not a corporate property.) I didn’t feel safe there after the theft, even though we had to walk to and from the show. I’m glad my truck remained unmolested, though.
There are several things to be thankful for. No one was injured. We were set up for the show, and had our best show ever, sales-wise. I met many, many nice folks, and made some additional sales on Monday, which will help to offset the cost to replace all of the work lost on the trailer. My friends tell me that they are amazed at how well I’m handling this hard road. But to be truthful, I’m angry. At the thieves, at the hotel for not providing better security, and myself, for not protecting my own property better. The police tell me the only way to really protect a trailer that is parked is to use a police boot. Other friends told us of their experiences with trailer theft. One artist had their trailer stolen while it was still hitched to their tow vehicle! Another had a cube truck stolen with all of the equipment and artwork aboard.
After spending a good part of Monday making phone calls, I got on the road again, towing the U-haul back to Michigan. I made it as far as Hope, Arkansas on Monday night. Tuesday morning, I had to detour around a haz-mat spill on I-30. Traffic was backed up on State Highway 67 for 15 miles, and was barely moving. After waiting in line for an hour and a half, I found a back-road, and drove around the delays. Tuesday night, big storms rolled in again, with tornadoes spotted in downtown St. Louis, and up near Springfield, Illinois. I spent some quality time under the 1-64 underpass on I-255 waiting for reported hail-storms and tornadoes to pass through. Luckily, there was just heavy rain. I made it to Springfield, and holed up with friends for the night. Wednesday I finally pulled the trailer into our driveway at about 9:30PM. I’m extremely thankful that after all the hardship that Karyn and I are both healthy and safe. Seeing some of the damage from the tornadoes puts it into perspective for me. For me, it’s only stuff that’s gone. Stuff is replaceable. Lives are not. While I’m still adding up the losses, including the $650 it cost me to rent a trailer to transport my show setup home again, I’m also counting my blessings.
While I still can’t believe that this happened to us, I am using this opportunity to rebuild my body of work and my show setup. It’s unlikely that the property will be recovered. Thanks to all our friends who have offered assistance and sympathy during this difficult time. A large number of my limited edition prints are now floating around in the unknown. What bothers me the most is that some thief may be selling my work at a huge discount in some flea market in Bountiful Butt, Oklahoma. If you do run across my work in such a venue, please let me know, and please do not purchase signed originals from anyone except me. And wish me luck as I travel the hard road of an itinerant artist.
Here’s a capsule review of a lovely local show in Springfield, IL. Held the third weekend in May, it features the Old Capitol building in downtown Springfield as its centerpiece.
Artists' booths circle the sidewalk around Springfield's Old Capitol
It’s a nice local show, one of only a couple in the Springfield area, so it gets good community support. But people in Springfield are fairly conservative, and they consider their art purchases carefully. The grounds of the Old Capitol are lovely. The show is situated on the lawn surrounding the Old Capitol, and on two of the streets bordering the building. The street locations are busier, and the Capitol has a fence around it, with entrances only at the points of the compass, which restricts traffic a bit. That said, most visitors make the rounds before coming back to purchase.
The childrens tent takes up to 100 items from each artist and suggests listing the retail price at $4-6. Although this sounds incredibly inexpensive, even 100 prints at $5 each can add up. And the kids love it. No adults allowed, just kids chaperoned by volunteers. Often the children will bring their parents by the artist booth to meet the real artist, and that can also result in a sale.
The street locations are set up back to back. They used to have a big tent, like Brookside, but gave that up a couple years ago. Load-in is chaotic, and disorganized. Often there is nowhere to park, and you can’t get a large vehicle into the show to unload because other artists have parked willy nilly. After work Friday night, or really early on Saturday morning are your best bets. Load out is easier.
I’ve had locations on the rotunda lawn both times I did it, and had a good show the first year. The second year, there were three photographers next to each other, all with double booths. I was on the approach path, but images displayed on the neighbor’s booth diverted a lot of my traffic. It was poor planning on the part of the show committee. The upside is that there is lots of room behind the booths on the lawn for storage, chairs, what have you. The street locations get more traffic, but are backed up to each other. Some booths get stuck under the roof overhang of the north side retail area — they are probably the least desirable of all the spots.
Entrance to the Old Capitol
All in all, a nice show, and one that I keep on my short list. We have friends in Springfield, who we like to visit, and so I try to get back every few years. There are quite a few shows that same weekend, including Broad Ripple & ArtBirmingham and others, so sometimes it’s an embarrassment of riches, and one has to pick and choose.
It’s the second week in June and the weather was absolutely frightening here in southeastern Michigan over the weekend. Tornadoes to the south in Dundee and Toledo sent many scurrying for shelter. I was very happy not to be at a show last weekend, and my heart goes out to all those folks who have been displaced, injured or worse.
Saturday crowds made it impossible to walk at the 2009 Wells Street Art Festival
Next weekend is the giant two-day affair in Chicago. The upscale Old Town Art Fair is joined by the scrappy Wellls Street Art Festival for some great art, hot music, beer in the streets and a rollicking good time. I’ll be displaying some black and white work as well as some favorite landscape images from my Western collection, so drop by and see what’s new! I’ll be in the Wells Street show, on the west side of Wells, booth 52-54. Big booth, lots of work, the show runs from 10AM-dusk on Saturday, and 10AM- dusk on Sunday. Long, grueling hours, with a brutal load-in early Saturday morning. We’ll be there, so you be there too!
At the end of June, I head down to Toledo, to the laid-back Crosby Festival of the Arts at the Toledo Botanical Garden. This is a show I’ve done for a few years now, and it’s a nice affair with about 250 artists under the trees along the paths of the park. I’ll have a double booth there, too, same as always, towards the back. Looking forward to visiting with old friends and meeting new ones. Find me in Booth 126-127.
In between, I’ve been working on developing some new work, managing some home improvement projects, and generally laying back. I’m getting a bit antsy to be traveling west again, to be honest, but there’s a lot to be done on the homefront. In July, we’ve got the massive Ann Arbor shows to prepare for, so I may not get the opportunity to stray far from home for a while.
It’s been a while since I posted about the mechanics of doing shows, and there are several good posts on the blog that cover certain aspects. With the economy the way that it is, many people I meet ask me, “How do I get started doing art fairs?” Many folks have dreamed of a life of independence, creating art that they enjoy, and wonder if it’s possible to make a living doing it. For most people, the mystery is in the logistical aspects, not so much in the creation of the work. So I’ll point you to some of the previous pieces, and add some new comments, focusing mostly on points 2-5.
- Create a body of work, or organize work that you’ve done over the years into cohesive units. If you’re considering doing shows, you should already have work that you are passionate about, enjoy making, and most of all, enjoy talking about. While everything else is important, nothing should take a back seat to your continual creative evolution. For more on how to spend more time in the studio while still marketing and selling, you can’t beat Alyson Stanfield’s book, “I’d Rather Be in the Studio”. You can find it on her website, along with other weekly doses of inspiration on her Art Biz Blog, here.
- Create a display to show your work in its best light. Think of this as a retail environment, like a gallery. This is the most important part to get right, as you must have not only a system to protect your work from the elements and sell to art patrons, but also a way to present your work to show jurors. Most shows require several images of your work and a booth slide that shows your display as it would appear at a show. There are many ways to get there, from the simple EZ-UP or Caravan canopies, to the Trimline and Lightdome tents. At a minimum, you need a 10×10′ tent, with sides that can be secured at night; display walls or pedestals, depending on how you want to display your work, and the work itself.
Many people use home made walls, using plywood, hollow-core doors or other materials that can be broken down and carried in a van or trailer. Arguably the best systems for 2-D artists are the lightweight panel walls from ProPanels and Armstrong Displays. The walls come in different heights and widths, and you can get good ideas from their sites.
For photographers, printmakers and other 2D artists, framed work is hung on the walls, and prints are usually displayed matted in browse bins. I’ve written quite a bit about my bin systems: here’s a recap. ProPanels and Armstrong also make collapsible bin systems if you don’t want to make your own.
At shows that run into the evening, you may want to consider lighting, too. Some events will supply electricity, others charge for it, and some allow you to use a generator or marine batteries. Lighting is a “nice to have” in most situations. To learn more, read this post on portable lighting. Honda Generators are the quietest, but not all shows will allow them, or gasoline.
Go to shows and see how other artists that work in your medium set up their booths. Walk the show, take notes, and talk to artists, if it seems as if you are not distracting them from the primary business of working with their paying customers. Use these ideas to plan your own display.
When you have your booth and displays thought out, you’ll want to have some photographs made that you can use to apply to shows with — this is known as a “booth shot”. It can be made at a show, or set up in a driveway. Chris Coffey, a respected art-show photographer, has this to say about the booth shot and jurying for shows in general. Larry Berman and Chris Maher have also set up a monster resource site for art show artists at artshowphoto.com.
- Apply to shows. To get your work out in public, there is no better way than to do art festivals. For the most part, the people that come to shows come to look at art, talk to the artists in person and hopefully, buy some art. There are lots of shows all over the country, and depending on the season, there are probably shows right in your area. There are several well-known resources for locating shows, detailed in this post on Finding Nirvana.
To get into shows, you’ll need to apply. (Seems obvious, doesn’t it?) And to apply, you need examples of your work to show to jurors. Both Zapp and Juried Art Services only accept digital files, and the specifications for creating these files are very specific. Read Zapp’s article on creating digital slides, and follow their advice. While it’s free to join Zapp and JASV, shows generally charge an application fee to apply to their show. These fees range from $25-75. If you’re accepted, you’ll also be required to pay a space rental fee to reserve your space, often months in advance of the show. Booth fees run anywhere from $200 to $1500. Tiny local shows may be less expensive. Generally, the more exclusive the show, the more the booth fee. Larger shows attract more customers though, so it’s usually worth the extra dollars. This is one of the tricky parts of the show business.
Local shows and smaller venues may still require slides instead of digital files on a CD, although this is changing rapidly. There are two ways to do this. Hire a local photographer to shoot your artwork and provide you with slides (harder and harder these days to get processed), or take your digital files to a resource that will convert back into analog slides. Two good resources are Slides.com and iprintfromhome.com. I definitely recommend reading the show’s requirements well ahead of the deadline so that you can provide exactly what they need. Shows are picky about this. If they ask for four slides and a booth show, labelled with a red dot in the upper right and your name on the bottom, that’s what you should send. Every show’s requirements are different, so read carefully and do as they ask.
- Show up. I can’t stress this point enough. If you apply to a show, it is your responsibility to get yourself and your booth there, on time, and set up ready to sell by the time the show opens. But showing up also means that you are there physically and mentally, ready and passionate to talk about your work to anybody who walks in the door. Art shows require a commitment of 110%. Sometimes it is really hard to drag your butt out of bed at 4AM to go set up a canopy in the rainy dark pre-dawn hours and be ready to smile at 9AM. If you want to do shows, then you need to be prepared to make that happen.
Showing up also means that you make a commitment to evolve your work. Some show artists are still showing the same old tired work that they carted around to shows ten years ago. The mats are dog-eared and dusty, the frames are chipped and the canopy is brown with mold. It’s obvious that they lost interest years ago and they are now just doing it for the fame and glory. Don’t be one of them. On second thought, do be one them — it’ll make my booth look better!
- Market your work. This topic covers a lot of ground. From creating good signage in your booth, to sending out postcards and emails, to social networking, it’s important to let potential customers know how to find you and your work. Alyson Stanfield, Maria Arango and Bruce Baker all have interesting contributions to this subject, so it’s worth your while to study this subject in depth. I’ve written several posts about this in the past, and this one sums it up nicely.
It bears repeating that participating in the social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will help you to connect with others who are struggling and succeeding, as well as people who are generally interested in your work. Sign up for an account if you haven’t already, and participate in the conversation.
You can start small, with a cheap EZ-Up, and some homemade walls, doing shows within a few miles of your home. Or you can do what I did, and jump in both feet, and travel round the country, meeting all kinds of interesting people and constantly seeing new vistas. The choice is yours. Good luck! And if you found this info useful, don’t be shy about adding a comment, or dropping me a line at info (at) parkerparker.info.
Original boxes and bins 2006
A photographer friend asked me over on Twitter to elaborate on the boxes I use for shows. Since an explanation was too long for a single tweet, or even a series of tweets, here goes.
I have three basic types of boxes that I use for transporting framed and matted work to shows. None of them are light; all of them are on some sort of caster system, and all them fit somehow onto my rather large show trailer. The designs can be modified to fit a van, and require a minimum knowledge of woodworking and tools. Rather than go into that, I’ll talk about the designs.
The second iteration of Design 1
Design 1 – 1/2″ oak veneer plywood, held together with #6 1 3/4″ square head screws. The boxes in the first shot were made when I started doing shows — I had two of them, about 30″ high and 22″ deep, and about 15″ wide. A hinged door on the 30 x 15″ side allowed access to the work inside. These were used to transport 20 x 26″ framed pieces; each holds about 12 when fully loaded. Handles on both the 15″ sides and casters on the bottom allow these boxes to ride up a ramp and onto the trailer, and dolly down the street. I used 2″ casters — not heavy duty enough, really, but sufficient for light use.
Inside, the floor and walls are covered with basic gray Home Depot indoor/outdoor carpet. I use artgarters to pad the corners and keep the frames from rubbing on each other. I found that artgarters worked better than cardboard separators, foam-core, and were easy to remove once the art is hung. Once at the show, the boxes doubled as pedestals to hold two large bins on top, which were also made of a single box, 33″ x 15″ x 24″, cut in half on the diagonal using a table saw. These are no longer in active duty in the booth, having been relegated to use as storage containers. The second iteration sat on a platform constructed on propanel extensions — lighter, but cumbersome. I replaced that with a plywood construction for a time, which was heavy and took time to assemble. All of these pieces got too finicky to move and assemble, so I built the magilla bins (Design #3) More on that later.
Original office box and large framed transport boxes. 1x lumber with masonite skins.
Design 2 – a box similar to a kitchen cabinet, with a hidden structure of 1×4’s, and skinned with 1/4″ masonite. You could also use heavy duty corrugated plastic, or coroplast. Called a “web” frame, these are made to transport fairly lightweight canvas pieces, where a full 1/2″ plywood box would be extremely heavy for the cargo inside. Basically a skeleton is made by joining 1x4s using pocket screws. Two side frames are fastened to a base plate of 3/4″ plywood, and a third frame is secured between the two sides using countersunk #8 1 3/4″ square drive screws. Glue isn’t necessary here, as the masonite skin will hold the assembly square and tight. The top is either 3/4″ plywood, or 1/2″, and a door frame on hinges allows access via one of the long sides. The box sits vertically upright — my small canvas box is 52″ tall by 24″ x 24″, and carries about 12 48 x 20″ pano wraps, or a combination of 48″ and 36″ wraps. The floor is carpeted, and the canvas wraps are individually bagged in handmade fleece bags. It helps that my wife can sew. Joann Fabrics has fleece on sale quite often, and it takes about 2 yards of 54″ fleece to make one pano bag.
I’ve used this design for inside storage as well as unskinned to make rolling transport for taller canvas. Since I can’t store 6″ canvas vertically on the trailer, I use a smaller roller to move them around in the studio. The roller is about 24″ x 24″ x 36″ tall, and runs on 3 1/2″ casters.
Large framed work transport - 1x8" clear pine and masonite skin. The lid locates with dowel pins, fastened with cabinet hardware.
A variation on this is the 1×8″ skeleton. I’ll cut 1 x 8″ or 1 x 6″ a couple of inches longer than the framed dimensions of a piece, then skin it with 1/4″ masonite. The masonite gets screwed down with 1″ sheet metal screws. Inside, the box is padded with pink 5/8″ pink foam insulation — makes a good solid case for shipping canvas wraps. The advantage of these over cardboard is that you make it to fit whatever you’re shipping and they are reusable. Green!
I also use this basic design for the tent “coffin”, which is a heavy duty version of the skeleton framed box. Made out of 2×4’s, the coffin is about 8′ x 24″ x 24″. It isn’t skinned, but is just a heavy frame with 3/4″ plywood covering both ends. All of the tent poles and three large duffel bags with canopy roof, walls and awnings fit within this. It rides on 10″ pneumatic casters. The frame was glued together with biscuit joinery, and galvanized framing reinforcements screwed to all the major joints. It is very solid. I did lose a wheel at Naples this year, dollying out of the park at night, because a lag bolt holding the wheel worked its way loose and came out. We managed to get the cart onto the truck and on the road.
Design 3 — the big magilla rolling bins. Some of you might have seen these at a show. I have two, one that is about 60″ long x 24″ deep x 45″ high. This carries 25 framed pieces and most of the 11×14 and 16×20 matted work. It’s still a box, but divided into compartments. It’s really three boxes in one. The bottom box has a door on both ends, and an internal divider that splits the bottom into two compartments. One compartment handles the 20×26″ framed work, and the other carries spare prints. The upper box is divided longitudinally, and has two gull-wing doors that fold out and down to reveal the matted work, ready for display.
The other box is simpler. The lower box is divided into two equal compartments with doors that lift up on hinges for storage of lights, hanger hooks and other booth stuff. The upper compartment is sized to display 20×26 prints, and has two lids. One folds down and covers the lower compartments, and the other folds back on a double piano hinge and lies flat against the back of the bin. This box measures about 60″ long by 18″ wide by 45″ high.
Both boxes ride on 8″ pneumatic wheels. The front wheels rotate, but the rear wheels are fixed. Heavy duty handicapped bathroom handles are affixed at both ends to facilitate moving them around. They are trimmed in oak, and covered with a couple of coats of polyurethane.
A smaller variation of the big magilla is the small office magilla. Same basic box, with multiple compartments that carries a few extra 20×26 pieces, all of the office supplies and hold two rolls of clear bags. This box sits behind the booth and serves as a wrap station. It’s big enough to fix a frame on in a pinch, and makes a convenient office when writing up a sale.
The office box in use at a show
I use basic variations on all these boxes for matted prints, storage closets, small print bins, dollying to shows. Where does it all fit, you might wonder? This system was designed to work within a double booth. A lot of it sits behind the display walls at a show, but the two big bins serve up prints, one in each 10×10 space. The office box sits behind the booth, and the other pieces fit in storage behind two walls. If you’d like to see how it all works, stop by at a show and ask me. These designs are not lightweight, but they are very durable, infinitely customizable, and make dollying into a show much easier.
If you like these designs, feel free to modify them to fit your own needs. I owe fellow photographers Ron Neihoff and Darren Olson a tip o’ the hat for sparking new ideas on how to build these and what might be useful.