Wells Street Art Festival – Review

Saturday crowds made it impossible to walk

Saturday crowds made it impossible to walk. Beer, bars and art - a winning combination at Wells Street Art Festival.

I did Wells Street again this year. I can say this emphatically: it has the worst load-in and load-out of any show I’ve ever done, and the rain Saturday morning compounded it. They stagger the artist load-in times from 6AM to 8:30AM and queue the vehicles on North Ave or Division while waiting. The closer your booth number is to one of the two entrances, the later your load-in time. They have improved this system over the years by checking booth numbers and loading sections in numeric order so that vehicles don’t block access, but it’s a tight narrow street with booths down the middle, and invariably a crabby time for all. My time was 6:45, and I got in around 6:55. Kudos to the volunteer staff for being this organized in a sketchy situation. #Star.

But then you must move your vehicle, and even though I paid for two parking spots, I ended up in a street spot at the opposite end of the show. It was a good fifteen minute walk back to the booth. We were amused watching the volunteers try to get Bob Trisko’s yellow Hummer and 22′ trailer into a spot barely big enough for two cars. Volunteers had no clue how impossible it is to park a 40′ foot rig on Chicago’s narrow streets (Goethe is a one way residential street ).  I rented a cube van for this show knowing that I’d never get my normal rig parked here. It still took 45 minutes to get parked and get back to the booth because of the show disorganization on this issue. The volunteers really need to be better informed about parking, as they continue to provide the wrong information which wastes everybody’s precious setup time. Maybe letting folks start setting up earlier? #Fail.

The judging, if you can call it that, starts promptly at 10:30AM on Saturday. This is pretty unfair to the artists that load-in later, as they just don’t have enough time to get setup and as a consequence, they don’t get judged at all. They should change this system, or just eliminate the judging. The prizes are piffle anyway. Why bother? I never saw a judge since I was still setting up when they went by in the rain. #Fail.

Wells Street Booth - lit up for the evening crowds

Wells Street Booth - lit up for the evening crowds

Many photogs opt for a double at Wells Street. So do I, and it takes over 4 hours to setup. Saturday the rain stopped about the time we finished hanging the art, and people starting coming out in droves. We lost about three selling hours because of the rain and long setup times. Even so, I had a great day Saturday, and a phenomenal day on Sunday. I did have a very good spot, and a lot of Chicago images. But my sepia-toned prairie landscapes were well-received, and I sold a couple of those, lots of smaller matted prints and a few large framed pieces. Aside from the drunken party that starts about 5PM Saturday and kills sales after that point, the show was well-worth the agonizing setup. Sunday the weather was perfect, and there were hordes of people all day. It was one of the better shows I’ve done in the past twelve months. Shows in Michigan and Florida have been way down so far this year, at least for me, and it was nice to finally have a good show. #Star.

Not every artist did well, however. The high-end glass sculptor behind me had a very disappointing show, with sales of 10% of what he had done in previous years. Another photog a few booths away did not appear to have done as well with his black and white work. I heard other artists complaining, too, about buy/sell jewelry and poor sales. Overall the work seemed good in Wells St. I didn’t have a chance to walk the show or visit the Old Town show. #Star.

Happy Happy Happy

Happy Happy Happy

Load-out sucked, too. Since the music and beer-drinking goes on well past dusk, the artists cannot bring their vehicles onto the street until 11PM, according to the show handbook. In practice, many artists start dollying out to whatever street parking they can find on Sunday morning, and leave some cleared space for those of us with larger vehicles. I got my truck in about 11, but wasn’t loaded and on the road until 12:30AM. More confusion and mayhem. Made for a very very long day. Thank goodness that the weather was nice for load-out, and that everything had a chance to dry out. #Star.

A big thank-you to Frank and Jennifer for making Hotel Belmonte available to us and selling like aces on Saturday.

Boxes, bins and rolling stock — a brief history of art show transport cases

Original boxes and bins 2006

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.

Bin configuration, 2006

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

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.

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.

Twin Facing Bins

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.

Single BinBoth 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

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.

Bin Plans

Bin Plans

I used these plans to construct two bins that carry framed work and matted pieces, ready for display. I modified the actual boxes somewhat from these plans, but they give you a rough idea of how to make your own. They are built of 3/4” oak plywood and dimensional oak lumber. Piano hinges are used to attach the tops. I used 4” barrel bolts on the door catches, and 3” butt hinges.

Pictures, and more about the construction, here.

Building Blocks

Bin configuration, 2006

New Bins, different configuration

I’m always looking for new ways to transport and display my work at shows. A few weeks ago, I replaced my old bins with some new boxes that I built of 1/2 birch plywood. The new bins are a little larger and sit on top of a square support system. More on that later.

I built four bin boxes. The first two I built were just a tad too small to fit my 11×14’s with space to clear. I miscalculated somewhere, and made them almost exactly 14” tall on the inside. That’s not enough clearance to allow the prints to ride comfortably. So I built a couple more and made them a tad taller, and also raised the front a little.

I had a family in the booth a couple of weeks ago, and one of the teenage girls was paging through the front bin. She didn’t support the prints with her hand, and let them all fall forward. It tipped the entire bin over, and spilled the prints into the street. Nothing was damaged except for her pride and one mat, which had a bit of a divot taken out of it. A fix to keep them from tipping over is in the works. A simple bar to fasten the front and back lower bins together is all that it will take.

The beauty of this design is that the two halves of one box fit together and clasp shut to transport the prints in the trailer. Almost no packing up is necessary. The large prints go back into a separate carry box which doubles as a desk. (See Art Show Booth).

I also built a smaller box to support a bin at a second level. While this box is big enough to carry prints, it usually just holds the tent toolbox and parts during a show, and after. It’s narrower than the others, and has cleats on the bottom to keep it from falling into the supports. The supports themselves are just ProPanel extenders, with leg levelers on the bottom. They assemble just like the KD panels, with metal posts and corner brackets. Velcro straps keep them together and the corner brackets keep them square.