Monday, April 27, 2015

Art school of hard knocks: What I am learning about showing at art festivals.

Aren't these photos a hoot?!  The bottom one was taken last December at 2nd Sundays festival in Williamsburg, VA, The top one was taken when I was somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20 while sketching at Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio, in the mid 1980s..  Thanks Rita Kirkman for the old  photo of me hunched over and looking agitated at you!  Ah those were good times. 
I have learned so much over the 30 year span of my career as a portrait artist, but it seems like the more I learn, the more that I realize that I don't know.  As you know from reading my past blogs I have been trying to change my career from being a quick sketch artist to fine artist, but it is much easier said than done.  For my entire career I did very inexpensive quick portraits from life, and inexpensive portraits from photos.  My typical client was of the working class and had little extra money to spend on art.  The fine art shows that I started doing in the past year is geared towards an entirely different client base, but I find myself still thinking as a line artist.
In order to learn and grow I have been trying to meet as many 2d artists as possible at the shows and  pastel community web sites so that I can pick their brains and get redirected.  2 weekends ago I set up for my first out of town art festival in Arlington Virginia.  Some artists had a great show, some didn't sell a thing.  I sold a few prints, but not enough to pay for booth space and hotel.  The next weekend in Virginia Beach the weather was horrible.  Most artists, myself included had no sales the entire weekend.  This was only my 4th show outside of our local 2nd Sundays festival.  My wallet is horribly dry but the knowledge that I received at these shows was invaluable.
At Arlington I was set up next to a lovely man from Williamsburg.  Not only is he a show vet of many decades, but he is also the board of director for a very prestigious art show that I have applied to.  I totally expect to get rejected from it again, but I thought it was a great opportunity to find out why I was rejected last year and most likely  will be again this year.  He was kind but very honest which is exactly what I needed.  Thank you God and the universe for putting our paths together.
He seemed to remember my booth shot from my application.  He said that it will hurt my ability to get into shows because, well, it was pretty lousy.  He said that I need to take all of the glass out of my frames, set the entire booth up in the back yard and take it again.  When you use a booth shot from a show it will have all sorts of distracting things in it, like your cooler peeking out from under your panels and the reflection of me taking the photo. The reflections were so distracting that you couldn't see the art in the photo.  Reduce the amount of work on the walls and make it look clean too he said.  Another artist told me that most artists don't even hang the quality of work that they show in their applications. 
This is the booth shot that I used on my 2015 applications for shows.  The photo was taken in the fall of 2014 but other than new frames, this is pretty close to how it looks now.
He also said that people do not go into caves while visiting a show.  I actually heard this many times from other artists over this weekend and the next.  Our display is black, our tent top is opaque so the interior looks like someplace that Gollum would be very happy to call home.  (Yessssss my precioussssss... )  My neighbor and several other artists had some great suggestions for lighting it up with out having to pay for electricity.  Eventually we will need to replace the dark panels, but that's not in the budget at around $2000.  A new tent with a skylight is a must, but we priced that at about $1,600.00, so that will have to wait.  A marine battery, adapter and clip on lights will cost around $300.00.  I will put off groceries for a few weeks if I have to, but we are getting lights before our show next weekend in Richmond. 
We also need to replace all of the standard glass with AR glass.  Anti Reflective glass will make my pastels look like they do not have glass on top of them.  Now, when viewers look at my work all the see is their own ugly mugs staring back at them. The company that makes AR glass is called True Vue.  They only ship to frame shops.  There are no frame shops in town that sell it, so I will need to make a drive to Richmond or Virginia beach to get it.  I cant seem to get a price on it on line, but I am estimating that a single sheet of 11 x 14" glass will be around $100.  I have around 40 frames that will need replaced.  One pastel artist said that she has good luck with acrylic instead of glass.  I will check that out too, but I heard that it acts as a magnet and will end up covered in pastel dust.  She suggested visiting She said that she only stacks them upright or flat, never upside down to reduce dusting.  Duh... I should have figured this out ...sheesh. Ok... good to know.
I was also scolded many times by my fellow show artists that my prices are way too low.  They explained that in order to sell pieces you actually have to price them far above what you think is reasonable.  I had mine priced at $2 per square inch, making an 8 x 10" drawing $160.  I need to triple this I guess.  It is too high to attract the working class buyer who I love so much and far too low to attract the collectors and people with money to spend on art, who I really REALLY want to get to know better.  I heard many times over the past 2 weekends that the middle class no longer exist, so don't worry about appealing to them.  Who knew?  I was also told to have one large piece with an astronomical price tag.  Everything else will look low compared to this.  The people who see that price tag and run out of the booth complaining about my price are not the ones I want to attract anyhow.  the others will see my other smaller pieces at a much lower price and feel good about their purchase. The man who told me this made $7000.00 the last 2 hours of the show, then as he was fully packed up and ready to drive home David stood there with his mouth open and watched him sell an additional $3000 piece!  He carves fish out of driftwood.  His show piece was priced at $16,000.00 and drew people into his booth like flies to a hog.
I learned some new things about prints.  One man I met is a 20+ year vet who does photo realism with egg tempura.  He and his lovely wife were an endless font of helpful knowledge.  They urged me to call them in the future when ever I need help and I look forward to keeping in touch with them.  Most of his work were prints that had been  signed, and professionally framed by his wife.  He was selling mostly prints, but at the same price that I was selling my originals.  He might have had a few originals up, priced very high.  He said that it doesn't matter if you make your own prints at home using an artisan printer or have them made by a print shop, as long as the paper is archival and the ink is pigment based.  He said that it is becoming very trendy in New York to purchase signed prints and told me, with a look of awe, that A Chuck Close print just sold for $9000 at the MOMA.  The MOMA does not call them prints, but calls them "archival pigment based reproductions". He said that it is stupid to call them gicilees because that term was used to make the word "print" sound fancy, and has no special meaning . It just refers to any print made using an inkjet printer. OK, I am hopping on THAT band wagon!  I don't have any signed prints framed on the wall but I will before next weekend.  I use a home printer called an Epson Artisan 1430 inkjet printer which prints up to 13 x 19".
Mr. Egg Tempura also told me that asking questions was the best way to learn about this industry, and said that he wished that he and his wife did that in the beginning.  They didn't start to see a profit until after about 2 or 3 years.  He said to try every show that seems appealing, then do it again if it is profitable.  Do NOT base your choices on other artist's experiences, especially if they are selling jewelry, sculpting, abstract paintings or a craft, as these are far removed from what I do.  Also, do not base your attitude about the industry from talking to other artists.  I met a man Saturday who told me that he and his wife have been selling for almost 30 years at shows, and that 2d art was dying and there is no future in doing art shows if you are a painter.  Mr. Egg Tempura finally got it out of me who told me this and he and his wife were hoppin' mad.  His wife hissed that this dude tells everyone this and it is a total lie.  They know his wife and she is as successful now as she was 30 years ago, he is just mad because he wants to retire. wow.  This couple also said that no matter how good or experienced I am I will get rejected from shows for no apparent reason, and the shows will never tell me why.  Many artists had some humorous stories of being rejected from shows even after winning poster contests for them and such.
One thing that I did get from every artist who I asked for a critique and information from was that the quality of my work was absolutely not an issue.  Even the board of director said that my work was outstanding.  He apparently saw my web site as he was researching me for consideration to his show a few weeks ago.  He said that I really need to show my glowing fruit still life, so guess what I will be working on this week.  Mr. Egg Tempura said that he has never seen animals drawn so beautifully.  His wife pulled me aside and said that her husband does not ever compliment artists.  Ever.  I needed to hear this.  At least I know my work is doesn't suck too bad.