A couple weekends ago I had a booth at An Affair of the Heart (AAOTH) in Oklahoma City. This was my second time to do AAOTH. The first time was in Tulsa this past July. I knew going into it that it wasn’t the ideal show for me, but there wasn’t much to choose from in regards to fine art shows this time of year unless I wanted to drive a long ways. It was a nice show due to the amount of people that attended, it was a big plus that it was a local show, and a big plus that it was an indoor show (didn’t have to take my weights or tent exterior).
It was interesting doing this show after having done a few fine art shows. The Tulsa AAOTH was my very first show so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. The amount of people that attend AAOTH shows far exceeds any of the art shows I have done. However, I would say the amount of people who actually came into my booth at the OKC AAOTH was on par, or even less, than some of the art shows I have done. So while the crowd was bigger, most of the people passed by my booth, whereas at the art shows I did last year a much larger percentage of attendees seemed to actually come into my booth.
I didn’t have very high expectations going into the show, but it actually ended up being a really good show for a couple reasons. It was my best show so far in regards to sales, which really isn’t saying much at this point, but that was encouraging. More than that, though, was the exposure. It was nice to get my art out into the local market, and my booth ended up getting featured in a video on the AAOTH Facebook page during the show (thank you AAOTH!). Any additional exposure I can get at this point is a big win.
So all in all, it was a positive weekend, and I’m glad to be back doing shows after having a couple months off.
Leading up to this year, I had wanted to start selling my photography at art shows for quite some time. I had always admired artists who did this. Throughout 2018, I got lots of positive comments/compliments on my photography, and late in the year I finally decided I was at a point in life where it was a good time to give it a shot. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to make a living off it, but with all the compliments I had received, I figured I would be able to make some sales at shows. Now that I have four shows under my belt, and have a little bit of a break until my next one, I figured I would put together a post with some thoughts/lessons based on my brief experience so far.
One of the lessons I learned pretty quickly was that a lot of work had to be done before I could even start applying to art shows. Most of the shows (if not all of the shows) I was interested in required a picture of my booth layout. This meant I almost had to get to the point of being able to do a show before I could even apply to a show. So even though I started making prints in mid/late March, I didn’t start applying to shows until early May.
This led to the second lesson: show applications are usually due a few months before the actual show. This meant that the shows I was applying to in the May/June timeframe were in September/October/November. So between all the work before even applying and then the time between the application and the show, it took several months from “starting” until my first show. Granted, there may be shows you can get into quickly. I was able to get into a show in July last minute, although it wasn’t the ideal show. So be ready to put in a lot of time, effort, and money before you can even start applying to most juried shows, and then some more time until the shows actually happen.
Once you start doing shows, be prepared for lots of learning and inefficiency the first few shows. Kudos to you if you can figure everything out right off the bat. But for me, between packing my truck, packaging items, setting up, the best tent layout, tearing down, etc., there was lots of trial and error in how to do things best. It took until my 4th show before I felt like I had a good handle on how best to set up, my tent layout, how to tear down, and pack the truck. And that was with some work outside of shows as well.
Last big lesson: compliments don’t equal sales, and rejection is a given. If I got $1 for every person who said my work was beautiful, or something along those lines, I wouldn’t have to sell any of my art. And yet I have sold very little art my first four shows. It could be that people are just trying to be nice. But I think it’s more along the lines that it’s just hard to sell art. There are obviously lots of things that go into this, but don’t think that because people are complimenting your art you will get into every show you apply to and that it will be easy to sell it.
And yet, despite the slow start and difficulties, and points of wondering why I’m doing this, I’m not giving up yet. There are some great things about doing the shows. I have really enjoyed getting to meet and chat with the people who come through my booth, as well as other artists at the shows. Being fairly shy and an introvert, I don’t have much of a social life, and the shows are one of my ways to be social. It has been fun visiting with others who have connections to the mountains, and seeing the reactions to and explaining to people the why behind my fire hydrant photos. Despite not doing well with sales up to this point, there has been lots of good learning so far, so that has been a positive I could take away from the shows. And finally, I’m of the opinion that it can’t hurt to get my art out in front of more people.
Also, one other thing I want to point out. If you do decide to start selling your art at shows, don’t think you have to give up everything else and be fully devoted to making art and selling it. I have not experienced this myself, but some people apparently frown upon not being “fully devoted” to your art. However, if you were to give up everything else, not have any source of other income, and then not do well at shows, it could become very stressful in a hurry. I have a full time job, and I consider fine art photographer to be my side gig. It takes so much stress out of it knowing I have another source of income, and I don’t have to count on sales at art shows. Does that mean I’m not going to try as hard? I don’t think so. I would still like to do it full time someday. But until I get to that point, I have a lot less stress, which for me makes it much more enjoyable. As Elizabeth Gilbert put it:
So, in conclusion, being an artist selling work at art shows isn’t as glorious as most people probably think. Sure, there are some people who do well with it, but based on my experience and talking with other artists, I think that’s the minority. There is a lot of work and time that goes into the shows, and often not the payoff that the artists would like. If you’re thinking about giving art shows a try, be prepared for a challenge, but there is also a deep satisfaction in pursuing something you’re passionate about.
This past weekend I traveled all the way down to Friendswood, TX (southeast side of Houston) to participate in the Friendswood Art in the Park. Back when I started applying for shows, I made it a goal to try and participate in a show each month. When I was looking at shows for November, I was having trouble finding shows within a few hours drive of OKC, and happened to stumble across this show with a Google search. I would have preferred a closer show, but since I couldn’t find anything else, I decided to apply and give it a shot if I got in (and as you can now tell, I got in.)
I left Friday morning at 6:00 A.M. to try and get to Friendswood with enough time to set up before it got dark. I have heard from many, many people about the horrible traffic in Houston, so between that and having to drive through Dallas/Ft. Worth, I wasn’t really looking forward to the drive. It actually didn’t end up being too bad on the way down. I made it in a little over 7 hours. There were a few slow spots in DFW and Houston, but nothing too bad.
After figuring out where to park, I ate a quick lunch and then got started setting up. There were 3 side-by-sides available for the artists to use to unload their stuff. That was definitely a good perk. However, I just used my dolly since it wasn’t far from my truck to where my spot was. The weather was beautiful for set up, and set up went really smooth. Since they had to move the booth locations the night before the show (due to recent rain and muddy conditions) and I didn’t see any place to plug in, I figured we wouldn’t have electricity and didn’t put up my lights (more on this later). I was completely set up by around 5, with some time to spare before it got dark. I think I finally have a pretty good system down for setting up, which helps a lot.
After getting set up I headed to my hotel and got checked in, and then got dinner at a Wendy’s. The rest of the evening was spent getting stuff ready for the show and watching some TV.
The show didn’t start until 10:00 on Saturday, so I left the motel around 7:45 to try and get some fire hydrant pictures before the show started. I almost didn’t bring my camera for the trip, but by the end of the trip I was really glad I put it in. I got a few pictures, and then headed to the show. Right before the show started I was given my booth sign. I didn’t have any rope with me to put it up, so I had to run back to my truck and dig my rope out to put it up. That was a little bit annoying. It would have been nice to get that the day before when I was setting up.
It got busy pretty quickly after 10:00, and it stayed busy until around 3:00, at which point traffic slowly started tailing off. Around 4:00 I started noticing a few booths that had lights set up, and shortly thereafter noticed a couple extension cords running behind my tent. I went behind my tent and looked, and at some point after I finished setting up a generator had been placed back there with some plug ins. By 5:00 I was wishing I had put my lights up, since it started to get pretty dark inside my tent. I had meant to ask about power when I arrived, but in my hurry to start getting set up, I forgot to ask them, and my assumptions were incorrect. Lesson learned. Haha. The show ended at 6, but I shut down around 5:45 since it was really too dark to see anything in the tent.
Other than the lack of light towards the end of the show, it was a good first day. It was the best day of sales I have had so far (which isn’t saying much), the weather was beautiful, and I had pretty good traffic through the booth most of the day. After the sun went down, it cooled off quick though. By the time I left, I was pretty cold, even with my fleece jacket on. After I left I stopped by Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant for dinner. I got their lasagna. I highly recommend stopping by there for dinner if you’re in the area. It was delicious. I really wanted to try one of their desserts, but I was too full for that. After dinner it was back to the hotel for the evening.
On Sunday the show started at 11, so once again I left the motel early and took some time to get some more pictures. I got to the show about 40 minutes early to give myself some time to get set up and then walk around and see some other booths. It was nice to have some time for that. Since I’m by myself I’m not really able to walk around during the shows.
The traffic was definitely slower on Sunday. It wasn’t dead by any means, but not as busy as Saturday. The weather was absolutely beautiful once again. Thankfully I made some sales on Saturday, because I didn’t make any sales on Sunday. The show ended at 5:00. I finished getting everything packed up at 7:00. I was a little bit worried about packing up in the dark, but thankfully there was enough ambient light that it wasn’t a big problem. As with the setup, I think I have a pretty good system in place now for the tear down as well.
After that it was back to the hotel to get stuff ready to leave early the next morning.
My main complaint with this show was that the communication could have been much better. The only communication I really received between my confirmation in July and the show was my booth location a week before the show. The two shows I did prior to this sent out at least one email prior to the show with details such as parking, rules/regulations, electricity, hospitality, sales tax, etc. Once the artist application was removed from the website, I couldn’t figure out a way to get any of this info for the show. When I got to the show, there was no check in booth. I just had to ask around and find the person I needed to talk to about finding my spot and setting up. And as I mentioned before, I didn’t get my booth sign until the start of the show. So in the “leading up to the show” phase, I have definitely experienced better.
As far as the show itself, it actually exceeded my expectations. With the lack of communication leading up the show, and the show not being on Zapplication like a lot of other shows, I was kind of skeptical going into the show. There was a nice mix of mediums, along with performing arts and food trucks. There was pretty much always at least some traffic through the show, and I had a lot of people stop in my booth to take a look and chat. As I mentioned earlier, Friday was my best sales day so far, which still wasn’t great, but still a positive. I was actually really surprised at how much interest there was in my fire hydrant pictures. I haven’t expected to sell a whole lot of those, but the sales and interest so far in those (particularly at this show) has been encouraging. All the people I encountered were great. A couple of the previous shows I did were better about bringing around snacks/drinks to the artists, and having booth sitters stop by, but that’s not a huge deal to me. Just something I figured I would point out. I didn’t visit with other artists as much at this show as I had at my previous two shows, but I still met and chatted with a few, which was nice.
So all in all, a pretty good weekend. It was fun to visit a place I have never been to, to get some pictures while I was there, get my art out in front of some more people, and meet some more artists. I’ll definitely consider this show for next year. I have a couple months until my next show, so hopefully I don’t forget the system I have put together for packing, setting up, and tearing down 🙂
If you want to see the pictures I got over the weekend, go check them out on my website.
This past Friday and Saturday I participated in the Joplin Arts Fest in Joplin, MO. Although I participated in “An Affair of the Heart” back in July, the Joplin Arts Fest was my first “fine art show” to participate in, so I was excited to see how it went.
I left OKC around 6:30 A.M. Friday morning. I had to stop at my parents’ place on the way to Joplin to grab a couple things. I was planning on hanging out there for an hour or so, but rain was on the way so I grabbed what I needed and headed up to Joplin hoping to get my tent set up before the rain arrived. I got to Mercy Park around 10:15. I got checked in, unloaded my tent, and then parked my truck outside the festival area while I got my tent set up. I didn’t want to unload everything and leave my art sitting out in case it started to rain before I had the tent set up.
It took way longer than I had expected to get the tent set up. I could definitely tell it had been a while since I had set up the exterior of the tent. Before I raised the top up to put the legs on, I strapped the sides of the top cover down to keep it on, and figured I would do the rest of the straps after it was up. After I raised the front up, the wind caught it and blew the front of the top cover back up over the top. Then later something didn’t seem quite right after I put the first couple walls up, so I took them back down and rearranged how I put the walls up. Just a couple examples of the rust that needed shaken off.
I eventually got the tent put up, and pulled my truck up again to unload the rest of the stuff. Just as I was starting to get stuff unloaded a light rain started to fall. It didn’t rain a whole lot, and thankfully I was able to get everything unloaded into the tent without anything getting wet. I left to grab lunch when I got to a good stopping point, and then came back and worked on getting the tent put together some more. It was fairly breezy during the afternoon, and after getting some stuff set up, I decided to change the layout due to the way the wind was blowing. That was a pretty big pain, and another thing that added time to getting everything ready to go. Thankfully I was able to get everything set up prior to the show starting. I cut it way closer than I thought I would, so it’s a good thing I didn’t hang out at my parents’ place for long.
The Artist/Patrons reception was from 5-6, and then the show was open to the public from 6-10. The weather was great for the show that evening. It was quite busy from 6-8, and then slowed down the rest of the evening. I spent some time while it was slow visiting with Randall Kronblad and his wife, who were in the tent next to me. At 10 I closed up the tent and headed back to the hotel. I thought having the show after dark was pretty neat. The lighting adds another creative element to the tent setup for each artist. I don’t expect there to be many shows where the show happens after dark.
The next morning the show started at 9. It started out slow, but the crowd picked up later in the morning. It was fairly breezy in the morning. Not near as bad as Vinita was for me earlier this year, but still breezy enough to shake the tent around a little bit. Some rain came through around noon, but thankfully the wind died down while it was raining. The worst part of the storm went to our north. After the rain cleared out it was pretty nice right up until the end of the show. Right at the end a few more showers came through. Nothing significant, but enough to get the tent wet right before having to pack it up. I had a fairly steady flow of people through my booth most of the day. It wasn’t crowded by any means, but I at least had people coming through. I was able to visit with Randall and his wife quite a bit throughout the day as well.
At 4 I started getting everything packed up. I had my brother, his fiancé, and my mom there to help out where they could, which was nice. The weather ended up bring great for the tear down, which I was quite thankful for. I think it was about 6:30 by the time we had everything packed up. We went and got some ice cream from Braums before hitting the road.
In regards to sales, it was very disappointing. I didn’t make a single sale the entire show. I think some other artists did fairly well, but I wasn’t one of them. I had lots and lots of oohs and aahs and compliments, but no sales. That was a big bummer. But with that being said, it was a good experience. It was a good show for my first show. The crowd was much better than “An Affair of the Heart”. I had much more traffic through my booth, and had much more conversation with visitors. It was also great to get to visit with Randall and his wife quite a bit. Hopefully I can run into them on occasion in the future. I was able to briefly meet an artist that will be at my next show, so I’ll have to try and find him there. There were volunteers roaming around offering drinks and breaks if needed, which was nice. The musical performers were great. I didn’t find them distracting or overwhelming, but a great compliment to the show. And it was nice to be able to try a different layout and some tweaks I had made since my last outdoor show. Each show brings learnings and things to try at the next show.
This show made 3 out of 3 outdoor shows that I have been rained on. I’m really hoping I can break that streak soon. Thankfully there weren’t thunderstorms like the previous two, and overall the weather was much better than I was expecting.
For the one night I stayed in Joplin, I stayed at the Best Western. The room definitely wasn’t anything fancy. Not bad by any means, but nothing fancy. The service was great though. I got a snack bag when I checked in. The front desk clerk called shortly after I got to my room to check if the room was ok. Saturday morning there was an employee offering to make waffles for anybody who wanted one. So I wanted to give this place some kudos for the service.
Finally, I want to give a big thank you to Steve Doerr for the mentoring/feedback he provided during the application process. This was the first art show I applied to, and after submitting my application, Steve got back to me with some feedback to help me improve my application, and allowed me to resubmit my application. That was great feedback to receive as I was just starting to apply to shows, and I am very appreciative of it.
Thanks to everybody who stopped by my booth as well!