Art fair, year 3
May 15, 2012 by Cynthia
Sorry for the looong hiatus–I think this may be a record in the 8-year lifespan of this blog–but it’s been crazybizzy and this is the first time I’ve had in a month to so much as sit down…I think I’m scheduled to actually breathe sometime next week.
To all artists who make (at least part of) a living doing artfairs:
Superpeople. You’re superpeople. Your muscles are titanium, your brains are solid gold.
I am not in your class. After one artfair, my muscles are jelly, and my brain is solid mush.
Oregon Glass Guild’s spring glass gallery was held over Cinco de Mayo, part of Portland’s Gathering of the Guilds and now the largest art guild-owned art show west of the Mississippi. If you didn’t get there, you missed a heckuva lot. I saw fabulous work from just about every type of craftsperson you can imagine, and the only reason I didn’t empty my bank account for all the gorgeous stuff I saw is that I was too busy selling glass.
That’s right. I actually SOLD stuff this year, enough to pay the cost of the booth and more. Whether I made more than the cost of creating my product is debatable, but I’m getting there. Heck, by year 5 I may actually be doing this right.
Assuming it doesn’t kill me first. How in the heck do people do these shows every WEEK?
We (me and boothmates Carol Carson and Becky Magnuson) decided to learn from last year’s booth and:
- Create an “art gallery” within the booth for high-end, wall-mounted stuff
- Give our work a chance to breathe (last year we were junkshop-full and people complained that it was hard to find stuff)
- Have more (and better) storage for work, booth supplies and such
- Improve lighting and traffic flow
- Build in good places to SIT DOWN without losing sales
- Do it on the cheap (since we’ve spent more than enough on boothstuff in previous years)
Our boothspace this year, as I mentioned earlier, was 5×20 feet. It turned out that it was just that, a space. There was an ugly white curtain behind us and a counter-height, purple-draped table, but other than that it was empty. No pipe, no side drapes, nuthin.’
Our job was to fill it with stuff and get folks to look. I wanted to get through this year spending less than $100 for any improvements. So we rented an 8-foot purple-draped and counter-height table from the convention center for $32, which left us $68 for everything else.
We flanked the rented purple table with the white storage units from last year, draped in dark blue fabric. We draped Carol’s rolling workcarts from her studio, too, turning them into rolling pedestals with storage underneath. That gave us plenty of space to display tabletop work–vessels and platters and Carol’s freestanding sculpture.
Wallspace was a problem. Safety considerations dictated something stable that heavy glass wallhangings wouldn’t topple. We looked at renting/buying “Propanels,” freestanding, screenlike constructions–too expensive. We thought about buying hollow-core doors, hinging them together into screens and adding bottom brackets for stability–but what would we do with them after?
Besides, the doors wouldn’t provide the storage we desperately needed. We’d decided to showcase only a few pieces at a time, rotating our stock and filling gaps when things (hopefully) sold. That meant we needed even more storage than last year, and–unlike last year–it had to be organizable and accessible. Our under-table spaces would rapidly fill up and most likely stuff would break. So the shelves needed to be a safe refuge for glass, too.
Becky had some old Rubbermaid shelving units, big, lightweight and stable, which gave me an idea: We cut sheets of thin plywood ($42) to fit the fronts of the storage unit, drilled holes in the edges, and zip-tied them to the shelves. We pushed the units together, rolled painter’s tape down the seam and painted the whole thing dark grey-blue ($12). Then we covered the sides with black fabric from my photo studio kit.
Now we had a “gallery wall” that allowed us to hang stuff, and plenty of concealed storage for art, jewelry and other supplies. We drilled holes in the plywood wherever we wanted to hang stuff, and secured them with bolts and wingnuts.
The result was looked great and was extremely stable. If I’d thought about it more we would have come up with a way to hide the zip ties, but really, they didn’t show much. We used more zip ties to secure lights that spotlighted work on the wall. It worked so well that I want to use the same idea as a backdrop for photography. (And thank you, thank you, Luann Udell, for suggesting gooseneck halogens instead of track lights in the first place).
We also zip-tied scrap boards to the rear side of the shelving units flanking either end of the booth, then draped that with fabric as well, giving us even more wallspace (below).
Our 10 50-watt MR-16 halogen bulbs maxed out our 500-watt electricity allocation and we weren’t allowed to buy more. It was pretty obvious last year that we needed more light, so I tried substituting LED bulbs for halogens. They only use 12W per bulb but supposedly illuminate just as well as 50W halogens.
We set both bulb types up over the jewelry stand, side by side and…nope. The LED illuminated maybe half the radius of the halogen. So we used only one ($6.36), winning back 38 golden watts for smaller highlight spots on the gallery wall, but otherwise stuck with the halogen we already have. (Sorry, environment)
Lighting the jewelry display was an issue; the convention center hadn’t supplied front pipe for hanging lights so we invented our own solution. I have two large sign bases from a retail store that closed, essentially big steel disks with upright tubes about three feet high, very stable. I use them for sculpture stands–they hold clay and armatures nice and steady while I work. We set them on the floor, one on either side of the table (you can just see it, right, in the above picture), slid PVC pipe over the uprights, attached a horizontal PVC pipe for hanging lights and covered the sides with more fabric.
It was far more flexible than the convention center system and let us position our lights directly over the jewelry. It was also free–we already had the PVC pipe.
We didn’t do what I’d really wanted to do last year–put in a bench for foot-weary buyers (who would hopefully buy more out of sheer gratitude), but I was determined this year to supply comfortable seating that also gave us an excuse to keep a close watch on easily pilfered stuff like jewelry. We borrowed two restaurant barstools from my friend Jerry, thickly upholstered, swiveling and perfect.
Since we also chose not to install any floor covering, good seats very much saved our feet.
The booth looked so nice that the convention center-provided white drape background seemed a bit shoddy. We debated buying fabric to cover the back but the 21 yards required would break our budget.
We reconsidered: The gallery wall and shelving units concealed a lot of the backdrop. We snatched up one of Carol’s large canvases–she’s also an incredible painter–and brought that along to cover the backdrop. It looked great, really provided a bridge between her large fine art pieces and more affordable work. And it probably got more compliments and queries than anything else in the booth.
When we finished, we had a booth that was mostly at the edges of our 5-foot-deep space. It looked great, gave us all the storage we needed (as well as good seats for resting), and the multiple shades of blue and purple stood out against the other stark white booths.
Room for improvement
Jewelry display. We’d planned to showcase important jewelry, provide a “bargain bin” for older inventory, and try to look more like a jewelry store than a junksale this year. Instead, we were rushed and most of the pieces ended up on a last-minute black velvet-covered table (Note: black velvet is a dust MAGNET) It hurt visibility and probably encouraged us to put way too much stuff out. And while the black was perfect for very light pieces or anything with irid or dichroic glass, the rest of the glass was lost.
We’re talking about how to fix this; I’m thinking that we need to build some kind of case with fabric-lined niches and some sort of lighting system that will let us both transport finished jewelry and quickly display it. Exactly how? Not sure.
Bead sales. Astonishingly (to me), we had a lot of requests for my necklaces MINUS the necklaces and findings, i.e., the bare beads. Saturday night I packaged all the pieces I hadn’t gotten to yet, marked them with per-bead prices and brought them to the show. I hauled them out whenever we got that request (or when an obvious beader came by), and sold a surprising number. Next year, I’ll need to figure out a way to market this, maybe with a little browsing space somewhere in the booth.
We still need more space. After all my moaning about having nothing but a winning smile to sell in this show, and even though we put out only about half our stock at any given time, the booth was still too crowded with stuff. Our lowest sales areas were usually the most crowded. Next time, we need to do what an old friend with a gallery once told me: “Put an eyecatcher in the window and keep at least one product’s worth of breathing space between everything else.
We also need more gallery walls. I think next year we’ll borrow MORE of Becky’s Rubbermaid shelves, put pedestals in front, and maybe even put plates and other things up on the wall.
Booth boundaries. Our booth had a jewelry zone, a vessel zone and a “fine art” zone–the gallery tower, which confused people–they apparently thought our “booth” was simply the jewelry area and that the rest of area was a separate booth with an absent owner. Several people asked us to fetch the artist for the “other booth” about some piece, which meant we probably lost sales from people too shy to ask. Next time we need to figure out how to make the whole area more cohesive.
All in all, a successful show. But right now I gotta admit that what I appreciate the most is that it’s over. Whew.