We have been on the road for the past three weeks, traveling to visit kids, grandkids and Nell’s family in Ohio, then back to Houston to do the First Saturday Arts Market on September 6. The next day we headed to San Angelo in west Texas to visit my brother and sister-in-law, with a stopover in Austin to spend the night with our youngest daughter and her family. We returned home on Thursday, spent Friday creating and framing a group of new minis, then got up at 5:15 am Saturday (yesterday) to do 4 hours at a farmers market in Sugar Land.
At the last three shows we’ve done, we have found that, for us, the combination of small, colorful and inexpensive is the key to generating revenue at small, low-cost venues. I suspect size might also be a factor for those who sell at higher price points and do higher priced shows.
I’ll address the reasons we do the low cost shows and markets in another blog article. For now, I’m just using a quiet day off from being on the go to catch up with our activities.
The booth at the September First Saturday Arts Market
Making the transition from a “gallery” style booth with Pro Panel walls and framed paintings to a much simpler presentation has been challenging. There has been, at least on my part, a bit of adjustment from “look at how elegant we are” to “look at the fun stuff we have”. Our lifestyle called for a reduction in the amount of equipment we stored and transported. Age has also been a factor. Loading, setup, tear-down and unloading and storing had become a bit more physically challenging, especially on hot days. So we have simplified things.
Our booth at the First Saturday Arts Market on September 6th consisted of the Light Dome canopy and three tables. (Unseen in this image is the third table forming an “L” corner at the left side of the photo.) Where we used to carry three large tubs with framed art, we now have four small tubs for framed minis, unframed canvas minis with little easels, note cards, and unframed 8×10/5×7/4×6 paintings. We sold primarily framed minis, some unframed canvas minis, a few packages of note cards and a couple of 4×6 unframed originals. It was an almost unbearably hot day, but for our purposes, it was profitable. The added bonus is the enjoyment of meeting new people, and the potential for creating new collectors. We also had friends on each side of us: jeweler Steve Sellers and potter John Delafield, which meant several hours of conversation and camaraderie.
Nell enjoys playing with color.
We arrived back home from our trip to west Texas on Thursday afternoon. Because we had sold quite a few of the little mini paintings, we spent a good part of the day Friday producing more of them. I did simple quick light pencil sketches, then, using acrylics, Nell painted over them in her colorful, whimsical style. I added some pencil enhancements on top of that, along with a coat of acrylic gloss varnish. After dinner, we put them into frames and packed them up.
The “revised” setup under the pavilion at the Imperial Sugar Farmers Market.
The alarm woke us at 5:15 am Saturday morning. We had loaded the car on Friday, so all we had to do was fill the cooler with ice and drinks and load it in. We had decided to do the Imperial Sugar Farmers Market for two reasons: it was an easy drive; and as an incentive to draw more artists to the venue, this one had no booth fee. We had been watching the weather, and the forecast was grim. Thunderstorms to hit right around setup time, and rain throughout the day. We arrived around 7am and were greeted by watercolor artist Mike Vollmer. We had met Mike a few years ago at First Saturday Arts Market. When we slowed our attendance down, we lost track of Mike. Turns out he’s been doing the Farmers Market in Sugar Land for a year or two, and had coordinated the drive to get more artists to setup during the weekly markets.
It was misting a bit when we set up, and the wind picked up at about the same time. Our friend Steve Sellers showed up with his wife and son and they began setting up across from us. We were all just about completely set up when Steve walked over with the weather map on his phone. What looked like a pretty nasty storm was headed our way. Steve recently had back surgery and was still recovering, using a cane to get around. With the possibility of having to tear down in driving rain, Steve made what I think was the right decision: they decided to break it down, load it up and go back home. Nell and I had just about completed our setup when Mike Vollmer stepped over from his spot next to us. I had noticed he had his canopy up, but hadn’t unpacked and set anything up yet. He was debating whether to stay and ride it out as well. We had never walked away from a show before, but that pretty much did it for us. As we watched Steve Sellers drive away, we decided to pack it up.
Once all the artwork was packed up and we were about to start taking the canopy down, a lady came over from the pavilion and said there were a few open spaces and we were welcome to set up there. Mike and I walked over, checked it out and decided we would stay and set up under cover. To allow others to do the same, we agreed we could share a 10×10 space. We finished the teardown at our original spot and moved the tables and art into the pavilion. Even with the limited space, we managed to meet some very nice people, reconnected with Mike, and sold some art.
We knew that some of our artist friends had been doing area farmers markets for quite a while. Since we are small venue artists, we decided to try it. With a booth fee of $25 and less than a half hour drive, we couldn’t go too far wrong. As it turned out, even if we had paid a booth fee on this one, we would have made it, paid for gas and lunch, and still made a little money. The way we look at it, we could have stayed home and sat inside on a rainy day and made nothing.
Where’s the adventure in that?
Above is a closeup of some of the new miniature work.
I’ve often said here that my first love is pencil. I believe the ability to draw is one of the most important tools in the artist’s box, and sketching things out of my imagination and memory is a favorite pastime. I’ve spent a lot of time with sketchbook and pencils lately. The image above was a preliminary sketch for a small painting.
While I love building textures in sketches, sometimes a quick form and a few lines can tell the entire story. In the sketch above, I blocked in the house on the left quickly, and before I knew it, this beach scene at low tide almost drew itself onto the paper.
As if there aren’t enough projects in the studio, the idea of an illustrated book just won’t go away. In line with the cottages and barns that have been filling pages in my sketchbooks, farm scenes keep popping up in my mind.
Of course, farm scenes involve chickens, goats, cows and other animals, so I’ve been doing little sketches of those, working from images found online and in my own photo albums.
Sometimes a pencil sketch is nothing more than a value study, with only hints at detail. This sketch of a small building in Maine will eventually become a painting. Meanwhile, the original sketch was purchased by a collector.
We had said we’d never do this event again without help setting up. But we had some new items to test out and the chance to do it in front of over 30,000 people was too much of a siren call to pass up. So when some spots opened up at the last minute, we decided to gamble that neither of us would suffer heat stroke and we went for it. As it turned out, the stars aligned perfectly. The weather cooperated. The rain that had been forecast never showed up, and while hot (it is Houston, after all), the temperature was bearable. And we did have help.
Mitch Cohen, whom we’ve mentioned here before, is the founder of First Saturday Arts Market (FSAM) and co-founder of White Linen Night in the Heights. We hooked up with Mitch in May, 2009. FSAM gave us the opportunity to put the artwork in front of the public and learn the art show and festival ropes. For this White Linen Night, we received e-mailed instructions, with updates. When we showed up with the proper identification on the car’s dash, the police officer at the intersection directed us through the barricades. We were met at the next intersection, handed an “Artist” badge, a bag of goodies, and our booth assignment and were directed down the street. The booth numbers and corners were marked and the power cables were laid. The rules were explicit: unload first, move the car, then set up. Almost everyone did as instructed.
Our oldest son, Chuck, met us at our spot. A young man hired for the event showed up, and four of us unloaded the car. Without the ProPanel show panels we used to have, we are able to get the entire 10×10 show booth into the Honda CR-V. We were fortunate to get an end/corner booth right at the shuttle stop. We have learned over the years to be flexible, and when we discovered we had a corner instead of an in-line booth, we adjusted quickly.
We have learned to be cautious when it comes to setting up the booth canopy. Having dealt with sudden winds that have destroyed our booth, and heavy downpours that have created ominous pools of water in the top, we jumped at the chance a couple of years ago to buy a used Light Dome canopy with a vinyl top and vinyl side curtains. It takes a bit more to set up than a simple pop-up, but I have put it up alone. Just don’t want to do it alone in the heat I don’t think I would ever set up for a show without attaching the weights. And, because we have experienced storms that have come out of nowhere, especially this time of year, we almost always put up the side curtains. We’ve dealt with wind, rain, heat and even snow, so we tend to over-prepare.
We haven’t done a night show with the Light Dome canopy. Where the pop-ups like EZ-Up have lots of structural cross members to attach lights to, this one doesn’t. We bought 2 10-foot lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe. I cut them into four 5-foot lengths to use as light bars. Since the inside “ceiling” space is open, I felt that a 10 foot span might sag with the weight of the lights. I drilled holes in each end of each piece and attached zip-ties through them. When it came time to set up, the light bars were attached diagonally at each corner to the canopy cross members, using zip-ties. To keep the light clamps from slipping off the PVC pipe, they were “locked” on using more zip-ties. As street festival vendors, bungee cords and zip-ties are our friends. A heavy-duty wire cutter is handy for cutting all those zip-ties at tear-down. Our son, Chuck, did all of the light installation, including running all the wiring for the lights and fan.
When we sold the ProPanels, we could no longer display a lot of framed artwork. We kept a few 8x10s and 5x7s so we could still display some framed pieces at that size. We bought two white wire shelves at Home Depot. To allow them to be transported in the car, I used a hacksaw to cut them down to 5 foot lengths. In the last two shows, we zip-tied them horizontally from the canopy cross members. Since then, our friend Steve Sellers, a jeweler who also sells at FSAM, advised us to move the tables closer to the front edge of the booth. There’s a psychology involved that has to do with people being more likely to stop and look if they don’t have to go inside. That meant we needed to get the framed artwork closer to the traffic. So this time we hung the wire shelves vertically, tying them to the cross member at the top and to the corner post. This turned out to be very stable, and allowed people to look at the paintings without blocking the tables.
Since what we do will most often compete in arts and crafts venues, we have opted for a sort of “colorful clutter” approach, with unframed original paintings in tubs, surrounded by colorful, whimsical art and ornate little frames.
We’ve never had a banner for our booth. When we had the ProPanels, the booth was basically a three-sided room, and a banner would have taken up valuable wall space. With the new booth approach, a banner doesn’t hide any of our work, but it does block out part of the chaotic view behind us. In hot weather, it’s really necessary to keep the side and back curtain walls open, so anything to help block out the background helps. We felt it was time to identify who – and what – we are. And besides, it’s kind of fun to see our name up in front of lights. Austin/Houston are the two places we will come to be identified with, so we decided to get ahead of the curve.
Everything came together with this show. The event drew over 30,000 people during a four hour period. Thousands of people passed by and circulated, and a lot of them stopped to see what we had to offer. It was fun to see them draw even with us, look at the table and break into a grin, moving closer to see what all this colorful little artwork was about. We sat briefly in those very rare times when the crowd would thin momentarily, but we spent most of the time on our feet, talking with visitors, answering questions, and selling. There were times when Nell was selling at one side and I was selling at the other, meeting in the middle to make change and write up receipts. While we did sell a larger traditional landscape or two, the bulk of the sales were the small, colorful, whimsical pieces, some of mine, some of Nell’s and some that we did together. While the prices on those were very low, the volume sold accounted for more than we’ve made many times just selling traditional landscape paintings.
Our show revenue included a pre-show sale of a painting shown online a day before to promote the event. And at the show, a purchaser of one of my landscape paintings discussed the possibility of doing a couple of commission paintings.
The event officially ended at 10pm, but as long as there was a lingering or passing crowd, we stayed open. Mitch finally came through around 10:20 and said it was time to shut down. We broke the booth down, loaded it into the car, and drove home, arriving a little after midnight, very tired, but very satisfied.
It was a good show.
A few days ago, we sneaked in under the wire and got a booth at White Linen Night in the Heights, a growing annual art tradition in Houston. As an artist with the First Saturday Arts Market in the Heights, we will be a part of over 70 artists at this event tomorrow evening. If you’re in the Houston area, find your way to the 200 block of West 19th Street. The photo above shows the mixture of whimsical pieces and traditional paintings we will have in the booth. (Except for the red roofed house in the upper right corner. That one sold from this photo to one of my collectors.) It should be a fun evening, in spite of the heat and humidity. Look for us under the banner “Ralph and Nell Parker, Parker Fine Art & Gifts”. We’ll let you know how it went next week.
Stone Cottage, 6×6, Watercolor
I’m having a lot of fun doing these little thatched roof cottages. Conjuring these things up in my head has made me feel more creative than I have felt in a long time. They can go as fast as I want, or I can take my time with them. First, a loose pencil sketch on illustration board, made up on the spot. Then I spend some time with watercolors, playing with light, mood and atmosphere. Once I’m satisfied with that, I go back and embellish the piece with more loose, casual pencil strokes.
We’re experimenting with putting these images on ceramic tiles: 4″x 4″ for coasters and 6″x 6″ (shown here) for trivets or hot plates. We’ll sell them online and at fairs and festivals.
Cappy’s Chowder House, 8×10, Gouache
Last week I decided to get back to gouache, and tried my hand at a couple of street scenes.
The one above is Cappy’s Chowder House in Camden, Maine. It sits at the intersection of several streets right in the center of town. If you go down to the right in this picture, you end up at Camden Harbor. We ate here shortly after arriving in Maine. It was an enjoyable meal in a picturesque atmosphere.
Rockland Café, 8×10, Gouache
While parked at a nearby RV park in this part of Maine, we spent some time in Rockland, Camden and Rockport. If you’re looking for quantity, the Rockland Café is the place. I ordered the smaller version of their seafood platter and it looked like they backed a truck up to the table and piled it high. There is a sign inside that says “If you’re looking for fast food, you might want to try the golden arches up the street. Good food takes time.” A super casual café atmosphere. We ate here a couple of times.
I would love to do a whole series of street scenes, but my attention span seems to be limited. Street scenes always seem a bit daunting to me. I take reference photos of places I would love to paint or draw, but when I look at the images, It just seems a bit too much to absorb. I’m happy with the way these two came out.
Sorry for the delay in getting back here! I’ve spent some time experimenting with watercolor. I have gotten back to gouache, but I thought I’d post a couple of watercolor pieces first. I’ll post the latest gouache work another day.
Cottage, 9×12, watercolor on crescent board
Lightkeeper’s House, 9×12, watercolor & pencil on Crescent board
These have been fun to do. I will admit that I have a much greater appreciation for what watercolorists do now that I’ve made a few attempts.