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White Linen Night ~ a recap

August 3, 2009

This post is not intended to discourage anyone.  But we’ve been honest about the art festival life so far, so anyone who is contemplating it, can at least know what to expect, both good and bad.  I’ll say it again.  The art festival life is not for everyone.  You have to love it.  Why else would you, at age 65 and several years younger, travel 280 miles,  and set up a mini art gallery in Houston, Texas in August?  In 96 degree weather.  On an asphalt parking lot between two buildings.  For a four hour show.  We do it because we love it.

Every show is a gamble.

An art festival is a crap shoot.  You pick your favorite table, load the dice as much as you can, and then you roll.  We were looking forward to the show, but not the setup.  We expected it to be hot and we expected it to be miserable, but we didn’t anticipate just how much it would take out of us.  The heat was already taking its toll on us by the time we got everything unloaded, the tent up, and the panels put together.  At that point we were questioning our ability to get this done.  Under comfortable conditions, we can unload and set up completely in an hour and a half to two hours.  It took us 3 hours.  It got so bad that at one point it was a case of hanging two pictures and then sitting down and gulping water and putting ice on our necsks, then hanging another couple of pictures.  All we could think of was, the show has to go on.  We were ready to go 10 minutes before show time.  The very nice people at Wind Water Gallery have allowed vendors to use their restroom, so once we were set up, we took turns going into the air conditioning, cooling off, and changing shirts.  We were so hot and sweaty that we tried not to linger in the gallery too long so as not to offend their customers.

We will not attempt another one of these without help setting up.  In fact, our son-in-law has already volunteered to help us set up for the September 5th First Saturday show, even though it’s a day show and set up will be in the morning.  He, and maybe a couple of our teenage grandsons, will help us unload, set up the tent and show panels, so we can set up the rest without being totally wiped out.

White Linen Night

I think White Linen Night in the Houston Heights is a great thing.  It’s obviously a social occasion for many, a chance to dress up a little, go to dinner beforehand, stroll the streets, see and be seen, and maybe hit a party after everything shuts down along the street.  There was great music and a party atmosphere.  But on this night, thanks to the fickleness of the art festival gods and the economy, people weren’t buying much.  We make it a point to watch the passing crowd for shopping bags and signs of purchases, and we didn’t see many of those at all.  Someone on Facebook has already commented that the crowd was out, but they weren’t buying.

We got good traffic in our booth, and lots of very nice comments, and a few people who took some very long looks at several paintings.  Of course we had some “we’ll be back”s who didn’t, but you expect that at every show.

Our setup

We had our backs to the sun this time, and were expecting another tent to block the sun coming in through the back opening where we sit.  As luck would have it, the person who set up behind us didn’t use a tent.  We did put up the back curtain, mostly to keep from frying in the late afternoon sun.  We left the bottom half open to get a little air flow, and again, I don’t think it bothered the customers.  When things get cooler, we’ll put it up completely because it’s a less distracting backdrop.

At one point, I stepped to the edge of the aisle and surveyed the booth.  It was a professional presentation.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much the work has improved just since we started doing these shows.  A good artist is never completely satisfied, but I told Nell that I was happy with what I saw, now that just about all of the early pieces have been replaced with newer work.

There were some glitches with the generator that powered our section, and the lights (and the fan) went off several times.  Did it cost us sales?  Who knows?  We did have periods when people passed us by because they couldn’t see what we had to offer, and I’ll admit to some frustration during those times.  People can’t buy it if they can’t see it.  Fortunately, during the last hour, someone had apparently decided to just stand by the generator, and the outages only lasted a minute or two.  Mitch Cohen, the guy who does such a tremendous job of running the First Saturday Arts Market, has already sent out an email that he will get the problem fixed before the next show.  I like Mitch.  He’s treated us well and I trust him to keep his word.  We like the First Saturday shows, and will be back in September.  Fortunately, the September show goes back to daytime, so lights won’t be a problem, but we’ll still want the fan, I suspect.

The bottom line

Did we sell?  Yes, but not much.  In the interest of full disclosure (which many/most artists won’t do), we sold two pieces.  Sometime before 9pm, a gentleman walked into the booth, made a complete circuit of the work, then headed straight to one of the little 5×7 pieces and took it off the wall as he reached for his wallet.  He knew what he liked, saw it, and bought it.  Just like that.  The show ran until 10pm, and we dawdled a bit before starting teardown, because there were still customers in the aisles.  Maria Arango, in her book “Art Festival Guide” (one of the bibles for show artists) stresses not starting teardown early, a lesson we learned many years ago.

In a high percentage of our shows, our best sales have occured in the last hour of the show.  This one was no exception.  Earlier in the evening, a couple had spent quite a bit of time in the booth, focusing on one particular painting, a recent 16×20 painting of a creek near where we live.  They thanked us and left, and although they didn’t say they’d be back, we felt good about them.  After 10pm, we were already beginning the teardown process.  In fact, Nell had already put the credit card swiper away when the couple returned with big smiles.  They wanted the creek painting, bought it, and we ended up with a happy transaction.

We have grown children who live in Houston, and thanks to their gracious hospitality, we don’t have to pay for a hotel for this show.  As a result, thanks to them and our last-minute buyers, we made a small profit on the show.  Baby steps.

The future

We’ll be back in Houston for the regular First Saturday Arts Market on September 5th.  Before that, we will be in Mount Vernon, Ohio for the Dan Emmitt Music & Arts Festival, August 14-16.  And when we’re not on the road, I’ll be painting.  Because it’s what I do.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 5, 2009 8:43 pm

    these days any sales are rare, feel good about it Ralph.

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