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Recap ~ Huffhines Art Trails 2010

November 1, 2010

(I post these recaps for two reasons:  First, to let non-artists see what’s involved with doing an outdoor show.  We do our work in the studio, but then comes the business of selling the art we’ve worked so hard to produce.  We’re sometimes called “show artists” or “street show artists”.  Show organizers refer to us as “vendors”.  We are part entrepeneur, part gypsy, and, probably, part crazy.  We pay a booth fee that can range from under $100 to several hundred, basically renting a 10’x10′ or 10’x20′ space for one to three days.  We have a substantial investment in tents, display panels, tables, chairs, printed materials, bins to transport the artwork, and an array of materials and equipment, accumulated through trial and error, all necessary to set up a little art gallery on a street, parking lot or the grounds of a city park.  We travel for several hours, and many of us have invested in trailers to carry everything.  We immensely enjoy visiting with friends and strangers who have a genuine interest in our art.  We are not entertainers.  Entertainers get paid or work for tips.  We only get paid if we sell.

Second, I post these recaps for other artists, those who also do what we do, and enjoy sharing experiences, and those who have never done an outdoor show, but may be contemplating getting started.  For those, especially, I try not to pull any punches.  I definitely always point out the positives, because if there weren’t positives, we wouldn’t do this.  But I believe it’s important for any artist thinking about taking the plunge to understand the realities.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s damn hard work, with long hours, generally lousy food and nowhere near enough money.  Why do we do it?  Call us crazy, but we love it. We meet a lot of other artists, enjoy the camaraderie with likeminded people, enjoy meeting strangers, love to talk about the art, especially enjoy showing the work and actually meeting the people who buy it, and of course… we’re people watchers.

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We knew it was going to rain.  We just didn’t realize how much it was going to rain.

The beauty of the Huffhines Art Trails show is that it’s only about 30 minutes from home.  Setup on Friday evening went fine.  Our oldest daughter was in town, and helped us get things set up.  The City of Richardson has been doing this show for a lot of years, and they’ve really learned how to do it well.  We finished setting up in time to wander over to a nice buffet dinner set up under the trees for all the vendors, complete with live music.  A few light sprinkles of rain started just as we finished eating and headed for home.

Saturday morning was very overcast, and as the morning progressed, a light, misty drizzle settled in.  This show is set up along paved paths that wind throughout Huffhines Park, which is nice, because visitors never have to walk on wet ground.  The technical start time was 10am, and by around 11 am, it began to rain lightly.  Our E-Zup tent top has not held up well.  I should mention that this is our second E-Zup top in two years.  Their tops are not waterproof, and it has been our experience that when they get soaked, they start to leak.  While we have been happy with the structure, we are not happy with the top.  Someday we may spring for a Light Dome or similar, which should eliminate rain pooling in the top.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to find a waterproof top that fits the E-Zup frame.

Show staff started coming around about mid-day, advising us there was heavy wind and rain headed our way.  I liked the way they phrased it:  “protect your artwork”, they said.  As it turned out, we were more fortunate than other venues in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that day.  An event in Addison was completely shut down because of the threat of tornadoes and lightning.  There were indeed a couple of tornadoes in the DFW area that day, but we were spared.  Instead, we just got wind and rain.  As the rain picked up, having learned a valuable lesson in Ohio in August, we made sure the side curtains were clamped down, and zipped the front curtains closed before the weather hit us.  When the wind hit, Nell held onto one part of the tent, while I stood in the center and held onto the structure.  The tent shook, but thanks to good stakes and weights, it didn’t move.  As the wind died down somewhat, the rain kept up, and we started pushing pools of water off the top that was stretched from the weight of the water.

We took the artwork down and put it in the tubs, and bagged the larger pieces in the big leaf bags we carry just for that purpose.  After a while, the wind died pretty much completely, and the rain lightened considerably.  We unzipped the front and ventured out to find the sidewalks empty, except for vendors milling around wondering if the worst was over.  Things seemed to quiet down, so we put all the artwork back up on the display panels.  There weren’t many patrons walking around to see it.  And then it all started over again.

Once again, we took the artwork down, put it away safely, zipped up the tent, and held on.  We heard a few things crash outside, most likely craft people or jewelers who display their work on shelves, and didn’t get buttoned up quickly enough.  This time, even though the wind did die down again, the rain continued.  I was surprised to see a small number of patrons walking by holding umbrellas over their heads… but eventually even they disappeared from the sidewalks.  The show was scheduled to run until 6pm, and we absolutely refuse to shut down early… unless it just seems stupid to stay open.  Sometime between 3:30 and 4pm, with the artwork put away, rain coming down outside, and no potential customers in sight, we grudgingly joined the others who closed up shop and called it a day.  Nell slipped on a plastic poncho and I carried an umbrella, and we caught the vendors’ shuttle that took us to our designated parking lot several blocks away.  This was the most expensive show we’ve done all year, and the first day was a total washout.

Sunshine and crowds on Sunday

After a somewhat sleepless night imagining thousands of dollars worth of artwork and equipment sprialing into the sky like Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse, we arrived at the park with clouds overhead, but also some blue sky peeking through.  The tent top had not split and poured gallons of water down into the booth.  We had stopped at Home Depot on the way in, and bought an 8’x6′ outdoor carpet remnant.  The show organizers have been through this before, and there were bales of hay scattered throughout the venue.  Vendors were laying straw down over wet, muddy spots.  We did the same, covering a really muddy spot right at the entrance to our booth, then laid the outdoor carpet over the hay.  It was a little mushy, but people at least didn’t hesitate to step into the booth.

The booth at Huffhines Art Trails 2010

Besides, as Nell (ever the optimist) pointed out, the hay complimented the barn paintings.  As the day went on, the sun came out, and the crowds picked up substantially.  Finally, a show with lots of people strolling between the tents.  We enjoyed that, because, with a couple of exceptions, the crowds this year have not been large at most of the shows we’ve done.

It's always nice when friends show up

At one point during the afternoon, old friends Arlene and Lee showed up.  They live nearby and attend Huffhines every year, but we were nonetheless delighted that they came and looked us up.  Another valuable aspect of sending out a monthly newsletter (well… almost monthly): friends know when you’re going to be at a show nearby.  Another real treat was when Nell said “I’d swear an old co-worker of yours just walked by”.  She mentioned the name Jerry, and I was out of the booth in a flash.  I finally caught up with old friend Jerry Sams whom I hadn’t seen in probably twenty years.  He and his daughter returned to the booth with me, and we enjoyed a reunion and a quick catch up.

This is a good show.  Sales were a disappointment, but then, they have been all year.  The economy has people attending such events with their hands in their pockets.  We met and visited with several artists who had booths there, many of whom have done this show for years.  It’s a hit or miss proposition, and I’ve said before that it’s always a crapshoot.  In fact, one man from Colorado, a potter, said doing these shows is his alternative to Vegas, except the odds are better.  We got advice on several shows we might try, and as always, saw some additional ideas to make the booth even better.

Since the hours for this one were 10am to 6pm, I opted to not pay for electricity.  I should have.  A number of booths had lights, and as one photographer said (his booth was really warm, cozy and inviting with lots of lights), on an overcast day under trees, lights can make a big difference.  The outdoor carpet we bought will be used again.  We had downplayed the idea, thinking it would be a nuisance to load up if it was wet and dirty.  However, when we broke the booth down, the underside of the carpet was surprisingly dry and clean, even though it had been on grass and mud covered with straw in places.  It will make a nice cushion at parking lot shows, and should nicely cover the inevitable oil stain we always seem to acquire with our booth.

I’ll mention again how well-run this show was.  There were show staff at every turn, always courteous and eager to help, keeping us informed about weather conditions, moving vehicles in and out during loading and unloading, and Boy Scouts everywhere, asking if they could help us with anything.  Vendor parking is always an issue at shows like this.  There are always those idiots who push the rules or just simply don’t follow them.  Don’t they understand that every parking space taken by a vendor is one less parking space for potential buyers?  The City of Richardson dedicated one of its service center parking lots several blocks away specifically for us to park our cars and trailers.  They provided a shuttle that ran between the parking lot and the venue, with very little waiting for the next bus.

We will definitely try to do the Huffhines Art Trails next year.  It’s exactly the kind of fine art/fine crafts show we’re looking for, and we honestly believe that in a better economy, we could do well there.

Eight shows this year so far.  One more to go.  I’m watching the weather in Houston closely, and so far it looks good.  It would be nice to have sunshine, cool weather and big crowds at the First Saturday Arts Market this coming weekend.

Either way, there’ll always be people to meet… and to watch.

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