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Agony & Ecstasy… Looking down the road

July 27, 2011

Is it odd for a 67 year old man to spend a lot of time thinking and planning for the future?  I hope not.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how to approach the traveling artist thing.  It’s the agony of not knowing mixed with the ecstasy of anticipation.  It really is important, you know.  After all, one of the reasons for buying a Class A motorhome was to have the outside basement storage to carry all the art festival gear. (See Back Roads & Brushes)  But beyond that, there’s the question of just what kind and size of festivals we plan to do.

I don’t have any work in art galleries.  That’s been my own choice.  I’ve made that choice in order to have complete freedom over what we do in the next few years.  We prefer doing festivals, everything from specific art festivals to the annual town square festivals found in almost every small town across America.

The eternal dilemma for us is that the shows we like to do are generally a combination of arts and crafts.  Sometimes, the mix includes some really low end crafts… and a lot of not-so-good art.  But the booth fees are low and the shows have been fairly easy to find and get into.  I know… you get what you pay for, most of the time, but we’ve done some pretty decent markets and shows that have reasonable booth fees.  The First Saturday Arts Market in Houston’s historic Heights district is a great example of a great venue with a good mix of higher end stuff, with very reasonable booth fees.

Our booth has never fit the description proscribed by conventional wisdom.  We almost always have too much stuff, and the frames don’t all match.  One of the things I want to avoid is stopping in a small town, getting into their annual Kumquat Festival on the town square, and setting up a booth that doesn’t fit the venue.  A booth with nothing but 16×20 paintings, all in gold frames, would certainly get us some attention, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of attention we’d want.  And I’m not convinced we’d sell any of those paintings in those venues, even at my very reasonable prices.  Might get a lot of lookers, but in some places, folks would just think we were showing off.  And there’s a logistics issue:  we just won’t have room to carry very many framed paintings that size.

We’ve always felt that if we’re going to do these smaller festivals, then we’ve got to be able to compete for the dollars in the buyer’s purses.  After all, there’s not much point in doing the show if we don’t really intend to sell anything.  I’ve said before that I’m kind of past the “rich and famous” dreams, but we still want to sell art and generate income while we’re travelling.  One of the things I’d like to do is keep trying to create a little mini art gallery.  A sort of art boutique.  When you think about it, one of the things that makes an art gallery interesting is all that different art in all those different frames.  When we’ve set up near jewelers and people who do wood crafts, I’ve noticed that the variety of small items seems to draw the folks in.  Their curiosity is piqued just by seeing a lot of stuff to look at.  Nell’s floral minis accomplish that for us, to a certain extent, but we need to do more than just stop people.  We need to draw them further inside.

Right now, I’ve done enough work over the last few months to do the shows we have scheduled.  And even if we do really well, reality says that I’ll still have inventory left over for future shows.  So, for the moment, I have the luxury of being able to experiment, draw, sketch, and play around in the studio without any pressure to build inventory.  But there’s always the elephant in the studio: what are we going to try to sell when we finally do go on the road… what sizes… and at what prices?  Am I spending my studio time wisely?

And… again, at this point in my life, should I really be agonizing over this?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2011 6:52 pm

    Ralph, we seem to be much alike except that you’re a much more accomplished artist than I am. I’m 73 and still looking forward to all the summer art fairs and wish I could find more to do. Now, I limit my driving to an hour one way so I don’t do any overnight away shows. I don’t do battle with galleries any more (I was once president of a co-op gallery). The gallery is still functioning but the work load is too heavy for the return.
    We have the same pavilion but your panels are much better looking than my Testrite Art Walls. I bring as many framed pieces of art as I can, usually more than I can fully display. I want to try to have something there for everyone. I did have one artist at a show tell me that I shouldn’t bring more than about about 10 pieces and triple my prices????
    Keep planning and keep showing. I hope to keep showing well into my 80s. As long as I can travel and have the strength to keep putting up my tent and art walls, I’ll keep doing the art fairs.

    Wishing you all the best.

  2. July 27, 2011 10:36 pm

    Of course you should be ‘thinking ahead’ and planning for the future. GG lived into her 80’s, and there isn’t any reason you won’t live at least that long. Dream and plan on!

  3. July 28, 2011 6:47 am

    Hi Ralph. It’s great to see what you are doing! As a beginning artist I’m certainly no expert, but I have connected myself with several professional artists who are and have numerous “art business” discussions with them. In general, Rick Howell will tell you that if your art is cheap, people won’t respect your art or you as the artist. That goes hand in hand with the gentleman above who was told to triple his prices. But then again, your in shows where people don’t show up tending to spend $2,000 on a 12×16 painting. So that’s a tough spot. I’m not sure how to approach the “traveling art show” gig. I’ve worked with one artist recently, Amery Bohling in Scottsdale AZ, who got tired of paying gallery fees so she opened her own gallery just for her own work. There are so may ways to do this from a business perspective, it’s hard to know what’s “best”. I guess you either want to be affordable in shows, or appeal to serious art collectors. At this point it seems that you love traveling, painting, meeting people, and you don’t really need big money from it. (which is great btw as it keeps the art in the “love stage” and not the “need stage” where it should be). So I guess you’ve made your decision.

    Travel, paint, enjoy, and be priced where you can sell a few paintings at the shows to pay for your gas and food. Otherwise you probably need to take your art into a different direction entirely.

    My two cents.

  4. Bev Vance permalink
    July 30, 2011 8:12 am

    Ralph: In my minds eye, you are allready successfull. so do what you have been doing and inprove as you learn what and where it is working. There is never a pattern that is perfect for each of us to follow. Follow your heart, do it for a year, Take inventory of the good, and the bad and jump in. You both can swim, no issues for either of you. Look forward to your posts.

    Brother in Law – Bev

  5. July 31, 2011 9:41 pm

    Sounds like you both are headed for a great road that I’m sure will lead to a lot of adventure in selling art. Planning for the future??? Heck yeah. Why not. Sure wouldn’t seem like having much to do if you just stopped in place. The booth looks nice and you’ve got the right idea mixing up what you have to offer to draw the people in. People like variety and something that piques their interest. Maybe you should check into some of the higher end shows. I know they cost more but sales are usually on the higher end of the scale which means you could do less showing and use the down time to work on new paintings….replenishing the supply. The only problems with those shows is they get real finicky with what the booth looks like and loading,unloading details…but if you had the right shows could mean less work and more profit.

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