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Recapping Sept 3rd Arts Market, Houston

September 5, 2011

After all the run-up, the actual Market was pretty anti-climactic.  Don’t get me wrong.  In spite of the obvious physical toll any show takes, we really do love doing this, and we do like this particular venue.  But the artists weren’t there, and the crowd was light.  Okay, it was Labor Day weekend.  People were elsewhere with family and friends.  But I got the impression that a number of artists let Mitch down by being last minute no-shows, which made for a somewhat scattered show.

The First Saturday Arts Market, on the parking lot between an Asian art gallery and an antique store, is one of those crowded, bustling venues with narrow aisles, lively music and the steady hum of conversation.  But not this time.  It just seemed kind of… quiet.  I’m not sure it would have been much livelier even if Kenneth Scott had been providing the music.

For lack of any other reasoning, we’re just going to chalk it up to a holiday weekend.

When we left Dallas and headed to Houston, there was still some concern about the storm that was building up in the Gulf of Mexico.  It looked like it was going to head north into Louisiana, but there was still some possibility that the leading edge could have provided us with a thoroughly soaked Saturday in Houston.  Turns out, the only rain we got was a light sprinkle that started just as we were about finished loading the trailer on Saturday night after the market closed.  The big issue was wind.  We managed to get the tent and ProPanels secured, but there was still a lot of jumping up and grabbing the tent legs quite often throughout the afternoon.  We felt it was all okay, but there’s still that sudden scary gust that can make one pretty nervous.  We made it through without any incident.

From a sales standpoint, while we got a fairly steady, if slow, parade of visitors to the booth, and an awful lot of very nice comments (people who actually stop and look really do seriously love the work), the sales on this day went to the artists with much larger, and very abstract work.  If those people had not been selling, I could easily have said “It’s the economy.”  But they were selling.  I have struggled for some time with the notion that this Market, due to its location, may attract people with tastes at the extremes: avant garde on one end, and country/folk at the other.  Both types of art seem to do well there.  Small, traditional, classic, realist/impressionist art, while greatly appreciated by visitors, doesn’t seem to sell as well.  At least mine doesn’t.  My consolation:  every other artist at the Market came to our booth, studied the work, and paid us high compliments.

What Not To Do…

I’ve always tried to be pretty honest on this blog, and I think my readers appreciate that.  I’ve posted our mistakes before, so I’ll do it again this time.  I know there are people who check in here who are pursuing, or considering getting into the art festival business.  This is for you.  We are committed to do the Market again on the first Saturdays of October and November, and I have some serious soul-searching to do.  I am not happy with the way our booth looked this time.  As we were setting up, I should have spent a little more time analyzing our location, paying attention to the background behind us, and the layout of the booth.  I don’t believe any of that affected our sales.  But I do believe the quality of the work demands a better showcase than we provided this time.  I can’t let the “panic mode” during setup keep me from noticing things that could be distractions for potential buyers.

Having said that, I guess I need to swallow my pride and show you what I’m talking about.  First, here are the booths of two artists across from us.  They both sold a lot more than we did.

Since I don’t intend to change the way I paint, I have to do a lot better at presentation than we did this time.  Here’s what our booth looked like:

Maria Arango would disown me.  I apparently never walked far enough away to really stop and study what I was seeing, even when I took this photo.  First, the space behind us was very unattractive, and should have been screened.  I justified not having a back curtain by thinking we needed air flow.  Which we did, but we could have dealt with it another way, by hiding the fan and still having it blow on us.  I think I’ll rethink the entire booth layout, to eliminate the opening in the middle that just totally divides the booth in half.  Second, a parking lot venue almost demands some kind of floor covering, even if it’s simple green outdoor carpet.  We moved ours to the RV, so we didn’t have it with us here.  Third, there’s the painting sitting on the floor.  Somehow, the frame got damaged between home and the time we set up.  I made a greedy rookie mistake by setting it on the floor with a slight discount on the price.  It got a lot of looks and favorable comments, but it just could have been put back and saved for another show.  It looks tacky sitting on the ground all by itself.  Then, without question, there’s the white set of drawers showing under the table.  So simple, and it could have been easily avoided, rather than be such a strong visual distraction.

And then there’s the wall arrangement.  Have you ever moved into a house or apartment, arranged the furniture and hung stuff on the walls, and then two years later realize that everything is exactly the way you plopped it down when you moved in?  The arrangement above is how we hung the work as we took it out of the tubs.  Granted, we had lookers showing up a half-hour before the show was supposed to start, and we got in a hurry, but I should have spent more time rearranging once everything was up.  There is also the advice I’ve received from several of my painter acquaintances, who say “Don’t put so much work up.”  The booths of my competitors above don’t bear that advice out.  I also believe that, because my work is small, I do need more of it.  When I look at the photo above, I wonder if a second table along the wall on the left, with more small work, might be a good idea.

Again, I’m not saying any of this cost us sales.  But I believe it cost us respect.  If I had spent as much time planning the booth beforehand as I did planning what we were going to show, it might have been different.  Instead, we rested on our laurels.  Since we’ve always had a nice booth, we just assumed we were putting one up this time as well.

I’ve got a month to make some changes.  I know the work is good.  It just needs to be shown off a little better.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2011 1:19 pm

    Ralph your show experience sounds much like mine this summer. I love doing the shows though.
    Recently a gentleman in the next booth was selling art that looked as if it were done by a grade schooler but it was brightly colored and it sold better than mine. I didn’t check to see what prices he was charging.
    I like your work immensely better that the two expressionists you photographed. Perhaps it’s the times but judges and some patrons want something “edgy.”
    I’m in an art fair Saturday. I hope the patrons aren’t looking for edgy.

  2. September 6, 2011 7:31 am

    Ralph, I am just shaking my head. Your work is so beautiful and every time I see a painting of yours, I feel like I’m “coming Home”. I think your being too hard on yourself about the display. You are an artist with an artist’s eye. My guess is that the everyday patron at a art fair doesn’t notice. Sometimes a patron is looking for something to add to their decor rather then warm their heart.

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