After some nudging by family, friends and customers, I decided to join the art show circuit this year. I am so glad I did!
For those who don't know how curated art festivals work, I will elaborate. First, I have to search on the internet for shows and decide which one to apply for. I need to include a non-refundable application fee ($25 to $100), some sort of statement/bio, photos of my works. Many shows also require a photo of my actual booth setup (a Catch-22 for 1st-timer like me)
and/or photos of me working in my own workshop. The general requirement is "you have to make the art yourself", not just design it on a piece of paper or computer screen, but also have your fingers/toes dapple in the making of the product.
This requirement safeguards the show against import/buy and re-sell merchandise, but at the same time it creates the false impression that all "art" has to be created by the artist's hands him/herself. I can name many famous artists, with works selling for mucho, mucho bucks, and a whole army of "assistants" to produce "their works" for them. I guess, when you already established your name as a well known artist/artisan, all you need to do is to sign a piece to make it "yours", since you do need to touch the work at least in one place in order to sign it. But I digress. Now, if the jury decided to accept you into the show, there is a booth fee (~$200 to $2000+ for a ~10'x10' space). More often than not, you need to bring everything to convert that bare space into a mini show room for the weekend. So off I went (online), shopping for shelter and display paraphernalia.
I used to be a backpacker, so the light weight, multi-purpose mentality had a lot of influence in my gear selection. I ended up with the lightest 9'x7' pop-up canopy, and the lightest folding tables. My display stands and trays doubles as carrying cases. Con: I have the only booth in any show with a mini-skirt style canopy that covers only a portion of the 10x10 space.
Despite the added height my home made weight anchors provided, 10% of the population taller than 6'+ has to duck down pass the canopy skirt to enter (I always feel compelled to apologize when that happens!). Pro: my entire booth packs down to fit on a folding roller cart. I can set up/take down everything by myself at a leisurely pace in less than 1 hour. Better yet, I don't need to drive my car into the frantic mess at the beginning and the end of a show; I just roll everything to and from my parked car.
During my first show, there was a constant flux of family, friends and relatives, coming out to show their support. My brothers, sisters camped out at my booth, joined by their friends, they sat in a row on the opposite curbside, just "chilling". I felt so grateful, and nervous. At this rate, my show was already at a lost financially: if I were to add up the wages of those Bay Area professionals, the time they spent rallying around my booth already well exceeded the cost of my entire stock! So, I insisted that I do not need any help, setting up or taking down, and that I would be totally fine by myself.
As a one-woman show, I do need an easy set-up so the process does not kill me. I have not been making a killing, either, but it was such fun! Here at the booth, my customers can actually see the colors and patterns, feel the weight, touch the smooth surface, smell the aroma, try out the threads...I really enjoy meeting my customers and chit chat. Many took the time to share with me things they made themselves, or art pieces that impressed them, their hobby and interest... Some even came with present (many thanks: Isabel for the stylus, Maximilian for the aromatic powder, Phil for the drink!). The greatest present is seeing them coming back again and again, offering the gift of friendship. Fellow woodworkers and wood collectors offer the most interesting conversation, they spent the longest time at my booth, examine the different timbers I have, and compliment the workwomanship :). On top of it all, the company of fellow artists and vendors truly make the experience enjoyable. Super nice people! They are always ready to lend a hand, to share their art show knowledge, to offer words of encouragement, and automatically dish out deep discount, or even refuse payment all together, every time I want to buy their creations. There is also a side-benefit: durability testing of my products. So far, my inventory has been exposed to full sun, temperature fluctuation, repeated handling and miss-handling, occasional dropping, greasy and/or wet fingers, spilled drinks (soda from the kids, wine from distracted grow-up) so far, no casualty (knock on wood!), nothing a little bit of polishing can not fix.
Yes, it's stressful and tiring sometimes. Yes, I do feel guilty not spending the weekend with my kids. But overall, I am still honeymooning with art shows and think it all worth it. Check back a few years later and see how we fare. For now, I am coming back for more!