Art Fair Insiders

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Old Town Art Fair in Chicago: Terrific Show!

I'm a digital artist. I sell limited edition prints of my digital paintings in multiple sizes. Its only in the last couple of years the Old Town Art Fair has accepted digital artists, or even printmakers. This show has traditionally been an "originals only" show. I'm delighted that I finally got to participate in this, the grand-daddy of all art fairs. I did very well at this show with twice the sales on Sunday than on Saturday, but this wasn't the case for all artists.

As I mentioned above, I sell prints with a business plan much like that of photographers. When I create an image on my computer, it is easy for me to package it in multiple sizes, much like a photographer. Digital art, for me, is a printmaking medium, but, unlike traditional printmaking, I have the technical ability to offer different sizes, each size with a different limited edition, and all sizes at an affordable price point. This technical ability puts me at a distinct advantage over the artists who have populated this show in the past. Painters and other "originals only" artists exhibited wonderful work at this show, but they were not allowed to exhibit or sell prints of their work. Hardly fair.

I have been successful at art fairs because I am able to package my work in multiple sizes and offer it for sale at affordable prices. That's the direction art fairs seem to be going these days. People who go to art fairs and buy art seldom dish out $5000 or more for an original painting. With some exceptions, the most successful "traditional" artists package and sell prints (giclees) of their work. They'll sell an occasional original, but the lower cost prints pay the bills. But not at Old Town. I saw several incredibly talented painters suffering with low or non-existent sales because of this outdated policy.

A couple of things... Could be that the policy change of allowing us printmakers and digital artists into the show severely affected the sales of the "originals only" artists. A patron looking at one of my large canvas prints, selling for $695, is going to compare that price to my neighbor selling a similar sized original painting for $6000. If my neighbor was able to offer a giclee of that original painting, it might level the playing field.

The other thing... There will always be those artist who take advantage of shows that allow prints and offer sub standard reproductions. Just like there are digital artists who take advantage of the category to offer sub-standard images created with little or no creative input. Its up to the committees that jury artists into these shows to weed these artists out. Of course they will never weed them all out, but the legitimate artists, who offer limited edition giclees of their work should not be penalized because of the bad ones.

Anyway, I had a good show, and I continue to be heartened by the continuing positive response I am getting for my digital work. There were eight digital artists at the Old Town show. I see that as a good trend that shows, and the public, are embracing this new medium.

One other good thing about this show, taking place on the narrow streets of Old Town in Chicago, is that this is the first year they offered Friday setup. In the past the setup was on Saturday morning. This new policy, from what I understand, was a resounding success, and the powers that be will be offering that option next year as well. I'm hoping to get in again next year.  

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Comment by C.C. Barton on June 19, 2017 at 9:21am

Hi John,  

I'm glad you had a great show and equally happy that Old Town is allowing your medium to exhibit now.  There needs to be something for everyone at shows, in price point, medium and style to make it interesting and compelling.  

I am a printmaker, of the original type ~ I create a plate and produce a truly limited series of hand-pulled prints on my press, which are considered "multiple originals" by the art community. Because it involves the artist's hand from beginning to end to produce, my work has always been accepted at Old Town and other fine art shows.

I don't do outdoor shows currently but I'm delighted to hear that Old Town is doing Friday night setups now.  Those butt-early Saturday mornings were the worst.

Congratulations on a stellar show!

Comment by Judy Christian on June 19, 2017 at 9:40am

Thanks for posting your review.

I have never done a Chicago show, but I could get myself there.

Good to hear that you did so well.

Comment by Connie Mettler on June 19, 2017 at 9:45am

A fine and balanced review once again, John, especially in the light of understanding and explaining the controversy about digital/original and the impact that giclees have had on the originals market. It isn't all about making it cheaper and selling it for less and gutting the other guy's sales, but legitimate and continuously striving for excellence in creating the finest images. 

So great about the Friday night set up, as this has been a very hard issue for artists over the years. We had an end space on Menominee for years and even though probably didn't have the traffic that other "inner" streets had for shoppers, cherished that spot for the easy access. Glad to hear this worked.

Leslie Wolfe, in recent years the admin for the OTAF, died from cancer last fall, but it sounds like the committee continues to work hard to preserve this fine event. 

How was this show for sales in comparison to other 2017 events you have done?

Comment by John Leben on June 19, 2017 at 10:19am

Connie: Since I opened a gallery in Douglas, Marcia and I are trying to be smarter about the outdoor shows we do. We have to balance the cost of hiring people to man the gallery with the expected revenue from the shows. And sometimes Marcia stays home with the gallery and I do the show alone. We're still trying to figure out the right formula for doing both. To answer your question,  5.2K at Novi, 10.5K at Belleville, 7.3K at Cincinnati and 7.5K at Old Town. I'm thrilled with the sales I've been getting at the shows this year, including Old Town. But, I kinda expected to do better at Old Town, often ranked the best art fair in the country. DesMoines is next. 

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on June 19, 2017 at 10:49pm
Great review. Hope to meet you in person in Des Moines

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