An Artist Looks at 76

9730883254?profile=RESIZE_710xMonday, October 25, I turn 76. Will be starting my 46th year in the art show biz.

In the photo above, that is me at my first art show in Hawaii in the 1970's while in the Army.  Only made $25 but I was hooked for life.  I am the one with the camera,

Yesterday, was a whirlwind of medical activity for-me.  I got "nuked" and "pinned."

I have a new heart doctor now that Ilive in New Smyrna Beach.  She had me undergo a nuclear stress test to see the condition of my heart.  Remember nine years ago I had open heart surgery with four valve activity.

In this test, you are injected with a nuclear isotope which ends up stressing your blood vessels and your heart, makes them get dilated. It is no biggy if you can withstand a minute or more of shortness of breath, mild nausea and a little dizziness. Four minutes later your body is back to its normal rhythms.

Later I-went to Walgreens to pick up two prescriptions. I casually asked if they were giving booster shots yet.

I got my two Moderna vacs back in the spring. The clerk said they had the Phizer booster. So I got it in my right arm and my annual flu shot in my left arm. Did not even feel the prick of the needle.  I was lightheaded for about 10 minutes.  That was all the side effects I got.  Slept well all night and I have a slight soreness in my right arm ( the booster one.)

So, you are probably asking what does this have to do with show biz.

I would say,"a lot."

Will feel safer now with the booster at shows.  Will wear a mask if mandated at a show, otherwise, will keep my distance.  After all, we are outside in moving air, and nobody is standing around in your face for a long time.

After 46 years I am finally starting to cut back on the number of shows I do.  For years, I routinely did 27-33 shows a year. This year I did 21.  For 2022, I hope to do 18.  We will see how the jurying goes.

What helped me this year was getting into three of the biggest, Winter Park, Des Moines and Kansa City Plaza.

Sales from these shows equal three or better of the routine shows we do, where you are grinding it out to make 3-4K$. I did well enough at the Plaza that I cancelled my two October shows.  I will do three in November and take December off.

I have three in Florida in January, will probably do 2-3 in Feb, see how the jurying goes.

I love doing the outdoor shows.  I find it so much more rewarding talking directly to my customers.  Sales online, and galleries are nice, but not nearly as rewarding, plus they will not pay the bills.

As I age, the only part of the biz I do not like is the show setup.  At my age the setup wears me out big time. Usually it takes three and half hours to setup, that is erecting the booth with all tarps and awnings and then stocking it.  I usually need a solid one hour nap, or more, to recuperate.

TEARDOWNS are better, only one hour and a half.  I still am exhausted. I will drive home if I can make it in two hours or less. Otherwise I am staying in the hotel.  I always get a good meal, good sleep and a early start the next morning.

For you younger ones, you do not have to deal with failing night vision yet.  It is a serious factor when driving.

I had cataract surgery in my left eye last year.  Plus I get a shot monthly in that same eye to combat macular degeneration, the wet one.

Oncoming car lights create a hard spherical glow.  It is difficult to see clearly the middle road line.  So I keep my eyes on the road sideline.  An old trick I learned in Drivers Education back in 1962.

For the first time in my career I paid a tent guy to setup a Lightdome with Propanels, did it at Winter Park last May.

The $300 for the rental was money well spent.  For a biggy shows where you sell $5K or better, the cost is neglible.

I just bring the art and hang it.  Teardown is easy-peasie . Put the art in the van, then take the money and run.

I plan on doing this the rest of my career.

We are in difficult times with rising expenses  in every category--show fees, jury fees, fuel,cost of goods.

Only the good and smart will survive.  I plan to be one of them.

I still get the thrill of making a sale, no matter how much it is. It takes me back to my first show in Hawaii in 1975. By a waterfall, only made $25 that day, but I was hooked for life.

Still feel that same spirit.  I am a lucky man.

Aloha, look forward to seeing you all in the upcoming months.

Stay safe, stay focused and make great art.

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    • Ha! Yep, that sounds like a familiar scenario for me too, Larry. The SS, some investments, working until 80 ... why not? Narrowing your travels takes a lot of wear and tear off and overhead down. Those smaller shows, closer to home, with lower booth fees, lower overhead, do give a bigger profit margin. Our best one day show was in Charlevoix, MI. We did it every year for about 25 years -- a smaller show run by a stellar committee in the heart of tourist season in northern Michigan. If that kind of show has dedicated volunteers who want to contribute quality to their communities, they are the sweethearts of the business.

      Thank you for your input.

    • Great reply Larry.  You figured it out, kudos.

  • Nels, you are old. I am a mere babe in the woods compared to you. I get my booster shot on Wednesday and I think I'll get that flu shot, also. I put off getting a stress test last year. I think I will make an appointment when I have my yearly checkup next month.

    This was my best year ever. Even my worst show was better than my best show in some years. Even East Lansing was solid even though it was in the summer when there was no school. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to get into a few of the biggies eash year. This year it was Artisphere and Cherry Creek. I'd pay off the jurors if it would help me get into those two events next year. And speaking of next year, I'll be in Florida for St Armands Circle, which I consider to be the best Florida show, the last week in January and Gasparilla, which is the first week in March. I'll try and do a show every weekend in February. That means I'm starting out the year with 6 shows. After that, who knows. I applied to all the biggies again and am confident I will get into something. I'd take Ft Worth. Thank you very much.

    I'm done for the year. I'm burnt out from doing shows. The worst part was the driving. I read what people were saying about how great the shows were in the beginning of the year and scheduled an event every third week. What I read was true. I sold just about every piece I made at every show. So, I would have to race back home, work for two weeks, and then take off again. I did two shows in October and by the time they were over, I was/am dragging. On the other hand, it was really great making some real money for a change.

    I made some changes in my approach to show life. I stayed in hotels at every event, preferable ones where I could walk to the show in the morning. And, I stayed until the morning after the show getting a good meal and a good night sleep. I only drove during the daylight hours. I have a hard time seeing in the dark, too. I left a day earlier in each case. I remember days earlier in my career where I would drive all night to get to a show and then leave as soon as I packed up. We don't do that anymore. In the past, I would have to have every piece that I made. This year, if I couldn't fire pieces, I left them home to complete for the next show. That worked out really well.

    I never paid for help, but, it seemed that I had show volunteers help me set up and tear down at every event. At one unnamed show, I just directed the group of helpers to set everything up. They loved it and so did I. I pretended I was old and needed the help.

    I expect next year to be even better than last year. It helps that people aren't applying, or, didn't apply to shows last year. I dove right in and it was a smart decision. I felt safer at shows than I did afterwards when I had to mingle with the masses. I laughed to myself when I would read about people not doing shows, last year. That was the time to do events. I took every precaution, staying away from people, wearing a mask, etc. It was a risk that paid off.

    I, too, get a thrill making a sale. Everyone is so happy to get one of my pieces, too.

    Happy Birthday!! I look forward to hanging out with you in Florida. We'll both be vaccinated, boostered, and protected from the flu.

    The only negative for the year is that I need to buy a new, or newer, van. I feel like Jed Clampet when I pull into a show with my rusted out Yooper van. The problem is that the price is artificially high. I need a great deal or for the prices to come down. This may not happen for another year. I'm looking though.

    Just a last remark: In my mind "biggie" refers to the ultimate best shows, of which, there are less than 10. There is a common thing that all thetr shows have. They have the best artists. They are all well organized. They treat the artists very well. The conversations, at least for me, are great with the artists, patrons, the volunteers, and the show committees. The patrons are knowledgeable and want to buy work. The show size is smaller than most. So, Connie, as for your "biggie" comment, the best shows have all the qualities you mentioned. 


    • Okay, keeping up with you guys: booster shot and flu shot the same day I got my Prolia shot for osteporosis. I was fine. A few days later got my booster Shingles shot, a little more wearisome. Also got an iron infusion and gave blood platelets that week. Phew!

      That is great news, Barry, about your sales: "This was my best year ever. Even my worst show was better than my best show in some years," and should be encouraging to people new to the business and those who have been holding  back. Yes, getting the A shows helps, but as you well know, you need those B shows also to keep the flow going.

      One of the advantages we had was that Norm had a CDL license and had worked as a Teamster driving trucks. Yep. Which meant he knew how to load that van, how much stuff to take, how to do it efficiently, how big to make the boxes and limited each one so it was easy for me to handle make one piece of equipment do two jobs, and we always had pop up tents (not the $100 ones, but the heavy duty 100 pound Majestic). That helped with the exhaustion at the end of the day. Artists have to have stamina.

      And very limited driving in the dark. We always stayed at hotels and did not drive overnight. His philosopy that taking care of yourself and staying safe was good for us and good for business. Oh, and Christmas presents always to the guys at the Ford garage so they'd always take the van in when it was about to head out for the shows.

      This is not a good time to be buying a new van, I've been shopping to replace my 2000 Ranger that has spent its lifetime in the snow and ice in Michigan and it is just the rust holding it together. Geez ... as Nels would say, lots of moola.

      The number of artists applying is down it seems, just about everywhere. The chance to sit back and think about it has been one of the reasons. I'd never thought about it, but that does play into the hands of the folks who really understand the business ... fewer applicants means those wild cards aren't showing up and you know all the jury tricks. And, I know the shows want to make the artists happy, so I'm thinking a lot of the logistics will be smoother with more volunteers, smaller crowds, crowd control, larger spaces, etc.


      • Connie, your story about loading your van reminded me of something that ties into my best show ever. That was Coconut Grove 2004. That was when the trolley would come in at 8 AM and drop patrons off who had pre bought art bucks. I was that years diva as it seemed like everyone came to my booth to buy. It was my best show ever by the time the show opened at 10 AM. The tie in came where in the previous years I would pack my van with as much work as would fit in. Then I wuould take everything out at the show, sell some work, and then put back most of the boxes at the end. I gradually started taking less pieces, but, still enough to not lose sales. By the time that Grove show happened I had reduced my invetory to about half of what I used to take. I clearly could have used the extra work. There were hurricanes at the end of the year before that ripped through Florida causing massive damage. By February people had gotten their insurance checks from the damage. Buying was insane. People weren't even looking at prices. I don't wish a hurricane on anyone. I sure would like another show like that.  

        Favorite show: Artisphere

        Best biggie show: Ft Worth, Artisphere, and Cherry Creek

        Worst show: Beax Arts. I only had one sale and I ended up giving a small piece to a little girl who liked my work. Second worse: It is a tie between Madison and a show in Sarasota that was billed as the relplacement for the Ringling Bros Show. At Maidson, they packed us in like sardines. I had a gathering of homeless people behind my booth all weekend. The person next to me had some gawd awful found objects sculptures, like a cow with a milk container for a body and other not so cleaver things. Epic came in to their booth and spent $10K. I did $120 for the whole show. That Sarasota show charged an admission. Nobody came and the entertainment was a contortionist who squeezed himself into a plexiglass box right in front of my booth. I almost threw up at the site of that.

        Biggest mistake: I was invited at the Grove to do a new show in Denver. That was Cherry Creek. I said "Drive 1400 miles to do a new show? No way." That first show was legendary. Everyone who did it sold everything they brought. It took 10 years to get in again.


    • Barry, look forward to the spring, quite sure we will hook up.  Glad you had some killer shows.

  • YES! The thrill of the sale ... even now when I'm sitting here at my computer helping art festivals find artists to apply to their events, the ping of the $$ notice is exciting. And for me this is after 43 years, :) You do the best work you can, and then you have to trust in the universe (and your friends) to keep it coming along.

    On that note, and in reference to your many years in the business, how about some highlights?

    • Best show sales ever? where?
    • Favorite show to participate in?
    • Best one day show?
    • Best "biggie show" -- best can mean more than $$, it can mean good conversations, interest from the general public, great neighbors, convenient setup, lower than usual overhead, best feeling that you want to come back next year?
    • Best two day show?
    • Worst show?

    If you answer those, I'll tell you mine. 

    Anyone else want to participate?


    • Connie, here is my reply.

      Best Show Sales Ever--Kansas City Plaza 1999..

      Favorite Show--Mainsail, in St. Petersburg,FL.  It is in a park on the water and , plus I get to see lots of old friends I grew up with.

      Best One Day Show--The Upper Arlington (Columbus) Labor Day Show.  Now, I avoid one day shows--too much work for one day.

      Best Biggie Show--Hands down, gotta be a tie between St. Louis, Main Street Ft. Worth and DesMoines.

      Best Two Day Show--Gasparilla, Tampa,FL

      Worst Show--The December show at Anna Marie Island, near Bradenton,FL.

      Who is next?


      • I'm next. Considering we started doing shows in 1978 means lots of ups and down in the economy and changing economic conditions through those same years.

        Best sales ever -- Ann Arbor, 2004
        Favorite show -- Charlevoix Waterfront Art Fair - held the second weekend of August, on Lake Michigan. We'd treat it like a vacation, go up the day before and stay a day after. Big bucks in that little town and time to hang out with the other artists who we knew for years. Also our best one day show.

        Best biggie shows -- tie between Old Town in Chicago and Cherry Creek in Denver.

        Best two day -- Old Town 

        Best neighborhood show -- can't beat spending the weekend in Louisville at the St. James Court Art Show

        Best first time art fair -- Arts, Beats & Eats in Pontiac, MI ... amazing sales!

        Best part of the business: we lived in Michigan, if we wanted to earn a living in this business we had to go to Florida every winter!! Wonderful.

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