Looking back at 2021, and looking ahead at 2022

2021 has been a very peculiar year, we may never see another one like it again.

In January, lots of artists, in Florida, decided to brave it out and do shows.  COVID be damned.

I remember doing my first show at Bonita Springs in January.  Had not done one for nine months.

I remember setting my booth up in the driveway before Christmas.  What a chore, took me forever.

I remember all the apprehension I had going to that first show.

Was anybody going to show up. Would we all be masked.  Were we going to rub down every surface a patron touched. Were we going to hide away when somebody sneezed.  Would we make any money.

After a nine month drought,I was hungry like the wolf.

Then the crowds materialized.  They were happy to just being out.  There was electricity in the air.

Then they started buying, from everybody.  We all cleaned up.

Of course we were full of doubt.  Did I come up against a COVID victim.  Did I catch anything.

When I returned to NSB (my home, New Smyrna Beach) I got tested for COVID.  Came back negative, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

My second show was Howard Alan's new show in Naples. I felt a little more at ease.

Howard had the booths nicely spaced apart, we all had our own art islands. I did not wear a mask all the time because I stayed nicely spaced from patrons in the rear of my booth.  If I saw somebody hesitate seeing me unmasked, then I put mine on.

I remember constantly sanitizing my hands after touching credit cards.

It was easier doing the ccs when people did not have to sign..We just sent them a email or text.  Everybody was ok.

At the time many artists were wary of doing the shows.  Too risky.  I understood that.  By November there were still a lot of artists timidly venturing out.

I felt confident that I would stay healthy.  There was less competition and I prospered like others.

We were like the early pioneers wading into the unknown, looking for rewards while taking risks.

During COVID in 2021 I devised a strategy to make me safer when eating out at a restaurant.

By myself, I always eat the bar.  Here was my strategy. I sat down and on both sides of me I ordered a draft beer to be set on the counter, that way I had my spacing.  If somebody asked if they could move in by me, I would say that my brother and wife were enroute and the beer was for them.  Nobody gave me a hassle, and I stayed safe. I figured my life was worth more than two draft beers.  I did this all year at the best of places.  Bartenders liked my strategy and I always tipped well.

Because of COVID, the shows gave us a lot more space, it was heavenly.

The shows did not get the high numbers of applications.  I think it made getting into shows a little easier.

People we're hungry to just get out and they had plenty of moola. Sales were awesome almost everywhere I went.

 As I continued thru the season into late summer I kept running into artists who said this was their first show of the year.  Even in November, at a Naples show, it was the first time for a lot of artists.

So there was a lot of trepidation out there.  Artists were still wary.

Me, I just kept on trucking. I got both vaccines plus a booster, I kept my distances, tried to eat and drink in airy outside places.  Always had a mask in my knapsack. Just took prudent measures.

I ended up doing the fewest number of shows,15, in my 45 year career, yet I made plenty of money.

One Des Moines show equals three to four of the grinders we all do.  I also had Winter Park and Kansa City to add to that list.  It left me more time for golf and reading books.

Also during the first summer of COVID,2019, I worked on a new body of work which kept me focused. I came up with over 100 new images.  Then this year I sold a goodly number of them, over $10K.  So it was a worthwhile effort.

After I returned home from Michigan in early October, I ended up only doing two small shows. There are no biggie

fall shows in Florida, they are just grinders, you setup and sell and hope to maybe put $2K in your bank account.

December is always a good month for me to assess sales, throw out non-selling images and plan the next season strategy.

I am very hopeful about 2022.

On to the future.


Here is my schedule of shows for January thru April.

January: Bonita Springs and Images in NSB.

Febuary: Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Art Fiesta in NSB. Love when you can sleep in your own bed when doing a show..and, make money.

March: A killer month--Bonita Springs, Vero Beach and Winter Park. I applied for Bayou City but will turn it down, cannot do enough work and I do not want the long drive to Texas.

April: Got Mainsail in St. Pete.  Turned down both Dogwood Atlanta and Woodlands in Texas.  Will do Melbourne.

May: Got Artisphere in Greenville,SC, do not need anything else.

It is going to be a hellacious spring.  I am going to be cranking mats and frames.

Here is my forecast for 2022.

Although we all loved the spacing between booths because of COVID I see most shows cramming us all close together.  Not good.

I see not everybody jumping back into shows.  Still worried about COVID and flagging sales.

Means it might be easier to jury in to shows because of less competition.

I see shows being just as greedy about their jury and booth fees.

I see shows continuing to micromanage us by having more rules. We are not as free and easy todo shows like years ago. This has taken a lot of fun out of doing them,

I see a lot of artists retiring from the biz.  We are an aging group and lifelong health problems are cropping up.

I see shows becoming more and more commercial and homogeneous. They really do not like independent thinkers.

I see it as still a very viable way to earn a living, but it's getting harder all the time.

For me, the future is challenging. I am 76. I tiremore easily when setting up.  Takes me three and a half hours, then a deep nap to recuperate.

I had open heart surgery a decade ago.  There are a lot of consequences that go with that.

I have severe arthritis,bone on bone, in both my right shoulder and right knee.

Getting cortisone and another series of injections for the knee.  Might be looking at a knee replacement operation next fall.

Do not get old, it is not fun.

Because of these ailments I am trying to make my life easier when setting up. No perfect plan has appeared yet.

I am hoping to adopt a friendly Boy Scout Troop who could follow me around to the shows and setup my booth.

So it is another year coming in the biz.  It still thrills me.

Chime in with your comments, they are always welcome.

As the Hawaiians say, "Mele Kelikimaka and do not smoke too much Pakalolo."

Later, Gators.


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  • I am new to the group. Certainly enjoy reading your column. Thanks for taking the time to write it! Susan Spraker 

  • I agree, Connie! I totally accept the work!

    As to some artists coming in late to shows- for some of us, it was more about shows cancelling after we applied.

    I had this happen in 2021 so I only went to three shows.  I was lucky that after I lost my early summer shows- ALL to cancelling, I remembered two small, local, one day shows that I hadn't done in over 15 years.  Fortunately they were still there. I did both of those, and made way more sales than I would have expected, but it makes sense now, as everything else was cancelled and people wanted to come out and shop. And the weather was good. Then my November show cancelled, after being paid, booth space given out, etc.  

    So, here it is time to apply for 2022, and I am unsure about some of these shows.  Apply again, and have them cancelled, or dates changed to later, which doesn't always work?  These are all decent long standing shows. 

    It's still uncertain for some of us.  

  • Great wrapup, Nels. It certainly has been a year of re-evaluating, hasn't it? People always say to me when I talk about the art fair business, "oh that is such hard work. I don't know how you can do it." My reply, lots of people work hard, especially for worthwhile things, or in this case being creative. What's wrong with hard work?


    Looks like a nice lineup for you in 2022. Can't wait to hear about you and Artisphere. Your first time there? 

    • Actually, my fourth time....it is a biggie

  • I have laid off shows for two summers in CO because of COVID. I agree with S Brian Burkun. Fees are up as I start reseach for this summers show. WE may see a couple exceptional summers as folks get active but IMO it will settle down to "normal". 

  • "I see shows being just as greedy about their jury and booth fees." Not "just as greedy" greedier! Park City, Ft. Worth, Cherry Creek, astronomical! I guess they figure if artists are making money on the show they want as much of it as possible.

  • The gentleman in the photo is Billy Kahele in his Pakalolo patch in Hawaii about 1976.

    This was my first big seller at art shows.  I titled it "Billy and the Buds."

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