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This could cause you to experience high blood pressure and hot flashes when you realize some of the glaring mistakes you may have made doing shows. By shows, I’m talking about outdoor tent shows, festivals, and indoor booth or mall shows.
The first show I did was Laguna Gloria, a big time event in Austin. The committee placed me in the very back, down by the smelly port-a-potties. I was given the worst location in the show. The lady in charge of the committee was upset someone allowed my trash in.
Right after I set up my booth, a couple of well-dressed men stopped by to chat. It was 8:00 AM, but these guys were already drinking Lone Star long necks. After we talked awhile one said, “They stuck you down here by the toilets. No one is going to find you. Joe and I will see what we can do.”
Suddenly, the two had doubled their agents a couple of times. The next thing I knew, I had eight men hauling people to my tent. They were all prominent young lawyers who knew everyone in Austin. (1970 Population 75,000) By 3PM I sold out. I went to my studio for another load of art, while my “agents” stood watch. By dark, with their help, I had sold the second batch. For inventory on Sunday, I emptied my studio; an hour after church my booth was empty again. I had people buying 8 to 10 pieces. I was selling my gold leaf art. No one had ever sold that amount of art before and I’m sure not since. My agents were determined that everyone at the show found me. I took all eight of them to Dirty Martin’s for a big, greasy burger.
The irony is Laguna Gloria never allowed me to show again until six years later when the Mayor of Austin, Jeffery Friedman, gave me the key to the city. He asked where I’d like him to make the presentation. I smiled, then said, “Where else but Laguna Gloria!” The committee who turned me down was now sucking up like I was movie star. I have never been treated so special. They kept saying, “We always knew you would be famous.”
I didn’t do any more shows of that nature until after I switched to oils. For the gold leaf, I starting doing shows in bank lobbies. I set up in all the major banks in Texas, like the big Frost Bank in San Antonio, the First National Bank in Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, Lubbock, Tyler, Amarillo, El Paso and at least 250 smaller banks. I perfected fast, low pressure selling. Not bragging, just a fact.
After I began painting in oils and the Oil, Savings and Loan, and Livestock industries crashed in the 80's, unemployment reached 20 percent in parts of Texas. I purchased an Airstream trailer and headed to Florida. For the next two years I worked all kinds of shows in Florida and California. I became an expert on how to be successful at mall and tent shows.
Since those days, I have made a hobby of studying shows. Mikki and I go to all the shows we can. When we lived in Florida, we went to a lot of shows. When we moved to Carefree, Arizona we visited eight to ten on weekends during the season. I began to keep notes on the mistakes artists were making.
After reading this article ,you will never look at art shows the same way. I’m going to transform your thinking.
When I was doing shows, I started out with blank canvases. I painted my entire inventory at the show. I was working shows every week; therefore there was no time to build an inventory. I sold all of my oils wet and put the smaller pieces in pizza boxes. I would paint a 30” x 40” in less than an hour. I attached the larger canvases to a sheet of cardboard. I put four screw eyes in the stretcher bars on the back, one on each corner, pushed them through the cardboard and slipped a nail through the screw eye to hold the canvas secure. This allowed folks to carry the art home without getting oils on their clothes.
People were mesmerized with my use of 4” house paintbrushes to paint the background. I used #14 and #18 filbert bristles for all but the signature and catch lights in the eyes. Big brushes, with bold strokes, painted at lightening speed. I used an old-fashioned arm palette, patterned after a master painter, Wyman Adams. In addition, I had a stack of unframed litho prints in two sizes. If anyone made the mistake of entering my lair, they would end up buying something.
Hang a showstopper on the rear wall. You MUST stop the hoards of people rushing by like the Children of the Corn. Even if the big showstopper doesn’t sell, the art slows folks long enough to take a peek into your booth. No looks, no sales.
Please don’t wear dirty clothes. I remember a guy with pizza droppings on his white tee shirt. I couldn’t look at his art because my eyes kept fixated on the big red glob sliding down his rotund belly.
You will hate me when you read this. I recommend you stand for the entire show. If you worked at the Post Office, Dillards or as a cashier at Office Depot you would stand your eight-hour shift. You can’t sell art sitting on your butt.
If you feel you MUST sit then purchase a tall director’s chair that places you on eye level with your clients.
Do you know why Judges sit up high? Why the 5’5” J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI sat on a built up pedestal behind his desk? The added height gives power. If you are sitting in a lawn chair, the client has power over you. I always stood, but most of you won’t work that hard. You will find excuses as to why you can’t stand.
I find artists working shows tend to want people to select a piece of art, take it down, bring it to them for the purchase and make sure to have the correct change.
Today, the biggest distraction at shows is the cell phone. Do those things have an off button? I don’t know, we don’t have one. About 20 percent of artists doing shows are either texting, tweeting or talking on their cell phone for 90 percent of the selling time. I’ve seen people lined up to buy while the artist is behind the booth or turned away, chatting on his cell phone. We listened to one female artist talk for at least twenty minutes complaining to her friend how bad the show was. While we were standing in her booth, at least a dozen prospects stopped to look. She was too busy giving the show promoter a cussing to take care of prospective buyers. Her work was exceptional but her attitude was nasty.
The absolute worst is reading books or newspapers during the show. We went to the giant Fountain Hills Show in Scottsdale a few years back. In fact, we went several times just to observe. If my memory is correct, they had 470 booths. I kept notes as we went from tent to tent. About 140 of the artists were sitting outside in back of their tents reading books or newspapers. Their tents opened through to the back where they had their lawn chairs. If you wanted to talk with them about their art you had to walk through the tent to where they were sitting on grass, under the cool shade trees. They spent $300 to $400 for their booth fee plus the cost of travel and framing the art. Then add in the time it took to hang their show. They get to the event and hide behind a book. Artists like this need to stay home and save their money.
Talking to clients is so important. We counted 14 artists who didn’t speak to us. We made glowing comments on their work like, “This would go great over our couch.” I stood next to one girl as she sat in her green and white lawn chair. I said to Mikki, “What do you think the price is?” Mikki answered, “I don’t think the price matters, it would be so perfect in our dining room.” The artist never budged. I moved in front of her thinking surely she would acknowledge me. That ploy didn’t work, so in desperation I removed a small painting and handed the piece to her. I asked, “What is the price on this one?” She looked startled, “Uhhhhhh, that one is not for sale.” Why on God’s green earth did she rent a booth?
Even worse is entertaining your friends in your booth. We have seen this on several occasions. The artist’s family will visit their booth, standing right in the middle to catch up on the latest gossip. I’ve counted as many as nine people visiting with an artist during the prime selling time. Aunts, cousins, old high school friends. It doesn’t matter; all of them are toxic. Make an appointment to go to dinner with them after the show. Explain to family and friends that the show is how you earn your living. If you were a doctor they wouldn’t come watch you cut out someone’s liver. Get rid of friends and family as fast as possible. You can visit yourself into the poor house. Understand you paid good money and went to a great deal of effort to get to the show. Spend every possible moment in your booth talking to clients. Art has to be sold.
Even more egregious than having your space crammed full of friends is to leave your booth unattended. It’s a mystery why so many artists set up their tent and then take off to tour the show. You see them talking up a storm four aisles over as if they were there to enjoy the day. I started selling while setting up my tent and was the last one to leave. I always sold one or two pieces after the show was officially over. In the same vein, you will see next-door vendors standing behind their tents visiting or smoking, leaving their stores unattended. You can’t sell if you are not in your booth. When I had to take a potty break I would ask a couple, who seemed interested in my art, to please keep an eye on things while I made a dash to the port-a-potties. I was never surprised when the couple picked something to buy while they were watching my booth. I always gave them a nice savings. For food, I’d pay some kid a couple of dollars tip to go get me a burger. I kept water under my table.
Watch your teeth. One beautiful lady selling fine silk paintings had lettuce in her teeth. Finally, I saw a mirror on her table and gave it to her. She thanked me profusely when she saw the green string dangling between her front teeth. The same goes for bad breath. I kept mints in the event I had halitosis. Nothing kills a sale like bad breath.
We saw a tent sign, “No one enter without permission.” Need I say more?
The placement of where you stand, or if you use a tall captain’s chair, should be at the edge of your tent just outside the opening. At some indoor shows you have to remain in your space, but for outdoor tent shows or malls you can cheat a tad. Don’t block your entrance. When people start in your booth, greet them but then step back from the opening. You don’t want people to feel trapped. Let the folks walk in and wander around. When the lookers focus on one painting then you enter, but not before. Always keep in mind the client is afraid you will sell them. By you backing away at first, the client will begin to relax. Don’t block the front of your space with a long table half way across the entrance. Put the table on one side.
Guard your money. When I did shows I wore cowboy boots, keeping my money in a billfold that fit in my boot top. NEVER leave your cash box on top of or under a table. Belly belts are ugly, but they are better than having your money stolen. One of the biggest complaints these days is stolen cash. It’s almost an epidemic. When the tab came to $175.60, I rounded the number to $175. Not making coin change really speeds up the selling process and besides it’s safer. You don’t need a cash box, but instead use a neck pouch or fanny pack. When we travel internationally, I wear a neck pouch with a steel cable cord. The pouch is for passports, credit cards and bigger bills. TravelSmith.com has these. At shows keep all your big bills, credit card slips and checks in the pouch and small bills in your pocket. If your pocket is picked the thieves won’t get much. Shows are swarming with thieves. The bigger shows are filled with con artists ready to make you the deal of your life. They slither through the aisles like snakes looking for a rabbit.
I forbid show music and candles. You are not at the show to entertain; selling is your focus. I’ve seen clients get in a conversation with the artist on where she purchased her candles and what’s the scent. The same goes for music. You want nothing to distract from your main goal: selling art.
Framing. For goodness sake, find a way to transport your frames without banging them up. I put pieces of cardboard between each painting. One artist carried his work in clear plastic bags. Carry a frame touch up kit. If you don’t have a kit, use shoe polish. For art under glass, keep a bottle of Windex handy. You only get one shot at a good first impression.
The most important thing to remember, above all, is a positive attitude and personal involvement are the keys to a successful show.
Jack White has the title Official Texas State Artist and recently Governor Rick Perry appointed him an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You can contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.