How to Screw Up Your Art Show
I consider Jack to be a friend of mine even though I have never meant him in person. We have exchanged several emails and I have bought several of his E-books. When you start reading some of his advice it is like you become a close personal friend. This is what we all should strive to do with out emails and blogs. If you are not Familar with Jack Whites writings here is some solid advice, worth reading.
by Jack White
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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