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Last Art Fair for 2010

August 10, 2010

Phlox at Ralph's, Oil on Canvas Panel 9" x 12"

I wonder if people purchase original artwork at art fairs anymore? I wonder if most people attending art fairs can recognize, understand and appreciate original realist artwork? Sorry for my Andy Rooney moment, but I spent this past weekend sitting with my original oil paintings at an art fair in the Chicago area. My last art fair for the 2010 summer.

The location was a tree lined shopping area in the northern suburbs with active restaurants and shops. Booths are set up in the street side parking spaces allowing foot traffic to mingle and move in the closed street. It is an affluent area. I did this fair a couple of years ago with decent results. The fair had offered good foot traffic (more people means more chances to sell my work).

By Friday evening, I had suspicions that this would be a challenging weekend.

The fair was scheduled to open at 10am Saturday morning. Artists are given the opportunity to check in at 6pm Friday evening and set up their booths. This minimizes some of the frantic work that still remains for Saturday morning.

We arrived at about 6:15pm Friday, checked in and walked over to see my booth space. Odd to locate my spot and see a car parked where my tent should be placed. Turns out that a couple had slipped into the art fair with the artist traffic, parked their car and walked over to the local movie theater. By 8:30pm, the movie was over, the car was moved and we were able to finally assemble my display, in the dark. Fun. Not a great start.

During the wait, we had a chance to meet my “art fair neighbor”, who was also inconvenienced by this parked car.  Nice, entertaining gentleman. Turns out that he is a photographer. He takes digital photographs, uses Photoshop on the images to intensify or even alter colors and prints the images onto canvas.

UGH. Through all the years of doing these fairs, I have ALWAYS had trouble selling my work when I am located too close to a photographer. Oh, by the way, turns out that there were two other photographers within four spaces of my booth. I am working to try and sell my realist oil paintings with three photographers near my display. Oh please, can the gods of art pile on any more handicaps to help make this a more challenging event?

Saturday morning. 10am opening. Hot and humid. Foot traffic was initially slow, but seemed to pick up a bit by noon-ish. While minding my booth, awaiting the opportunity to engage interested patrons in conversation, I observed people walking through the fair. I noticed that very few of them were carrying artwork (meaning, not much artwork being purchased). Not too unusual for Saturday morning (but more troubling by Saturday afternoon and beyond). Some people prefer to check out all of the artists booths before returning and making their selections. The neighboring jewelers were keeping active with purchases as were photographers and vendors with small, unique “gitchy” wares.

Throughout Saturday, people tended to just drift past my booth, few came in to examine my work. Questions and self doubt seem to enter the mind. Are my works inferior? Am I painting and presenting the wrong subject matter? Is my style wrong? How should I paint to attract more attention? What am I missing? What am I not doing, or doing wrong? Is this the right venue for selling my work? The questions go on and on.

Sunday morning, prior to opening, I was able to compare notes with some of the other painters who were talking of lethargic sales.  Not that I want to hang around with “belly acher’s”, but at least I did not feel isolated. Maybe my work is right, but the crowd is wrong. By Sunday afternoon, I was able to confirm my hunch.

A woman inquired about my paintings. She asked if I had images in smaller sizes. I pointed out a display in my booth which had about a dozen 6″ x 8″ paintings. She again asked about smaller works. I advised her that my works were all original artwork. She looked at me and said, “Yes, but a work like this little 11″ x 14″, do you have this in a smaller size?”. “No, I do not have prints of my work. I find that more people prefer the one-of-a-kind uniqueness of owning only original artwork.” “Yes, but do you have this in a smaller size?”. “Some subjects and scenes have occurred in more than one painting, but I do not do the same painting over and over again.” “Yes, I understand (I sensed that she was getting a bit terse), but do you have this in a smaller size.” “Ma’am, what you see is what I have. If you do not see it, it’s already been sold.” She left my booth, went to the photographer next door, and made a purchase of the same digital photo which I have seen walking out of his booth all weekend long. How unique is that?

A short while later, a couple stood at the front of my tent. The woman inquired about my work. “Now these are enhanced photographs, right?” At first I thought that she was referring to my neighbors booth until she looked at me and repeated her question. My somewhat confused reply, “The man next door sells enhanced photographs, but these are all original oil paintings.” “Oh, I see. Do you print the photographs and then apply oil paints to the surface.”  “No ma’am. I start with a blank canvas. I sketch the scene. Apply paints until the image is complete as you see.” “Oh, I see. But where does the photography come in?”  “Ma’am?”  “I mean, you use photography in your process, right?”  “No ma’am. It is a painting. Most are done from life, on location.”  “Oh I see. Interesting.” They left and, you guessed it, into my neighbors booth where they purchased a couple photographs.

The best came later. Again, a woman (I do not mean to pick on females. It just happened this way) who thought that my works were photographs (I don’t think that they look like photos, but…). As we quickly got past that issue without angst, she offered her sage advice so that I might avoid confusing patrons in the future. I figured that she might suggest some signage, or perhaps have a painting on display which is in progress or something along this path (all of which I had contemplated during my time at this fair). No. Her advice… “You should add a surrealistic twist to your work. Like one of your river scenes could have a mermaid rising from the waters or sitting on the shore.”

Oh please – let the pain stop!

By Sunday afternoon at 5pm, it did. We packed up the remaining artwork, my display panels, my tent (52 minutes – Yea  team Linden) and we headed home. On the ride back to Rockford, my wife and I discussed my thoughts for production and marketing in an effort to improve results for the future. Helen challenged a few of my thoughts, amended a few of my ideas and added some comments of her own. We have a plan and the work begins.

The next opportunity to view my works (besides here and on my website), will be at the Rockford Art Scene October 2 and 3, 2010. More information to follow.

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