Tricks of the trade, rules of the road
Ah, the feeling when you finally arrive back at home at the end of a very long road trip.
You escape from your vehicle, unfolding your body in a deliberate expression of freedom. Arms up! Back straight! Legs fully extended! In this moment — before the relentless clock of your life resumes — you stand in victory, for no matter what happened along the way, you started and finished this thing. Yes, you did. You are the master of all you survey, including that massive pile of dirty laundry.
This is how I felt when I recently returned home from Chicago. I went there to sell my fine art photography at the Spring 2017 One of a Kind Show which, in many ways, lived up to its name. For me, however, my experiences at the show itself are less significant than the milestone it’s turning into as I look back on it. The show marks my 30th juried art festival since I launched unplain jane studio in late 2015.
That sound you’re hearing right now is the chuckling of established artists within the festival circuit. To them, thirty is a darling little number, indicative only of an ability to put up a Trimline. But to me, Show No. 30 validated six basic truths about the art business that I’ve been noodling on since Show No. 1. As it turns out, they’re also pretty good lessons about developing an entrepreneurial mindset, whether you’re running your own business or department or project.
In no particular order:
Putting up and taking down my fancy-schmancy tent weekend after weekend is no fun. Honestly, I hate it, but there’s something much worse. At a show I attended last year, hurricane-force winds tumbled another artist’s cheap pop-up tent, causing over $10,000 in damage to the art within it and in the tent next door. Build to last.
Before I was an artist, I was a consumer of art. I loved going to galleries, museums and art festivals. As I began showing my work at festivals and galleries, I pulled back on the number of events I attended purely as a fan. Big mistake. Nothing can replicate the actual experience of being an actual consumer. Keep shopping.
People buy art for different reasons. Some people buy prestige. Some people buy subject matter. Some people buy style. Some people buy a feeling. What do you sell? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what it means. To your collector and to you.
I’ll never forget participating in my very first art festival. On Day One, I spent more time asking other artists for advice and feedback than I did selling my work. On Day Two, an attendee spent 20 minutes quizzing me on how I got into the art festival circuit so he could do the same. No matter how early it is in your career, there’s always someone behind you trying to catch you.
While Lesson #4 is true, I’ve been focusing more on its flip side: No matter how far along you are in your career, there’s always someone ahead of you. While artists may, on first impression, exude a more open and generous spirit than other professions, mentors are everywhere. Find them, be genuinely humbled and awestruck by them, and learn from them. I’m talking about you, Harmony, Earl, Jennifer, Tim, Anne and Clifton.
Every time I set up my booth, I make the same lame joke: “Nobody told me that you need to be tall to be an artist.” If I was about six inches taller, I wouldn’t have to drag my step ladder around to set my panels in place or adjust the tent walls or safely hang my largest pieces. Then I’m reminded that I must keep stretching — myself, my artistic vision and my business. Reach.
This story was originally published on May 21, 2017.