I originally wrote this post about a year ago after I had just finished with a giant art show and 36 hours on my feet. As that same art show is rolling around in just a few short weeks, I thought of that post and thought I would look back and see what I should remember. I have added a few more points to the list based on some great comments from my fellow artists.
I just finished 28 hours of an art show. That’s probably really 36 hours in “art show hours” on my feet on a hard concrete floor once we have finished set up and tear down. The experience was amazing and I wouldn’t trade any of those minutes for anything, but chatting with my fellow artists all weekend brought out some things that we agreed they never tell you are part of the job description.
1. Describe your art in 10 words.
When you meet anyone at an art fair there are about 100 things competing for their attention. You need to be able to talk about what you do in 10 words or less if you want to start a conversation with someone and talking about your art is why both of you are there, usually. My phrase for this event was “Let me know if you have questions. These are all digitally printed fabrics from manipulated photographs.” Most people would pause for a second (as they made sense of all of those technical sounding words that I just said) and then I would get a big smile and they would say “Oh, that’s really cool!” or “Wow, I’ve never heard of that.” I had a lot of really great conversations that started just that way.
There is just nothing like the 10th hour on your feet in inappropriate shoes. Danskos will save your life. Cute dress, tights, danskos, cardigan sweater. That’s my uniform. Pockets are also really necessary. Also, dress in layers. If it’s crowded in the venue, it can get steamy. Or they will crank up the AC to combat the steaminess and you will be freezing. Or you’ll end up by the door where there is a draft.
3. Eat lunch in 2 dozen 2 bite segments.
Almonds, cheese and apple slices are my very favorite show lunch. You can eat two bites between conversations, and your fingers don’t get messy. Sometimes you are lucky and you can step away for a few minutes and sometimes you just can’t.
4. You will get sick the week after it is done.
I shook about eleventy-thousand hands and I was already stressed and a little sleep deprived from getting everything ready. It was inevitable. I should remember to schedule nothing the week after because that’s exactly what is going to get done: nothing.
5. You will have another deadline.
The week I was getting ready for this show (the biggest one I have ever done!) was also the week that the final edit of the manuscript for my book was due. Yup. Two deadlines right on top of each other and by the time I realized that they were all going to happen on the same week there was nothing I could do but hang on for the ride. The universe will sense all of that great creative energy and will throw things at you like crazy. The best strategy is to just admit that you are insane and not let the stress get to you. I let some things go, I wrote some emails and apologized for having to delay a few others and I tried to enjoy what I could – these were really GOOD things happening that were making me stressed.
A friend reminded me of this one. You always have to move things and walk farther than you expect. Rolling suitcases are the greatest invention ever.
7. Keep smiling.
To quote my friend Donna: Even when your feet hurt and you need to pee, find a genuine smile and share it with everyone — especially your fellow exhibitors. Repeat to yourself silently, “I’m so happy to be here!” That mantra can charge the atmosphere around you with positive energy.
8. Someone will say something insulting.
I like to be positive and try to think that people aren’t trying to say something negative about my work on purpose or with a mean spirit, but there is always someone that says something that makes your heart sink and sometimes your mouth hang open. The most common comment is “They want how much? I could make that for way cheaper.” Those are pretty easy to ignore. I have been guilty of thinking that one too. But sometimes, they are over the top. For example, at one event I had someone tell me how gorgeous a piece of mine was and then when I explained the process, she told me it was cheating that I printed it digitally and it wasn’t real art like dyers do. (Yes, she said this to my face.) I have decided that the best way to handle these is to take a breath and change the subject. “There are a lot of new technologies out there for making art. Have you seen the laser cut wood down the way? I love what he is doing with…” or “Oh, do you like dyed pieces? There is an artist doing that over that way…”
After standing and chatting with people all day long, my throat is always scratchy and my voice gravelly. I have a thermos that will keep tea hot for hours and it is like a magic elixir after Hour 7 of small talk.
10. Make friends with your neighbors.
You are going to be in each other’s way all day. Space is usually at a premium at these events, which means you are 2 inches from someone else’s art and you are both trying to hide your water bottle in the dark corner between your booths. At one show I didn’t have room for a mirror due to some shared space logistics and the across-the-aisle artist noticed and moved hers so that people could turn around in my space and look at the mirror in hers. It was incredibly generous of her and made my day 100 times better. I’ve shared shopping bags, change, and sharpies; held tired babies; made group coffee runs; and learned some really cool stuff from other artists listening to them talk about their work.