Festival Fun

I have been crazy busy these past several weeks! As both Secretary and Webmaster for the Pencil Art Society, and with our first live International Open Juried Exhibition coming up at the end of August, I have hardly had a moment to call my own. The moments that I have had for doing my own thing over the past month, I have spent painting and getting ready for The New Art Festival, which was held last weekend in beautiful Central Park in the Glebe area of downtown Ottawa.

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This was my first year doing this art festival and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with gorgeous sunny days that were neither uncomfortably hot nor humid! This was only the second time I have done an outdoor art festival, so much of it is still a real learning process for me. And wow! Did I learn some things at this show! LOL

I was very fortunate to have a great booth space, right across from one of the few food vendors in the park and not too terribly far from the unloading area. I have shown my pencil work several times before at indoor art fairs, and have professional gridwall for those shows. But gridwall is extremely heavy, not to mention awkward and unwieldy! It’s a major pain to transport as it is too long to fit inside our small SUV, so must be tied to the roof rack. UGH! So, since parking and the drop off zones were not ideal for this festival, with access to my booth space not conveniently close, I decided to replace my heavy gridwall with something lighter and easier to transport and carry in an effort to save poor hubby’s back (he very kindly — and usually good-naturedly — does all the lifting and toting for me).

As a replacement for the gridwall, I figured that lightweight chains were the perfect solution to hang my paintings from — such a brilliant idea! NOT! Though the white chain was considerably easier and more compact to transport and carry, and it certainly looked very neat and clean against the white backdrop of my tent walls, hanging my work from the chains that first day was a nightmare!

Hubby putting up tent

Hubby putting up tent, making sure it’s square.

Hubby attaching tent walls

Hubby attaching tent walls, just in case it rained.

Despite the fact that I had a layout plan on paper and knew exactly where each painting would hang (I am nothing, if not well organized!), getting the paintings to hang evenly from the chains and then to stay in place took much trial and error, and was an exercise that was fraught with anxiety and frustration (mine, not hubby’s! He just rolled his eyes at my grumblings and kept right on adjusting chains! LOL) Finally the S hooks were all spaced in such a way that the paintings were hanging evenly … though not very securely! Every time there was a slight breeze, the paintings that were not secured with hooks through the D-rings, but that were just hanging from their wiring, tilted crazily off centre, and oft-times tilted so they were completely up-ended! So, why not simply secure them all through their D-rings, you ask? Well, that was hubby’s original idea, but silly me had to go and argue with him about that, thinking it looked bad because, by securing the hooks through the D-rings, the chains did not all hang exactly vertically (due to the fact that some paintings on the lower rows were wider than those on the top row).  I insisted that it was more important to have consistently vertical chains than to have securely moored paintings that I wouldn’t have to jump up and straighten every time the wind blew!

Welcome to my booth

Welcome to my booth. I was very pleased with how it looked.

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I also had a problem with my price tags that first day! Because I had business card sized price tags, which I usually secure to my gridwall under my paintings with sticky tac, they didn’t fit very well into the tiny spaces left between the paintings, nor did the sticky tac stick very well to the tiny chain links. Instead, I decided to stick the tags to the sides of the paintings themselves. They stuck…but barely. I had to keep straightening the tags, and often had to pick them up off the ground and re-stick them.

Although there was overnight security, the park is huge, so rather than taking a chance that my work might be stolen or damaged, we packed up all my paintings at the end of the Saturday to bring home, but I made sure to leave the S hooks in place on the chains so we wouldn’t have to fiddle to get them even again on Sunday. I meekly held my tongue the next day when hubby proceeded to wordlessly secure those S hooks through the D rings of all my paintings so they wouldn’t tilt when the wind blew! I had also made new price tags overnight on self-sticking labels that actually did stay stuck to the sides of my paintings on the second day! So, Sunday was much less traumatic more relaxing than Saturday had been. I may be a bit inexperienced when it comes to these outdoor festivals…but thankfully I am a quick learner…and know when not to argue with hubby! LOL

After a quick stroll around the park to view the set-ups other artists were using for their paintings, I’ve also decided that chain is NOT the way to go for hanging paintings! I plan to try something different — and hopefully much easier to manage! — for  my next festival, which is only three short weeks away!

Back wall of my booth

Back wall of my booth. The trunk I’d painted was incredibly handy!

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All in all, I consider The New Art Festival to have been a generally successful venture for me. It was exhausting, but very enjoyable. I love being able to talk to people who are obviously interested in my work and seeing their smiles and the expressions of wonder and appreciation on their faces is really encouraging and inspiring for me. I also love hearing their interpretations of what they feel my art is saying.

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Still, as enjoyable as the entire weekend was, there were a few things that did not work out so well. Besides the chains and price tags problems, there were no food vendors selling healthy or non-wheat food, so I will be sure to pack myself a bigger lunch and snacks next time.

There was also a major problem with one of the festival’s rules not being enforced. The rules for TNAF state very clearly and strictly (and numerous times in their prospectus and on the website) that ONLY original art is to be sold. No prints or cards are allowed. Well, unfortunately, I was one of the very few artists at the festival that seems to have actually obeyed that rule! Sadly, I brought no prints with me to sell….and over the course of the weekend I had SO many people ask me if I had prints! Needless to say, I felt very frustrated and disappointed by the lack of rule enforcement by TNAF, as I felt it put me at a very distinct disadvantage. 🙁   Nevertheless, it was a great lesson, and in future, I will make sure that I always prepare prints to bring with me and have them ready to offer.

Side wall

Side wall

Side wall

Side wall

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Despite the abundance of inexpensive prints and cards available for sale by so many of the other artists, I did sell one of my smaller original paintings on Saturday. I spoke to three other artists at the festival whose work I admired, whose prices were in a similar range to mine, and who also did not have prints available, and discovered that sales had been poor for them as well. It gave me much food for thought. Was it just the general poor economy affecting sales of originals for everyone? (I noticed lots of people walking around with little packages of purchased cards, prints and small works of art — but I didn’t see one person walking around toting a large wrapped up painting). Was it because there were so many less expensive options available to prospective buyers in the form of prints and cards? Was it because my prices for original paintings were perhaps unreasonably high? I don’t feel they were, but have given the matter a lot of thought since the weekend and have decided to lower my prices to see if it makes a difference in sales of my originals.

As artists, we put our hearts and souls into our art, and so it is difficult to sell work for less than we feel it may be worth — but at the same time, if the work doesn’t sell, well, my house has only so many walls to hang paintings from! LOL And besides, I make my art to share and it is such a thrill for me to hand one of my “babies” over to someone who I know will be able to gain pleasure from my efforts for years to come because it hangs on their wall and not mine. 🙂

I am looking very forward to applying all I learned during my TNAF experience to the festival I will be doing in July. 🙂

My "Little Black Book", where people could leave their email to enter a draw for a free print.

My “Little Black Book”, where people could leave their email to enter a draw for a free print.

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I did have a draw for two free prints, one on Saturday and again on Sunday, and will be mailing them out to the two lucky winners at the beginning of next week (after the Canada Day holiday)! 🙂

I held a draw for two free prints, one for Saturday, one for Sunday.

I held two draws to give away two free prints over the weekend, one for Saturday, one for Sunday. Congratulations to Laura and Debbie!

I also had the foresight to bring paper and pencil with me and, during the quiet times, started working on a new graphite drawing. I’ll be posting it as a work in progress to my FB page.

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4 comments to Festival Fun

  • Thanks for sharing your experience Lissa, I’ve done maybe a dozen outdoor shows and they have all been a learning experience in one way or another!! You just can never predict what will sell and what won’t!! I love doing them but it totally wipes me out now, so sold my tent.

    I hope the next show is more fruitful in sales…will you have both paintings and drawings at that one?

  • hehe, yes, I can only imagine that it is a never-ending learning experience, Kathryn, because you can never predict what will happen from one show to the next! That is definitely part of the fun and adventure (and sometimes trauma! LOL) of it! As you say though, it is completely exhausting! I could never do it without hubby’s support and muscle and so am very grateful for that. 🙂

    No, I won’t have my drawings there. I made a decision some time back that I will save my drawings for indoor exhibitions (the type that allow you to enter just a couple of entries), and save the big fair/festival type settings that allow multiple works, for my paintings. Mostly because my paintings are SO much lighter and less fragile/risky to transport, but also because I do think they have a broader appeal to the public than my drawings do and therefore sell better. 🙂

  • I hear ya! Finding a venue that attracts serious buyers is like fishing. I’ve stood in unbearable heat during an outdoor theatrical festival only to sell two bookmarks. It could be the economy and sometimes it’s the nature of the venue. Outdoor fairs in my recent experience could be more successful if we bring the smaller more affordable pieces. I had bookmarks done up with my website and contact info on the back for sale, blank greeting cards and un framed but matted originals and prints. I had like you hung my canvases on chains using S hooks which is indeed finicky. I found that taping the chains (wired to the awning frame) in place prevented slippage and I think next time I’ll add weights to the bottoms or else use tent pegs to hold them straight and tight. One on my colleagues attached a proper 1×3″ strips of wood and screwed those into the poles. That works fine if all your canvases are the same size! Also for the price cards, I learned a trick from other artists who tape them using low tack painters masking tape to the back of the canvas frame with the card facing forward stuck to the tape just below the edge. When packing away simply fold up the dangling card. Sales have still been non existent where I’m situated an hour south of you in the country. I’m aiming to get my work shown in Ottawa. At least thats the plan!

    • Rolande, if I continue to do festivals next year, I plan to replace the chains with lightweight plastic chicken wire, which has about 1/2″ grid. I saw another artist using this and talked to him about it. He’s very happy with how it works. The close-knit grid allows for way more flexibility than the chais do when it comes to hanging work, it’s very clean and professional looking, and is very inexpensive.