Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baltimore American Craft Council Show Debrief

Finally, a decent show after a very disappointing 2010. I don't like to judge a show on floor sales alone but it is always good to come home with less than I left with. This show was also a good opportunity to connect with art consultants and interior designers who I wouldn't expect to hear from for many months later and I could also tell that there were many more serious collectors than I typically see at a show. Though it is a very stressful event, being both physically demanding (standing and talking for at least eight hours a day, six days straight) and emotionally draining (worrying about all the logistics of a show along with the financial concerns) it is something I feel I'll have to do again in order to build on the exposure. Serious collectors don't like to buy work from an artist they just met and developing those relationships is an important aspect of creating a financially self-sustaining art career.

Booth Shot - February 22, 2011

The big surprise for me was hearing the reaction of the public to Green Chimneys. I really didn't know what to expect and was completely shocked that it was by far the favorite piece in my booth until I sold it on Friday. I have no idea why, and would rather not try to analyze it (if ignorance inspired me to create it, ignorance will inspire me to make something better), but it is encouraging that I should explore my wedge series further. A number of people asked if I could make another one if it sold. Although I can understand the request, it isn't something that I feel comfortable doing. The idea of replicating a piece just isn't very appealing and I'm sure I'll be both disappointed and bored with it. I'm much more interested in seeing what is next and how the series evolves. In thinking about it since the show, and after playing around with some scraps I have laying around, I've decided I want to do something with double-sided wedges. I'm sure they will be much more interesting and fun than retreading paths I've already been down. The show also piqued my curiosity as to what the public's reaction will be to my most recent wedge, Carolina Spring, which I didn't bring with me for packing and display limitations.

I also (finally!!!) sold Frozen Flame after having listened to literally hundreds of people tell me how much they loved it over the last year and a half. I really couldn't understand why it didn't sell but some pieces tend to be like that, much praised and unpurchased, while others seem to move unexpectedly and without much fuss. I know it wasn't priced too high, perhaps it was too low. I don't know, the sale of art and the reactions people have to it are a complete mystery to me. As an added benefit, it was purchased for public display at Johns Hopkins University's Berman Institute of Bioethics.

In addition, I sold an older piece, Eleven Rectangles w/Blue, as well as all three of the new birch ribbon sculptures that I brought with me (pictured on the right side of my booth). Although I know I could easily continue making and selling pieces in the ribbon series without much modification, I need to explore ideas about taking to the next level to keep it interesting. I want to bring one with me to CraftNewYork so I decided to add some walnut veneer fractures, similar to the recent Forever Holiday piece.

On other news from the show:

One woman stopped by my booth, looked briefly at the work, turned to me and said only "Don't give up" before walking away. I don't think I was looking particularly despondent at the time, so I take her reaction to mean that she thought I was heading in an useful direction and should keep on plugging away at it. I'd be interested to learn whether she stopped by other artists' booths and told them "Give up" in a similar manner.

One well know magazine publisher was adamant that I needed to create shelves and small tables to go with the work in order to help right brained people understand how to display my work. I listened, engaged this person in a discussion, but decided it would be counter-productive. I get enough people asking about making tables, counter tops, and floors (god forbid floors, that would be the least useful thing I could do) without confusing them more with shelves.

One woman entered my booth and couldn't stop smiling. She particularly liked 45 Rectangles but she said they all made her smile.

I was surprised to only count eleven people who said they hadn't seen anything like my work before. At smaller shows I'll typically hear that from around 20 people. Perhaps they felt insecure, as if they should have been more knowledgeable in seeing someone else doing something similar.

One woman, in looking at my prices, said "This one is only $1000!". I told her I could charge her more if it made her feel more comfortable (and no, I didn't make the sale). Yes, I think the work is under-priced too but until there is a significant demand and I have a smaller inventory, what can you do?

I was very impressed with the new American Craft Council Executive Director, Chris Amundsen, who took the time to meet and talk with every artist at the show that he could. It wasn't in a meet and greet rushed manner either. He methodically worked his way, booth to booth, and casually talked with each for an extended period. I must have talked with him for a total of 20 minutes (he caught me twice because I was standing by someone else's booth at one point). He either picked up the pass later in the show or resolved to start at the other end next year because at just 10 min/artist it would have taken him over 14 days to finish. Of course, when he asked for ideas or suggestions, I can't be blamed for pitching the idea that my work be featured on the cover of the magazine. I'm sure he stopped asking well before the end of the show because he likely would have heard the same thing a few hundred times. It may be self-serving but I still think it is a good idea.

Two people I didn't know complemented me on my new eye glasses. I must have done a good job in picking out this last pair. I was trying to find something that made me look like an artist. With the last pair I tried to do the same but one friend said they made me look more like an arts administrator. I think this pair projects more of a risk taking personality without making me look crazy.

I collected 56 email addresses.

And, last but certainly not least, the show was a great opportunity to meet a number of great artists and talk about their work, most notably a number of wood artists that I'll cover in an additional post.

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