Adventures in Art Fairs / by Layl McDill

Nearly every weekend I hop in my van (full of my art and my displays) and venture out into the great unknown.  Each time there are questions.  Will my car make it?  Will the weather hold?  Will I make any money?  Will the place I stay at have a decent bed??   Each weekend I discover: anything can happen!

 Shelves of teapot sculptures at the beginning of the summer. 

Shelves of teapot sculptures at the beginning of the summer. 

After 20-plus years of doing the art fair scene I am anything but bored.  I still get butterflies in my stomach when I drive up to the site and get ready to setup.  The other day it occurred to me that it's a bit like a gambling addiction.  At every venue you throw the dice in hopes that the right person will come into your booth (or a bunch of right people!).  And just maybe someone will say "I'd like to purchase that..." and point to your biggest piece!  If it weren't for the fact that it has happened before I might not be so willing to believe. But it does, again and again, so every weekend I cross my fingers and hope!

Life on the road, as an art fair artist, is one of those things you have to love to keep doing year after year.  To me, the hardest part is the long drive home on Sunday night.  Tear down is tough and can be backbreaking, but I have to say I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to get it done in less than an hour and a half.  I know it seems crazy, but I find that I enjoy it more when I try to hurry.  It must be my competitive spirit - competing against my time the week before, in the hope of getting on the road quicker.  I also enjoy the challenge of packing up my van like a perfect puzzle.  This year I have even been able to fit a bike in along with all my work, which is really an accomplishment, since bikes are oddly shaped. 

 Packing my van is almost a work of art!

Packing my van is almost a work of art!

Being outdoors is one of my favorite things about art fairs. This summer it occurred to me that it is a little like camping with your art.  Especially when you are in beautiful settings in parks or by lakes.  I always feel like I am a ten-year-old kid setting up my fort.  I get to make a fort with my favorite things: my own art and my art supplies, since I also make work while I'm at shows.  And yes, the weather can also be the worst part about doing shows. Over the years I've had my share of bad learning experiences with wind.  One show, early on, I arrived at the show on the second day to find my booth had collapsed overnight.  Another time, about 10 years ago, I was called at 2 am and told my booth had blown over.  Then there was the worst case, when my booth blew into a shelf of ceramics of the artist next to me.  All very stressful experiences!  I am fairly confident in the construction of my booth now, so it's unlikely this will happen again, but I never know what Mother Nature has in store for me, down the line.  

 Loring Park is a beautiful art fair right on the lake with the city of Minneapolis in the background. 

Loring Park is a beautiful art fair right on the lake with the city of Minneapolis in the background. 

Of course the most fascinating thing about traveling around the country to do art fairs is meeting  people.  As I have traveled further from the Midwest, it has been really interesting to take part in festivals in other parts of the country.  I feel like I get to know the area by just meeting and talking to people in each place.  When I did my first show in Tennessee last year, I found it interesting how much more engaged the husbands were down there than they generally are up in Minnesota.  They stopped and asked me questions, so much so that one wife eventually became bored, and started to leave her husband behind!  It's also really cool when I see customers I know from other art fairs when I am across the country, far from the original place I met them!  It makes it seem like a small world.

One of my favorite resources for discovering shows is the Art Fair Sourcebook.  If you are serious about doing art fairs, this subscription is for you.  I love to use their map search to find shows located in the same area, around the same time.  It can be very challenging, though, to get into the right shows at the right time; this really is like playing the lottery!   Another great resource for learning about art fairs is Art Fair Insiders.  This website has endless tips and reviews that really help any artist in the art fair world. 

I don't see myself retiring from art fairs any time soon.  I am looking forward to traveling even more in the coming years, as my children graduate and move out.  I have hopes that as the world switches to online shopping everywhere, eventually people will crave REAL experiences and art fairs will be one of the best places to get that.  It's such a great venue for connecting with customers, year after year.  I just love that people tell me about the pieces they bought from me "way back," in the beginning of my career.  To know that they are still enjoying my art is really my ultimate goal!

 

Fuchia Flower 600.jpg