I did 5 craft shows this month and I learned a shit-ton in the process. One thing that was rather unexpected was the panic and anxiety that followed every show's setup. I know I have perfectionist tendencies, anxiety and sometimes depression so it wasn't a total surprise but STILL – I didn't expect it to be what it was.
Before I go too far into the feelings bit, I'll cover the logistics of doing this. Damn, it's a lot of work. I'm one of those people who hates to waste time – as a matter of fact, time wasted can send me into a mental spiral. Equating success to art sales turned out to be a depressing equation. I sold a lot of things, sure, but was it enough to cover the amount of time and money I spent getting there? Renting a car, loading it up with chrome gridwalls and boxes of work, driving to said event, parking, unloading, setting up....<waiting>.......<selling, maybe>........breaking down, re-loading the car, driving home, unloading the car, returning the car to rental agency. SHIT.
In the logical, non-artistic side of my brain, NO this is not worth it at all. The cost of the rental car alone throws the budget into the red. But, is this a fair way to look at it? No. Def not.
It's not a fair way to analyze it at all because once I'm there, I LOVE IT! I love talking to customers about my process, subject matter and inspiration. I love when I make a sale or get a new fan. The feeling of putting a piece of you out into the world and people liking it....wow, that really makes you feel awesome. It does wonders for your self esteem. Can you really put a price on that?
I've decided that the actual monetary cost is worth the exposure for me at this point. I'm a new artist and no one knows who the F I am so I've dubbed 2019 the Year of Exposure (by contrast 2018 was the Year of Creativity). 2019 is about finding my tribe, those folks who love what I do and who will be there as long as I'm doing this. Finding them, well, it's like a needle in a haystack.
I'm going to share a bulleted list of notes I took during one of these shows. You see, I brought a little notebook to keep track of inventory, etc and it turned into a log for my feelings. It also gave me something to look at while awkwardly standing at my booth (that's a whole 'nother situation that I can explain next ):
These are my actual notes:
– What if I did all this and no one buys anything?
– I'm not good enough
– My setup sucks
– I expected more sales
– My prices are too high
– I scare people away (this one came from the show where every time I would leave the booth, Seth would make a sale)
– What if people don't like me?
– This is so much work for no profit
– Wayyy too many expenses up front
– Is exposure enough?
– But what if I really don't sell ONE THING TODAY??????
Sigh. It's pretty sad to read in hindsight but it really feels that way when you're standing at your booth, watching people walk by or stop and then leave. Thoughts like this would race through my head. Finding that line between engaged artist / annoying salesperson is really challenging. Do you greet people? Do you talk about your work? Do people just want to shop in silence? Do you say anything at all? Should I sit or stand? What do I do with my arms, if they are crossed do I look like a bitch? AAAHHHHH!
And then, poof! Someone comes to your booth and asks you questions. They comment on the colors and how much they love the work. They hold up 2, 3, even 4 prints, unable to decide. They eagerly take a business card, selecting the one they want carefully because each of my cards has a different painting on the back and is like a mini piece in and of itself. They sign up for the mailing list and take stickers for themselves and their friends. They buy something! This is who you're looking for and why it's worth it to spend all day waiting for these folks to find you.
Seth, my wonderful partner and unpaid Ponnopozz employee, commented that it must feel like you're naked in front of a ton of people. It does. You need a thick skin to do this art thing and I'm slowly building mine up. It's not there yet, by any means. This is the struggle of putting yourself out there over and over again. But, the reward is worth the painful points. Working for myself fully one day, making art that I want to make – it's the "ultimate freedom" as my friend and fellow illustrator Phil Thompson once told me. He works for himself, creating beautiful drawings of Chicago buildings. If not for him, I wouldn't have ever applied to a craft show so THANK YOU PHIL! Thanks for giving me that little boost because it's been one hell of a December and I don't plan to stop any time soon :)
That's the plan for 2019. I've already got a show lined up, re:Craft and Relic, which is in Milwaukee on January 26-27. I've also been trying to secure a few shows in Tampa (where my parents live) for February.
My final goal is to be kinder to myself in the moment. Not everyone you see will like your stuff because what kind of world would that be? And, I'm going to remind myself that success can be measured in ways other than profit. I'm lucky enough to have a day job that supports this wild lifestyle I'm trying to lead so for now, success will be measured in meeting new customers and growing a following of engaged people. If you've already supported me ~ thank you so much. You are the reason that I want to continue doing this!
And a special thank you to the following "unpaid employees" who helped me throughout the month:
And a huge thanks to Phil for telling me to do Renegade. It was a tiny seed that has pretty much changed the course of Ponnopozz for the better :)