Friday, October 17, 2014

Layers. AKA art camping 101

Fall. The crisp air, apples, leaves in warm hues... and fall festival season. I was headed to my last outdoor show of the year earlier this month, and I decided to document the whole procedure. 

AJE postcards and mailing list book front and center, naturally!

I do at least 9 shows a year, sometimes 12... and they run the whole gamut. Outdoor arts festivals, indoor gallery type shows, weekend themed events/conventions, and even a bead show thrown in there for good measure! I do the most shows among my AJE teammates. I asked them: most do bead shows, a few do a sampling of craft shows as well.

I make ceramic pendants. And tiles. And architectural sculptural shrines. I am at heart a mixed media artist. I make and sell quite a bit of mixed media jewelry, using my pendants and artisan beads. Its the mixed media uniqueness that I feel is my "niche" when doing an arts festival - undoubtedly populated by many jewelry artists. My pendants and tiles are unified by content and design; I have developed these original designs in parallel. There are shows that put me in the "ceramics " category, others call me "mixed media", some specifically "jewelry". The vagaries of the jury process is surely a tale for another day.

I have been doing this for ten years! Sure, there are people with fancier set ups than mine. You can haunt Pinterest for amazing displays - but I am here to tell you - they aren't always practical. If you are traveling, you can't make three trips and bring fancy props and a dress makers dummy. There is no space in the car and no time! You can sign up for online seminars telling you how to sell jewelry at a craft show. That's great - but until you try it, that person's experience is just talk.  Find your own balance...

Here are my thoughts on layers. Packing in layers. The layers of constructing a fast, friendly, functional display... and living to tell the tale.

1. Tent and side walls. 4' table. 6' table. Shelving boards. Tall directors chair, weights. 

2. Tiles and shrines packed in medium sized flat totes - for stacking and b/c clay gets heavy... One tote with display items, one  with bags, tissue, wrapping paper... 

3. Blue IKEA bags: plexi risers for building levels, fabric for skirts and drapes, large sculpture, table leg risers, bungees... Crate of frames for jewelry display. Small tote - "office" box. Knucklebuster (b/c you never know...) cards, notebook, all paper stuff. 

4. Shutters, jewelry totes, banner. And the final view pictured below. Hanging panels on top, secured with bungees so I am not decapitated in traffic... And I still have room to see! 

( Overnight bag, cooler in front seat. )

My Scooby. A normal car, not a tank. It does the trick!
Art on the Avenue in Alexandria, VA is a one day arts festival. Its immense, over 10 blocks long. Set up from 7:30 on. Show runs 10-6. Its a 14 hour day door to door - and thats a local friend's door! When you arrive: 
  • squeeze your car in amidst your neighbors, find your 10' spot... 
  • vomit the goods onto the sidewalk... 
  • sneak car out to park it... ( good luck. Street parking!) 
  • Set up tent, tables, weights, art... 
  • Vend from 10-6 rain or shine. 
  • Pack it, stack it, fold up tent. (Tear down in one hour MAX! Because the police are there to reopen the street to traffic. )
  • Hike to car, maneuver car to your spot amidst sheer chaos of fellow vendors... 
  • Load car, drive away. Drink wine. 

The first layer: the infrastructure. 

Coffee. Tables. Skirts to hide all your junk. 
Drapes over the top. Hanging panels. 

Levels. Shutters for earrings. 
Hiding from camera (unsuccessfully). Hair clip for set up hair. 

Display items in place: frames for pinning necklaces, cigar boxes... 
Curtain sheers behind hanging panels were the best $20 I ever spent! Crinkle fabric easy to pack, but provides a neutral backdrop behind my work. Tent sides are too heavy, and don't allow air flow. 

Done. From drive in to ready in 2 hours. No, I don't do a rug when I am an pavement. No room in my car! Cardboard boxes on left: neighbor. He wasn't done yet. 

After many different layouts, I currently like this L shape. Open enough to encourage people to come in, and ample room behind tables for me to make sales. Did I mention that the spaces at this show are like 10' 2"? Yes - we all have 10' tents. HA. It's that tight. I plan my flow to allow me room to work, a path out to front, but not an opening large enough to invite unwanted "cut through". You would be amazed... 

Panorama shot for fun.

The office area. Writing up receipts, making sales, wrapping work, hiding food, back stock trays of jewelry... and the best gadget ever: a power bank for recharging phone! ( Told you to pack your Knucklebuster in case...) 

I could go on, and on... and I may in future posts. Neighbors - good and bad. Booth buddies and booth babes - a precious commodity. Pet peeves, horror stories... but for now this top layer is enough. 

It can be a great fun, rewarding day. It can be exhausting. But I like it...


  1. wow - I usually dont do outdoor shows as there is no one to help me set up and its amazing how you do it. Your display looks clean, simple and professional - great work. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series

  2. That looks like hard work Jenny! It always amazes me when I do a show how little of my car is filled by stock and how much is 'stuff'. It's worth it though, it looks fabulous!

  3. Well you've certainly turned this into a fine art of it's own Jenny...amazing organisation! Looks really inviting too.

  4. Hi Jenny, I always enjoy seeing how others do shows. Your set up looks great.

  5. Omgosh...hard hard work..expertly done! Just enough room left in your car for the driver!

  6. Organization is a challenge for me. Your step by step description of prep, packing, set up and beyond is so helpful. Thank you!

  7. I love your set-up! I don't do many outdoor shows, but I love your tips about the sheer curtains! The couple of times I used my tent sides it was pretty much chaos.

  8. I am exhausted just reading this. My least favorite part of shows is the set up and tear down. You obviously have it down to a science.


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