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If you are on the fence about traveling to a national show versus staying home to do a smaller show, here’s an Excel spreadsheet that will help you model the expense and income from both. Make one sheet that reflects your actual product mix, and then duplicate it for each show. Fill in the travel and show expenses; get figures for show attendance and number of artists. When you have the two sheets side by side, you will have a better idea of which show might work for you.

Of course there’s no guarantee that the weather will be good, people will show up and buy stuff, or that your competitors won’t have a double booth across the way from you. There are so many variable in this business, that it’s very hard to predict an accurate outcome from any show. But this little sheet can help you get a handle on just how much you need to break even at any show.

Get the worksheet.

Award of Excellence, Levis Commons Fine Art Festival 2011

Award of Excellence, Levis Commons Fine Art Festival 2011

Looking back on 2011, it’s been a successful year by many standards. In a declining economy, my sales are trending upward (thank you!), and I’ve had better acceptance than ever at art shows. I’ve managed to get into many of the top shows on my bucket list, some of which I would love to get into again, and some of which I’m glad I did, but have no desire to go back. My new work is pleasing not only you, but me as well. And even the theft of the Artanic in Fort Worth turned out to have a silver lining. So lets pray for continued success for the rest of 2011, and into 2012. Show apps are already coming due for the winter season. Fort Myers, Coconut Grove, Gasparilla, Winter Park — all due in the next thirty days or so.

And to top it off, I’ve won a few awards along the way. I got to thinking about it this evening, and realized that I had done NO horn tooting about it since last year’s Barrington ribbon. So, without further ado, here’s the list.

  • Images, New Smyrna Beach :: Award of Merit
  • ArtFest Fort Myers, Fort Myers :: Award of Distinction (1st place in Photography)
  • Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, Tampa :: Selected for Judging (an award in itself!)
  • Winter Park, Winter Park :: Award of Distinction
  • Crosby Festival of the Arts, Toledo :: 1st Place in Photography
  • Glencoe Festival of the Masters, Glencoe :: Award of Outstanding Achievement
  • Levis Commons Fine Art Festival, Perrysburg OH :: Award of Excellence (2d Place in show)

I think that’s it. At least those are the ones that come to mind. Thank you, judges and jurors.

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Inside of the new trailer

Inside of the new trailer

In the aftermath of the Main Street Fort Worth show, I had some time to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t with my transportation systems. After a lot of thought, a few sketches and some conversation, I decided to go with a setup similar to the one I had before. Of course there are a lot of options for getting your stuff to and from shows. Many artists are opting for Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter vans now, which have more headroom, run on diesel fuel, and are easy to maneuver into tight show spaces. Many artists still use the standard Ford E250 white van. A few tow a trailer behind a truck camper. But I’ve been set up to tow a standard tag-hitch trailer behind my Toyota Tundra, so that’s what I decided to stay with. I can’t use a Sprinter because of the two large bin boxes, and without rethinking that whole system, it was easier to stay with a truck/trailer combination.

About three weeks after returning from Fort Worth, I placed an order with my dealer for a new Wells Cargo Road Force trailer. As it turned out, I was able to drive to Elkhart and pick it up. I bought one that was in stock, saving about six weeks build time. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but close enough. 14′ length, 7′ width, an extra six inches in height, a modified v-front for aerodynamics, dual axle with electric brakes, ramp in back, door on the side. A nicely built trailer.

After I picked it up, I spent three weeks building a rack for the panels and a new pole cart. I also built big drawer units that hold mats, frames, glass and other supplies. Shelves were constructed in the front of the v to make use of the wasted triangular space. I installed a spare tire hanger up high, to get it off the floor. I also had to build a new unit to carry larger framed work, because the two boxes that handled my 30×40’s were stolen with the Artanic. Luckily, the weather cooperated, and I was able to use the driveway to spread out to make the various parts and pieces.

Work in progress

Building panel racks and shelves on my driveway

Panel Racks and Pole Cart

The rack holds about 16 30" x 84" Pro Panels

Materials Storage

6 Drawers hold mats, frames, glass, clear bags and other materials

Arthur the trailer

Arthur

I had to build a ramp flap on the back ramp, as this trailer didn’t have the extra piece. Ordered a 6′ steel hinge and drilled holes for large screws and installed that. I built a rack to hold the four 75 2″ steel weights near the front door. I used to have to stow them on the floor and they would slide around. The rack holds them in place vertically in the 12″ space between the door and the v — a space that would normally be unusable. The ladders stow behind the panel rack so that they are easily accessible for setup and teardown. The two print bins weren’t stolen, so they stay in the same place in the back. I installed e-track along the door-side wall, and in the v, to secure various boxes and bins. I also bought industrial strength ratchet straps with e-track attachments, which are vastly superior to the Home Depot variety in strength and durability. A good source for e-track and cargo control is US Cargo Control.

All in all, this trailer is more efficient than its predecessor. It’s quicker to unload and load. Lessons learned from the first two trailers proved invaluable here. Little things like bigger ladder hooks to stow light bars and hang a lantern from, the weight rack (not seen in the photos), the spare tire hanger — all of these items help keep the trailer neat and tidy.

And the Road Force with the torflex axles rides smooth as silk. Items don’t shift in transit. It doesn’t quite get the mileage that the Artanic did (10 mpg vs 11mpg), due to the flatter v-front. But the 4′ v on the Artanic added weight without being very useful storage space. Probably a good trade-off.

And the final touch: security on the trailer. When we leave it parked, it gets two wheel boots, one on each axle. The hitch gets locked up with a gorilla guard and a padlock through the hitch release. Hopefully it won’t get towed off like the Artanic. The wheel boots are Titan Grips, from Universal Security. They take about ten seconds to install, and don’t take a lot of space on the trailer when not in use.

Front end storage

Bungie cords keep small bins from flying out of control

And we’ve had the opportunity to test it out on the road several times now. It’s been to ArtBirmingham, Northern Virgina (Reston),  the Columbus Art Festival and Chicago’s Wells Street show. It’s a bit easier to park and maneuver due to it’s slightly shorter wheelbase, and it’s easier to load and unload. There aren’t any barriers in the middle like the old had. I did have to build a ramp for the side door, for emergencies when I have to unload something in the front without taking everything off the back first. But it’s essentially done.

I’m thinking about print storage like I had on the old trailer — 6 boxes to hold prints in alpha sort. But that can wait. The drawers hold an awful lot, more than I expected, so I have some time to see if the additional box is needed.

We named the third trailer, of course. His name is Arthur, sort of an abbreviation of Art and Third. A faithful beast of burden…

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Just got back from the Main Street Fort Worth Art Festival, and man, what an experience! First off, let me just say that this festival deserves its reputation as one of the top shows in the country. Spread out over four days, it is staged over five blocks in downtown Fort Worth. Festival tents are set up along Main Street, and an additional group of artists use their own canopies in a parking area between Commerce and Main. Most artists elect to erect their own canopies under the show structures. I wondered why the show went to all the trouble to set up tents, when most artists have a solid canopy. Well, the reason is the wind. Aside from the show we did a few years back in Rising Sun, Indiana, where Hurricane Ivan closed us down early on Sunday with 70mph steady blasts, the wind here is brutal, violent and destructive. Setup is on Wednesday afternoon, with staged load-in times. The show runs from 10AM-8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10AM-6PM on Sunday. The music continues later, and many artists choose to remain open, making sales until the music’s over at 11PM. Long hours, but generally worth it.

Weather at this mid-April show runs the gamut from hot, stifling Texas heat, to high winds and thunderstorms. This year, we were lucky, in that the storms that rolled across the state on Thursday night did not touch the show. Hail up to 2″ in diameter was reported as close as 20 miles from the site, and tornadoes killed two people up in Tushka, Oklahoma. Friday, the winds gusted up to 60mph, taking many pieces of artwork to the ground, and leveling some artists’ tents. Our tent, in the artists square, stayed standing, but not without assistance from Karyn, who leaned against the corner panel much of the afternoon. I helped our neighbors, Jeanne and Sam Maddox, take their artwork off the walls, and lower the tent to half height. One of the corner joints failed, and no amount of bracing and tie-downs kept it standing upright. By evening, the gusts had died down. Sam came back later, and rejiggered it for Saturday’s show. Saturday, the crowds were out in force. Sales were steady all day, better than Thursday and Friday. But mostly it was smaller prints. I did send a couple of good size pieces home with lucky customers on Thursday, and had great sales all four days of the show.

But the saddest part of the show happened to us on Thursday night. We had visited our trailer Wednesday morning, which we left parked and locked at the Marriott Towne Place Suites, just a few blocks from downtown. We got a couple of things for the show, and walked over to open up the booth. After a long day of visiting with patrons, we managed to get back to the hotel at around 9:45PM. Coming around the back of the hotel, Karyn asked me,” Where’s Artan?” (The trailer’s nicknamed the Artanic). There was a big hole where the trailer had been parked. The chocks for the back wheels were still on the ground, and the blocks under the tongue jack were still there. A long white arc in the cement showed where the foot of the tongue jack had been dragged along the ground. Evidently the thieves had towed or hauled the trailer out the back entrance to the hotel.

The big art trailer is affectionately known as Artan for short.

We immediately went to the front desk and asked the desk manager if the trailer had been towed for some reason. She had no knowledge of any towing operation, and went to get the general manager, Brian Tigner. We sat down with Brian, and gave him a full report. Brian called the Fort Worth police for us, and after waiting twenty minutes or so, an officer arrived to make a police report. We went out to look at the empty spot again, hoping that perhaps we had just misplaced the trailer. Of course, that wasn’t the case. The police officer gave us a report number, and a phone number for the police department. Brian gave us his cel phone number, and told us if there was anything he could do to help, to call at any time.

The  good news is that we were already set up for the show. The bad news is that all of our back stock and extra exhibit equipment was on the trailer. That included five ProPanels, a good Hollywood chair, the double canopy top and all the extra Trimline parts to set up a double booth. I also had a large number of prints, spare mats, frames, glass and framing parts on the trailer, as well as a full framing toolkit. The canvas racks were full, as we didn’t hang any canvas at the show — just the black and white work, and the new color stories. I also had a couple dozen spare framed pieces on the trailer.

We made it through the show okay, but I spent several sleepless nights worrying about whether the trailer would be recovered in time for our load-out on Sunday night. I need not have worried, since we never got a call from the Fort Worth police. On Saturday, I made a call to U-haul, and reserved a trailer just in case. Saturday came and went, with lots of selling, and less wind, much to the relief of the artists. Many of them had heard about the theft, and came by to offer sympathy and assistance. Thanks to all of you who stopped by, and especially to Vince and Julie, who offered to let us park the rental at their house west of the city if necessary. As it turned out, I needed that U-haul. Sunday morning I picked it up, and made a stop at Home Depot to get some plywood to make a ramp, some tie-downs and a replacement dolly.

In the meantime, I made a report to our insurance agent, who is presently working on establishing a value for the trailer and its contents. I still do not know exactly what will be covered, but I do know that this is a significant loss of both time and money for me. I will be rebuilding the storage drawers for the mats, glass and prints, as well as the rack system that carries our panels and the canopy parts. A new trailer will have to be acquired, and it will be several weeks before I can get that ready for shows.

I discovered several things about trailer thefts during this experience. Several states don’t require a title for a trailer to be licensed, and some don’t even require that you have a license. These states include Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky. Here in Michigan, you must transfer title to a new owner and you must register the trailer with the state department of motor vehicles in order to tow it on public roadways. The hotel that we stayed at, the Marriott Towne Place Suites, chose not to install security cameras in the back of the hotel. They did, however, block the entrance by parking a van across it at night, so they were aware that there was a theft problem. Too bad the trailer was stolen during the day! They also posted signs saying that all valuables should be removed from vehicles, and that theft was not their responsibility. This wasn’t just the theft of an iPod, though. It was an ENTIRE TRAILER. But at no time did they ever warn us that it was a high crime area. Brian Tigner, the general manager,  led us to believe that their insurance company would be helping us to cover the loss, but when I spoke with a representative on Wednesday, she informed me that the hotel did not have insurance to cover this type of incident. I tried several times to speak with Mr. Tigner directly on Monday, but he was “not available” or “off the property”. I checked out without ever speaking to him in person. He did not offer any kind of compensation for our loss. I was hoping that he’d at least offer to comp the room, but evidently they don’t really give a damn. I do not recommend that anyone stay at this property. (It is a franchise, not a corporate property.) I didn’t feel safe there after the theft, even though we had to walk to and from the show. I’m glad my truck remained unmolested, though.

There are several things to be thankful for. No one was injured. We were set up for the show, and had our best show ever, sales-wise. I met many, many nice folks, and made some additional sales on Monday, which will help to offset the cost to replace all of the work lost on the trailer. My friends tell me that they are amazed at how well I’m handling this hard road. But to be truthful, I’m angry. At the thieves, at the hotel for not providing better security, and myself, for not protecting my own property better. The police tell me the only way to really protect a trailer that is parked is to use a police boot. Other friends told us of their experiences with trailer theft. One artist had their trailer stolen while it was still hitched to their tow vehicle! Another had a cube truck stolen with all of the equipment and artwork aboard.

After spending a good part of Monday making phone calls, I got on the road again, towing the U-haul back to Michigan. I made it as far as Hope, Arkansas on Monday night. Tuesday morning, I had to detour around a haz-mat spill on I-30. Traffic was backed up on State Highway 67 for 15 miles, and was barely moving. After waiting in line for an hour and a half, I found a back-road, and drove around the delays. Tuesday night, big storms rolled in again, with tornadoes spotted in downtown St. Louis, and up near Springfield, Illinois. I spent some quality time under the 1-64 underpass on I-255 waiting for reported hail-storms and tornadoes to pass through. Luckily, there was just heavy rain. I made it to Springfield, and holed up with friends for the night. Wednesday I finally pulled the trailer into our driveway at about 9:30PM. I’m extremely thankful that after all the hardship that Karyn and I are both healthy and safe. Seeing some of the damage from the tornadoes puts it into perspective for me. For me, it’s only stuff that’s gone. Stuff is replaceable. Lives are not. While I’m still adding up the losses, including the $650 it cost me to rent a trailer to transport my show setup home again, I’m also counting my blessings.

While I still can’t believe that this happened to us, I am using this opportunity to rebuild my body of work and my show setup. It’s unlikely that the property will be recovered. Thanks to all our friends who have offered assistance and sympathy during this difficult time. A large number of my limited edition prints are now floating around in the unknown. What bothers me the most is that some thief may be selling my work at a huge discount in some flea market in Bountiful Butt, Oklahoma. If you do run across my work in such a venue, please let me know, and please do not purchase signed originals from anyone except me. And wish me luck as I travel the hard road of an itinerant artist.

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