Loading up the Van
Throw about a ton of art, a tent and some displays in the back of a pickup truck and drive somewhere to sell it for a few days: This was my business plan at 21.
Art shows were the only direction I could see. It was hard. There was never enough room to bring what I wanted. Hotels were expensive. Food was expensive. I needed to get smart.
I bought a box truck. Signed up for even more shows. Bought a nice sleeping bag and learned that you could buy a loaf of bread and pre mixed peanut butter and jelly. I could live out of my van for days for about $5 plus gas to move it occasionally.
I'll never forget the first time I slept in the van and it was 25 degrees outside. I thought I was tough. I was probably 23, and had just learned what cold really felt like.
I spent my summers making art 4 days a week and driving to shows on the weekends. It was adventure. Sometimes I came home victorious, selling all my work and splurging in fast food meals. Other times, I lost big, and scraped the bottom of the peanut butter/jelly jar on the way home.
Shows can break your spirit in an instant. At one show I had a woman stare me in the eyes and simply say, “This is the worst metal work I have ever seen”. But, what always stings the most is loading all your work, driving hundreds of miles, spending hours setting up and then having no one pay attention to your work at all.
One of my favorite show experiences was a 3 day one in Tyler State Park in PA. It rained the setup day and first two days of the show. I don't mean drizzle, I mean rain. The kind where it falls faster than the ground can take it. We were all soaked. Covered in mud. Everything was covered in mud. I was camping in the van and had pretty much been cold and wet for three days straight. On that Sunday morning, early, like at 6am, me and another artist were spreading straw to help with the mud. The clouds parted, and then both him and I had our jaws drop: there was a stack of 6 rainbows.
In my early twenties I relied on shows for my income. In my mid thirties, I do not. I decommissioned the box van during the gas hike in the great recession. The recession also gutted shows as well.
The price of everything went up, which means shows raised booth fees. It was more expensive to go drive to the show. Less people came. An entire generation was underemployed and rather than buying art, they simply wanted to pay their rent and student loans with their two jobs. Another generation who previously did collect art was forced into early retirement. This is my observation at least.
As an artist, I was forced to figure out how to navigate a market that really was undergoing a dramatic shift in how the work was sold. Like many other artists these days, I settled on a combination of web sales, galleries and a few select art shows: the key was low overhead.
I bought a minivan. It hauls the dogs. The machines. The firewood. And, it can haul enough for an art show.
I started scheduling shows in places that I wanted to go: the shows were vacations and family visits as well as a revenue source. I shifted from bringing tons of wrought iron sculptures to bringing fine art jewelry.
This weekend my girlfriend and I did the Bethany Beach Art show in Delaware, which is the inspiration behind this blog post. We ate great food, played on the beach, and somehow she won our yearly skee-ball contest (I will live in shame for the entire year).
Shows have evolved, for me, from a source of tedious work back to a place of pleasure. I hope you enjoyed this weeks post. Thanks for reading!