Art Festivals: Alternative Exhibition Opportunities for the [Fine Art] Photographer

My spread at Art Under the Umbrellas. La Quinta, California

My spread at Art Under the Umbrellas. La Quinta, California

This article was written for photographers (and other artists) who seek exhibition and sales opportunities beyond the conventional art gallery model. If you are not a photographer/artist; if you would not consider yourself a “people person”; and/or you have no desire to meet, talk with, and sell directly to potential patrons of your work, this article is probably not for you. Some background in sales and customer service would generally be considered helpful in these environments.

This article is not intended as an exhaustive treatise on how to make, curate, print, finish, exhibit, and sell your work (there are links to good resources later in this article), although it does assume that its readers have had some previous experience with all of the above. I cannot recommend that you start applying to Art Festivals without having at least some of this experience – your bank account and pride may be harmed.

This article addresses only juried Art Festivals (or “Fine Art Festivals” or “art shows”); it does not discuss nor offer advice on showing your work in art & craft shows, craft shows, restaurants, coffee shops, or conventional art galleries. With art festivals, your work should be strong and well presented in order to make it past the jury and onto the festival grounds.

Some background….I have been showing my work in a handful of art festivals in southern California for approximately six years. Some artists travel “the circuit” and follow top-selling festivals around the U.S., often exhibiting in upward of 20-30 festivals per year. That’s not a pace or style I can handle, so I choose to exhibit in only a handful of festivals where I think my work fits best (and where I have had previous successes). I generally exhibit at a festival 1-2 times before ruling it out as not-the-best-market-for-my-work (some markets/venues may be a better fit for your work than others). As an example, if it’s a festival on or near the coast, my black and white desert landscape photography is not likely to perform near as well as colorful seascapes. Consider the location and market when choosing festivals and curating your work for them.

I enjoy showing in fine art festivals because hundreds if not thousands of eyes land on my work during 1-3 day shows. The venues are often quite beautiful and the weather is often radiant (show dates are always carefully chosen!). Good live music, beautiful weather, and superb art make sales very possible.

I greatly enjoy meeting and talking with potential patrons about my art. After the show closes, I often deliver directly to patron homes works they have purchased at the festival. My photographs are routinely placed in stunning showcase homes, and they are often hung alongside other beautiful works of non-photographic art or sculptures – seeing this makes this particular photographic artist rather proud.

What is an Art Festival or Fine Art Festival?
Art Festivals take place across the United States and abroad throughout most of the year. These are typically “pop-up” events which take place in parks, sporting venues, city streets, or anywhere that offers good weather and is conducive to hosting thousands of patrons and 100-200+ artists, and their displays, representing various media (oils/acrylics; watercolor; sculpture; photography; textiles; et al). These are festive and jovial events which typically offer many superb artists, live music, food/beverage, and a wonderful atmosphere conducive to studying, talking about, and selling art. While many festivals are free, I prefer to show my work in festivals with entrance fees (entrance fees discourage lookie-loo’s). Art festivals are often attended by patrons as a tradition; many return each year with distinct plans to purchase something to take home with them. If they have seen your work before and like it – and they return each year – you may eventually make a sale to a patron of tradition. Many patrons arrive with measurements and distinct ideas about the kind of color/form they want – they have a specific space to fill and they have come to buy something!

I show my work directly in markets where I think the fit is best – for example, exhibiting desert landscape photography in desert communities. Artists typically pay a low application fee, a moderate booth/space fee, and commissions on sales (all proceeds from some festivals go directly to charities) are sometimes non-existent and/or significantly lower than the traditional gallery model (typically 50% commission). You get to keep much more of your own money than in a traditional 50/50 split, but you also invest a lot more effort to get your work sold (and why wouldn’t you be interested in selling your work?).

Why would I show my work at Art Festivals? What’s wrong with conventional art galleries?
If you’re like many (most?) nature/landscape photographers, your submissions to brick and mortar galleries in recent years have likely resulted only in rejection notices. All of the galleries that once represented my work did not make it through America’s Great Recession. Further, for many artists, having gallery representation is often better for the Curriculum Vitae than it is for actual sales. Many galleries that exist today still struggle with sales and they typically only serve an elite market who potentially have no interest in or connection to nature and landscape photography.

It was once suggested to me that during an ordinary four week gallery exhibition, 80% or better of the total exhibition sales typically occurred during the opening reception (a few hours in one night). If you have recently attended an exhibition opening, you’d likely concur that only 200-300 persons (other artists and photographers?) turned out [for the wine & cheese?]. Have you ever walked into a gallery at 4:30pm on a Wednesday? I’ll bet that no one other than the sales rep or gallery owner was likely present. During any art festival, (permitting for typical ebb and flow in traffic) there is a fairly constant stream of bodies throughout the duration of the festival. Again, this typically amounts to hundreds if not thousands of eyes seeing your work during the entire show – that’s a lot of eyes in a short span of time.

Don’t art festivals require a lot of commitment and cost?
It’s assumed that you’re still reading this because you want to sell your work. Who else is better qualified to talk about and sell it than you? Starting out with art festivals is not unlike starting out with digital photography. You’ll have some large upfront costs (printing; finishing; establishing inventory; buying your booth/panels and all related exhibition materials [truck, cargo trailer; etc.]), a not-so-terrible learning curve, and then lots of refinement once you learn the festival ropes, your tools, and your goals. Once you’ve sunk your upfront costs, you’ll only be paying for festival application fees (a very minor expense), booth/space fees, and costs related to travel to and from the event.

Don’t some artists return home from festivals empty handed?
Not every artist makes a sale at every festival – you roll the dice and take your chances. You can lose hundreds of dollars on one festival and make thousands in profits on the very next – there is often little rhyme or reason. Just remember that you stand NO chance of sales if your work is not being seen. Festivals provide an innumerable number of eyes for your work. How well it actually sells depends upon the content and presentation and how well it is received by that particular festival audience on that day (and upon how engaging your discourse is with patrons!).

What’s wrong with “Craft Shows” or “Art & Craft Shows”?
Potentially nothing. However, most craft shows are not juried; there are typically no entrance fees; and you could find yourself sandwiched between a kettle corn booth, Popsicle stick art, and a crafty doily vendor only to be left wondering why you cannot sell a $50 print. Because I make and sell art, “craft shows” are not an avenue I desire to set my shop upon. You will determine what works best for you and your work.

How do I find Art Festivals?
You can likely already name a few art festivals that take place near you, but I’d recommend an exhaustive study so that you can hone in on the very best (or the very best market for you and your work). Google to find festivals near you or check out www.CraftMasterNews.com, www.ArtFairSourcebook.com, or www.SunshineArtist.com. I recommend that your first check out a show as a patron to get a feel for the venue and crowd. Take the time to talk with a few artists (only when they are not talking with potential buyers!) to see what knowledge they might be willing to offer you regarding the show. There is no right or wrong show; there is only your gut feeling and how that audience will respond to your work once you put it in front of them. You ultimately have to determine which shows are best for you in the context of your own art and abilities.

How much inventory will I need?
Typical booth sizes at most festivals are either 10×10’ or 12×12’. Artists can also buy double or larger booth spreads (which obviously increases your total booth fees). I recommend that you start small (one booth) and grow as needed. Unless you are selling doilies or kettle corn, you’ll probably require much less inventory than you think. I typically hang about 14-16 finished pieces of varying sizes in a 12×12’ booth and do not keep excess inventory on hand. I show a few large pieces and numerous medium-sized pieces – nothing small. You will be able to fit many more pieces into your booth if you choose to show smaller work in a more tightly packed space.

What about booth aesthetics/presentation?
Consider your presentation well and show only your best work and/or work that has previously performed well. I try to create an inviting environment that draws patrons in, attempting to create a gallery-like atmosphere instead of pawn-shop. In other words, a clean and tight presentation with no clutter, good breathing space on the walls, and a well-curated selection of art. Consider showing your work in themes/collections rather than a hodge-podge assortment of your Best Of.

Where do I learn about tents/canopies, walls/panels, and other related exhibition materials?
Most artists use tents/canopies from Flourish (I highly recommend the TrimLine Canopy!), Light-Dome, or some sort of EZ-Up style pop-up tent. If you will be doing shows in inclement weather and/or windy environments, I highly recommend you stick with a heavier-duty tent/canopy. The better your setup, the less catastrophic the outcome when a ravaging windstorm lands unexpectedly on the venue (check out this video!!).

ProPanels is the typical wall of choice. You can also find used tents and walls at often significant discounts on the Pro Panels Trading Post.

What other art festival education resources can you recommend?
Printmaking artist Maria Arango has written a wonderfully helpful guide for exhibiting artists (published 2007) entitled Art Festival Guide – The Artist’s Guide to Selling in Art Festivals. Whatever it is, if I excluded it in this article she likely has it covered in her book. I cannot recommend this book enough!

Bruce Baker offers helpful CD’s: “Your Slides and the Jury”, “Booth Design & Merchandising for Craft and Trade Shows”, and “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. I recommend that you buy the entire three CD set. If you are not a born marketer or salesperson, you will find Baker’s CD’s immensely helpful to selling your work.

The Life As An Itinerant Artist blog by Jim Parker offers helpful ideas from an artist that does a lot of shows.

I have not watched it, but this one hour and 45 minute YouTube video (How To Successfully Sell Pictures at Art Festivals and Fairs) from B&H Photo looks helpful.

The Art Show Photo Facebook page hosted by Larry Berman may be helpful to you.

I hope that this article was helpful! Please let me know if I’ve excluded anything of importance. I wish you the very best with exhibiting your own work in fine art festivals!

I’ll be exhibiting next at the Beverly Hills Art Show on May 16-17, 2015 (#201). Come on out and say hello!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

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The 2015 Moab Photography Symposium

MPSI am thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited to present and teach at the 2015 Moab Photography Symposium! This year’s schedule also includes presentations from Charles CramerGuy TalChuck KimmerleBruce Hucko, and Colleen Miniuk-Sperry (all friends, all wonderful artists). Two-hour breakout sessions and afternoon field workshops are also offered by each presenter.

I attended my first digital printing workshop with Charles Cramer way back in 2002. I would have never believed that thirteen years later I would be presenting and teaching in the same forum as Charlie! I first met and camped with Symposium director Bruce Hucko in October 2014 in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bruce saw a kindred (and perhaps slightly crazy) spirit with my unabashed enthusiasm for tequila and wildlands (not necessarily in that order). As with where all other good things in life happen, around the campfire (not proverbial) I was asked to present. The Symposium will be a thrill for me both as presenter and attendee.

Find inspiration, fresh ideas, and new friends at the 12th annual Moab Photography Symposium this April 30-May 3! This popular event fills fast and sells out quickly. As of this moment, there are only six slots remaining (four on Friday, two on Saturday) for my half-day Field Sessions. I hope you will join us in Moab this spring for an extraordinary event! Learn More Now

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

Introduction to Large Format Photography Workshop: Dec 13-15, 2013 – Death Valley NP

MG_IntroLF_bannerMy next Introduction to Large Format Photography workshop takes place December 13-15, 2013 in the incomparable Death Valley National Park. This workshop is limited to only five photographers – everyone gets plenty of hands-on instruction and attention. NO previous large format experience is required and loaner gear is available for those who do not own. Learn more about this workshop and register here.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. Please visit his official website  for more information.

Announcing Visionary Photography Workshops

Guy Tal and I first met each other about ten years ago shortly after he’d left California for Utah. During the ensuing decade, we shared together many wonderful photography expeditions to extraordinary places and discussed at length our goals, philosophies, and hopes for nature and landscape photography as fine art. Despite our differences, we shared many commonalities and philosophies and began to plan our first workshop. In 2004, we hand-picked a select group of photographers for a free Grand Staircase-Escalante NM (Utah) workshop where we could test and vet our curriculum. It was a wonderful start with a great group of photographers, and we’ve since spent the last eight years teaching, guiding, and inspiring scores of photographers at all levels while continuously refining our philosophies and teaching methods. In 2011 we began hatching a refined Visionary concept, and in February 2012 offered our first (sold out) Visionary Photography Workshop in Death Valley National Park. It was a tremendous success, and it prompted us to consider additional offerings in new locations.
The success (or failure) of a photography workshops hinges on its leadership and planning. After eight years of teaching and guiding, we had heard the horror stories from our participants about bad workshops and bad leadership, and desired to never have our names associated with similar stories. Meticulous planning is part of every Visionary workshop. There is no “figuring it out” as we go along, no details are left uncoordinated, and we don’t use our workshops to build our own portfolios. We take great pride in the Visionary program we’ve put together, and we hope you’ll join us for a Visionary Photography Workshop in 2013.
You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Book Review: Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How

For those who like no-fuss product reviews and a quick cut to the chase: Paul Gill and Colleen Miniuk-Sperry’s Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How is an excellent guide that belongs on your shelf if you plan to chase fickle wildflowers in Arizona.

Although most are climbing and hiking guides, I own quite a few guidebooks. And once one owns and uses enough of them, one comes to a determination about what they most like about them and what they’d do away with. Although I haven’t written any field guides, Gill and Miniuk-Sperry’s highly logical approach to content, layout, and design is the one I would follow. This guide is designed in a fashion that works perfectly for me: Detailed (but not too much; you still need to bring your creativity to the shoots); indexing by location, flower color, AND bloom calendar; a section on AZ’s wildflowers and how to predict them; and filled with inspirational photos and detailed technical info (including 17 different photography tip sections). This guide is a robust 224 pages and features over 280 color photographs and describes 60 locations with detailed maps & driving directions. Further, guidebooks that get handled a lot tend to fall apart quickly. Wild in Arizona has a 6″ x 9″ laminated glossy soft cover that I believe will hold up to a lot of leafing and thumbing.

This book is not just for photographers: Leaf peeping is everyone’s business, and the painter, naturalist, and hiker will find plenty about this book to enjoy. Gill and Miniuk-Sperry have also established a blog to share “eyes-on” reports about what’s currently happening in the [Arizona] field. They’ve been posting fall color reports recently, but come spring they’ll shift back to wildflower reports. What I really like about the book is that alongside the detailed location specifics, they’ve included a legend/key that indicates where you can expect to find specific flowers (right).

An honest review of a product should explain its shortcomings or at least recommend ways to improve it. Quite honestly, I’m at a loss to recommend decisive improvements for this guide. One minor point for me: I’m not a fan of unnatural-looking HDR photography as Gill appears to be (as evidenced by a number of his photographs within), but HDR-style photographs have no bearing on this book’s effectiveness or its quality as a guidebook. The captions are detailed and include HDR notes (and aperture/shutter speed/ISO), should novice photographers with limited technical abilities question why their photographs do not look like Gill’s.

Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How will help you discover new places to experience and enjoy within Arizona while saving you an enormous amount of scouting time. At only $24.95, I’d call it a great value. Order online and you get an autographed copy!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

On Assignment: Technology in Desert Photography

Even though I enjoy and greatly appreciate technology, a number of friends and others over the years have often referred to me as a Luddite. I resisted the change from analog to digital audio (I bought into CD’s years after everyone else and still prefer the warmth and quality of good analog audio); I resisted the change from analog to digital photography (I still prefer film and a view camera); and I resisted iPhones until their 3rd version, when owning one became a very obvious way to increase my productivity on many fronts (Status Updates from the field are not relevant to productivity ;)). The iPhone and other bits of technology became very relevant and important recently when about three weeks ago I went on assignment into the California Desert for The Wilderness Society (TWS).

Unless you live in the western United States, you’re likely unaware that the U.S. Department of Energy has fast-tracked twenty-four solar energy development projects on desert public lands throughout six southwestern states. Here in California, four Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) have been proposed, with the majority of the acreage occupying pristine California desert landscapes. It goes without saying that these are controversial and contentious proposals, and the conservation community has recommended that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) not designate two of the proposed solar zones in California (Pisgah and Iron Mountain) because of conflicts with wildlife habitat and nearby National Parks. Accordingly, TWS hired me to illustrate the diverse and undisturbed plant communities, wildlife habitat, and overall beauty found in these proposed SEZ’s. Because these SEZ’s are only in the proposal stage, no ground has been broken; there are no boundary lines or stakes on the ground; and no fences or other guides to indicate the exact boundaries of these huge proposed SEZ’s (the proposed Pisgah SEZ is 23,950 acres; the proposed Iron Mountain SEZ is 106,522 acres). So how does a photographer determine where to stand and point the camera when working with such a large and remote “job-site”?

I used all of the following technologies to research, scout, and photograph for this assignment: Google Earth (using provided KMZ files to indicate the SEZ’s); Ephemeris (I use an old desktop application; many prefer The Photographer’s Ephemeris); satellite images with SEZ overlays (provided by the U.S. D.O.E.); my iPhone; the iPhone compass app; the SunSeeker iPhone app; a paper San Bernardino County Map (provided by Automobile Club of Southern California; they make the best county maps and show roads that other maps do not); the WWW for various research and imagery while in the field; and finally, good old visual reckoning while in the field (does not break; does not require signal; requires no batteries). There is some overlap in these tools and I could have done away with one or two, but I used what was fastest and most convenient to me.

I had a one-week deadline. I did my research the afternoon and evening I received the assignment, and left the very next morning. In three days in the field, I covered nearly 600 miles of driving, a number of miles of hiking, and netted thirty-nine photographs for The Wilderness Society’s campaign. They’re soon to publish an extensive Solar Energy report which will use my photographs to hopefully to eliminate the Pisgah and Iron Mountain SEZ proposals.

I spent three days wandering alone these vast and primordial Mojave Desert landscapes. I was often overcome with grief and sadness when I could see before me the acreage that DOE proposes for these SEZ’s. These are huge and undisturbed landscapes where even during the most bearable season (Oct-Mar) you are more likely to see coyote, tortoise, or raven than a human.

No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever had encounters with tortoise, bighorn sheep, and coyote like I have. No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever scaled the Mojave Desert’s steep mountains to watch the new sun throw its blaze across these majestic and untarnished landscapes. And No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever had a physical or emotional investment in this desert or in California’s heritage. What right have they to designate these zones as wastelands fit only for thousands of square acres of solar panels?

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Three Inspiring Books for Photographers

Lightroom. Photoshop CS5. Digital Photography. HDR. Tone-mapping. HD-DSLR. Killer Tips and Techniques….You’ve probably noticed that when it comes to instructional photography books, the market is heavily biased towards those that teach techniques and tips for crafting technically excellent images. Terribly under-represented are those books which inspire and inform the “thinking” end of crafting photographs. You might read every available technical book and subsequently be able to create technically exacting photographs, but chances are that if there’s little thought process behind your photographs, they might very well be lacking emotive qualities and meaning. Despite what the photo-book marketplace proffers, flawless execution is not the end-all be-all of photography; it is but one mere component to crafting compelling and engaging images.

I would like to herein bring your attention to three excellent inspirational photography books. While only one is technically “new” to the market, all are timeless resources which should aid in your pursuit of creating thoughtful images; images that inform, enlighten, and create a sense of wonder.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography

The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes.

“It is not what you shoot but how you shoot it. If you rely on direct perception and nonconceptual intelligence, it will be contemplative photography. On the other hand, if you shoot color or texture from a conceptual perspective, it won’t be contemplative photography at all.”

My workshop client, Nikko, is the President of Shambhala Publications, and was kind enough to send me this wonderful book by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. I became familiar with Wood’s work a few yeas back when I stumbled upon the Miksang Institute website. Miksang, or Contemplative Photography, is “concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting.” It’s a fascinating and liberating concept, but one that will be most challenging to execute for those who visualize all or most of their photographs before actually releasing the shutter. Contemplative Photography is based on “Flashes of Perception“. These are defined as visual glimpses of something/anything that can cause an unexpected break in the flow of our thoughts or activities; our perception is immediately and quickly aimed at other than what we were just doing/seeing. The resulting photographs are unfettered by conceptual ideas and often reflect simple and uncontrived views of form, color, space, and energy. The goal of Contemplative Photography is to not interrupt these flashes of perception with our own preconceptions and compositional ideas of what the photograph should look like. This is Zen Photography, if you will – clear seeing in the present. Buy this book and liberate your mind.

Exposures - Guy Tal

Exposures: Views from Both Sides of the Camera – Guy Tal.

“…seeing is about creating meaning from a continuous stream of visual information, where any given instance is meaningless. Conversely, photography is about creating meaning from one fleeting instance, where all events preceding and following it are irrelevant.

I should first state that Guy and I have been good friends for a number of years. We’ve taught together, shot together, and have photo-philosophized
more times than I can recall. Even if we weren’t friends, I’d rank Guy at the top of current inspirational photographer/writers. Guy’s ebooks have sold well and garnered strong reviews, yet I suspect that Exposures has been largely overlooked due to its cover price (an unfortunate and necessary side-effect of Publishing On Demand). This book includes scores of Guy’s inspirational photographs, and fifteen insightful essays on Wilderness; intimate landscape photography; creativity; art; and the stories behind the creation of specific images and the experiences that led up to them. Guy’s writing style excites my imagination and simply makes me want to be out there exploring and shooting. The only other writers who impact me this way do not even write about photography! His words are powerful, precise, and articulate and should motivate anyone to better their art. Is it an inexpensive book? It is, in fact, the most expensive of the three, but how do you dollar-value this kind of inspiration?

Landscape Within - David Ward

Landscape Within: Insight and Inspirations for Photographers – David Ward

This book was first published in 2004. As David Ward is one of those “across the pond” UK landscape photographers, many here in the States are unfamiliar with his work and this book. This book is broken down into six distinct sections and includes what many books in this genre overlook: the history of photography as art, and a look at its pioneers and their practices and achievements. It is difficult to stand on the shoulders of giants if you don’t know who are the giants and are not aware of the paths they’ve paved for us. Like Tal, Ward is a convincing and powerful writer on creativity and philosophy, and similar to Tal’s book, I appreciate the complete absence of mind-numbing technical minutiae. As with Tal’s Exposures, this is a good book to sit down with in a big easy chair and wrap your mind around its words and images.

Bored of your work? Creativity at a standstill? Photographer’s block? Refresh your philosophies and renew your passion with these outstanding publications. Have you already read them? Please feel free to share your comments here.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.