2011 OCCC review – a learning experience

2011 booth design, where the air goes through it, instead of at it

Most of what I remember from my first experience with this show (in 2009) was how sweltering it was. The huge circus tents retained heat better than a pizza delivery bag in the passenger seat of a 1984 Toyota Tercel in a Walmart parking lot.

This time around, they got new tents. The new ones were not only attached to the ground in a myriad of different ways (to prevent what happened last year), but for some magical reason, they were cooler inside! It was around 98F on Saturday.. The temperature in my booth, out front of the big tents, was the same as nearly everywhere else in the state. But when I walked inside those new tents, the temperature drop was so noticeable that I spent less time looking at artwork and more time looking for where they were hiding the A/C units. Something was drastically different here.


I suspect the tent fabric is using NASA heat shield technology

I’ll definitely be in one of the huge tents next year — the booth fee is $50 cheaper anyway.

Oklahoma Weather Switcheroo

It was 103F on Friday during set-up. 98F on Saturday. But after the cold front came through that night, it was 50F Sunday morning. Sunday and Monday was the best weather we had in three months.

…Welcome to Oklahoma!

Sales?
a fart in a windstorm.

Didn’t even make my booth fee. Sales were down 75% compared to the last two years. Maybe it’s the economy, but then again, one other photographer beat his old sales record for the show (which was greater than my all-time sales record.)

Detail of my new steel frames. People said they liked them, but I still have them all.

Possible causes:

  • Maybe this show simply doesn’t bring in enough customers for all of the 164 artists. It has 20 more artists than the big OKC festival in April. Where the big show goes for six days and brings in 750,000 visitors,  the 3-day OCCC show brings in only 25,000. (according to festivalnet.com)
  • This show had 15 photographers. The big OKC festival had nine this year. One of my best shows was at Stillwater this year: 85 artists, and I was one of only THREE photographers.
  • This show charges $5/day for parking. I’ve noticed a dynamic at most other shows where customers come in and browse on the first day, then come back on the second or third day to make their purchase. I doubt people wanted to pay a total of $10-15 to park.
  • Maybe my new modern steel frames just aren’t that appealing to a conservative Oklahoma crowd.
  • Maybe my work is getting stale. I only add 2-3 new images per year, and I overheard a lot of people who recognized my work from previous shows throughout the year. After seeing me so often, why haven’t they bought anything yet?
  • Maybe my work is too expensive.

As for that last point, unless my prices are absurdly high, the price shouldn’t matter. Yes, my 9×12’s are $50, where other photographers offer theirs at ~$20-40, but my booth is the only place you’ll find my images.

One weird but popular strategy is to try to undercut other photographers in the show. No other artists compete on price, why should photographers do that? I never hear oil painters saying, “Holy crap! That guy over there is selling 24×36″ paintings for $300! Mine are $600! I better have a half-off sale!”

But I tried an experiment during the final few hours of the show — I removed the price signs from the print bins and let people ask me for the price. When I mentioned my usual price of $50 for the 12″ prints and $85 for the 18″ ones, I got a few “I’ll think about it” responses. (I know exactly what that phrase means, because I use it too: “it’s too damn high!“) When I said the 12’s were $30 and the 18’s were $60, I immediately sold two prints.

My experiment doesn’t really prove anything, but it sure looked like this crowd wasn’t willing to part with $50 for a 9×12 print. One guy even talked me down to $50 for a 12×18. Not only was nobody willing to pay $295 for my new steel framed canvas images, they didn’t budge when I temporarily lowered them to $235.

Even though it’s a damned silly thing to do, I think I know why photographers fiddle with their prices. Customers have a preconceived notion of what a certain size photo should cost. They don’t give two shits whether it was printed on 19 mil Moab satin rag paper using ink that will outlive the 30 virgins who gently caressed it into the paper fibers. Nobody really cares whether it was installed with a dry-mount machine or stuck down with a glue stick they last used in grade school. They just want the image on their wall in any way they can get it. (Three people at the show proved that they will go so far as to walk into my booth with a camera and try to get one that way.)

Instead of simply lowering my prices, I’m considering a change in how the prints are put together. I will not sacrifice image quality, so the paper and ink will not change. But an alteration in framing methods will result in a different product, which will justify a price difference:

New images will be installed with ATG tape (or glue stick) instead of getting dry-mounted. They will use regular foamcore instead of an acid-free backing. And they won’t use a front matboard at all. I plan to (finally!) switch to completely-standard frame sizes. The matted prints will have just enough ‘build quality’ to hold a sheet of paper in a bag. There’s no telling what the final selling price will be, but I have about six months before the next show to figure it out.

Kenzie’s World
It’s the little things that make these shows awesome! :)

Every thirty minutes, a volunteer came by the booth to offer water, coffee, and even offer to watch our booth to let us take a break. If you’ve never operated a booth at an art show for 11 hours a day, think of it as having waitstaff, airline stewardesses, or a really good generous set of friends. But overall, having volunteers is a sign of a well-managed show.

I spent part of the evening of the first night trying to assemble my track lighting before the sun went completely down, and a couple girls asked me about my pair of “Ashtub” photos. I went through my routine of how I snuck up on it, took its photo, and ran off, and then followed it up with a curious story: A guy bought both of those bathtub images a couple years ago, and he recently sent me an email.. “The tubs are great, I have them hanging at home on either side of my hallway. But late at night, I can hear them whispering to eachother..” I smiled, they giggled. (Works every time!)

We got into a conversation about all of the various artistic styles at this entire show, and they recommended that I check out some fascinating work by another artist. His booth was inside the large tent in front of me. I was hesitant at first, because I don’t really like to leave my booth unmanned, but it was getting late, the crowd was beginning to thin out, and I had only made a single $50 sale that entire day. What the heck, I let them whisk me away to this other booth, and sure enough, here was John Fesken. Some of his pieces are little animated creations where you would turn a crank at the bottom, look through a little peephole and see a dimly-lit Edward Gorey-like creation moving about inside.

Time almost got away from me, but it eventually dawned on me that my booth was still empty. I congratulated John for his work, thanked the girls for showing me, and hurried back to my booth.

Kenzie, one of the volunteers, was already sitting in my chair, “I saw those girls take you away, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave your booth empty.”

“Thank you! And I’m sorry it took so long to get back. They just wanted to show me another artist’s booth..”

“It’s alright. I know those girls, they’re friends of mine.” (All of the volunteers are students at the university.)

I thanked her for watching my booth because I left some expensive toys tucked away in my podium — my camera, iPad, all my photo gear. And oh yeah, a booth full of artwork. I double-checked that it was all still there.

“So you just drive around and find all of these places?” she me asked about my work.

“Yup. And it’s more than just ‘place’.. Landscapes are kinda like people.” (I went straight into artist mode.) “A difference of light and atmosphere can completely change things, and I try to capture these landscapes when they’re in a good mood.”

She recommended that I find an old crooked house that she knew was somewhere outside Lawton. We tried searching for it with Google Maps on my iPad but came up empty. She promised to email me the location.

The conversation got progressively more playful as the evening went darker. We drifted from talking about photography, to people, and then to pets. Kenzie has eight pet rats! Another volunteer came by, also a good friend of hers, who vouched for her that yes indeed, rats have personalities! They jump and play, and fall out of the hamster wheel, and it’s just as hilarious as you’d imagine!

My track lights remained unassembled behind my booth, and my otherwise dark and empty booth became a stage as an energetic Kenzie used her cheerleading skills to demonstrate the jumping techniques of her pet rats. It was a fantastic performance!

The next morning, I proceeded to unzip the walls of my canopy. I opened the front fabric first so people could see inside as I’m still getting ready. I headed around back to get some things, and as I came back around to the front, Kenzie comes walking out after leaving me a free cup of coffee on my podium! Stealthy!

About a half hour later, I got up from my booth to use the SoundHound app on my phone to identify a song playing on the stage. I couldn’t have been gone for 45 seconds, but when I came back, there was Kenzie sitting in my chair again, “Really, Jason?! ..of all the booths that could possibly be empty right as I’m walking by! HA!”

She smiled, I giggled. (Works every time!)

Quotes From The Show

  • From a small child talking with his mother: “Is this stuff real?” “Is that a volcano?” (while pointing at the Gloss Mountains) “Are volcanoes real?”
  • A couple women took one look at the “Falls Castle” image and repeated the phrase “That’s where she fell down!” no fewer than five times. (I didn’t want to ask…)

In Other News

I sold a print to Batman. Yes, that was his legal last name. And he rides an awesome motorcycle, as you would expect.

This entry was posted in Art Festival Reviews.