A friend who chose to go into teaching art instead of making and selling art confided one day that the reason for his decision was that his parents were in vaudeville and he simply couldn’t see himself living that same kind of life.
He has a point.
First, there’s the hurdle of getting into the shows – and paying the booth fee. (Click here to read about that end of things).
Then there’s the challenge of actually doing the show.
The first thing I do is decide which paintings to bring. Part of this depends on what kind of set-up I have – can I hang paintings on the inside and the outside of my booth? Am I going to set up my exhibition grids so that I can hang work on three walls of the booth, in a U shape – or am I going to be on a corner, open on two sides? If I do that, I might want to set up the exhibition grids in an L shape – which means fewer paintings, but better traffic through the tent.
Some of this is decided by the people putting on the show (in Wickford, R.I., for instance, they don't want you putting art on the outside) - and some of it is decided simply by location. If you're not on a corner, you don't have to worry about configuration.
I like to bring new work to shows, so that means I have to have new work to bring. Running a Patch site and generating new paintings is a stretch for me, but I’ve been able to make it work this summer.
I decide on the paintings and the set-up, and then pack the van. There’s the tent. There are the exhibition panels - 10 of them, 3 feet wide, 4 feet high; they barely fit. There are the concrete blocks you have to bring in case of big wind. There are Velcro strips, plastic ties, fishing line, boxes of hooks, price tags, business cards, sign-up books for emails and for pet portraits, a calculator, a chair, a step ladder, a small cooler of drinks, a gallon of water and a bowl for the dogs who might come along… and there are the paintings.
I’ll load the van Friday night, then drive to Mystic at dawn on Saturday and unload. It takes about two hours to set the whole thing up, to put up the tent, attach the side walls, put up the exhibition grids, tie everything down, hang the art and then make sure it all looks good.
The show opens at 10, and I’ll be ready.
I’ll spend most of the day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. standing, greeting people, introducing myself explaining my painting style (I paint with a palette knife, so I have an easy entrée to conversation), answering questions, telling them the stories behind my paintings – and most of all, listening.
In the end, the show is not about my art, but about your reaction to my art. It doesn’t matter how much I love this painting or that one, how beautiful was the spot where I stood to paint, or how I actually managed to pull it off – what matters is what you think, how the painting makes you feel, how the art moves you.
My paintings are bright. They are optimistic. They are rough. They are not for everyone. But when someone connects with my paintings, they connect deeply.
It is only a hair short of watching a miracle to watch this happen. It is like watching someone fall in love – and for me, it is the finest feeling in the world.
If they buy the piece, that’s great. That’s one of the goals, and it’s a big one. But connecting with another person through a bit of oil and color on canvas, that’s one of the greatest gifts a painter can receive.
So I will stand in the blazing sun, for two solid days, and I will talk, and smile, and chat and listen – and if I am lucky, I will sell art.
If I am luckier, I will hear the refrain of my soul's music, sung in someone else’s voice.
The Mystic Outdoor Art Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, in downtown Mystic. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. I'll be at the corner of Main and Willow, across from the Mystic Post Office.
Look for Patch in the information booth at Bank Square Books, where you can sign up for the online newsletter, and for Patchers out and about in the crowds, handing out bubbles and tattoos.