Friday, August 30, 2013

Designing A New Booth Setup

I think I may have finally cracked the nut of getting into high end craft shows. I just did my second "best of the best" show. Art in the High Desert ranks among the top 25 outdoor craft shows in the country.

Unlike Bellevue last year, though, I was not so completely overwhelmed that I couldn't take in much new information. And here's what I noticed: at this level of shows there are only three kinds of booths that people use. Two of them are durable, beautiful, and expensive. The third kind is what I have - a white pyramid-topped popup. The expensive ones don't have all of the clunky interior supports to help it fold up instantly. Instead, they have bright, airy headroom and an extremely durable structure.

Well, once I noticed this, I started talking to other vendors about their booths. And guess what? Most of the people who use a popup like mine are new to the craft world. It was one of their first high-end shows and they don't do many shows each year. A-ha! I think I see why the shows ask for an image of the booth. They can tell whether you're serious because serious folks will have invested in a higher quality booth.

So then I started talking to owners of the other two booth types: Light Dome and Trimline. And the answers I got were very enlightening. Light Dome owners were frustrated at the lack of after-sales support and available upgrades. If you might eventually want taller walls or an awning it seems that you need to buy that configuration up front. Trimline owners told me over and over again how well everything had been thought out and went on to tell me how great they were treated by the company when they had to deal with them. Many of the Trimline booths that I saw have been modified to add extra features after using the base model for a while. It was clear that I would have way more flexibility if I bought a Trimline.

I need to shoot next year's jury photos in September so there's really no time to lose. I ordered one as soon as I got home.

I've decided that, as long as I'm upgrading the booth, I might as well give some thought to my other pet peeves with the current setup. My racks look like they came from a thrift store (because they did) and they clutter up the doorway. Also, the podium that I use is a heavy, uncollapsing affair that I made myself from 3/4" plywood. It's difficult to pack in the van and carry to my booth space at shows.

Oh, yeah, and established artists have large photos of their work in their booths. These would take the place of the floorspace-consuming dress form that I currently use to convey the styling of the garment.

I spent the day today designing my new booth setup so I can buy the parts that I need to make it happen. Here's the result:

The banner has moved to the back wall so that it draws people into the space instead of telling them the story from the aisle. (This can change with the addition of a banner frame to the front of the booth.) You can't really see them, but there are four waterfall arms on the back wall, giving me exactly as much display space as my current racks but with TONS more floor space. Customers can crowd around the mirror while I convince more customers to try on garments behind them.

The parts list isn't really all that bad. I need to buy the lightweight, collapsing trade-show podium, two new rack arms for the white grid wall that's hidden behind the drapes, new opaque drapes to hide the grid wall, and four waterproof pictures of my work, probably mounted on foam core so that they behave in the wind.

Yes, it's another couple thousand dollars of investment in the business, but if this setup gets me into one high-end show next year, it will completely pay for itself and then some.

I don't need it immediately, but before next year I'll have to figure out a better lighting system. I've been using cheap clip lights and attaching them to the interior roof struts on the popup. It's so cluttered up there that nobody can really notice the fixtures. This booth has no interior framework to attach lights. Since they'll be so exposed, I think that clip lights might look especially cheap in the new booth. So between now and Spring I'll be on the lookout for an affordable, flexible, and attractive booth lighting solution... It never ends, does it?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Month In Review

This month has been a whirlwind. Yes, our town almost burned down. The smoke was intense so most of us spent a few weeks evacuated to someplace less smoky. Oh, yeah, the national guard troops barring us from going home helped make the decision easier.

Every few days a few of us would drive back for a town meeting to find out what was happening. In the end, one barn was lost, but no homes. The fire crews were numerous (over 3,000 at one point) and incredibly skilled.

In the midst of the evacuation I went into the moist mountains and vended at a music festival called Beloved. It was sweet and beautiful and, perhaps best of all for me, gave my lungs a break from the smoke.

When I came home we had a few days in a row with little smoke in the air so I set up the yurt again and enjoyed the beauty of the forest more than ever.

One fantastic feature of my garden right now is a giant moonflower. The plant is over 6 feet wide and puts out about 5 flowers each night. When the air is still, the beautiful fragrance wafts onto the deck and into my yurt.

Even in the midst of evacuation and shows, I've been making progress on the next batch of cloth, called Wildfire.

This past weekend I sold at Art in the High Desert up in Bend. It was a great show with jaw-dropping quality. I'm incredibly honored to have been chosen to show among these talented artists.

The show ended a couple of hours early when we were hit with driving rain. In a few minutes everything was drenched and every customer had gone running. It was kind of perfect, really. That same rain on Saturday or even a few hours earlier on Sunday would have really decreased our sales, but the skies took pity on us and waited until the show was about ready to wrap up anyhow.

After we finished packing I ran home to get all of the garments and booth parts spread out in the studio to dry.

There wasn't one inch to move in the studio yesterday so I went and got an eye exam for my first pair of bifocals. My eyes were so dilated that I couldn't even see my reflection in the mirror so I snapped a photo to look at later. Wow!

In the second picture I have temporary shades on over sunglasses and still had to spend a few hours in a coffee shop before I could drive home.

But now I'm back with no shows for a month. I'm really ready to get the Wildfire cloth designed and a few pieces woven before my next show in Arcata.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Last week we had a freak lightning storm at 3:00 AM. I started packing at 3:30 because I knew what was next. You see, I live in Southern Oregon where we have extreme fire danger starting this time of year. All around me in every direction is miles of forest. (Well, was...)

I had my personal belongings packed into my studio by noon, and went to help friends pack until dinner time. Then, three of us dropped my yurt and packed it in my van in 38 minutes.

Since then, I've been with the residents of the Sanctuary, living in a makeshift refugee camp on a friend's farm 30 miles away. Even here, the air is so thick with smoke that we can't really go outside. Last I heard, over 25,000 acres had burned.

Everyone is safe. There are thousands of firefighters, many of them "hotshots" who specialize in this kind of situation. They've got the best training and the best equipment behind them.

I'll know more after the town meeting tonight.

Here are some pics from this last week...

First hint of fire, about a mile from Cloud Nine, my place in the woods.

Later that day, from the Sanctuary. See the notch in the ridge to the right? That's from the Sugarloaf Ridge fire of 2001.

Yurt, before and after packing.

The animals are freaked out and will not be disturbed from eating, even by a human with a camera. I think they know that they'll need to run.

For the next few days we watched the fires advance toward our homes.

The fire behind Cloud Nine came within a quarter mile, but they caught it at the ridge. This photo was shot from the steps to my platform.

We went back a few times to retrieve more items of historical importance for the Sanctuary. On the last trip, the fires were burning on the ridge, but we couldn't see them because of the smoke. The National Guard soon closed the road to let the fire crews have it and to prevent looting.

Here's an ironic photo from Grants Pass, the town where we're taking refuge. It is not altered. The whole town looks sepia-toned right now.

And what about my business? Well,
I've been working extra hard to build up inventory for my next shows. I've got enough for the next two, but need to make some decisions pretty quickly here about what's next. I'll know more after the town meeting tonight. Here are some options that I have...

1. Go to Portland and weave on a friend's loom for a few weeks.
2. Rent a studio in an upwind town for a few months and just bring a batch of weaving or two.
3. Move my whole studio somewhere else for a while longer.

I'll let y'all know what I'm doing as soon as I do.