Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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First of all, a huge THANK YOU to all of you for the support and just for "listening."
Second of all, I was finally able to spend about 45 minutes in the studio doing some work this morning, but only because I was over there by 6:30 a.m. It's still getting too hot too early to stay out for any significant production.
Third of all . . . . . . .
Yesterday's art group meeting was more disappointing than I had expected, and when I got home, BF was not in a listening mood. He asked how things went and I told him, but he fell back on the same response -- I should start my own group.
He forgets that essentially I started this one.
A small group of neighbors who were artists got the idea in 2007 and recruited a few other people who participated at a large local art show. I was one of the recruits. There were maybe eight of us at the first meeting. By the third or fourth meeting we learned that the annual studio tour was being dropped by its sponsoring organization. (They were not an artists' group but used the event as a fund-raiser for their other activities.) I had so very much wanted to participate in the tour that I was devastated, so I bulldozed the group that was so new it didn't even have a name yet to pick it up. It was a huge project, ultimately run by three of us because no one else wanted to be involved. But without that first 2007 studio tour, we wouldn't have gained any membership nor the $1000 or so seed money that funded the group's beginning.
I ran the first two studio tours. When the person who took it over from me screwed it up royally, I took it back and built it back up. Then it got taken away from me again, and it's struggled ever since.
At yesterday's meeting, the new "Events Chair" announced that there were 77 artists signed up for the fall tour, and they'd be displaying at 23 studios. This is the 12th annual tour, and it hasn't grown. I don't have the paperwork here -- it's out in the studio -- but I'm pretty sure we had 25 studios that first year!
Why more artists than studios? Because the thing now is to have as many "guest" artists at a studio as possible. Each one becomes a mini-show, and some of the studio hosts who have a lot of room on their properties would like to have more and more and more guests. I've argued over the years that it should be fewer guest artists and more emphasis on the host working in their own studio environment. (Isn't that the whole point of a "studio" tour?) Anyone can come to an ordinary art show, where everyone has a 10 x 10 space and sets up all the shit they want to sell. But a studio tour should be . . . . different. . . . . special.
The worst of it was that the Event Chair actually turned down a potential host. When he asked why he wasn't selected as a host, she said, "We already had enough."
In other words, we don't want to grow. Hello?????
She went on to kind of explain that her philosophy is that visitors should be able to visit all the studios in the two days of the event, and if there are too many studios, visitors won't get to them all.
Yet other similar events in other locations have way more studios and sometimes run for two or three or four consecutive weekends!
We have a metropolitan area of several million people. Population increases in the winter as people head south to escape the cold. Our fall tour is always the first week-end in November, as the holiday season is just getting into full swing. There are no other similar studio tours in the area. We have spectacular scenery and some truly great artists.
Why don't they want to grow????
I asked myself that fifty times on the drive home last night, and a thousand more over the course of the evening.
Most of our members -- it's up just over 100 now -- are retired or semi-retired hobbyists. Though some of them make pretty darn good money off their art, they don't do it for a living. Almost all of them have comfortable other incomes. Almost all of them also have spouses or other family members who help out, either financially or whatever. There are only a very few who do this full-time and/or count on the income to pay the bills. I'm one of those.
There's not, therefore, much of a sense of professional community. Each one is on her/his own, and the group is just there to arrange shows . . . and provide some socialization.
I told BF over pizza last night that the whole concept of "professional development" is outside their vision.
Several years ago, when I chaired the studio tour and was considered an unofficial board member, the president wanted a better description for our members than "professional artists." I suggested "working artists" to indicate that we weren't just playing around with stuff but were actually putting in time and effort and so on. She got upset and said no, that was all wrong, because it made it sound like we weren't really creative.
She, of course, was a wealthy retiree who painted because she enjoyed it and didn't need the money.
The meeting was longer yesterday than usual, and I didn't get to make my brief presentation until fifteen minutes before the end. Like a bunch of kindergartners, the 50+ people in the room were already antsy, couldn't stop talking, were getting up and moving about the room.
I began by stating that one of the problems I've seen with advertising the tour is that we have no way to let prospective customers know ahead of time what kind of art each artist does. Our map only allows for a few words to describe the artist's medium -- watercolor, ceramics, woodturning, etc. -- but not anything more. Although in past years a few thumbnail photos have been added, it's kind of unfair that only six or eight artists get promoted out of 70 or more. The one year we had photos from all the participating artists, there was no room to label them, so what good did it do?
The new member who is now designing the map for us -- and he seems to be doing a good job, but more on that in a minute -- has added thumbnail photos for each studio, but only for the host. There's still no visual promo for the guest artists who are roughly 70% of the participation.
I explained that I had found the Whidbey Island Working Artists Tour program and thought it would be a great model for us to follow. Each artist would get the chance to exhibit a few photos, give a brief description of their work and inspiration, or whatever, and the whole thing would be available for free on the group website. I had taken the laptop with me, and I had the Whidbey Island brochure downloaded. As soon as I was done with that brief explanation, I invited anyone who was interested to come over and see what it looked like.
We had over 50 members in attendance yesterday. A grand total of four of them came to see what I had. Those four all agreed that the Whidbey brochure was fantastic, and that even if we couldn't do something like that ahead of the fall tour, which is only seven weeks away, we could surely have it ready for the spring tour.
Those four interested members did NOT include the president, the vice-president who does all the publicity, or the Event Chair.
Around 9:00 last night, I sent an email to the president and VP and thanked them for allowing me to present the idea, but that since only four people showed any interest in it, I'd just shelve it.
The guy doing the map -- I said I'd get back to him. From what I could see of his proofs, the thing looks good. The basic impression is similar to what we've had the past couple of years. He changed the fonts, which I think makes it look less professional, but I didn't say anything. I corrected three quick typos that were on the front page; he said he just copied from last year's, but I know those errors weren't there. He had designed some other promotional paperwork, but I didn't get a chance to look at it. It did look better than what we had in the past.
So there is some indication that maybe the group is willing to get more professional in its presentations.
BUT -- as I said, membership is up over 100 now, but in order to do that, we had to reach out beyond the natural geographic area. We are at the very east edge of the Phoenix metro area; our local population is listed as roughly 40,000, but I don't know if that includes just the actual city of Apache Junction, AZ, or the surrounding unincorporated areas as well. I'm in the latter. At any rate, even out of 40,000 people we couldn't get 100 members. Now we have people from Scottsdale and Mesa joining. The studio tour, however, is limited to a specific area of Apache Junction and neighboring unincorporated Gold Canyon. A few studios are scattered at the northern edge of this area, but most are within two clusters; driving distance is no more than a few miles between any of them.
Whidbey Island has a population of roughly 80,000, and is part of the metro Seattle area. Their summer studio tour had 51 studios. The northernmost was on the southern edge of the city of Oak Harbor; the southernmost was at the far tip of the island approximately 50 driving miles away.
For our tour, the visitor has to visit each studio to "see" what kind of art is displayed; for the Whidbey tour, the visitor can make an informed decision as to what studios to stop at.
For our tour, the artist has to trust to luck to get any individual promotion; for the Whidbey tour, every artist gets individual promotion.
Our VP in charge of publicity announced at yesterday's meeting that she sends out promo material to a variety of different publications. Some are weekly, some are monthly, and all have different requirements and lead times. She sends as many photos as she thinks they want, but she has no control over which, if any, photos are chosen. We don't know if she always sends one of her own, thus improving her chances, or plays favorites with the other members. Maybe not. We don't know where she sends stuff.
She also said that she doesn't vary the text of her material, other than changing dates. So no matter where she sends a Call to Artists, the narrative is the same. No matter where she sends information about an upcoming event, the narrative is the same. Over and over and over, year after year.
I have offered to write these and change them up a bit so they aren't the same dry nonsense over and over but no one ever takes me up on the offer.
The week before each of our events, I send out an email invitation to people who have signed up for notifications. The email list is now about 500 names, and I have to be careful how many I send at a time or Yahoo shuts me down for spamming. Each event gets its own invitation, punched up so it's not the same script over and over. Maybe no one else thinks that's important, but I do.
Professionalism in promotion is one thing. Professionalism in behavior is another. And that came up at yesterday's meeting, too.
We do two shows a year at a local restaurant, the Olive Mill in Queen Creek. It's a horrible place to set up, but sales are usually pretty good, so I keep going.
It's horrible to set up because the venue is a picnic area with a single-lane looping driveway. You have to drive in at one end, get to your spot and unload everything, then park a quarter mile away and walk back. There's very little room to pull off the driveway, so the rule is unload as fast as you can and get out of the way of the people behind you so they can get in. At some points it's possible to pass a parked vehicle, but it's not easy.
Set-up is from 7:00 a.m., with the show officially starting at 9:00. With a helper, it's not difficult to do. For a person working alone, it's kinda tough but doable. What makes it worse is people who block the driveway so you can't even get past them to your space to unload. That is a common -- and very rude -- occurrence.
An announcement was made at the meeting yesterday that the owners of the Olive Mill were furious with our group after last spring's show there because some of our members were rude enough to show up at 6:00 a.m. and got onto the property early. They had to open a barrier to do so, which amounted to trespassing.
We were warned not to do it again.
Hello? These are adults and they have to be reminded to follow directions?
But this is the group I belong to and it's the only game in town.
There are other events in the area, just not other groups.
There is a big art show in January, and in fact that is the show at which I was recruited to join our group. This show is well established and usually draws a very big crowd. I've done it maybe half a dozen times, with varying success. A couple of years I did very, very well. A couple of years not so well. And that's normal. But the fee for the show has gone from $40 to over $100 in the past six years, with now a $25 non-refundable fee just to apply! The set-up arrangements are even worse than at the Olive Mill, especially for someone working without a helper. And success, from my experience, depends very much on where one's booth is placed, due to several factors. I decided not to even apply last year, and I probably won't this year.
The local Superstition Mountain Museum and Historical Society also sponsors several events, but I've had mixed results there. The art shows are combined with a lot of entertainment, and people tend to come for the entertainment, not to shop. This year, they are going to a slightly different format in which a single artist will be featured and promoted. I secured one of those spots in early February. I just need to get some photos sent over so they can do the publicity.
The bottom line on the various shows is that there are sufficient outlets, if one can get accepted into them. There are other, smaller events, and a person who was really dedicated could attend those as well, again depending on acceptance. I've been fortunate enough to get accepted into most shows I've applied to, but I've had a few rejections, too. Nothing is guaranteed.
Nothing would be guaranteed if I moved either.
Okay, moving right along.
Fourth of all, shows alone don't give me sufficient marketing space. Using a 10 x 10 space or tent, I can set up four tables. My jewelry alone takes up at least three, and I can easily fill all four. That leaves little room for any of the rest of the stuff. This is just one reason why I love the studio tours so much -- I have all the room I need, even if I don't get to promote it!
I only started playing with the wood in about 2003, when I wanted my husband to make more small items and he wanted to work on larger ones. So he taught me how to use the lathe and I could make whatever I wanted. Unfortunately, since his death I haven't had much time -- or space -- to do very much more of it. As I wrote in a comment on one of my other whiny posts, it would be nice if I could cut all the rough wood on the band saw this winter and not have to transport the equipment. The problem is that even the workshop isn't set up for it. Could I make it work? Yeah, with some help.
The rocks are one thing. The wood is another. Then there's the fabric.
When we moved here in 2006, I had three big storage tubs full of fabric. I now have 13 big storage tubs full of fabric, and most of it has been given to me. Best of all, most of it has been used to produce income. Unfortunately, it's not cost effective to do any sewing in the studio in the summer.
When I went over there at 6:30 this morning, it was still over 80 degrees inside. By the time I left at 7:20, the temperature was already 90.
I could rearrange some things in the house to make room for the sewing machine, thus enabling me to do some work without turning on the a/c in the studio. It's a far from ideal situation, though I've done it on a temporary basis when BF has been gone for an extended time, either visiting distant family or long week-end out-of-town softball tournaments.
Normally, I use the cooler weather from October to May building up inventory and taking care of "projects" in general, as well as doing my shows. Last year (2017-18 season) was unusual because I had so many problems with my back. And those problems arose because the shows themselves require more physical labor than I can comfortably handle. Even spreading out the loading of the car over several days before a show doesn't help when everything has to be unloaded, set up, torn down, and reloaded all within the space of seven or eight hours. I'm too short, and the reaching into the vehicle is too much of a stretch.
And I have no help. BF's umpiring is almost always on the week-ends, same as my shows. He does help me load things up beforehand and sometimes helps unload after a show, but it's the massive amount of physical labor in that short time frame that does me in.
Ultimately, if I were to move, the least of my worries is packing the inventory. The cost
of packing and moving is one thing, but that's more impacted by the furniture than anything. With a few exceptions, I'm not attached to much of furniture; it can be replaced. I'm more concerned right now with using that inventory to generate income this season. In turn, that's why the whole attitude of the artists' group was so discouraging to me last night.
I have the means to generate inventory; I need the means to generate sales. Does that make sense?
Fifth of all -- moving to Whidbey Island.
There is no guarantee the inventory I produce would sell on Whidbey Island. It's possible that none of my stuff is good enough. Maybe people would think my handmade origami boxes are tacky and cheap, even though I think the mass-produced boxes from China are crap. I suck when it comes to display design, and I'm always too poor to be able to buy the nifty display items.
That being said, however, if I'm going to move, it's going to be to Whidbey Island. I have at least some familiarity with the location, for one thing; and for another, that's where my son and daughter in law and grandson live. That might mean a little more help for setting up at shows. Maybe. Maybe. No guarantee.
Whidbey is a week-end destination for Seattle-ites.
There is a thriving arts community -- as I've said before -- and there is a more of a double-season there than here. While we have our cool-weather season October through March and into April, Whidbey has a summer season plus a holiday season for arts and crafts.
The weather is an issue, and I won't deny that. It's not as bad as Chicago or Minnesota, but it does get cold in the winter and it rains a lot.
I love my Arizona sunshine. I love being in the shadow of Superstition Mountain.
I love my ironwood tree.
I love being able to drive out into the desert and collect really neat rocks and then turn them into jewelry.
Okay, let's see how that really works.
I do love the Arizona winter weather, and I love the sunshine. But it also keeps me from being productive in the summer. I do not go out for any extended period when it's 110 outside, and that's pretty much most of the daylight hours from mid-May to mid-September. Right now, at 9:00 a.m., it's 90 degrees outside, with a predicted high of 103. It's the middle of September. The weather on Whidbey Island isn't the frozen north. No sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end. No great drifts of snow.
I love my mountain. I can't replace that. I've seen the scenery on Whidbey Island; it doesn't compare.
I love my ironwood tree. I can't replace that, either. Would it be possible to grow one on Whidbey Island? I don't know. I'm already committed to taking some cactus cuttings, so maybe some ironwood seeds, too?
I love my rocks, and I have a lot of them already. Truth is, I had already planned that if I did move, I would make at least one more trip out to my favorite rock hunting spot and collect as much as I can before moving. And there are neat rocks in Washington, too.
I am more a mountain and desert person than a beach person, so the kind of murky waters of Puget Sound don't offer much compensation. I do like trees, however, and I've noticed that when perusing real estate listings, I'm less inclined to look at properties that don't have significant trees. Some quick research suggests the Pacific madrone may be a landscaping equivalent to my ironwood. We'll see.
There are currently several properties listed for sale that would meet my current requirements. Whether they are within my budget depends on how much I can get out of what I own here.
Sixth of all, selling this place will probably be the most difficult part of the whole operation.
The main house (1987 manufactured home) needs some exterior repairs due to ordinary weathering damage after 30 years in the sun and some previously untended roof issues. I replaced the roof four or five years ago and fixed those problems, but not the other damage. The roof repair at least halted further damage. Interior is okay except for the carpet. My choice would be to rip it all out and put down laminate, but that would have to be done after all the furniture -- especially all these freakin' bookcases! -- has been removed. The rest of the interior is minor touch-up things, almost all of which were left here by the previous owner and I've just never had the motivation to finish them.
The little house/studio (1987 14 x 50 mobile home) has similar exterior issues due to weather exposure. Roof is new last year. I pulled out all the old carpet in 2007 and put down laminate, but the vinyl in the kitchen could use replacement. If I were going to do it, I'd put down more laminate. It's incredibly easy to do. The back door shows signs of dry rot and would probably be a candidate for replacement, but that's not essential. Some of the paneling in the living room should be replaced due to water stains from when the roof leaked.
Workshop is fine as is, except that one or maybe two of the fluorescent light fixtures might need to be replaced, or maybe just the bulbs. Other than that, the shop is fine.
But I have no idea what the selling price would be, or how easy it would be sell, or what the advantages are between as-is or make the repairs first.
Sixth of all -- actual moving.
I own a small enclosed utility trailer, I think it's 6 x 8 or maybe a little bigger. It's not nearly big enough. Not even close.
If I were to be planning right now, I'd expect to need at least two of the largest U-Haul trucks, with one also towing a vehicle and the other towing the utility trailer. I' pretty sure that would give enough space for the household goods and arts/crafts inventory and equipment.
I could be wrong.
That would require two drivers.
Which brings up the question you've probably been asking since this whole thing began. What role is the ol' BF playing in this?
And I have no answer.
I have said nothing at all to him about this. Whether he has guessed anything, I have no idea.
He makes a fair amount of income from his umpiring, most of which is girls' softball. Could he do the same thing in the Seattle area? I don't know. I did tell him about the horrible umpiring I saw at my grandson's baseball games. BF could make a small fortune just training other umpires!
Whether he would want to or not is the question.
He has family and friends in the San Francisco area, and it's about 200 miles further from Seattle than it is from here. Whether that would be a factor I don't know.
He has been complaining about the heat far more this summer than in the past, but he also complains about the cold. (He is turning into my mother!)
He has some friends here, but not close ones like he's had in the past. He makes new friends very easily.
If he were to decide to come with me, he would no doubt help with the packing and so on, and probably drive one truck. He currently has three cars of his own, so I'm not sure exactly how that would work out, but that's a relatively minor detail. He has talked about selling one or more of them anyway. (You don't want to know about him and his cars.)
And if he doesn't want to come, well, that's his choice.
Seventh of all --
I'm already committed to shows for this season and I'm not in any position to move now anyway, so nothing much would happen until spring. I've already started some of the decluttering and pitching and consolidating that would be necessary if I end up moving, and I will continue to do that regardless.
The first show of the season, at the Olive Mill, is three weeks from Sunday. Obviously I hope to sell enough to decrease inventory and increase back account, but I'm also mentally setting aside some of the (I hope!) profits to put toward decluttering and moving expenses.
Eighth of all --
It still might not happen.
I hadn't realized how much I wanted to move until it seemed like it wasn't going to happen, wasn't able to happen at all. I'm still going to be thinking about it and having second and third and fourth thoughts, but yesterday's meeting really brought home (pun intended) how frustrated I've been with the group.
And even as I wrote that, I just got an email from the VP who does all the publicity, urging me to continue to promote the expanded brochure idea.
Personally, I think this is a great idea, I just don't have the time to devote to it. If we could design a way to streamline the process to become manageable it would help. Please continue to promote it & think about how the process would/could work.
Is it enough? I don't think so. Too little, too late.
I need to jump in the shower. I need to order more meds for the dog. I need to plan something for supper. I need to do too damn many things.
Again, for those of you who have waded through all this muck with me, thank you a thousand times over.