Sunday, February 15, 2009
I remember my first bear show as if it were yesterday. It was 1982, I was 18, living in Phoenix and it was an outdoor show in front of a strip mall. The space was only about 15-20 dollars and you were responsible for bringing your own set up including table and chair. I had never been to any type of arts or craft show before and had absolutely no clue about display.
I showed up with a ratty old green card table, a folding chair and a coffee can to put money in if I earned any. It didn't even occur to me to bring a table cloth. I set the bears in three straight rows as if they were a marching band. I sold out and left with orders for more. I can only attribute that miracle to the naive exuberance of youth and inexperience.
Over the years I have learned a great deal about setting up an eye pleasing display that conforms to the continuity of what I make. I have taught classes several times at shows in the past about teddy bear show survival and touched on how to set up a display that works. People have asked me to critique their displays, and even sometimes their bears. It always makes me slightly uncomfortable to have someone come and ask me to do that because I never want to discourage someone, but I also believe they wouldn't seek the counsel of other artists if they didn't want some real feedback. I have always tried to point out all the things they are doing right and then offer some ways to make it better.
But on the internet there are no table displays and people can't walk up and touch your work. They can't feel how delightfully they are stuffed, or see how good your craftsmanship is. It's very difficult to get the full effect of anything you purchase because all you have to go on is a picture. Some people are amazing photographers and others aren't. Either way it isn't necessarily a true reflection on what you are purchasing.
I am sorry to say I have gotten several things from other artists that had really fabulous photos only to be a little disappointed when the item arrived. Conversely I have gotten a couple things that the photos weren't that great but I was utterly delighted when the item arrived.
You would think my experience with display would carry over into my photography, but I am not finding that to be true. When it came to taking pictures, I was always pretty good with my old 35mm, but for some reason I am not doing as well with digital. With the 35mm I took some really great photos of the bears doing things and captured the spirit of that bear. Maybe it's not so much a difference in cameras, but simply because when I photographed something with the old camera there wasn't as much pressure to convey so much information about each piece and I was allowed the creative expression I needed. I knew I would go to the show and my customers would pick them up and bond and they would go to good homes without a huge amount of effort on my part. They always managed to sell themselves so to speak and I was just the curator in the back ground answering technical questions and explaining my motivation.
In today's art market you have to not only be proficient at your craft, but you also have to be an excellent photographer with the ability to create a mood and yet show the piece to it's full advantage so the customer knows what they are getting. I keep trying, but I am just not that good at it yet. I have several pictures of bears that really don't justify them. I have photographed them several times each with a different set up and simply can't capture their true spirit. There is also a certain type of photography that is popular right now, and I am struggling with that as well. I have a love of symmetry and that isn't the current fad.
Like that teenager from long ago, I have the urge of a beginner to set the bear down and take straight on photos from all sides showing the complete piece without frills. But that isn't going to cut it compared to the next person who does know how to key into that style that makes people want to buy something. I believe that what ever the current fad in photography is at any given time plays into our subliminal psyche that motivates us to want to buy into a feeling as well as the product shown.
One of the current trends I have noticed on Etsy and a few other places is to show things on a plain white background. I know it works for a lot of people, but I don't live in such an austere world and I know the nearly blank canvas look won't work for me. I have also seen people make beautiful collages. I tried that with my Valentine picture two posts back. I like those types of images, but I don't think I captured the essence of that style either to be honest.
I have decided it's time for me to find my own style, hone my photography skills, and try to embrace this new art form that I have to employ to stay in business. I took my first step to do that last night when I created a second blog that will be artistic (hopefully) and filled with images and words that convey feelings that come from deep within that well in my soul. They are in there, I just need to find a way to get used to bringing them out and see what they tell me. There will be photos of things I have made as well as many other things. Some posts might just be words. I don't know what it will evolve into yet, but that's half the fun. It won't receive as many updates as this one, but it won't be filled with the every day workings of my brain or my life either. If you would like to visit it, you can do that here:
Cirque de Lune
Like those people who came and asked me to critique their displays, I invite you to join me on this journey of self discovery and feel free to critique my work. You might see something that I won't because I am too close to it. I won't be offended because I know I have a lot to learn. I don't want to create cookie cutter images in the style of any current fad, site or magazine. So I will be photographing anything and everything that catches my fancy to find out what my style is. Some will be contrived and others will be spur of the moment like those in my first post. I took the dog out this morning to discover an ice covered world and braved frostbite while in my nightie and a sweater to get those pictures.
It won't be picture perfect, but I hope you enjoy it regardless what you take away from it, or whether you choose to share your thoughts with me or not.