Yes, art fairs take time
When I visited art fairs before I entered the “circuit”, I never considered how much time it takes an artist to set up and tear down for the show. Rather, I saw what was displayed, and understand some displays take longer than others. However, getting ready and packing at home, transportation, set-up (and reverse process) eluded me. It wasn’t until I did it myself that I really understood this time commitment.
At Home – Loading up
Everything I take to a show is stored in my basement – which is kept to a constant 50% humidity level with a commercial grade dehumidifier. (Less expensive “home” dehumidifiers ran far more than desired). With my office and printer, as well my printed inventory all in the basement, maintaining this 50% level is necessary.
From the walkout basement, everything is carted out the door, pushed up the hill, and onto the driveway to the waiting minivan. Ideally, items are brought to the vehicle in the order they are packed. This saves having to handle items more than once. To be honest, this ideal plan doesn’t always work, and I do end up setting things aside until other items are brought up and packed accordingly.
Loading the minivan (which everything must fit in), can take 40-50 minutes. (Winter packing requires additional time). Everything has its place. Packing becomes a neatly configured jigsaw puzzle. If something new is added, or an item is packed in the “wrong” location, nothing then fits.
Transportation times are dependent upon show location. Personally, I try to do shows that are two hours or less from my home. Within this distance, I can come home in the evening (of a two day show) and not incur additional lodging and meal expenses. While that limits some shows, it also helps build a following within this local radius.
With a two hour drive, 4am start times are not uncommon.
On-site Set-up – The Canopy
Set-up time can vary depending upon expected and current weather conditions, ground conditions and distance from parked vehicle to booth location. On a good day, with level ground, a one day show, and relative close proximity to the car (sometimes right behind the booth), I can set up in about 2 hours.
This time is expanded with both the ground and weather conditions. If it is raining, I limit what is exposed to the weather. Only items needed for the task at hand are brought to the booth location.
The Trimline canopy bin (which holds the canopy, awning and walls), the parts bin (small bin I use for all Trimline parts), and the four Trimline pole bags that contain all poles for my tent are the first out the car and last in.
With one day and nice weather, I’ll forego installing the walls though will use the awning. For all two-day shows, and raining one-day shows, the walls are zipped on as soon as the canopy is raised. It takes about 30 minutes or so to put up the canopy, (add 15-25 minutes if it is raining and/or the walls are required). Incidentally, I do all packing, set-up, tear-down, etc., by myself. Thus all times mentioned are for one person.
Next – The Pro Panels
Putting the ProPanels in place can be a breeze on a level (or nearly level) surface. It can be very time-consuming on uneven ground. Leg extensions on the ProPanels will be worth every penny in that situation. Boards just never worked for me.
From a timeline perspective, it can take 15 minutes (on level surface, no wind – such as indoors) to 30-60 minutes (uneven ground, high wind, outside). I use the “U” shape booth configuration, securing the ProPanels with support bars at each corner and across the front.
On two-day shows, and all shows with wind, each leg pairing is secured top and bottom to the Trimline cross members using the Flourish white bungee cords. Extensions are used if needed. On one-day shows without wind, I’ll forego securing all leg pairings and arbitrarily secure a few.
Placing the Dura Plaq Prints
All displayed Dura Plaq prints are just that – display only. Customers will receive a freshly printed and new Dura Plaq print following order rather than my well-traveled display version.
Each Dura Plaq print (including the Triptych) is secured using velco to the ProPanel walls. I allocate 30 minutes for this process, which includes aligning the Dura Plaq prints horizontally.
Matted prints in print bins
This step doesn’t take long and is included in the 30 minute figure above. I use four ProPanel custom depth print bins. Each bin is dedicated to a size and orientation: 16×20 vertical; 16×20 horizontal; 20×24 vertical; 20×24 vertical.
The matted prints sit within the sling, and all prints are even across the top just below the top support bar of the bin. Matted prints do not extend above this bar, and thus do not interfere with the Dura Plaq prints I have on the walls.
The chair and mini-desk
Placing the director’s chair is quick. It is always located in the front right (as you enter).
The ProPanel mini-desk takes a few minutes only if the ground is uneven. Once set, the iPad and stand that is used for newsletter email captures is placed and locked, the PayPal chip reader for credit cards and PayPal iPhone app are synced, and final alignment within the booth is completed. This takes typically only 10 minutes or less.
Total Set-up Time
Setting up outside, although I’ve done it within 2 hours (with perfect conditions), normally I plan 3 hours, and get done in 2 1/2 – 2 3/4 hours. Three hours are definitely required if it is raining, and/or I’m parked a block away.
Inside shows take less time, as they do not require a canopy. In this case, I’m only using the ProPanels, print bins, chair and mini-desk. With level floors, set up could be 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Some shows allow setup the day prior. If that option exists, I’ll always take it. Much more relaxing. Though I never set the prints, I’ll always set up the tent and ProPanels.
Evening of 2 day show – packing prints
Each evening of a 2 or 3 day show, I’ll always take down and pack away the display Dura Plaq prints and matted prints in their respective storage bins. These go back in my car, where they stay until the following morning. This process takes about 30 minutes (slightly more if I’m parked a distance from the booth).
Although doing so prevents theft, another reason I do this is to prevent moisture from damaging the print inventory. It only took one time of leaving them out to learn that lesson. Thirty minute investment to put the prints away safely is cheap insurance.
The morning of 2 day show – placing the prints
Not-with-standing the distance to cart the prints from my car to the booth, it takes again about 30 minutes to place the prints. It’s all part of the insurance of keeping the valuable inventory safe and in great condition.
The Show Itself
Show hours can be long, though also vary by show. Some are 9-5, or 10-5 (or 4), and some much longer. The show itself is only part of the total investment in time.
Tear down after the show
Everything is organized so that if it is raining during teardown, things (hopefully) won’t get wet, other than the walls, canopy and poles. I use plastic bins for all prints and custom made plastic type corrugated box for the larger Dura Plaq prints. Dedicated plastic bins hold the ProPanel and Trimline parts. The ProPanels and print bins are not affected by rain, though I try to keep both dry. It just makes the next day much easier if most things are put away dry.
I tear down in reverse order, with the Dura Plaq and matted prints put away first, followed by the ProPanel walls and print bins. As these are packed up, or taken down, they are carted to the car and put in the vehicle. The tent with its poles, canopy and walls is the last to be taken down and stored in the car.
Assuming my car is within a block or less of the booth, total tear down and packing the minivan will take about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.
Transportation back home
Once again, transportation time is dictated by the shows location. Most of my shows are just over an hour or less, with some almost two hours.
Back Home – putting things away
Back in the driveway, regardless of how late it is, I’m not done. Everything is carted back to its respective location in the basement, which takes about 50-60 minutes.
And if it had rained at the show!
In the event of rain during the show, the canopy, walls, awning, and everything else that is wet will be laid out to dry on the next sunny day, or in the basement (over the ping pong table) if depending upon the forecast.
Take your time
One last thought – I’ve learned that rushing to pack up only leads to problems. Once in a rush during a rain storm I had packed the car absolutely correctly, and proud that very little got wet. Then just as I was about to leave, I noticed I had left the side doors open. Everything that could get wet did (though things inside the plastic bins did not, including the prints). My drying out time was much longer than had been anticipated.
I also learned that rushing can lead to injury. In my haste I kneeled down quickly onto the ground, only to kneel very hard onto the steel poles. I couldn’t walk for a month.
My standard now is – take my time. Wear a rain coat, get wet, but don’t get hurt. Always consider your safety. And if it is nice, I still don’t rush. Just doesn’t pay.
And in the end – it’s worth it
Yes, it is all worth it, and it is all fun. (Always take a raincoat – just in case).