Inside the booths: Following a dream in the art show world | SteamboatToday.com

Inside the booths: Following a dream in the art show world

This year’s Art in the Park was held July 11 and 12 at West Lincoln Park.





This year's Art in the Park was held July 11 and 12 at West Lincoln Park.
Matt Stensland

For Geri Bruggink, one of the best moments of the Art in the Park art show in Steamboat Springs didn’t come during the actual Art in the Park art show. One great moment did, however.

The two-day show in July marked Bruggink's second step into the world of art shows, and after the hectic days leading up to the event and the grinding process of setting up her booth, the great thing happened.

Photography — the sell-it kind, anyway — has been a bit of a leap of faith for Bruggink, who works as a utility locator based in South Routt County. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she jumped into selling high-end photography art with both feet, setting up her first booth earlier this month at the Art on the Mountain show at the base of the gondola at Steamboat Ski Area.

That went OK, she said, but not as well as the first day at Art in the Park.

That day, a woman walked in and was smitten, drawn by the piece Bruggink calls "the show-stopper," a massive, 60-inch-by-40-inch photograph of aspen trees spread across a gully, their shadows cutting

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across the snow, all on canvas.

Bruggink named it "Infinity," and she sold it midway through the first day of Art in the Park.

That was a great moment. But it may not have been the best moment.

Getting into the game

For established artists, a show like Art in the Park is — gulp — a walk in the park.

They come with trucks and trailers, loaded and organized. Packing in and packing out, be it in Steamboat Springs, Pueblo or Phoenix, is a way of life during the summers — another weekend, another show.

For newcomers, however, it's somewhat of a different world.

Chris Voeller is an independent Front Range graphic designer, an entrepreneur even before he felt the need to start painting.

He did get that itch, however, and began a process familiar to many in the art show world.

"After awhile, you get tired of doing the day job, the corporate thing, and I started painting again to get a break, to get away from doing the computer stuff," he said, chatting through a lull on a slow Sunday at Art in the Park.

"I started painting for fun and people kept asking, 'Do you do art shows?' 'Well, no, but I'll think about it,'" Voeller said. "Then, on a whim, I did a show, and it went from there."

He builds his pictures in layers. He constructs the wood panels he paints on, sanding them down before layering them with primer. Then he paints one layer at a time, masking it out to allow for one color per layer.

Voeller started by painting just what he likes: pop art takes on bikes because he's a cyclist, and typography thanks to his career in graphic design. He also dove into interpretations of classic celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean based on old photographs.

"You never know because people are always saying, 'Oh, your stuff is good!'" he said. "It's always friends and family that tell you that,

Top 10 craft segments by sales

1. Woodworking/wood crafts: $3.322 billion

2. Drawing: $2.078 billion

3. Food crafting: $2.001 billion

4. Jewelry making: $1.446 billion

5. Scrapbooking and memory crafts: $1.440 billion

6. Floral decorating: $1.303 billion

7. Crocheting: $1.062 billion

8. Card making: $1.040 billion

9. Home décor crafts (non-sewing): $948 million

10. Wedding crafts: $803 million

Source: 2010 Craft & Hobby Association U.S. Attitude & Usage Study

though."

He also created a modern take on an aspen grove — straight white trunks with a smattering of perfectly round leaves all popping off brilliantly colored backgrounds. That proved an immediate hit, selling at his first show.

That, too, seems characteristic of those testing out the art show waters: a big early sale to fuel the fires.

"They wanted me to hold it until the end of the show," Voeller said. "I had so many people come up and say to me, 'Ah, I wish you had another one. I would have bought it.'"

Voeller was inspired enough by his first show that he decided to go all in — or almost all in. He didn't quit his job, but he did invest. He spent nearly $3,000 on a high-quality tent and the paneling to hang his art to create a professional setup. He also focused on producing more paintings.

He sought out shows with openings last year, then signed up for five this summer.

By the time he unpacked in Steamboat Springs, he'd learned from his first shows. He had a wall full of large aspen pictures, each a little different than the next.

But he's still learning. He had another wall of the portraits, which were wonderful at drawing customers in. But, they haven't generated sales.

"It's hard because, I really love the Marilyn," he said about the Marilyn Monroe picture. "That was one of the first ones I did. People like it, but I still have it. I shlep it around from show to show. When do you go, all right, maybe I should just cut the price or ditch it?"

Betting big

Bruggink long has had a camera at her side, photographing wrestling matches and, more recently, senior portraits and school events. The step into the world of landscape photography is new.

She said it was a Facebook group that spurred her to take the next step — a photography group that encouraged members to take photos for themed contests.

"I just decided from the comments I was getting that people were interested in buying them," she said.

So, like Voeller, she decided to commit.

She said it's her eye for the subject matter that helps set her photography apart, and she strives to add a "painterly feel" to her photos in post-processing. There's an antiqueness to the giant picture of the aspens she sold on Saturday at Art in the Park, and she displayed another photo of a barn in snow that seems to rest right between photograph and painting.

Bruggink decided to focus on the world most immediately around her and has a shot of Fish Creek Falls on a brilliantly sunny day, a picture of Sleeping Giant with some of a winter's first snowfall and images of Sand Wash Basin's wild horses.

She sank money into her stock, ordering canvases of all of her favorites, some small, and some, like the aspens, giant.

"Mine are priced at the high end of the market, to homeowners in the high-end homes and townhomes," she said. "I want to bring local art to them, your iconic stuff."

She scoured the Internet looking for advice on selling at art shows then made a point of looking at what other sellers were doing with their booths when she was a customer at a show.

She believed she'd be successful, and as her first show approached, she hoped she'd be right.

Getting hooked

Making that first sale can be a powerful drug, and Cody Kuehl is well aware of that pull.

He's been drawing his whole life but first exhibited his work — pop-surrealism, as he explained it — six years ago in a Fort Collins gallery. Sure enough, he sold an expensive painting right off the bat. He called it "Longing," and it features a man in a jar, looking out eager to move on to a slightly larger jar. He sold it to an enamored couple who agreed to make payments over five months.

"I thought art was going to be easy," he said.

He quit his job to pursue his passion, exhibiting his work in the gallery. The sales didn't come the way he'd expected, however, and he and his girlfriend eventually moved to Denver.

"I showed there about three years," he said. "I really enjoyed the community and just had mixed results with sales in Fort Collins. They're very excited about how much they supported the arts, but after we moved to Denver, we realized it was more about supporting the beer drinking and social networking at the gallery than it was supporting the arts."

Kuehl's work is decidedly unique, some of his first projects surreal and meaningful drawings of demons, people or symbols. More recent works are of Wild West gunfighters drawn in an almost comic-book style.

He now shows at two Denver galleries and does plenty of commission work to keep himself busy. He's displayed at Denver Comic Con for the past three years, and this summer, he decided to hit the art show/festival circuit for the first time.

Kuehl's booth at Art in the Park displayed some of his originals — high-priced items — around the outside, and he had many cheaper options, including T-shirts and prints that sold for $20 or less.

His trip to Steamboat was expensive: the booth fee was $300, there's food for two days and a hotel room. But it was worth it. He sold an original, a work of art he'd been hauling to shows for years.

There's no better moment.

"You get nervous when you're talking to a customer like that," he said. "You're nervous while you're engaging and while they're discussing if they want the painting. Then afterwards, it's a huge relief. I'm just ecstatic."

Hanging tough

There's a theory for everything floating around among the vendors at a show like Art in the Park.

Some blamed poor sales last summer on a thunderstorm that rolled through Saturday. The pros zipped up their tents in seconds, hunkered down and waited for the rain, wind and thunder to pass. Others, meanwhile, wrestled with their tents to keep them from blowing away, and one jewelry stand ended up in a puddle.

This year's show saw only a pair of brief Saturday showers, and those were deemed a good thing by some.

"I think the rain will really bring the customers out," one optimistic vendor said.

Photographers at more crafty shows cite the overabundance of crafts as a problem. Photographers at photo-heavy shows cite too much competition as a problem.

"Yesterday was frustrating," Voeller said on Sunday of Art in the Park. "This was my first show out of Denver, so it was a different crowd, I guess. People come in and say, 'I love it,' but no one buys anything."

But he believes in his product. They all do, otherwise they wouldn't be there, in the park, summoning up bright greetings for potential customers.

Art in the Park wasn't great for Voeller — he sold a big aspen painting and some smaller items — but he covered his expenses.

"Once you pass the break-even point, you feel a lot better," he said.

He's learning. He's settled in on prices, which start at $30 and go up to $700. He generally doesn't negotiate, either, because he's not here for one show or one weekend. He's in it for the long run.

Even as the flow of visitors slowed to a trickle in the final hour Sunday afternoon, he remained optimistic. Yeah, there weren't a lot of sales, but he handed out a ton of business cards. There was interest in commissioned work, and there were some about-to-bite customers he anticipates seeing at other shows this summer.

"I'm going to keep doing it," Voeller said. "Running my own design studio, I know how hard it is to get clients sometimes. I need to put that same amount of energy into this. If I get to the point where I have a house full of art, and I'm not selling it, maybe I'll stop, but as long as I'm getting a positive response, I'm going to keep doing it."

Cashing in

Bruggink said she has no interest in ever being one of the a-show-per-weekend type of artists. Her photos are local, and so is her interest.

"I don't want to be a roadie," she said. "I want to get my name out there, then just do local shows because it's not something I want to do all the time."

But it is something she'd like to see become her retirement, and she, too, believes, really believes, that people will love her work. That's why she didn't wade into art shows but dove in.

"That was the scariest part," she said, "the investment."

Art in the Park ended up being worth her time, thanks in part to that magic moment Saturday when she sold the huge aspen canvas.

Still, the weekend was long. The mornings were early, and it all left Bruggink and most artists exhausted, tired of hauling their products to and from the truck, tired of setting up and taking down tents and tired even of sitting and waiting for customers.

After the show, Bruggink went to drop off the giant aspen canvas, finishing off her weekend, and that's where it happened, one of the best moments of the show — validation for not just the photos she's already shot and prints she had produced, but for the talent she believed in before she made any investment.

The woman who'd bought the art was intent on hanging it either in the bedroom or in the dining room. It ended up working far better in the bedroom, but that left a hole on the wall in the dining room that, as luck would have it, was perfect for a 60-inch-by-40-inch canvas from Geri Bruggink.

"Now she wants another one, the same size, and she just said it had to have blue sky and clouds," Bruggink said. "I just said, 'I think I can fill that order!'"

It doesn't get much better than that.

"It was cool, like, 'I can do this,'" Bruggink said. "It was just validation." ■

By the numbers

2012 median pay: $44,380 per year or $21.34 per hour

Number of jobs in 2012: 51,400

Job outlook, 2012-22: 3 percent (slower than average)

Employment change, 2012-22: 1,300

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top 10 craft segments by household participation*

1. Drawing: 21.1 million households

2. Scrapbooking and memory crafts: 18.4 million

3. Crocheting: 17.4 million

4. Woodworking/wood crafts: 16.8 million

5. Jewelry making: 14.7 million

6. Card making: 14 million

7. Floral decorating: 13.6 million

8. Cross-stitching: 13.3 million

9. Knitting: 13 million

10. Wreath making: 11.6 million

*Based on 114,200,000 U.S. households

Top 10 craft segments by sales

1. Woodworking/wood crafts: $3.322 billion

2. Drawing: $2.078 billion

3. Food crafting: $2.001 billion

4. Jewelry making: $1.446 billion

5. Scrapbooking and memory crafts: $1.440 billion

6. Floral decorating: $1.303 billion

7. Crocheting: $1.062 billion

8. Card making: $1.040 billion

9. Home décor crafts (non-sewing): $948 million

10. Wedding crafts: $803 million

Source: 2010 Craft & Hobby Association U.S. Attitude & Usage Study