Northport Art in the Park. My first art festival in July 2008. Notice there are no walls to hang Art!
In June 2004 when I did my first outdoor Art Festival after a 30 year gap since my debut at the Floral Park Art League shows, I bought a tent and some shoji screens to hang my work. What was I thinking?
I wanted the booth to look classy so I didn’t want to use metal frames that I’d seen at other shows so I figured that I’d hang my paintings on the screens and it would give an upscale look. Wrong!
The first gust of breeze at the show in Northport harbor blew everything down. I resorted to folding the screen around one of the legs of the booth with bungee cords and hanging a few pieces on them. The wind was unrelenting but I sold $150 that day and I was hooked again.
Westhampton Beach Art Festival, August 2004. New booth with Flourish mesh panels.
I quickly rallied for my next show two months later, which was the Westhampton Beach Art Festival in August of 2004. By this time we had gone to other shows to scout out booth strategies and decided on the mesh panels made by Flourish. Since we had severe transportation space restrictions at the time, we needed to conserve space in our SUV and these panels did that and more.
I really like the white walls. It is a nice sleek modern look. The panels are easy to put up and take down. The booth is cooler in the summer since the breeze can go through the mesh. I can endlessly fidget with my arrangements since the hooks I use are simple to reposition. The panels roll up and fit in a bag which makes for very easy transporting. They are amazingly strong and I’ve been known to hang a lot of very heavy paintings with glass on them.
CT Flower & Garden Show in February 2007. Indoor booth frame with mesh panels by Flourish.
We’ve used the same panels on our outdoor EZ-Up booth and also on our indoor booth frame which we got from Flourish. The choice of booth sidewalls was one of our better equipment decisions.
Westhampton Beach Art Festival in 2004. Notice the webbed beach chair.
As with all the other aspects of your booth design finding the perfect chair is extremely important. Much as you may not think so you need to have a very comfortable chair available for you to rest during the inevitable slow times in the booth at an Art Festival.
My first chair in 2004 was the same one I had used at the beach and at softball games prior to exploring the world of Art Festivals which now keep me hopping on the summer weekends. It was a standard webbed chair that is really too unprofessional for a sales situation. Fine for behind the booth but not in it.
My next chair was a high folding Director’s chair which I got at Pier One. It was very comfortable and the style of wood and fabric I picked looked good in my booth. It kept me up high when I was sitting so that if a customer came into the booth I could speak to them eye to eye without getting off the chair. Sometimes potential customers feel intimidated when you get off the chair to speak to them so the higher design of the Director’s Chair worked very well.
One problem though, the wind kept knocking it over since it wasn’t heavy enough. We kept repairing the split arms until they were too ugly and then we’d buy another one. This worked until 2007 or so when the chairs were discontinued at the chain.
Tall bamboo chair for art festivals makes a big difference for the artist and the customers
So I cruised the internet and found the chair of my dreams with Hollywood Chairs which is sold by Totally Bamboo. http://www.totallybamboo.com
I got the Tall Deluxe Hollywood Chair and I didn’t forget to get the cup holder for my Starbucks. It is soooooo very comfortable, good on my back, good for my feet. Even if I don’t sit on it I lean my bottom on the seat and it relieves back pain. It is a bit large for the trailer but we put it in first and take it out last and store it in a carton to keep it looking brand new. The wood is really bamboo and smooth and soft to the touch. It makes you feel rich just sitting in the chair. The seat is padded. It has never blown over in the wind and it is easy to wipe off any food that get on it. This Hollywood Chair was a great investment!
Hicks Nursery Winterfest January 2005. Flimsy tables didn’t last long.
Finding the right furniture for your Festival Show booth is not an easy task and for us it took quite a few twists and turns. Granted the work I’ve been showing over the last four years has also taking dramatic zigs and zags, I spent more money, time and energy trying to get my sales desk right.
In 2004 when I started doing Art Show and Festivals, I bought some extremely cheap folding tables for $11 each. They had aluminum legs and an almost cardboard top but they served the purpose for a few shows. I put some tablecloths over the top of them and they seemed to work fine. I was even able to store inventory underneath. Then the moisture got into them and the tops warped too much to be useable.
I replaced them with foldable molded plastic tables which have adjustable legs for height variations. They were much heavier and could store less underneath but they were much more durable. In fact, I still have them and use them once in awhile with tablecloths when I can display more outside the booth.
Desk set up at the Connecticut Flower and Garden show in February 2007
In 2005 I thought I found the perfect solution. On the internet
February 2008 Connecticut Flower and Garden Show with the ProPanels desk
I found a folding crafting desk with flip up sides and drawers in the center to hold all my office material like stapler, tape, pens, sales forms, my credit card reader, lunch, etc. Well, after two shows the flakeboard cracked and fell apart from the back and forth transportation in the trailer. The look of the desk was fantastic but the materials weren’t made for the rigors of road travel. Even collapsed into the size of a night table, the desk took too much room in our trailer so we discarded it. Money down the drain.
We bought a pedestal desk from Pro Panels. Lightweight enough, fully collapsible and it has two shelves inside. http://propanels.com
I created a curtain with some fabric to put on the open back of the desk to hide my paraphernalia. At the last show I didn’t realize until it was too late that people were just reaching into my desk to steal my shopping bags because they didn’t want to carry their literature even though some huge company was handing out free literature bags at the entrance to the show. Every single show is a learning experience. I guess that every day of life is too.
Connecticut Flower & Garden Show, 2/2008 before set-up
Doing Art Festivals, whether they are indoor or outdoor, are quite grueling events.
Basically what you are doing is building a moveable, temporary store. All the requirements for showing, selling and packaging your work are amplified since you must be able to set-up within an hour or two hour time frame in a temporary location. When you’re done you need to do the same in reverse and leave the location as you found it.
You need to design your store to be reflective of your style, visually inviting, easy to navigate & clearly representative of your body of work. You need to be able to give out information, write up and process sales, and provide packaging for customers to conveniently take home their purchases.
Connecticut Flower & Garden Show booth set up in February of 2008 for Mary Ahern.
Your booth and all your furnishings must be collapsible and able to be moved from your vehicle to the staging area you have been assigned. Desks, racks, tables & chairs all need to be lightweight and folded for transporting. The selection of your display needs to take into consideration the space requirements of the work you’re going to sell and the total amount of space available in whatever means of transportation you will be using.
I really enjoy writing my blog. But I really enjoy making my Art. I also really enjoy
gardening, family, friends, cooking, reading and studying. So where do I find the time to do it all? There is only so much time management you can do to be more and more efficient. Eventually you actually have to make choices of what your priorities are and eliminate tasks from your action item lists.
Today the maintenance tank in my Epson 4800 was full and refused to print. I foolishly had forgotten to order a replacement when I ordered my last slew of ink. I found a company on Long Island about a 45-minute drive from my home, Ardito’s, who had it in stock and immediately planned to drive over to pick it up. Then I thought about it an extra minute and ordered it delivered for an additional $8. I figured that my time and gas for the 1 ½ hour round trip drive was worth more than that. This is purely learned behavior on my part and it doesn’t come easy.
I have to work constantly on making smart time management decisions. I go through a process each day that goes something like this:
What is the most productive use of my time today?
What is going to cost me if I don’t do it?
What is going to make me money if I do?
What are the most immediate deadlines I can’t miss?
What are the upcoming deadlines I need to make steps toward?
Do I have the food in the house to cook dinner tonight or do I have to shop?
Blogging seems at times like a complete waste of my time. But guess what? It actually helps to keep me organized and I always feel better when I write and post something. It helps to clear my thinking process.
After seeing the photos and reading the article Dream Chasers, written by Arlene Gross for Newsday, which featured myself among others who have turned in mid-life to careers which are more personally satisfying, I have enjoyed revisiting my journey.
Mary Ahern showing her oil paintings at the Floral Park Art League in 1976
Here is a photo of me with my Award winning oil paintings at the Floral Park Art League in 1976. I painted them all before I began my college Art education. For a year I took oil painting classes on Wednesday evening at the YMCA in Bellerose Queens NY and from this experience I found my life’s calling.
Each year I looked forward to showing my work at this outdoor art show and each year I sold some of my works. What a wonderful experience it is to realize that work you created from your own imagination and from assorted colors in tubes moved others in such a way that they will give you money that they earned so they can hang your vision on their walls. I am still moved that my skill and vision will enhance their lives each and every day.
Thirty-one years later I’ve returned to selling my Artwork outdoors at festivals. This shot of me was taken while I was taking a call on my cell phone at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Festival in New York City in May of 2007. I still enjoy getting out of my studio and meeting people. Speaking to my customers energizes me and personalizes the selling experience. At shows I always enjoy seeing some of my former customers who come by to say hello and tell me where they hung the Art they’ve bought from me and how much they enjoy seeing it everyday.
I was featured in a Newsday Business section article written by Arlene Gross. The excerpt focusing on my background and my life choices is copied below. If you’d like to see the article in it’s entirety you can see it on my website in the Press section.
At midlife, taking lower pay to begin more satisfying careers
By Arlene Gross
Special to Newsday
11:07 AM EST, January 4, 2008
Mary Ahern had (experimented) in art for many years, but had never been able to actually make a career of it. Until four years ago, that is, when she made the switch to full-time artist.
“I had always been a creative artist,” the Northport resident, explained. “Life, however, intervened, and as a single parent, I was never able to create my art on a full-time basis.”
Changing careers at midlife is no small feat, and switching to one with substantially less earning potential is more difficult still. According to Randy Miller, founder and president of ReadyMinds, an online career counseling service, downsizing a career can be a source of great anxiety.
Yet for some people, any fear or hesitation is mitigated by the yearning to follow a dream. Seeking more spiritually uplifting endeavors can be the ultimate challenge, and Miller said any attendant loss of income is often compensated with a renewed sense of purpose and newfound happiness.
“There are a lot of people who go through life and think, ‘What if?'” Miller said. “With a strategic plan, coupled with the new passion and ultimate objective of doing something different, one can more easily achieve their ultimate goals.”
For Ahern, a new husband provided the impetus and financial support to move forward. Income, the couple concluded, was less relevant to the quality of their lives than the legacy they wish to leave behind.
“When we married, Dave urged me to follow my dream,” she recalled. “The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself.”
Once their five children — all from previous marriages — were finished with college, Ahern felt it was OK to follow her calling.
“My income from my art doesn’t yet come close to the money I’m used to making in either my career in computer graphics equipment sales or my own graphics design firm,” she said.
One of her greatest sacrifices was a big dip in retirement savings, which now come exclusively from her husband’s salary.
“We have a comfortable nest egg,” she said, “but by coming out of a conventional career, I no longer have the extra cushion to add to my existing portfolio of tax-advantaged savings vehicles.”
Despite her diminished earnings, Ahern says she is happier. “I am living the life I am meant to live,” she said.
Excerpt of Article posted in The Times of Northport
Artist cultivates her livelihood like a garden
By Arlene Gross
June 13, 2007 | 02:39 PM
Northport resident Mary Ahern is a successful artist who practices a unique technique she describes as. “Digital Mixed Media Painting”.
But Ahern, who… (was) among the exhibitors at Arts in the Park in Northport July 8, (2007) was not born an artist. “I didn’t come to paint until I was older,” she said. “I didn’t even know I had a facility for it.”
As a young girl, she focused on music: playing trumpet and saxophone for the high school band and conducting her Fort Hamilton High School graduation in Brooklyn with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I’ve been in the bleeding edge of those kinds of issues,” she said. “In those days, girls didn’t conduct.”
A life-changing moment came in her 20s, when a friend gave her a coffee table book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“I opened it up and turned the pages and wept,” she recalled. “It was completely transforming. I could only look at 10 pictures a day, it was so overwhelming.”
From that moment, Ahern knew she must study art and, then a resident of Queens, attended Queens College.
Although she was influenced by O’Keeffe and painted similar subjects, such as close-up and sensual florals, Ahern said she did not mimic her idol’s technique. Whereas O’Keeffe painted with direct and rapid strokes, Ahern’s traditional paintings were created in grisaille, or gray scale, and layered with washes of pigment on top, giving the subjects a glow through the optical blending of glazes of pigment.
After divorcing her first husband, Ahern took a job at Barnard College’s career counseling office, where she herself was able to get some career guidance. Through her Barnard position, she attended Columbia University for free by working there while raising sons, Chris and Michael, then ages 10 and 8.
“I knew if I couldn’t stay home and be a mom and paint, I had to make a decision: I’m going to make as much money as possible,” she said.
With profit in mind, Ahern went into technology sales, selling computer graphics and eventually becoming Northeast regional sales manager at Chyron Corporation in Melville (and a National Marketing Manager at The Dynatech Video Group.) Then she started Online Design, a digital graphics company.
For Ahern, feminism was not a word to bandy about but, rather, her day-to-day reality – working as a single mother in a male-dominated industry.
“My single-minded focus on providing a good life for my sons enabled me to ignore the tremendous obstacles, prejudice, emotional assault and loneliness that comes from breaking through social barriers,” she said. “I, like my father, pulled myself up by my bootstraps. As a woman in a male industry however, I, like Ginger Rogers, did everything in high heels and backwards.”
In 1989, Ahern fulfilled her dream of buying a house with a spacious garden in Northport, which she said, “was like a step back in time to a slower and more gracious lifestyle.”
“The center of town with a Main Street embedded with trolley tracks leading to the harbor breezes and music in the gazebo captured my attention and insisted upon my attendance. I needed to move here.”
Eleven years later, she renovated her home, adding an airy, second floor art studio, and now natural light trickles throughout.
The garden, which Ahern designed, encircles the house, with its artfully designated focal points and meandering paths, everything flowing gracefully.
“I practice nonviolent gardening – no rose bushes to stab you – all soft inviting plants,” she said.
Seventeen years after her first marriage ended, Ahern married David Ruedeman, an engineer at Chyron. The couple worked together there but got to know one another only when he became a client of Online Design. This year will mark the couple’s 10th anniversary…
Early on in the second marriage, wishing to reinvent herself, Ahern got a degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale in 2000, with the idea of becoming a landscape designer, which she did for a year. “It was too much for my (aching) body,” she said, of the many hours spent working on bended knees.
From there, it was a two-year course studying botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Her (Mixed Media) painting, a culmination of expertise paralleling her life’s progressive journey, combines a passion for the fine arts, gardening, computer graphics and botanical painting.
“To be creative, you need to know your medium,” Ahern said of her computer graphics skills. Through her paintings, she seeks to make people look around them and become more aware of the nature surrounding us.
Dr. Roberta Koepfer, her friend since 1971, said, “She’s like a phoenix. I have seen her rise up from a fair number of devastating experiences. Every time she comes back, she comes back more dynamic, more focused on her art and with an increased zest for life and personal growth.”
When it came time to sell her art, Ahern’s business savvy came in handy; she started in Northport as an exhibitor at the annual Arts in the Park series (in 2004) and now participates in about 15 art shows in New York and Connecticut between May and September, with her husband lending a hand.
Ahern’s work has also been the focus of several gallery exhibitions, including a one-person show at Greenlawn’s Harborfields Library this past February.
Susan Hope, gallery coordinator for the library, noted that Ahern’s exhibit was well timed: her cheerful florals brightened the gloom of winter. “It has an eye catching appeal,” she said. “People really enjoyed it, whether they were art savvy or just seniors on their way to their meetings.”
Today, Ahern is either painting her botanicals, selling them or lecturing on the business of art at libraries or schools, although her business persona has changed radically over the years. “I did trade shows in high heels and silk suits,” she said, “now I’m doing business in Birkenstocks and shorts.”
To anyone seeking career guidance, Ahern advised, “Don’t throw away anything you’ve done because you want to transform yourself. Take the good portions, the positive elements and try to incorporate them into this new self you’re creating. That’s how I’m living my life.”
University Place NYC during the Washington Square Art Festival
Look at University Place in NYC during the Washington Square Outdoor Art Fesitival and look at the same street without.
All the Artist’s set up this mini city each morning starting at 10:30 and the show officially starts at noon. For the city that never sleeps, you can’t really dictate show hours however so frequently you are discussing your work while half of the booth is still in cartons.
University Place after the Washington Square Art Festival
At 6pm we take down our city. We do this exhausting work each day over the course of 3 days.
We do this show each Memorial and Labor Day Weekend.
Mary Ahern- Art Naturally had a Successful First Time Showing at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show
The 2007 CT Flower and Garden Show moved to the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford CT. We never showed at this venue before so this was a new experience for us.
We brought our Traveling Art Festival Gallery to this exciting and very popular event and we’re sure glad we did.
The promised crowd of over 30,000 people showed up and at times, I felt as if I got to speak to each and every one of those winter starved gardeners.
This 4 day event has very long hours. Evenings until 8 each session. Did I mention very long days?
I’m glad that I brought my new bamboo director’s chair even though there were many hours I never got to touch it except to put my coffee in the cup holder.
The new lighting inside our Gallery worked just as we hoped so next time we’ll probably add the same system to the outside wall. The color correct lighting really makes a difference when showing Art.
As you can see, we’ve added new furniture to the Gallery and it makes writing up orders and taking information so much easier. Drawers in the desk really help me stay organized and the wood adds a nice sleek and solid look.
The racks on the outside of the Gallery were less than successful and we’re looking into alternative systems to show the small prints.
Mary Ahern-Art Naturally booth at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, 2007.
The third reason in my decision of whether to blog or not was:
To “open up my rather cloistered existence for greater conversation.”
Having enjoyed a career in sales which included at times 80% travel, which means that I was on the road by car or airplanes 4 days a week, and my life now, creating Art in the serenity and quiet of my studio, I can say that I sometimes miss the dialog of humans. During the year I solve this void by showing my work in a number of upscale Art Festivals around the NY, NJ and CT areas.
I call them my mini trade shows. I used to attend, as an exhibitor, huge trade shows targeted to the Television Broadcast and Production industries such at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) in Las Vegas, IBC in Montreux, Switzerland, Video Expo NYC while wearing high heels and silk suits. Construction crews and electricians put up huge booths over a period of days and many sleepless nights where experienced by the company engineers when the equipment didn’t work after the jostling of shipment.
My Festival Show booth
Now my booth is a 10’x 10′ EZ-Up popup tent with mesh side panels to hang my Art, racks to display additional smaller prints and a collapsible desk. My husband Dave, who is in charge of all logistics, has timed our set up to one and a half hours as our best-case scenario. That doesn’t count the endless fiddling I do during the course of the shows to perfect the positioning and hanging of the Art. My dress code has changed from 3″ heels to khaki and Birkenstocks. How sweet!
The conversations I have with people during the two to four days of each Art Festival are so energizing. The questions and suggestions from them spur me to really think about my work and to stretch myself in ways I don’t get from working quietly in my studio by myself. The studio and the shows each are contributing so much to my creativity, my life and my Art. I’m looking forward to opening up the dialog even further with my blog.
In making the decision as to whether or not to blog I came up with a few Pro and Con positions.
Reason #1. Use the disciple of writing a blog to organize my thoughts. (I discussed this issue in my posting of 2007-12-5 Why Blog?)
Reason #2. Give back some of my knowledge of the world.
During this journey through life I have zigged and zagged through many fields of interest and a variety of careers. Often I’ve been asked to lecture on various subjects or to sit on a discussion panel of one subject or another. Several subjects I’ve spoken on in the past have been:
• Creativity and the Business of Art.
• “Creating, A Life” A presentation showing & discussing the evolution of an Artistic vision and the application of that vision as it applies to Fine Art, Business Development and Life in general.
• Careers for women in electronic publishing.
• Use of the Internet in a comprehensive marketing program designed for businesses in the field of horticulture.
• Use of color measurement and management devices in the development of multi-media design projects for use on the Internet and in print.
• Presentation of my fine arts catalog raisonne with a focus on the evolution of personal style and artistic influences.
• Electronic Paint Systems and Character Generators. Defining their use in creating graphics, illustration and design for television stations and production houses.
• The Shady Garden. Plants I grow and why.
• Garden tools I can’t live without.
• Techniques I use in my creation of my Digital Mixed Media Painting.
• “The Future Through Both Ends of the Looking Glass. Broadcast Computer Graphics. Where Has It Been and Where Is It Going?”
• Oil Painting techniques I’ve learned and use from studying the old master painters.
I could go on but compiling this list helped me to recognize that I have enough subjects and material to justify a blog. What a waste it is it if I keep this knowledge bottled up inside my head. I believe that some of my learned experiences will touch others in new, different and unexpected ways. Isn’t that where innovation and evolution comes from? I’m just part of the process.
There are quite a few reasons to blog or not to blog. I’ve struggled with justifying whether to spend my time writing, considering that I’m primarily a Visual Artist. Here are some of the thoughts I pursued as I worked towards a decision.
To Blog or Not To Blog?
1. Organize my thoughts.
2. Give back some of my knowledge to the world.
3. Open up my rather cloistered existence for greater conversation.
4. Drive people to my website.
5. Sell my Art.
1. I’ve never been naturally drawn to writing articles or letters to people.
2. I’m a bit of a hermit.
3. It will take time away from creating new Artwork.
4. I’m already too busy. (I’ve just added Pilates to my schedule)
5. If I’m going to do it I have to stay committed to it.
Obviously I’ve decided to Blog so here is an elaboration of one of the reasons.
Organize my thoughts.
I have a head full of ideas that it makes my brain spin. I want to write down and categorize the ideas, the priorities and the projects. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and this is how I’ve always arrived at goals. And yes, I always arrive at my goals if I go about them systematically. So one of the things this blog is going to do is to help me create and organize my steps towards achieving my next goals. (Hopefully)