Photo: Judy Wood
Riding Lessons for Artists
By Judy Wood | Posted September 30, 2009 | Updated June 23, 2019
Once we have achieved a certain level of mastery and competence, whether it is in art or riding, some will want to show the world what they have achieved by way of the show circuit. I have never been a "show person" in the world of riding, for various reasons, but goodness knows I have spent a lot of time at them, doing photography for clients and just generally watching and learning. I have done some gallery shows and a lot of "trade shows" with my artwork which is to say ones that are geared to selling and to interacting directly with the buying public. I think a lot of the general observations I have gathered from my own experiences will apply equally to either art or horse show events.
First off, do your homework before you decide on a particular show or venue. It is important to know ahead of time how or if you will fit in with the show you are considering. For example, if you are showing dressage for the first time ever, make sure the show has classes that are appropriate to the level at which you are riding. Similarly with art shows. Trying to get juried into a high-end show that has a lot of established artists might not be the best choice for someone who is new to the world of showing and whose style is still evolving and developing. The reverse also applies if you are riding/working at a relatively accomplished level, there's not much point in entering the local "fun" shows for casual artists/riders. If the show you are considering is a local one, or one that you can get to readily, part of doing your homework might be heading to it as a potential future show-person, and pay close attention to how it goes. That alone has helped me in the past when I was contemplating a show that I hadn't done before.
Once you have decided on your show, be sure you read, understand, and follow all the rules and regulations. These are usually set to ensure that the show runs smoothly and well, and are generally not optional. They do apply, and they apply equally to all exhibitors. If you don't like the rules, or don't want to comply with them, then do everyone a favour and give the show a miss. I made the mistake once of glossing over the details on a trade show contract for an expensive out of province (and long!) show that I hadn't done before. I was well used to doing a similar show in a different city, so I assumed that the rules of engagement would be the same and just quickly scanned the contract before committing myself. Imagine my horror, after a six-hour drive to get to this five day show, when I discovered that the million dollar public liability insurance clause in the contract was not optional, as with most other shows, but compulsory, and I would not be allowed even to unload my artwork until I had this in place. Luckily this was in the days of Internet and fax machines, so after some frantic phone calls home to my insurance agent I got that sorted out, but if I had read the details correctly in the first place, I would have been spared this anxiety. If I hadn't been able to get the insurance tacked down, I would have been out the four figure booth fee, had a lot of time and effort wasted in preparing for the show, and a long and sorry drive home again. Lesson learned.
Generally speaking, you need a lot of stuff for shows, whether they are one-day or multi-day events. It's a good idea to have a "show check-list" written down so that you don't get to where you are showing and find that you are missing a key component that is essential to what you are there to do. For art shows/sales, the categories would be to do with display equipment, the actual art product, business/sales related items (cash float, business cards, receipt books, etc) and personal use items. For horse shows, you need all your show related tack, grooming kit, blankets if required, feed, stall cleaning implements, everything that might possibly be of use, plus all your own personal equipment as well. Having everything cleaned and checked for wear and tear well before the show date is a good idea. Have the details written down, keep the list in a location where you can actually find it, and then remember to look at it! I know, seems obvious, but I've also made the mistake of "thinking" I knew everything that was on the list and not bothering to check it before leaving, with predictable results.
Interpersonal relations at shows can be tricky, as we are often dealing with a wide assortment of personality types and life stories. If there is a conflict between you and another exhibitor, it's always a good idea to have someone in show management sort it out if possible, rather than going toe to toe right there in front of customers or other competitors. That's usually a no-win situation and can get you ejected and/or barred from a show. I've done a lot of trade shows over the years and only once had problems with a neighbouring booth-holder. This was at a large high-end equine trade show and I knew that I should express my concerns in a calm and rational way to the person in charge of the show area. He spoke to the offender who briefly mended his ways, but then was back to the original behavior pattern. In this case he was an over-eager "pushy" type fellow who was not only using the common alleyway to hover in (usually a no-no that is prohibited in the show contract) and herd any unsuspecting passerby into his booth, forcing brochures into their hands as he did so, but in the end was actually working his would-be customers out of my booth, leaning against one of my display tables while he gave his sales pitch and encouraged them to go into his booth. This way he wasn't taking up space in his own booth so there was all the more room for him to herd others into it. I was just finishing up a note about this to pass on to my management contact, when said management person appeared around the corner and was able to witness this in person. That was the last time I had a problem with that exhibitor, and I noted that at the next year's show, he was located as far from my booth as was possible for the geography of the set-up. We do want to be remembered after a show is over, by both the other exhibitors and by show management, but not for being a difficult person.
Another basic maxim for show behavior is not to bad-mouth the competition, the show area, the show management, the customers, the judges, or anything else that may be bothering you. You are entitled to your thoughts about how the show is being run, and you don't ever have to come back again if you don't like the way they operate, but you don't need to share this with the world at large while you are at the show. The professional way to act is to appear positive (even if you have to fake it ) or at least refrain from being negative and a whiner. None of this should really have to be detailed, but I have seen so many instances of unacceptable behavior at both horse and art shows that I feel I should state the obvious and point this out.
I have witnessed artists who have paid money and gone to a lot of trouble to get to a show, only to refuse to interact with the public, their potential customers. They spend their time ignoring their visitors, being rude (either willfully or inadvertently), reading a book and refusing to interact, or just are not in their booths at all. If you don't like dealing with the public, then don't participate in these shows. Often the people attending these shows have made a considerable effort to get there, sometimes have paid to get in, and are at least in theory interested in art work and in purchasing. The least we can do is be pleasant to them, even if some of them don't make it easy. Similarly at horse shows, I have heard (whether I wanted to or not, as volume control was lacking in the speaker) from some of the competitors and/or their supporters that the show judges were blind, prejudiced, in the pocket of a certain trainer, only reward bay horses, always place the same horses, the facilities/footing/food concession/you-name-it were disgraceful, and on and on. As I said before, if you don't like it, deal with it and don't come back again. Don't ruin the experience for everyone else and make yourself look bad in the process by loudly proclaiming your discontent. Mercifully in both "show" worlds, these types are the exception rather than the rule.
One thing I do try to do, whether my show experience was all positive or of the "needs improvement" sort, is to send a thank-you note to the show management once I am home. Often I have had a long drive home to think about the things that went well and those that could be improved. if the show was of the "needs tweaking" sort, I mention the aspects that weren't working for the exhibitors and make positive suggestions on how these could be made better. I always end on an upbeat note and thank them for presenting the show. If it was an all-round good show, I let them know that as well and express my gratitude. There is more to be gained by being positive, helpful and pro-active in these situations than by just bad-mouthing the show to other artists. No-one can fix problems that they don't know about, and unless we as exhibitors are willing to give feedback to show managers, the things that don't work for us aren't likely to change.
OK, this one has become a bit long. This will be the final posting in this series. We started with the basics of learning our "trade", and made some other stops along the way. I hope you have picked up a few pointers or bits of knowledge that will help you on your own path. It's been a fun ride. If anyone has any questions or inquiries that I can help with, feel free to email me email@example.com any time and I'll do my best to assist you. Many thanks to the Creativity Portal and to Chris Dunmire for supporting the concept of this series of articles.
©2009 Judy Wood. All rights reserved.
Judy Wood is a Canadian art photographer whose images and writings are shaped by her prairie based lifestyle as an artist, photographer, writer and horse person. ...
Judy Wood Artist Interview
A passion for art and photography.
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Mirror, Mirror: The Value in Reflection
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Showtime: Making Your Exhibition a Positive Experience
Do your homework before you decide on a particular show or venue. It is important to know ahead of time how or if you will fit in with the show you are considering.