AATS24 8/8: Onward

Illustration detail from Forgotten Signs: "Year of the Journey"

Answering some questions about my experience in the Art at the Source 2024 exhibition and open studio events.

Would I Do It Again?

Yes, I’m already signed-up and now preparing for Art Trails 2024 in October. This was my plan all along, really: do both a spring and autumn event, the first one as a complete naif and the next one as a nearly-complete naif.

During Art at the Source, I learned… many things. About people, about my art, about expectations and gratitude.

The exhibition space for Art Trails will be different: in Petaluma, not Sebastopol, larger, more controllable, and not in a shared space. Some learnings from Art at the Source will apply, some won’t. Some of those learnings were expected, some were surprises:

(Previous link in this series: 21 June: Closed)

Expectations and Surprises

I had many expectations. Some turned out correct, others…

If you’re reading this as an artist planning to exhibit at some Open Studio event, please take these how-to posts with the knowledge that they’re made from a very subjective view. For some, these might be a how-to, for others, a how-not-to. It’s the log of a personal exploration.

Expected: Photographers Don’t Buy Photography

(and more generally: artists don’t buy art)

They just don’t.

When a photographer visitor arrives in your studio, you can expect great conversations: Megapixels or meta-analysis, and all good. It’s great to engage in person with other artists and photographers about their methods, experience, philosophies, frustrations, goals. Invaluable.

But purchasing…. photographers like to buy film, lenses, flashes, plugins, printers, adapters, hard drives: sure. Sometime books, though usually books about film, lenses, flashes, plugins, printers, adapters, and hard drives. Photographs: nope.

I wrote a long opinionated rant about why this is, and then deleted it. I knew about this pattern in advance, and people who know, know. I’ll save the rant. Just trust me when I say this: photographers don’t buy photography. I’m pretty sure the same can be said for painters not buying paintings or sculptors not buying sculpture (to a degree, this is less true for jewelers? Barbara’s ongoing fans were sometimes also makers. A credit to her!).

With that expectation in mind, when I distributed my promo cards, I knew that people who had an interest in the content of the work were more likely to be an audience. That Giants fans might like to buy a book about Giants fans. That book collectors might like unusual books. Members of the Norcal Carshow scene might like to see photos that admire and celebrate themselves, their friends, the culture. Whatever the photography, unless you’re Ansel Adams the market won’t be photographers.

Therefore: Most of my promo efforts went to places where I hoped to pique the attention of people whose first words after their arrival weren’t likely to be: “what was the shutter speed on this one?”

There was only a small, but measurable, benefit to this effort. The QR code on the promo cards is slightly different from the ones in the catalog, so I’m able to know how some number of viewers came to my dedicated AatS page. There definitely were people who came from book fairs, car shows, local event calendars. I can hope that occasionally some of these friends will see the pictures and tell more friends.

This might all sound like I had a plan, and… I did? But:

Nobody Really Knows Anything

My belief, going into the event, was that even without a market of photographers, that the photo-series books – Forgotten Signs, Graffiti Generations, and work from the Liquidity SF series:CHAMPIONS and Sooner or Later Someone’s Going to Get Hurt – would elicit the most interest and be the strongest sellers.

This was wrong.

In part I think it’s due to buyers who weren’t really looking for something specific. People came into the Studio for many reasons:

  1. They saw the index image (from Liquidty SF) in the catalog.
  2. They saw the ad in the catalog, which showed Forgotten Signs, Grafitti Generations, and Liquidity..
  3. They habitually visit that same Studio location every year (it’s my first year, but not Barbara’s)
  4. They saw a generic “Art at the Source” placard as they were driving by on Highway 116, which is a trunk road along their weekend journeying in Sonoma County.
  5. They saw a generic “Art at the Source” placard as they were walking/cycling along the very nearby Joe Rodota Trail.
  6. They got a promo card, either in the post, or from a store, coffee shop, etc.
  7. They were neighbors.
  8. They were friends of mine.
  9. They were friends of Barbara’s.
  10. They only came to see Barbara’s studio, and actually had no interest in me or my work.
  11. They saw “The Two Algorithms of Life” at the SebArts Gallery and felt they needed to see what was going on over at Studio 16b.
  12. They’d received or seen a promo copy of Graffiti Generations during the American Grafitti Days event or the Cruise for Peggy Sue.
  13. They checkmarked all the “photographer” entries in the catalog and visited them.
  14. They checkmarked all the “jewelery” entries, visited them and my pictures just happened to be there.
  15. They checkmarked all the catalog map numbers in a certain area and visited them.
  16. They are a plus-one trailing along behind someone who has any of the above reasons.

None of these possibilities align directly with whether or not someone will buy art, or even notice it, much less engage with it enough to browse through the stacks or open a sample book.

But some people did.

Which is what makes the effort worthwhile.

Thank You.

Thank you to the people who deliberately sought out my pictures. Thanks to the people who didn’t but found them and had to look. Thank you to the friends who sometimes made some pretty long drives to Sebastopol. Thank you to the people who hadn’t expected to see pictures at all, and who ended up going home with them: on a print, in a book, or in their memory.

Detail from Dancing with No One

Surprises: No One was First

The work that attracted the most sales attention, by far, was Dancing with No One. Several prints sold, all of them at the larger size, and of the two editions of the book I had on hand – softcover or larger hardcover – nearly all of the hardcovers sold.

I’d made smaller prints, and smaller books, to smooth the on-ramp. In truth, people who really loved these pictures, the poetry of this project, didn’t want a low on-ramp. They wanted whatever their budget would bear.

Dancing with No One inspired conversations among visitors, especially people who weren’t looking for something specific. They’d start paging through the books or racks, showing one another the prints, talking about the color or the flow. One visitor, browsing the book picture by picture, reached the end, give an audible inhale and then held it up for me to look, as if I’d never seen it before. She had to share? I was and still am very moved to have seen her reaction.

Humbling in many ways.

Less than Expected, Forgotten

In a similar way, the larger hardcover edition of Forgotten Signs was prefered over the smaller softcover. Those two book projects were the ones made in two editions, large and small, and basically, the nearly all the softcovers that moved out of the studio were ones bundled with an associated print.

Every book title sold at least one copy. I am thankful for that. But some titles: more.

Bookless Wonders

While Dancing with No One sparked one set of conversations, the artworks that caused the loudest noises were portraits from a project that hasn’t yet been “booked.” They’re of fictional characters, part of a long-running and growing series that includes RBF. The single print that got the most “conversational traction” shows an ambiguous-aged tattoed female character. Some people hated it, loudly, immediately. Others adored it, reacting with equal voice.

People asked me the story about this picture. Amazingly, people told me stories about this picture.

What pleased me was that regardless of the valence, reactions were strong. People couldn’t always “figure it out” to their satisfaction, but had strong feelings.

Yet: no one bought the print. They looked, they opined, sighed, laughed and discussed with their friends. Maybe I should have had it on the wall, framed and ready to go. Maybe I should have mentioned to people engaged with it that if this picture caused so many conversations in this little studio, imagine what it could do in your restaurant, in your sitting room, your salon or police station.

I did not do these things. Probably I should have done. Maybe not. But it was gratifying to be close to the reactions, immediate and in person. Credit cards not required.


As for RBF, once I bundled the cards in sets of six they did sell better (and six at a time). I also received a request to provide some to a retailer, which is terrific! Expect to see details about that soon.

My ongoing obliviousness: After the weekends, I realized that many studio artists had been social-posting photos, often as selfies, of the people who were buying their art. It never occured to me! Even though phones figure prominently in many of my pictures.

I was asked repeatedly if I teach classes, and also if I accepted commercial work. Should I have pursued these offers?

My promo cards included a picture from a series I never even showed (!) called Paperwork. I ought to show it.

I heard from Barbara that an unnamed man, age and origins unknown, was for some reason really steamed about one of the pictures I had up, a little guy holding a plastic assault rifle. I have no idea why this person was riled, since they never spoke to me, even when I was right there. Do they hate gun? Love guns? Did they not like the wallpaper? I may never know. But: strong reaction, I guess!

I did hope that my largest print would sell – a browsing couple told me they were going to measure a space for it. They were nice, though also gone (hey, you still have my card!).

I was also pleased when some people called-out some of my oldest generative-learning work, from eight or nine years ago.

Barbara predicted I’d have the best sales on the last day. She was right! Including at least one person who did indeed come back from the previous weekend.

Many Kinds of Tasks

Many of those tasks listed in previous posts were never completed for Art at the Source. Next time?

Will I produce promotional video clips for Art Trails? I’d like to.

I still have not yet set up online artwork ordering. This will get done soon – if you’re now reading this after discovering about it via a post-June newsletter, it’s already available.

The End: Storage

After the Open Studio effort, I still had everything scattered and stacked everywhere. Prints, mattes, temporary workbenches… it took multiple trips to move it all, and one long day of rapidfire cleaning here in Petaluma (just before the arrival of houseguests) to reduce the stacks and get my regular workspace back to “normal.” Maybe even a little more organized than normal.

Packing it up: studio in a Subaru
(Not shown: a stack of ProPanels on the roof & front-seat boxes)

Even though the studio was not far from the SebArts main gallery, I discovered that studio visitors had often not visited it. Many didn’t even know about it – they were following the catalog or the signs and were unaware of the show at SebArts.

As mentioned in another post, these events are arranged such that outside of the reception, exhibiting artists don’t really see the studios of the other artists, at least not on Open Studio days. A puzzle! But at least you can get something in front of people for a couple of hours on one afternoon. Looking forward to the next one.

(Extra surprise: when the gallery exhibit came down I joked to See See that I wouldn’t mind seeing someone else’s work on the same wall-cap as long as it was better than mine. “You know, say, an Edward Hopper” (eyeroll). In fact, when the next show came in, the wall cap featured: an Edward Hopper!)

Satellite Galleries

Petaluma’s Gallery One kindly hosted a side exhibit for local artists. As I’d mentioned earlier, I offered a pretty conservative piece for this. Once I saw it on the wall, however, I realized: I don’t want to show conservative pieces. Next time:

Safety Last! Monkey First!


Again, I find myself three months away from a Studio Opening. Two and a half months from the opening reception, and with a work and travel schedule that will shave many of those weeks away.

Exhibiting here in my Petaluma space is likely the most serious hazard. It’s a larger space, sure. I can show more works, even have my portrait kit up and ready to go. Maybe a drawing robot, robotically drawing.

The serious hazard is the less-touristy location.

In central Sebastopol, there were a dozen other studios within walking distance. Here, people must drive. There are no other studios nearby, and worse, there isn’t a busy downtown four blocks away with restaurants and wine bars to draw in visiting weekenders.

Many of the people who discovered my artwork during Art at the Source in Sebastopol were the +1’s or other companions who started browsing while waiting for their friends and partners who were visiting Barbara’s jewelry offerings.

In Petaluma, with no other artist in the location, no other nearby studios, no tourism infrastructure, it will be a different challenge: the challenge to get even one person to appear at the door, because they came to see something that they think will be worth seeing.

I have many new and unseen artworks to share, that’s not really a question. And I have plans for a completely new piece for the gallery reception already. If I had to open by this weekend… hmm, it’s Tuesday? Yeah, I could be open for business, though I’d prefer some time to lay the groundwork. Problems, problems.

I love problems!

Books and the “Dancing Oops”

In setting up for a reprint of Dancing with No One I found a fault in the book layout. And fixed it. And added a bookstore-friendly external ISBN code.

If someone who has an original reads this and would prefer a copy without the error, contact me.

Book Costs

The books and zine-like books I’ve offered during Art at the Source have had very small print runs. This is fine for their original intent: to provide a structure for understanding and enjoying my prints.

Small runs are very pricey per-book. Even at $60, the hardcover Dancing with No One had to sell with a narrow margin. Typically, the routes to solving this are either double-down on exotic quality and raise prices for a low-run item, or find a different distribution channel so that prices can be lower at the risk of a large intial print run.

I expect I’ll try both routes on different titles. The upcoming Market Hours almost has to be pricey, since it has special printing requirements. Forgotten Signs could use a new option on the hardcover. The best kind of problem! No idea yet.

The next space: Less cluttered by October, maybe

Other Parts of the Series:

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