Taking that First Step – Doing Art Shows

TAKING THAT FIRST STEP – DOING ART SHOWS

By Christy Nicholas

Aka Green Dragon, Artist

www.greendragonartist.com

So, you are an artist.  You have some stuff on consignment at a couple local shops, you have a website, and perhaps you have even had a private showing at a friend’s house.  But what if you want to get into that crazy world of Art Shows?  Scared?  Of course you are.  It’s a big step – and a complex one.  There are many things to consider first, and many preparations to make.  I’m here to help defray your anxiety – at least a bit.

I’m not an expert, but I have been doing shows for 3 years now, and have learned a lot by trial.  I’ve also gotten some wonderful help and advice from older, more experienced artists, as well as from several magazines such as Sunshine Artist and Where The Shows Are.

It takes a lot of hard work to do art shows – don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.  Besides all the preparation and costs before you do the first show, there is the back-breaking labor of setting up, tearing down, keeping up with stock demands, advertising, schmoozing, keeping records, doing taxes – oh, and making art.  Almost forgot about that part!

I’ll break this article into three parts.  The first part is preparing for the show; what to buy, what stock to have, etc.  The second part will concentrate on the show itself – setting up, selling, breaking down.  The third part is the tedious stuff – the record keeping, paperwork, etc.  Each part is, of course, essential to success.  However, you will not be successful if you don’t enjoy the process!

PART I – PREPARING FOR THE FIRST SHOW

Where to begin? Well, let’s start by figuring out how you want to display your art, as that will dictate a lot of the rest.

TENT:  In order to do art shows, you must have a tent.  Many shows require it to be a white tent (unless you are going to do renaissance festivals), and the stronger the better.  However, most of us start out simple, and get an EZup tent, hoping to upgrade to a Flourish or Craft Hut later.  This is fine – as long as you take certain precautions on your EZup.  The reason they are cheap ($200 or less) is because they are not strong, and can blow away in 15mph winds.  But not many artists just starting out can afford a $700 investment in a Craft Hut, plus the Propanels to go with it.

If you do buy an EZup, try to get one of the sturdier models.  I purchased an Encore II at Sam’s Club three years ago for $100, and it included four zippered/Velcro walls.  It’s done well by me, though the roof is starting to droop a little.  I got concrete weights to put on each leg, and weigh down the tent by attaching everything to the frame.  Eventually I will upgrade, but since I often set up alone, EZup is a useful and practical option for me.

DISPLAY WALLS:  If you sell 2D art, such as paintings or photographs, you will want walls for your tent to hang them on.  If you sell 2D art, such as pottery or jewelry, you will want tables, stands, or other display items.  I sell both 2D and 3D, so I have both to worry about!

I started out with gridwalls, which you can buy at display stores, and cost around $20 a piece (plus shipping!).  Gridwalls are sturdy, but heavy, and aren’t as professional looking as Propanels… but they won’t break the bank either, and can weigh down that tent nicely, especially after hanging framed prints on them.  I still have some gridwalls, but I have lighter aluminum ones with thinner metal grids.  For the sides of my tent, I have graduated to mesh walls, which are a wonderful mid-range option.  These are walls made of strong mesh, easy to hang on your tent (they attach to the frame) and have a stabilization bar at the bottom.  They are easily transported as they fold in half and roll up.  They are expensive though – $600 for three of them, retail.  Check artist groups online, as many people upgrade to Propanels and sell off their old mesh panels at a discount.  That’s how I got mine – 2 walls for $100 including shipping.

TABLES:  If you have 3D art, or browsing bins for your 2D art, you may want tables.  I love the plastic durable folding tables you can get at Sam’s or Costco – they are virtually indestructible, and MUCH lighter than those wooden monstrosities.   However, you will want matching table cloths for your display – trust me, it looks so much more professional, with the fabric coming to the ground and hiding all those storage boxes.

DÉCOR:  Yes, décor.  An art booth at an art show is competing with 200 other artists, and you want the patrons to be welcomed into your booth, and enjoy their stay.  Better yet, remember their stay and come back when they are ready to purchase.  If it is memorable (in a good way!) then you have an advantage.  This can be achieved in a color scheme (my booth is all green and white), a theme (one lady had everything like a desert bazaar), or just simple and elegant.  One lady had her jewelry all displayed on the necks of glass vases, with black and white stones in all the vases.  One man had his nautical themed paintings on walls decorated with fake coral and fishing nets.

Be creative in this, but it must look nice, professional, and not distracting.  Try to stay away from colored ceilings or tent tops – it will distort your work in something other than white light.

 

SETUP:  Now that you have a tent, display furniture and a décor, how to set things up?  I would suggest having things at several ‘viewpoints’, i.e., something at eye level, something at table level, and something in between.  This will make the best use of the limited space available.  Finding a good solution to this has as many results as there are artists.  I use collapsible wire mesh boxes (got them at Bed Bath and Beyond) that can be constructed on site, deconstructed afterwards, and carried in one small bag in the meantime.  They not only give me a second level on my tables, but offer sheltered cube for displays that are easily blown down by wind.  Some folks simply use carrying boxes covered in attractive (and matching!) cloths, while other build shelves for each show.  Remember that a display should have several features – be useful, attractive, easy to set up, and easily transported.  It is even better if it doubles as a carrying container, so there is no wasted space in your van.

If you have items hanging on the walls, you will want them to look nice.  Similar color and size frames put together helps, as does a straight line of images across.  While some artists are good at making attractive ‘clumps’ of paintings, it often comes off as just jumbled together.  Use your judgment, and ask opinions of others – sometimes you are too close to the project by this time.

INVENTORY:  OK, now what do we put IN this wonderful, lovely looking setup?  Well, I have noticed that putting one spectacular piece out front – I use a beaded shirt I made – brings people to the tent in droves.  What brings them all the way in is another spectacular piece at the back center of the tent.  In between is the affordable stuff, the items they actually purchase.  I usually have one each of my matted prints, though I bring 3-4 of my best sellers, and replenish when they sell.  If people are flipping through bins, and see lots of repeats, they usually stop flipping.  If they realize there is only one of each image, they often want to see each one.  You may want to consider whether you will frame/unframed on request at the show, and bring equipment accordingly.  My jewelry is an easier inventory solution – I just bring everything, and put most of it out.   Each piece is unique, so someone might like this one, but in that color.  Oh, I’ve got that right here!

Another inventory piece of advice:  Have something at several price points.  You don’t want to only have items that cost $100.  You will likely never sell anything at many shows.  I have handmade beads that sell for $1 each, gift cards at $3.50, all the way up to necklaces for $100, $200, and some items at over $1000.  Something for everyone, so everyone buys something J

PRICING:  The eternal question!  No one has a true answer to this, but I have some ideas to pass on.  I’m a tax accountant as well, and the formula SHOULD be as follows.  For anything you sell, take your costs of making it, your own hourly wage for creating it (times the number of hours spent on the project) and then add your overhead.  Double this for your wholesale price, double THAT for your retail price.  In real life, this isn’t always easy to figure out.

First, what hourly wage should I choose?  That’s up to you.  What would you be comfortable making, doing this for a living?  $10?  $30?  $50?  I find I charge less for items I do less ‘creating’ on.

Second, what’s overhead?  That’s the costs that aren’t directly related to creating your pieces of art.  It includes the cost of traveling to shows, the jury and art show fees, the cost of the tent and tables, your meals while at the show, advertising, business cards, website fees, etc.  It’s very difficult to figure out, especially when you are first starting out.  After the first year, you can add up all those expenses, and divide by the total hours you spent making art – and that is your hourly overhead fee.  During the first year, however, you need to estimate it the same way.

For instance, say you spent $600 on your setup (tent, tables, cloths, etc.).  Then you spent another $300 on framing prints, matting, making gift cards, and all your stock.  You plan on applying on 4 shows this year, and each one will cost $100 in fees, and $50 in traveling expenses and meals.  You spent $50 on business cards, and $50 in website fees.

So, your inventory cost is $300, and you kept track of what item cost what, so you don’t have to ‘apply’ a percentage.  Item A cost $10 and you spent 10 hours on it (at, say, $20 an hour), Item B cost $50 (and 20 hours @$20 an hour).

Your overhead is a total of $600+(100+50)*4+50+50 = $1300.  You estimate that you will spent about 500 hours making the art you currently have in stock, so your overhead cost per hour is $2.60.

Item A has the following costs:                                      Item B has the following costs:

Direct Cost       $10                                                       $50

Direct Labor      10X$20 = $200                                      20X$20 = $400

Overhead          10X$2.60 = $26                                     20X$2.60 = $52

Total Cost         $236                                                     $502

Wholesale         $472                                                     $1004

Retail                $944                                                     $2008

These are guidelines, of course, not set in stone.  They reflect absolutes and estimates, not the real world.  You also have to look at your market, your competition, the economy in your area, and your cash flow.  If someone next door to you is selling the same item for 30% less, you won’t sell much.

OTHER STUFF:  Oh, there are lots of other things to do to get ready for a show.  You will need many of the following items – get them ahead of time, and save yourself some worry.  This list is not comprehensive, but it should cover most bases.

Price lists or price tags

Credit card machine/knucklebuster/credit card receipts/MC Visa signs

Cash box

Receipt book

Business cards

Bags

Calculator

Pens (one will always go dry on you during a show, bring several)

Dolly

Chair

Flip bins

Hooks for hanging (I use curtain hooks and S hooks)

Business card holder

Sign with your name on it

Bungee cords

Tarp

Weights (concrete, water jugs, etc.)

Side walls (to close up at night)

Umbrella

Hand fan

Sunscreen

Bug Spray

Lantern (for after dusk or pre-dawn setups)

Hand towel (setup can get sweaty)

Mirror (you want to look nice after that sweaty setup)

Water

Snacks

Cooler

Change box and change (very important!)

Project to work on while the customers browse (reading a book makes you look uninterested)

Guest list for mailing and email addresses

Good attitude, smile, and sense of humor!

I highly recommend thinking about taking credit cards.  My sales have doubled since I have done so, and using a low-end service like www.propay.com means there is no investment in equipment.  I pay $60 per month and a transaction fee per sale, and use a $5 knucklebuster for my sales.

APPLYING:  OK, you are all ready for the shows, let’s apply to one!  Which one?  That’s the hard part.  There are several magazines and websites that list shows by area.  Sunshine Artist and Where the Shows Are are both good sources.  I also search the web for events in my area, and ask other artists.  I’ve found some gems by word-of-mouth.  There are promoter shows (such as Howard Alan or Amy Amdur) that have fairly high display standards, but they spend a lot of money getting people to the show.

I have learned a couple things.  More people at the show don’t necessarily mean more sales, but if no one shows up, no one will buy.  I have had light attendance shows that did well, and then the same promoter had another show where there were NO patrons – and no sales.  I’ve also learned that the more things there are going on at a show, the fewer art dollars are spent.  So if the show has a carnival, a seafood festival, a concert, a car show, a pet show, and an art show, very few people will be there to buy art.

Also, local is best for several reasons.  First, people are always more willing to buy from a local artist, and second, you have less travel expense if you don’t have to stay overnight in a hotel, or spend a lot in gas.  Starting out, I’d recommend only doing those shows you can stay at home for.  In my third year, I am just branching out to overnighters – but then I am blessed with many good local shows.

Most shows require that you apply several months in advance.  I apply for my fall shows in the spring, and vice versa.  They also require slides or photos of your work – and your tent.  Set up in your backyard on an overcast day (no harsh shadows).  Take the glass out of your frames (no glare), do a simple setup (not cluttered) and as professional as it can be.  Send that in with your application, and it should be fine.  There is a great debate over whether juries want a ‘real’ booth, or a ‘staged’ booth photo, but I believe in being honest, and each jury will have a different preference.

Once you’ve applied, you will have to wait for a response, usually several months.  You either get a rejection or an acceptance letter.  The acceptance letter is sometimes accompanied by a vendor packet, telling you where to go to check in, etc.  So now, we graduate to Part II:

 

PART II – THE SHOW ITSELF

BEFORE THE SHOW:  I collect data that is useful for each show.  Not just how many people attend, or how many artists are setting up, but also whether I will need to dolly in my stuff, if I can set up Friday night, what the hours of the show are both days, and if there are prizes and booth-sitting services available.

I keep that data in my database, and have it available for next year, when deciding whether I liked that show enough that dollying wasn’t too bad.  For instance, I just had a show in DeLand where I had to dolly my whole setup (by myself) and it took twice as long as normal.  However, sales were great and I won a prize – definitely a good show!

GETTING THERE:  Next question will be – how do I get my stuff to and from the show?  Well, if you have a van already, you are set.  If not, you may want to rent one for your first try.  What if you hate doing this?  No need to sink $20,000 into a van and then regret it!  Another option, if you have a heavy-duty car or truck, is to rent or purchase a trailer, and put all your stuff in there.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  Driving with a trailer is difficult, and more so in tight spaces (like setting up at the show).  However, you can disconnect the trailer and drive around town each evening without it, and you won’t have to unpack between shows.

SETTING UP:  Let’s say you had or have rented a van.  Pack up the night before, and head on out Friday evening, hopefully.  The shows that have Friday night setup are higher in my book than those that don’t, as I don’t care for waking up at 4am to do all that setup myself.  In addition, my husband will help me set up the night before, but not if he has to wake up and go with me in the morning J

You arrive to your show, find the check in booth, get your spot assignment and go.  Do everyone a favor – unload everything first, go park your vehicle, and then come back and set up.  Ask a neighbor to watch your stuff while you do so.  Most will be glad to, as it will cut down on traffic and congestion within the show, which is chaos at this point anyhow.

I usually set up tent first, then walls, then framed prints, then tables (so I don’t have to lean over tables to hang prints), tablecloths, and mesh boxes on the tables.  This I do Friday night, if possible, close up my booth with the white walls, and come back the next morning.  I roll up the side walls (makes it easier to take down again Saturday night), set up my matted prints, my jewelry, my sales area, and I’m ready to go.  Without help, it takes me about 3 hours start to finish.

SHOWTIME!:  It’s 10am, the patrons are starting to filter in.  One by one, they look at your booth – they see the spectacular piece out front, ask you how many hours it took, stand amazed at your beautiful pieces, tell you they should be in a museum… and then walk out without buying anything.  It is very frustrating, and all artists go through this.  Do not despair!  Do not take their unwillingness to buy to heart – someone will buy your stuff.  Just this weekend, a patron loved a necklace, but didn’t buy it.  Next Wednesday they emailed me, asked if it was still available, they wanted it shipped to them.  It happens!  Having a website is a good backup tool, as well – I hand out my card as they leave, saying ‘most of my stuff is available on my website’.  I’ve gotten several after-show sales this way.

I also get commissions after the fact, and have had last minute sales while breaking down.  One gentleman came in to my booth at 5:15pm.  Show had ended at 5, most vendors had started breaking down earlier (a local race pulled all the crowds away at 4).  He came in, asked how much a piece was, and bought the $200 piece on the spot.  Can we say last minute birthday gift? (It was a necklace).

The most important part of the show is talking to the customers, smiling, enjoying your conversations, learning things about people.  To me, this is my shining social hour, and I love it.  I’m not a hard-seller, but I give information about pieces people are looking at, such as ‘that piece is based on an old Russian beading technique’, or ‘I took that photo this summer in Ireland’.  It gives them a chance to continue the conversation without having to start it.  If they are interested, they may ask more questions, if not, they will nod and keep looking.

If you are shy, this isn’t easy, but having something to talk about may help a lot.  Talk up your work – mention that the prints are on archival paper, or on canvas, or that you created that work for a Breast Cancer Charity Event.  ‘Let me know if you have any questions on a piece, I’ll be happy to answer them’; ‘If you wish to try a piece on, I’ve a mirror over here’; ‘Are you looking for something in particular?’  I never used to ask this, but this weekend I sold three pieces just by asking that.  The first said he was an O’Brien, and I realized I had a photo of a castle that was his ancestral seat; he bought it right there.  Another lady said she collected dragons – I directed her to one of my dragon drawings, and it sold.  A third couple had stayed at a cottage in Ireland near where one of my photos was taken – they bought the framed copy right away.  Information is powerful!

While you sell items, make sure to keep records of what you sell, as well as the sales tax charged (very important!).  I keep a running tab of my sales for the day, so I know where I stand at any point.  Most artists are cagey about letting other artists know their sales, but I have no problem saying that, three years into the business, I’m averaging about $700 a show.  Some folks who do higher-end stuff aren’t happy with a show under $2000, but then again, they are frequently traveling more than I am.

Saturday night, I usually take my little items (jewelry) that are more expensive, and box up my matted prints (to keep them from getting damaged by dew or rain), and leave the framed ones up on my walls.  I put my walls down and close up the booth, but it would add another hour to setup the next morning to take down the framed items – and with photos, none are originals.  If they are stolen or damaged, I can reprint them.  It’s a matter of cost vs. benefit, and usually I err on the side of laziness J

Sunday morning, since I live in the Bible belt, shows usually don’t get swinging until after noon.  However, I find a lot of patrons wait until the second day to make their purchases, so it makes up for early light activity.

PRACTICAL MATTERS:  If you are doing the show with a friend, spouse, or partner, these matters may not be as difficult, but what if you are alone?  I usually am, and things like eating, going to the bathroom, and getting my vehicle are items which require assistance.  I usually ask a neighbor if they would mind watching my booth for me while I run to do whatever – most are helpful.  You may return the favor for them in an hour, after all!  Some shows have booth sitters, but you usually have to sign up ahead of time for them.  Sometimes I see a friend at a show, and ask them to grab me some lunch.  There are several solutions to these matters!

LODGING:  So you’ve gone and done a show that’s 2 hours away from your house.  Do you drive back or do you rent a hotel?  Well, think of the price of gas.  With your van, does it cost more to drive back and forth each night than a $50 hotel room will cost?  Usually.  And the time lost, and the fatigue while driving after setup and a day’s work will cost, as well.  So, I usually use the 2 hour mark as my guideline – anything more than that, and I stay overnight.  I search online for basic, cheap accommodation.  For instance, I found a Suburban Extended Stay room in Daytona last weekend for $45 a night – about 20 minutes from my show site.  Score!

There are other options for the adventurous.  You might have a bed in the van, or bring a tent to camp out, or have an RV.  However, I prefer to bring less and sleep more. J

BREAKING DOWN:  No, I don’t mean a nervous breakdown, though you may be ready for it!  I mean breaking down the tent after the show ends.  I caution highly against breaking down early, even if the crowds are light!  Not only is it usually against the show rules, but I’ve had many last-minute sales over the years.  Often it is because I am one of the few tents still open!  Yes, it is very tempting when the crowds have gone for the day, but resist the temptation if you can!

When you have packed up all your stuff, then go and get your vehicle – again, this cuts down on traffic and congestion in the street or park.  My breakdown (alone) is usually only about 1.5 hours, much less than setup, as I have a system of what items go in what boxes, and have them labeled.  The prints go in here, the framed items go in those, the jewelry on those T-bars goes in this box, etc.  Everything to its place, and it goes quickly and efficiently.  Then you go home, relax, and procrastinate your unpacking J

PART III:  PAPERWORK AND AFTERMATH

AFTER THE SHOW:  You’ve done your first show, yay!  Now you are exhausted, but hopefully you’ve made some profit.  Remember, a no-sale show is not necessarily a wash – you can make a lot of contacts, get your name out there, and start getting an artistic reputation in the area.  And you learn something each show; my display changes a bit each show, as I think of better or different ways of doing things, packing things, displaying things.

As soon as I get back home, I do the following things;

  1. Enter my credit card sales online (faster done, faster paid)
  2. Go through my cash, take out the amount over my ‘bank’ of $100, leave the rest for next show
  3. Take out any checks for deposit the next day with the excess cash
  4. Enter my sales (and sales tax) into my sales spreadsheet, including keeping track of my inventory
  5. Replenish my inventory for sold prints

I usually unpack the next day, after I’ve recovered a bit physically from the show, the packing, and the drive home.  Of course, if you have a trailer, that step isn’t necessary!

TAXES:  Oh, that dreaded word!  There are a couple to pay attention to, though.  Sales tax needs to be paid in, either quarterly or monthly, and income taxes.  If you are making a profit (and you will know that if you are keeping good records!) then you may need to make quarterly income tax payments to avoid penalties at year end.

So, now that you’ve come through the roller-coaster, did you enjoy it?  Sure, it was hard work, but was it fun?  I personally truly enjoy the chance to meet people, share my visions and artwork, and make some cash as well.  I started out doing 3 shows my first year, and have done 15 in the last 12 months.  I haven’t quit my day job, but I am definitely making enough money to start thinking about those estimated tax payments, and it’s still early days.

I hope my ruminations have helped you on your own path towards art shows.  Remember, it’s not for everyone, but if it is for you, go for it and have a wonderful time!

Call of the Morrigú

Call of the Morrigú

Release date July 19th, 2017

Would you dare rouse a goddess?

Life wasn’t easy in 1798 Ireland. Rebellions were rising across the countryside, and the English could be cruel overlords. However, this brutality hadn’t reached the country estate of Strokestown.

Theodosia Latimer and her grandfather Reginald, were on a mission to discover the past. They were determined to excavate some ancient mounds on their estate. But when they discovered an imprisoned goddess straight out of Ireland’s rich mythological history, they were both dumbfounded and frightened.

Tasked with integrating this primeval warrior woman into polite society, they developed both respect and fear for the powerful goddess. Would they be able to tame her lust for violence in the upcoming rebellion? Or would they fall victim to it?

The Enchanted Swans

The Enchanted Swans – available now!

Release date March 8th, 2017

Based on the ancient Irish Fairy Tale, The Children of Lir

Winner – Books and Benches Readers’ Choice Book Cover Contest, February 2017

Winner – InD’Tale Magazine Crème de la Cover Contest, May 2017

Winner – Readers’ Favorite Silver Book Award 2017 (Fiction – Fantasy – General)

Finalist – Book Excellence Award 2017 (Fantasy)

In pre-Celtic Ireland, Fionnuala was a fae princess, born to a life of luxury. She knew her duty and loved her family. She missed her mother, who died in childbirth when Fionnuala was but ten years old. Still, she had hopes and dreams of love and a full life.

All her dreams were stolen from her, ripped away in a torrent of envy and magic.

Now she must care for her three brothers while learning to live under an evil curse. Will she find a way to break the spell, or would they remain swans, tethered to three places for nine hundred years?

 

 

 

The Druid’s Brooch Series

………………………………………….    *      *      

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Legacy of Hunger: Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1846. 

Legacy of Truth: Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1800. Prequel to Legacy of Hunger.

Legacy of Luck: Historical fantasy set in Ireland and Scotland, 1745. Prequel to Legacy of Truth.

Misfortune of Vision: Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1177.  First in the new trilogy!

Misfortune of Song: Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1114.  Prequel to Misfortune of Vision

Misfortune of Time: Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1055.  (Release Date July 11, 2018)

 

The Druid’s Brooch is a family legacy, handed down through countless generations, granting each holder a specific magical power, unique to them. Follow the stories of these generations.

Legacy of Hunger

Ireland is no promised land in 1846. It is wracked by a crippling potato blight, and people are dying. But Valentia McDowell doesn’t know that.

From her father’s prosperous farm in Ohio, young Valentia is haunted by tales of an abandoned family and a lost heirloom. She travels to her grandmother’s homeland with her brother, Conor, and two servants, to find both. Her delight in the exciting journey on one of the first steam ships to cross the Atlantic is shattered by a horrible tragedy.

What she encounters upon her arrival in Ireland is both more and less than she had hoped. Valentia finds both enemies and allies, amid horrors and delights, and a small bit of magic. She finds a richer heritage than she had ever imagined, but it comes with a price.

When she finally reaches her goal, a terrible price is demanded. She must pay or forfeit, and both decisions have strong consequences for her and her friends.

First Place Winner in the Historical Fiction Category of Published Books in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Finalist for The Wishing Shelf Book Awards – Adult Fiction 2016

Semi-Finalist in Golden Book Award Contest – 2018

Legacy of Truth

Gifted with a magical brooch, passed down in her family for generations, Esme finds herself isolated and ill in an unfamiliar land.

Her sister plots to steal the family heirloom from her in order to exploit the magical powers for her own gain, and Esme must battle for survival of herself and those she loves.

Nominee for Global eBook Awards 2016

Legacy of Luck

Irish Traveler Éamonn loves gambling, women, and drinking, not necessarily in that order. But he’s entangled in a true mess when he falls for fiery redhead, Katie. When she’s married to a Scottish Traveler, Éamonn travels to Scotland to find her, with the help of Katie’s sister and cousin, and the magical brooch gifted by his father. Their quest takes them across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Skye, encountering war, betrayal, death. In the end, Éamonn must make his own luck.

Second Place winner in the Historical Fiction category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards

Winner of January 2017 Chill With a Book Award – Readers’ Award.

Misfortune of Vision

Prophecy can be dangerous

In 12th century Ireland, Orlagh has been Seer to her king for forty years. He doesn’t want to hear her prophecies of war and destruction, and dismisses her efforts to warn him. Therefore, she is determined to fulfill her own quest: to find a worthy heir for her magical brooch.

In the course of events, she must pass judgment on a thief, escape a Norman war camp, and battle wits with a Fae lord. She receives some prophecy of her own and enlists the help of a grizzled old warrior, who happens to be a long–time friend.

Misfortune of Song

Even a soldier cannot fight love

In 12th century Ireland, all Maelan wants is to do his duty to his Chief and maintain his family’s good name. However, his granddaughter Orlagh, is hell bent on wreaking havoc, with no care for the consequences.

When Orlagh falls in love with an itinerant bard, Maelan must rule with an iron fist to keep her from running away. However, her rebellion against his strictures results in disaster and he almost loses her in the same way he lost his beloved wife.

Maelan must make some difficult decisions and bargains with the Fae to save his granddaughter’s life and future. Can he save her happiness as well?

 

Misfortune of Time

— Time Heals No Wounds —

In 11th century Ireland, Étaín must hide her pagan magic from her pious Christian priest husband, Airtre. She wants to escape his physical abuse, but she must stay to protect their grandson, Maelan. Over many lifetimes, she has learned how to endure her own pain, but Maelan is young and vulnerable.

When Airtre’s paranoia and jealousy spiral out of control, Étaín has no choice but to escape in the night with little more than the clothing on her back, leaving a trusted friend to protect Maelan.

This is not the first lifetime Étaín has fled, and she knows how to survive. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she must make decisions that may result in disaster for her, her grandson, and everyone she loves.

 

 

 

Listening to your Muse

Listening to Your Muse

What is Digital Art?

What is Digital Art?

We are in a relatively new world, the Information Age.  The days of Pony Express, telegraphs and hand written letters are over.  So what does this mean in the art world?  It means that we have a wonderfully flexible, complex, and sometimes abused new tool to help us create art – the computer.

Many people confuse the two definitions, and this article will try to de-mystify the process of digital art, and allow folks to understand the way it works.

Before I get into an explanation of digital art, I’d like to set out some definitions.

  • Digital Art:  This is a broad term that encompasses many different methods and work flow.  Some people apply it to anything that touches a computer, even scanned copies of oil paintings from which prints are made.  Others apply it only to pieces that are painted entirely using the computer.  Many others have definitions that fall in between.  For many folks, digital photography could easily be considered digital art.  The DAPTTF (Digital Art Practices & Terminology Task Force) official definition for a digital fine art print is:  “A fine art print made by any digital output process conforming to traditional fine art qualifications and requirements.”

 

  • Computer-Generated Art:  This would be art actually created by the computer, with little or no input from the artist.  Some programs, such as a fractal generator, can create such things using random numbers and a command.  They are often complex and pretty, but have no composition, line, contrast or design considerations.  Most artists who create art with fractals use these as a base.  They then take those computer-generated fractals and do so much post-work to it that it is now their own creation, and bears little resemblance to what the computer originally created.  The DAPTTF official definition is:  “A misnomer that implies that no human, artistic control is required to produce artwork. In general it may mean having come through a specific kind of device, but essentially it is understood that computers do nothing without the input and control of human beings.”

 

  • 3-D Art:  This is art created in a 3-D program like Poser, Bryce or Daz Studio.  It takes a base figure or prop that someone previously created (either the software company, the artist themselves or another artist), and allows the artist to position it in different ways, apply lighting to it, changing perspective, etc.  Many artists take a base figure and customize it, making a ‘character’ that they can then use as a figure in different settings, situations, etc.  Again, this is taking a previously created piece and customizing it to the artists’ own creative vision, like in the fractal example above.  The computer doesn’t do the creative part, the artist does.  Trust me, a figure straight out of Poser, with no post-work done, looks bad!

As an example of Digital Art, I will explain my work flow and process.  This is not, by far, the only way to do things – just the way I like doing them.  I think everyone can agree that it qualifies as Digital Art.

  1. I draw something.  It could be a complex composition with background, details, and shading, or it could be a quick sketch of an outline of a figure.  Pencil drawing is my favorite type of art, so I don’t want to give that up!  I could do it on a Wacom tablet, but haven’t gotten used to that medium yet… so I draw.
  2. I then scan that drawing into my computer, and open it in Photoshop.  I don’t have a high end scanner, this is just to provide an ‘under drawing’ that I then use as a guideline to paint over.
  3. I then paint, using Photoshop, over the areas I have drawn out.  I      choose the size and ‘edge’ of paintbrush I want to use, and paint, using the mouse, in the different areas.  Sometimes I layer several colors, and ‘smudge’ them together.  Often, when I am painting hair, I’ll have 4 or 5 layers and pull very thin, fine smudge lines through them, to draw the individual hairs.
  4. Usually I will zoom in on particular detailed areas to paint them, such as the eyes or the mouth of a figure.  This way I can draw details such as individual eyelashes, the folds in the eyelid, the speckles in the iris, etc.  I then zoom back out to see how it looks from normal distance.  Often it looks completely different, so do this often!
  5. On any one portrait, for example, I have several layers; one or more for skin, a couple for hair, one for the eyes (which later gets collapsed into the skin for blending purposes), the lips, any adornment like jewelry or clothing, etc.  This allows me to adjust individual layers for contrast, color, shadows, etc.
  6. I then have additional layers for props, background, etc.  Sometimes I will do an over-layer to give everything a color cast, like golden light at a sunset, or cool blue for a night scene.  I will paint these colors in, but a      uniform layer over everything helps tie it in better.
  7. After I am done, I will save it in a collapsed form for printing, but I always keep my original layered file.  Usually these have take anywhere from 30-40 hours to produce, and it is really the only proof that I created it.

 

It takes me just as long to create a piece of Digital Art as it would an acrylic or oil painting – but there is no mess, it is flexible enough to allow me to change the composition halfway through, and I can undo what I just did.

Digital Art is still art.  It is created using a tool more flexible than a camera or a canvas and paintbrush, but the computer is still just a tool.  It is the artist that provides the inspiration, the creativity, and the talent and technique to turn that inspiration into a beautiful piece of art.

Sources:

dpandi.com

Glossary of Digital Art and Printmaking

 

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How I Write a Novel

How I Write a Novel

This is my methodology. Feel free to use it, borrow it, smash it, mangle it, fold it, staple it, do whatever you like with it to make it work for you, even toss it out and do your own thing. Everyone writes in a different manner, and that’s what makes reading wonderful.

 

Some people are Pantsers, writing scenes from the seat of their pants, all over the place, and then stringing them together. Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander books, says she does it this way. Others, like me, are Planners. As an accountant, I’m a methodical person. I set things out step by step and, for the most part, follow that plan.

 

Step 1: Concept

My first novel was easy. I was, in fact, inspired to start writing the story long before I actually gave it a go. The story of my parents’ love, interrupted by 30 years, and finally married because I, the result of their first affair, found my father. But often the concept is difficult to come up with. There is a misconception that the concept needs to be unique, unusual, never done before. Maeve Binchy wrote many wonderful books about people in everyday life, going about their business. Buying houses, losing jobs, going to night school, going to college, whatever it was, she wrote character-driven stories in normal plots.

Other novels are plot-driven, full of adventure, betrayal and alien worlds. Neither is better, nor worse. It’s simply a different market.

My second novel was a bit more difficult. I knew I wanted to write about Ireland, as that is my soul’s home, and I’ve been there many times. There are many areas of history in Ireland that I love, and I felt needed to be highlighted. For instance, the Great Hunger of 1846, when half the population died or emigrated, was a great example. So, what would happen if someone went back, instead? Someone, descended from a prior immigrant, returned to Ireland to find her family, only to discover she was in the midst of a genocide? Also, I wanted to add in some fairy magic, as this was, after all, Ireland, a land of myth and mystery. This became the concept for my second novel, Legacy of Hunger. “A spoiled young lady travels back to Ireland in 1846 to discover her family and a lost magical heirloom.”

 

Step 2: Synopsis

Once I had the concept, I used something called the Snowflake Method. It’s what I use – not everyone will love it, but I do. The basic idea is that you start with your concept, and write one basic sentence about it. Then you expand that into three sentences, adding a few details about plot and character. Then each sentence becomes a paragraph, and then again until you have a 2-3 page synopsis with subplots and minor characters. Sort of like a snowflake gets more details as it gets larger. Get it? Of course!

 

Step 3: Characters

The synopsis then gets set aside for a moment and I work on characters. The same thing holds true. Start with a name, add some physical and mental characteristics, a couple of motivations. Make sure to add both flaws and virtues. Maybe a nervous tic, or a bad habit or two. Find good names. A basic rule of thumb is not to have them too similar. In fact, keep the beginning letters different if you can. If you have a Tommy, don’t have a Todd as well. Make him a Robert. Or better yet, a Roberto. And Tommy might be better remembered if he’s Tomas. Does Tomas have a cowlick? And perhaps a hook nose. Maybe he has a habit of running his hands through his hair, or clicking his fingers on a surface. And he gambles. But he’s a good guy, after all – all he wants is to help our heroine find her lost cat. As you work on the characters, you may add some subplots to the main synopsis. That’s OK! Go back and add them in.

Step 4: Scene list

This is when I begin to get down and dirty. I write out all of the scenes of my main plot, and then the subplots, and mix them like a salad. Each scene should advance the story, the character, be a bridge, or be removed. Sometimes I have difficulty, but I try. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list out my scenes. Just a short description (and often this gets cut and moved around later). I list the location, date and point of view, to help me keep track of timeline and who is currently in the center of the scene. Here is the example from Legacy of Hunger, though I’d cut out the first 10 scenes in editing.

Capture

I also use the spreadsheet to keep track of my daily word count, my themes, subplots, etc. I color each one once I’ve finished writing them.

 

Step 5: Writing!

Yes, it’s finally time for me to start writing! While I could, in pure time terms, write up my first four steps in about 6 hours, it usually takes a week or two, as things percolate in my mind. But once I’ve got the scene list down, I write. From scene 1. Now, this doesn’t usually end up being scene 1 in the final draft, but it’s there. Then scene 2, etc. I often move things around a bit, cut a scene, combine, add a scene, sometimes add a whole new subplot while I’m writing, but I’ve got the plan, and it’s my plan, and I’ll change it if I want, so there!

I try to set a minimum each day. 2000 words is normal for me, and I’m pretty good about catching up if I slack off one day. I’m better about writing a couple hundred words extra so if I do slack off, I’ve got cushion. Again, as an accountant, I’m all about the deadlines, so this works for me. One novel, Call of the Morrigan, I simply couldn’t get 2000 words a day out, so I adjusted my minimum to 1000 a day, and that worked fine. That novel fought me tooth and nail, but I finished. The next one (The Enchanted Swans) is working out at 2000 again.

It normally takes me about six weeks to two months to write a 100,000 word novel. As I get near the end, my daily word count increases. I’ve done 10,000 word days before, near the end. It’s like the sprint towards the finish line, no longer a measured marathon.

 

Step 6: Waiting

Yup! Now we wait. If you go back to edit your first draft right now, your mind moves past the bits that aren’t right, filling in the blanks with the images you have in your mind and haven’t gotten on paper. If you wait, a month, two, even six, your mind is clearer, and you are reading it with fewer preconceptions of how it should be. It is then easier for you to see your holes, your bad grammar, your purple prose, and edit it.

 

Step 7: Percolating

Like a good wine, stories usually benefit from sitting in your brain. You think of things. You realize that the ending scene would have much more oomph if the cousin comes to kill the evil step-brother, just as the heroine is about to shoot him, so she isn’t accused of murder. Or that the beginning scene should be of a fire in Pittsburgh, not a drawing room in Ohio. You chew on your opening lines, to make sure they have good impact and hook. You decide that the protagonist is TOO good, she needs some flaws and bad habits. I email myself these notes as I think of them, and then add them to notes in the draft itself (I use Word). Then, when I sit down to do edits, they are all there, waiting for my attention.

 

Step 8: First edit

This is usually when you realize the first three chapters are just story setup, and can be done in flashbacks or recalls. The real action starts in chapter 4. This hurts. Yes, it does. It hurts a lot. Those three chapters were a lot of work, damnit! But it’s worth it, in the end. Read through the whole draft. Subvocalize or read out loud, you will catch more errors. You may move entire parts around, cut out the mushy middle, make the evil twin a greater adversary, all sorts of changes. You may change characters’ names, combine two weak characters into one stronger, more detailed one. You may spend a lot of time with this edit. It’s here that you start taking that lump of clay you created and throw it on the potter’s wheel. You also want to make sure your grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. is all kosher and up to snuff. Here is a great list of self-editing tips!

 

Step 9: Feedback – Alpha

Alpha readers are gold. Many people call them beta readers, but really, after your first major edit, the folks that read through your manuscript and offer feedback at this stage are alpha readers. They can pick out major plotholes, inconsistencies, unrealistic characters, etc. for you. If you have someone you can go to for this, reward them kindly. Often, other authors will swap with you. AWWC has a great resource thread for readers. DON’T use your friends and family for this. They are too apt to be kind, rather than helpful. You need brutality. You need someone who doesn’t care about your precious feelings, that aren’t here to coddle your child.

 

Step 10: Adjusting for feedback

Oh, yes, more editing! Listen to your alpha readers. Change the things you agree with. Sometimes it takes a while to realize you agree with them. Sometimes you won’t agree with them, and you leave it in – but note that someone has a problem with it. When you have someone else read it (the more, the better!) if they also have an issue, maybe it is better to change that bit.

You may rearrange everything again. Often alpha readers point out a basic plotline hole, and requires a lot of rewriting. Don’t be afraid – do it! Then do a re-read and make sure everything fits after your rewriting. I go through and do minor edits, too – have the same spaces between scene markers, whittle down words you overuse, make sure my grammar and spelling is fixed again, etc.

 

Step 11: Feedback – Beta

Beta readers are a little more refining than alpha. The major plotholes should be fixed, but perhaps you’ve moved things around so that there is a time inconsistency that you couldn’t see yourself.

Sometimes an alpha or beta reader will make suggestions to make things better. You may take their advice, or you may not – that is up to you. But if their suggestions makes a huge improvement, let them know how much they’ve helped. In fact, any time someone takes HOURS of their time to help you with your novel, thank them profusely. You may want to acknowledge them in your book, even. Or send a nice gift. Even if you are reciprocating by reading their novel in return, thank them. Even if you don’t agree with their advice, or are hurt by their critique, thank them. And get over it. They are helping!

 

Step 12: Final edits and read-through

Adjusting for the beta reader suggestions is sort of like the almost final touches on your novel. The final ones are that last read-through. Again, subvocalize or read aloud. Polish it. Make those beautiful touches that make it shine and glitter. Then, and only then, should you consider sending it into your agent, publisher, or editor. Since I have a relationship with my publisher, I send it to her, and she sends it on to the editor.

 

Step 13: Wait and more editing

The waiting is hard. I shan’t sugarcoat it. Often it’s a couple months before your editor has read through the book and decided if they are willing to take a chance on it. But when they do – there is more work ahead! The editor will send back several rounds of edits. Usually the first is the harshest – lots of changes! Each one after (usually around three rounds) gets easier, until your lump has become a sparkling diamond!

 

Step 14: Pre-release

During this time you will work with a cover artist, and work on marketing. Your publisher might send you an ARC  (Advanced Reader Copy) of your novel – get that thing out there! Send it to reviewers so you have some reviews when it’s released! Do marketing and promotion NOW. It’s never too early to start the buzz! If your book is available for pre-order, even better – get those people buying!

 

Step 15: Release

This is it, your big day! Promote and market the HELL out of it. Make sure everyone knows about it. Social media, live signings, anything you can get. Your publisher may do some promotion, but this is YOUR baby. You are the person who benefits most from this, get out there and WORK. Why would you spend months creating a novel, and then do nothing to sell it? It’s like having a child, and release day is the day you are sending it to college. You may not be doing any real work on the novel any longer, but you have to pay for college, and help support your child emotionally while they are learning to live on their own!

Chase reviews. The more reviews you have (at least decent and positive reviews) the more people will buy your book. Also, many promotions require a minimum number of reviews on Amazon to be eligible for their promotion, so court them. Go on a review virtual blog tour. Ask people to review the book. Often!

 

Step 16: Keep going!

The work doesn’t stop when your novel releases. Keep the buzz going. The best way to sell your novel is to release another one – so have another child. Have eight! The buzz from one will spill onto the other.

It’s a long and arduous process. Most people never even start that novel they always think they should write. Most who do start never finish. Many first drafts are sitting around, waiting to be edited. If you actually complete and edit a novel, you are special. You are wonderful. But the work never actually finishes… it just gets better!

 

I’ve now written two travel guides and five novels, and am halfway through my sixth. The two travel guides and one novel have been published, and a second novel is submitted for publication. I may not be an expert, but this is how I’ve done it so far. I hope this helps!

 

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For a more extensive treatment of each step, I wrote a series of blog posts: