Evolution of a Booth Shot

I just finished setting up my craft show booth in my bedroom to take a booth shot for the Smithsonian Craft Show application. It's amazing to me how far it's come in the three months since I debuted my work at the American Craft Council show in Baltimore.

My First Booth

Below is my booth at the ACC show. Since it was my first show, I rented as much as possible from the convention center. Thinking that my colorful artwork would pop best on white, I chose white drapes from the venue's contractor, and I bought white table cloths to cover the rented tables.

Upon arriving at the convention center, I discovered the first two problems with rented equipment.

  1. The tables were two different heights. Adjacent tables! Touching each other! Fortunately, the convention center equipment contractor was willing to rectify that.
  2. The tables were fully three INCHES shorter than advertised. My 42" tablecloths on the venue's actually-39" tables looked like they were playing dress-up with their parents' clothing.

(The third problem with rented equipment is that you may arrive at the venue to discover that the equipment is still on a truck on its way to the venue, and you have to wait a few more hours before it arrives and is installed by the contractors. 😬)

Those skirted tables don't look professional, but they did allow me to hide a cart, step ladder, and all my packing crates and extra artwork.

Booth Shot #2

The next show I applied to required a booth shot. Art shows do blind jurying, so booth shots are required to be free of identifying materials. The photo can't contain the artist, the artist's name, logo, website, social media handles, or anything else that could allow the jury to discover the artist's identity. Some shows expect the photo to contain nothing but the art (no chairs, no packaging tables, no mini-desk for marketing materials and email sign-ups).

So, even if I'd wanted to use my first booth setup, I couldn't use any of my photos, as my name is in huge type on the back wall.

First, I needed a frame. You can buy the pipes and bases that convention center use, but I was toying with the idea of doing both indoor and outdoor shows, which meant a frame that is built to be used outdoors in high wind and water situations. The top tier outdoor shows have restrictions on what kind of tent you can have, so there are three manufacturers to choose from, each with pros and cons.

While I waffled on which frame to invest in, I had a looming photo deadline, so I bought eleven 10' long pieces of 1.5" diameter PVC and made a fake booth frame. I knew I would need to tinker a lot, so I wanted to find a space in my house to set up the frame. The only dimensionally-adequate space turned out to be my bedroom, which required removing my bed! Just another day in the life of an artist. 😂

My friends and I had been scouting booths at the ACC show and concluded that my next booth would not use those ruffly drapes that are present at all convention center and museum shows. This meant fabricating wall coverings that could pack down small for transport and looking amazing and professional when hung. And not require ironing, because an iron is a woodworking tool for applying edge banding to plywood.

Over the course of an entire day, my generous, amazing, and attractive assistant and I cut and hung curtains, deployed floor tiles, assembled tables, and staged the artwork. While we dragged in every torchiere lamp and work light we could find, it was still dark in the room, and she make me shut all the blinds because she has a degree in lighting design from Yale and Would Not Tolerate Backlighting. I think Yale may revoke your degree under those conditions, so the stakes were high.

The resulting photo was not great. Not enough light, and we ended up just putting most of the work in stands so that it could be seen by the camera. While I was aware that work should be placed at a variety of levels, I didn't yet have tabletop pedestals or any firm ideas about merchandising.

But it did get me into the show I was applying to!

Afterward, I felt like a complete ninny. Track lighting is an essential part of any indoor show booth since the lights in convention centers are not adequate to light art. I'd even picked out the track lighting that I planned to use, but I hadn't ordered it.

Booth Shot #3

My next application requiring a booth shot was for the pinnacle of all craft shows, the Smithsonian.

No, I don't think so highly of myself that I expect to appear at the Smithsonian right after doing my first show. However, the Smithsonian Craft Show committee members were scouting at the American Craft Council show, and they asked me to apply since they are looking to diversify their offerings into more affordable art and new artists. It would be rude to say no.

I had to up my game for this. At a show like the Smithsonian, the highest quality of work is only table stakes. The jurying process is also a booth-off. There are more qualified applicants than there are spots, so you must create a gallery-quality space for the work.

Knowing I couldn't apply to the Smithsonian with a PVC frame, I'd committed to a Light Dome, which appeared at the door two days before Booth Shot Day. For the artists out there, I picked the Light Dome because they have an indoor-only frame option that doesn't have rafter horns.

The frame is all collapsible aluminum poles that fit into a skinny carry bag and weigh a very reasonable 36 lb.

Booth Shot Day was selected for its relatively low temperature of 80º amongst a string of 95º days. With the unprofessional darkness of Booth Shot #2, I felt that I had to shoot the next one outside to take advantage of nature's extra photons.

It turns out that a lot of wind is involved in the weather going from 95º to 80º and back to 95º in the span of 48 hours.

I didn't notice the wind while I was putting together the tent frame, but my assistant arrived, we hung the first curtain, and it blew right off. Several minutes of slapstick comedy ensued as we tried reversing alternating hooks, adding the steel rods I'd bought to weigh the panels down, and snatching things as they fell. The wind found this all very entertaining. My surf-obsessed assistant checked the wind forecast. It was expected to do this all day. We took down the curtain panels and retreated to drink coffee and strategize.

The only thing for it seemed to be turn my bedroom into a photo studio again, so out went the bed, and we struck the tent and hauled everything inside. I also had lights this time around. And I discovered ball bungees. Mind blown.

Hours of fussing later: a mini art gallery, complete with closet to hide me, my travel packing station, and all the detritus involved in shlepping all this stuff around.

And the runner up ...