Only a few days left before I haul this banner and everything else into Calgary to set up my booth. Having been to the Calgary Expo as a ticket-buying attendee a couple of times, including during last year’s ‘if something could go wrong, it did,” event, this will be my first year as an exhibitor. With a mixture of paranoia and excitement, I’ve spent the last four or five months obsessing about every last detail, trying to anticipate anything and everything that could go wrong and preparing for it. As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s simply my nature.”
You could pretty much divide my career into two professions. I’m a cartoonist, editorial and otherwise, but I’m also a digital painter. While they both rely on the same artistic skills and the styles do intermingle, they’re actually quite distinctive in their differences. As a cartoonist, I create and sell daily editorial cartoons and do custom cartoon style illustrations for clients. As a painter, I create my Totem artwork, those whimsical funny looking animals that are printed and sold online, in galleries, retail outlets and licensed on T-shirts through The Mountain. I also regularly paint commissions of pets for people. They’re almost two different businesses. And while the learned experts would say that an artist or business should focus on one thing and be good at that, they’re both large parts of how I make my living. I enjoy them both equally, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m good at both and would have a hard time letting one of them go.
For the Expo, however, the two styles don’t belong together in the same booth. So for this event, I am a digital painter first and foremost and this is the work I’ll be selling. If the animals I painted were in the realistic style of Robert Bateman, this venue might not be the right choice to sell my work, but because of the nature of my Totems, their caricature look that borders on the fringes of other artistic styles, I think this will be a good fit. There are a lot of people looking to buy art at this event and I’m optimistic that mine will generate some interest with this crowd. The fact that my Eagle Totem made it into the Calgary Expo Art Book this year would seem to support that theory.
A survey this year of those folks who follow me on my Facebook page revealed my Top Ten Totems and I’ve been busy ordering, signing, assembling, and pricing the three types of prints I’ll be offering when the Expo kicks off on Friday. There are 11″X14″ Poster prints, the quality you would expect to find in a book or on a poster (funny how that works). I’m also offering 11″X14″ matted giclée prints. These are exceptional quality, printed on high end paper with archival ink and materials. These are the prints I regularly sell in galleries, the ones in the above image. And finally, 12″X16″ giclée stretched limited edition canvas prints, complete with certificates of authenticity, gallery quality as well. A couple of 18″X24″ framed canvas prints will be also be available.
When planning this booth, I went back and forth on which items to offer, how much of each image to print, how much stock to bring, what prices to assign to each, and what retail hardware and support equipment to buy as well. I could end up bringing home a lot of prints, or selling out too early and have nothing to offer on the last day. Both would be undesirable, although to be honest, selling out wouldn’t be so bad. There are so many variables to consider the first year and I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘best guess’ is the final say on almost every decision made. I’ve had friends give me advice based on their experience, I’ve read articles online, in books, and magazines, but in the end, it will come down to not how somebody else has done at this sort of event, but whether or not my images will sell at this venue. The only way to know that is to put my best foot forward, then wait and see. Of course, having a very supportive wife who is taking a couple of days off to work the booth with me does make it a lot easier. Fail or succeed, at least I’m not doing this alone. She’s even going to wear an Ostrich Totem shirt.
I’ve always done well in my career by taking risks, especially ones that make me nervous and require me to stick my neck out. The financial investment for this venture has been significant because I can’t bring myself to do anything half-assed. If I’m going to take a shot, I need to be proud of the effort, win or lose. I’ve spent the money, I’ve got more inventory in my possession right now than I’ve ever had, and now I just have to show up and put on a smile.
The Expo sold out of tickets a couple of weeks ago, and 60,000 people are expected to show up between Friday and Sunday. It’s going to be a zoo, but also a lot of fun. Some of the most interesting people you could ever want to meet will be invading the BMO Centre in Calgary this weekend, a number of them in costume. This time next week, I’ll be exhausted, but it’ll be worth it.
If you’ve got tickets, you can find me in the Small Press section, Booth R 08. See you there!