Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Secret Handshakes, Truth or Dare and Pinky Swear

Ah, the artist's life, a fun filled world of gallery parties, who's who events, coffee retreats and creative soirees. What would prevent anyone from becoming an artist, when they lead such glamourous and social lives. Reality, that's what.

I may be speaking for myself, but undoubtedly I know that many of my colleagues would agree that being an artist is anything but that. If anything most of the artists I know are shut ins, mandated by their self employed trade to unfortunately be isolated like a crazy aunt or uncle living in the attic. Don't get me wrong, they play well with others, they just don't get the opportunity to be social and attend such affairs, as stereotyped. Many live in rural areas, have busy family lives or just don't feel connected to that hip happenin scene.

Since my indoctrination into the world of art and art licensing, I've began to notice that most surface designers and licensing artists work for themselves. They work for the prestigious firm of Me, Myself and I, huddled in their home or off site studios, where they create in solitude. Visits from an occasional bird, pet or change in the weather outside their studio window is a wondrous moment worthy of lighting up their Facebook pages with detailed descriptions and play by play action.

Before you feel too sorry for your underprivileged artist, know that there's one event that shines, drawing artists to it like moths to a flame. And thanks to the internet, many of these reclusive right brainers meet up, liberated from their confines. It's the Atlanta Gift Mart, or America'sMart in Atlanta, Georgia.

The gift mart is the hub of wholesale buying. It is where retailers, big or small, go to browse and purchase merchandise for their consumers. The reason surface designers and art licensors attend is to set appointments with the very same companies in hope they will use their art on their products in the future. This rare meeting of manufacturer and artists also allows for signing events, artist meet and greets and face time with business people they may only know from email or internet introductions.

Most of the artists I know, myself included, have used the internet as a porthole to the outside world. We've sought each other out, befriended each other in search of peers who understand the in's and outs of our daily artistic quests. Using social media like Twitter, Facebook and LinkIn has opened up our social circles and become the catalyst for many of us to meet in one place.

My personal adventure in Atlanta, earlier this month, started with a evening get together co-hosted by Paula Joerling, Tom Haney and Paula's Canadian guest host and friend Robin Davis. Locating and entering their amazing street-side, urban studio had a sense of exclusivity to it when you had to wring the door bell, on an unassuming door, waiting to be asked “who's there?”. Like a secret handshake, your name was familiar, granting you access to the wonders on level two. Vintage visions of the Flinstone's Water Buffalo fraternity hats cross my mind, but are no where to be found. Akk akka dak....for those of you that remember.

Beyond the whizits and ephemera that are Tom's artistic muse and the large, night sky filled windows, that Paula surely paints near, was a room with friendly faces, many I only recognized from their Facebook photos. I'd catch the eye of someone across the room and we'd both smile realizing we knew each other but strangely were a bit unsure without posing like our profile pictures. Meeting and greeting them in person, for the first time, was amazing. It was a bit of a coming home, to faces and friends you've shared life's experiences with but oddly not know how tall or short, how young or old, black or brown eyes nor what their voices sounded like.

To outsiders, one would think that the room was filled with competition. Each of us striving to parse the following days market with our share of art, but nothing could be more to the contrary. The night was filled with excitement for the show's opening. There was comradery, the sharing of candid and honest encouragement to “seize the moment” with everyone enjoying it as if it were some form of artist truth or dare: “Approach them, they'll love your work”. I imagine many of the artists achieved great things during the show because they were pumped up during the party, as if it were a locker room motivational speech before the big game.

There was an open invitation spread throughout the digital universe that artists were welcome to meet up on Friday for an after show cocktail cool down. After a grueling day at the show everyone deserved to put their feet up, have a beverage and share their opening day stories. Considering there are hundreds of manufacturer suites, countless meetings and events to attend, a great number of artists met up. Many of them, including myself, were meeting for the first time. Again, it was a terrific experience to greet my cyber friends in three dimensions.

The lighting was perfect for such a lounge event, but it wasn't kind to my cell phone camera's capabilities. Thankfully, Karen Embry was camera equipped allowing me to share this picture she had of the get together with you.
From front left to right-
Debbie Cole, Phyllis Dobbs, Robin Davis, Myself, Robin Pickens behind me.
In the back row left to right-
Jane Maday, Karen Embry, Beth Logan, Cash Wall Browning – Smith, Sue Zipkin, Michael Chad Barrett, Beth Yarbrough, Paula Joerling, Lyn Barrett, Brenda Pinnick and Suzanne Whitaker.

As one of the newer faces added to this eclectic band of artisans, I spent a lot of my time listening and observing, trying to figure out who knew who and how often they've visited the mart. Many of them are seasoned, having been to the show multiple times, having met each other on various occasions there or at other trade shows. Several have become great friends, staying with each other in the hotel and counseling each other with technical art or business matters. There seemed to be life long relationships made. They shared their time, promises to encourage one another and two even shared a symbolic pinky swear to attend each others signing so they would know at least one person in the crowd. They giggled like teenagers once they realized the silliness of the gesture but were glad to know someone would be there for them.

The Atlanta'sMart- It's a migration of sorts, the coming together of people who make our world more beautiful. Their migratory trip to spread their art and make the retail world a bit more colorful, stylish or fulfill our need to own a piece of an artists vision.

There's a bit of solace in knowing we all share the same journey and can leave our studios at least once a year for a cup of coffee, a cocktail soiree or a who's who event, even if the who's who is just us facebook friends. After all, we artists have to live up to our reputations even if for a brief moment. To live the big life....

I am thankful to have met some great people and to have been welcomed with non-virtual, real flesh and blood open arms.


P.S. You may ask...what about the show? How did it go? That part is unfolding, with doors opening everyday. I made some great new connections, nurtured some existing one and have lot's of art underway to fit the demand. To much of the success, I owe thanks to my artist friends for their mentorship and “butt kicking” encouragement (thanks, you know who you are).