Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: SAA Art Event

It's all about Art on the first floor of the Business Design Centre
organised by the Society of All Artists
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I visited the SAA Art Event It's all about Art yesterday - along with Felicity Grace (Felicity's Philosophies and Other Curiosities) and Sarah Wimperis (The Red Shoes). This is a review of what we found.

For those who have been used to visiting the Artists and Illustrators event at the Business Design centre (as both Sarah and I have done in the past) the first important point to note is that it's not the same.

Then again it's not trying to be. This is a completely new event in what remains a logical veneue for these type of events. It's also worth noting we've had nothing since 2005 when the A&I event packed in after it started to fail to attract manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The onset of online purchasing and the burgeoning of the craft market diminished both the need for and the viability of such events. The number of artist-related stands at Art Materials Live event at the NEC is quite miniscule compared to the number of craft stands - and the event is smaller than this new one.

The main differences are highlighted below. The event itself is smaller. It's using the first floor and the village green area - just beyond the entrance doors - but not the galleries or side halls/rooms. The layout was not as packed with stands as A&I used to be and that made it a lot more pleasant! There seemed to be a lot more demos and workshops which were around the edge of the space with the art supplies and SAA standards occupying the centre

Next - it looks to have been a big success. I understand they had nearly 4,000 people through the doors on Thursday (the first day) and apparently it was nearly as busy yesterday. It was certainly crowded when I arrived at about 2pm on Friday. That said it emptied out fairly fast around 4pm as people headed home to avoid the rush hour.

Art Supplies

There are virtually no stands by the manufacturers or retailers of art supplies. I spotted one about photography courses and another for a publisher.

The reality is that all the art supplies on display and for sale are what's available from the SAA's own 'shop' via its mail order or online catalogue. Basically they'd taken a lot of their supplies from their warehouse and hauled it to Islington!

Having said that there was a good range of supplies on display but maybe not as good in terms of choice as one used to get with the A&I and the various retailers. I'd characterise the majority as being ones which would travel easily. Hence pastels and pencils were all packaged and there was no scope for buying loose pencils from open stock - which is what I used to do a lot of at the A&I events. They were often the only time I could locate certain pencils in open stock!

There was also no scope for price competition as one used to get at A&I - however very good discounts were still on offer. Felicity bought a Charles Reid book and a DVD for just over half the price of the two items combined - so that was a big saving.

I saw the best display of different colours of colourfix sheets that I've ever seen (ie. the complete range!). I'd also never seen the new olive green or raw sienna colours before but seeing them made me realise I must have a couple of sheets of each colour! In total I came away with 12 sheets in various colours @ £3.50 each (a saving of about 40p per sheet on the price members normally pay price and a saving of 95p per sheet (21%) on the normal price. Plus I'm going to be sent two free Mapac project bags (one per 5 sheets) which they would have given me free but they'd run out!

Gadget type supplies apparently shifted very fast on Thursday and they'd sold out of some items by the time I arrived on Friday afternoon.

I also got an Essential Drawing Tools set because it included included five drawing tools - two embossing tools, a rubber shaper, a fan brush and a stippling brush. I've been looking for embossing tools for simply ages!

I think the emphasis needs to switch to having more small gadgets which are easy to carry and fewer large items which were difficult or too heavy to carry. I'd have liked to see a better system for placing orders for delivery of items at prices which were more than in the exhibition but still discounted over the catalogue prices. That said they were taking orders for deliveries - including overseas deliveries.

There are some 'new event' glitches which need to be sorted out if the event is repeated. Apparently they had queues to pay on Thursday. I gather the organisers worked very hard on Thursday night to get these glitches addressed before the exhibition opened on Friday and I saw very few queues but lots of buying activity and bags of goodies!

Demonstrations and workshops

SAA Art event on the Village Green at the Business Design Centre
audience for a demonstration on the left and a workshop on the right plus art supplies behind
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

It looked to me to be an ideal day out for the average art society - and it looked like a fair few had decided to do just that! Lots to choose from in terms of the demonstrations and workshops plus an opportunity to shop for art supplies until the plastic protested.

There were
  • lots more FREE demonstrations - which run more or less continuously with the same artists. Hence you don't need to book in advance and be told it's sold out and you don't miss the demo you want to see if the traffic delays you. One of the organisers I spoke to agreed that the information about this needed to be clearer on the website.
  • the same applies to the FREE workshop places
  • the emphasis of both demonstrations and workshops is on painting techniques. There was very little for example about the business side of art or illustration - which used to be a feature of the A&I events
  • I noticed that certain demonstrators were miked up with roving clip mikes and had speakers to help them be heard. Those who weren't miked up had more difficulty making themselves heard against the general background noise - and the next door stand where the demo artist was maiked up!!! Again that's an issue which I'm sure will be addressed for next year.
  • I think they'll need to vary the artist demonstrators and workshop tutors each year to make sure art societies keep coming back in coachloads.
Considering they only decided to put this event on in February I think the SAA did a fantastic job. It's not got the same scope or size as the A&I event and yet I think some visitors will like it better.

It was great to meet up with both Sarah and Felicity. It was also very odd to find out over a cup of tea that both Sarah and I had independently come up with the same "bright idea" - which you might just hear about at some point!

Two middle aged backpackers go art eventing

Making a Mark reviews......

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