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Rene Trim's Arts & Crafts: Tips for effective craft show lighting

[caption id=“attachment_12777” align=“aligncenter” width=“600”] Elegance booth

“Many artisans forgo lighting in order to save a few bucks in equipment costs. But in the end, not having good lighting will cost you far more,” says Doug MacKenzie from Elegance in Wood.[/caption]

As “Vibrant!”, the OVCC Artisans' Spring Market is only two weeks away, things are hectic. It goes without saying that a show of this calibre requires a lot of preparation so for this week’s column I will hand the virtual pen to OVCC Guild member Doug MacKenzie from Elegance in Wood who has some great tips on effective craft show lighting:

“Have you ever visited an art gallery?  In a gallery each art piece is independently lit in order to show it off to its best advantage. Some time ago,  Elegance in Wood was part of an arts and craft show at the RA Centre in Ottawa. The hall was poorly lit and, surprisingly, we were one of the few displays with lighting. We were, not surprisingly, one of the very few that made money. In fact we were probably the only vender that was busy the entire day.

There is only one reason to consider investing in lighting your display – sales. Many artisans forgo lighting in order to save a few bucks in equipment costs.  But in the end, not having good lighting will cost you far more.

Remember: good lighting separates the amateur from the professional!

At a show at Old Fort Henry a few years ago a fellow artisan, a pen turner, had built a shelf unit that had small pot lights under each shelf. Very impressive! It probably cost quite a bit, but he made a lot of sales. It always amazes me at craft shows how little importance is paid by most vendors to lighting their displays. In my experience, lighting is the most effective way to present your work as it deserves. Even in well-lit venues, if you want your products to stand out, they must be highlighted. You only have a few seconds to capture a customer’s attention and lighting can help you do that.

Good lighting creates drama, focus and movement. Light makes people feel comfortable - we are not bats and we tend to mistrust the dark. We gravitate towards bright spaces as they make us feel safer. Work that is illuminated draws the eye like a moth to a flame. This is especially true when your work involves colour, like jewelry, painting, fabrics, glasswork, and in our case, exotic woods.

There are two kinds of light at a craft show: ambient and accent. Ambient lighting is the general lighting of the area, while accent lighting is focused on a particular space or article. Accent lighting should be two to five times brighter than ambient. For the table displays we use at most shows, clip-on lamps are quite effective. While it’s impractical for us to do the art gallery thing, it’s important to get as close to that ideal as possible. We use two types: small halogen lamps that are aimed by a universal-type joint, and larger goose-neck lamps with a florescent bulb. Both types are inexpensive, about $10 each.  Halogen bulbs are very bright for their size but create a lot of heat and should be handled carefully. Florescent bulbs are also very bright and are much cooler. Older florescent bulbs tended to give a slight green tint but this is no longer the case for the daylight types. Compact florescent bulbs contain minute amounts of mercury and must be disposed of at an appropriate facility (most large hardware stores, Rona or Home Depot etc., have them). L.E.D. bulbs can replace florescent but as of the present time they are very expensive. Other types include track and rope lights which are somewhat pricey. Track lighting would be more appropriate for a 10 X 10 walk-in booth than a table display and require some wiring expertise. Where electricity is not available, some artisans have used marine deep-cycle batteries with an inverter. I don’t know how well this works but it is, I’m sure, quite costly. Inexpensive L.E.D. battery-powered clip-on lights are available and are getting better every day.

Important points:

  • Lighting should enhance your product, not be the central focus.

  • Good lighting isn’t noticed. Try different angles to minimize shadows and create a warm atmosphere.

  • Lights can also be used for special effects: for Christmas shows, we use a couple of strings of L.E.D. tree lights draped over our vertical screens. Important note: special effects should not be overdone; don’t create a distraction!

  • Use as many lights as you need to highlight what you have on the table and, above all, make sure they don’t shine in the customer’s eyes!

  • A visible tangle of wires can be distracting. Organizers at some shows will demand that all wires be hidden. Be professional: hide those wires!

  • Have at hand at least one power bar, preferably one with a circuit breaker, a couple of rolls of electrical tape, both black and white, a roll of duct tape (wires that can be tripped over must be taped down), scissors or a pocket knife to cut tape, and have available several extension cords of different gauges, including one long heavy gauge cord to use as your main power source.”

** This weekend’s events **

Fibre Fling 4 Show & Sale

  • April 10 (10 am to 8 pm) and 11 (10 am to 5 pm) - Kitchissippi United Church, 630 Island Park Drive, Ottawa.

6th Annual Arts and Scraps Flea Market - April 11 (10 am to 3 pm) - Overbrook Community Centre, 33 Quill Street, Ottawa.

The National Women’s Show

  • April 11 (10 am to 6 pm) and 12 (10 am to 5 pm) - Shaw Centre (Ottawa Convention Centre), 55 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa.

Westend Pottery Sale

  • April 11 (10 am to 5 pm) and 12 (10 am to 4:30 pm) - Churchill Seniors Centre, 345 Richmond Road (at Churchill), Ottawa

_ That’s all for this week, folks: have a creative week and don’t forget to support local! _