Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Society of Decorative Painters: How To Create A Better Convention

Since I missed going to the Las Vegas Painting Convention two years running because of illness, when the opportunity came up to go to the Society of Decorative Painters (SDP) Convention in San Diego I checked around, talked several times to the society and despite being a man, joined. The ladies were nice and finally, after several calls, I received the materials a new member is supposed to receive.

Here was where the first misunderstanding occurred. I paid for what I thought was membership AND registration to the convention. Since I had missed the deadline, I was told that I couldn't sign up for classes online but had to appear in person. Watching the class availability drop almost by the day I again called and was told that was not possible. Finally she admitted she was late in posting some of the registrations and that was why the numbers changed.

After a doctors appointment Monday I scurried down to the Town & Country Resort in San Diego. I got there about 1:30 after checking into my hotel across the freeway. Why spend $119 a night when you can pay $46 a night including breakfast?

The doors for registration, checking in and such didn't open until 5 pm. People were milling about when I arrived at 1:30. I was told the society people had been here since Friday. You would think you would want to check in the locals and get them out of the way. By 4:30, when I came back, the line snaked around the hallways and through the grand foyer. Since I didn't know where I should go as I didn't have classes yet, I went to the registration booth. She couldn't find me in the roster so sent me to the sign up classes booth. They didn't know what to do and sent me back to registration where the line was, well, long! I had an angel by that time who shepherded me through the registration process which was agony to watch. The folders were not ready and they had to put them together. The woman assigned for name tags hadn't a clue of what of do. One person had to do the work of three and yes, there was grumbling. Finally, officially registered, I was taken back to class sign-ups, selected my classes and was done in less than 10 minutes.

Town & Country Resort is a lovely place. Its huge which is surprising considering land values in San Diego. I would guess it was originally started right after the war when land was cheap and then, over the years, buildings were added. There are signs everywhere but mean nothing. Its like LA freeway signs, they tell those who know where they are going they are almost there. Each and every day I had to ask an employee where a room was. Everyone gets lost and all complain, even the employees.

The Exhibit Hall is in the Convention Center, as far away as humanly possible from every other activity. Rather than grouping all the of the classes around a central core, they are everywhere in places no one can find. At a class I had one night, you would never guess that was a "ballroom" the door was so small and ivy covered. It was next to the restaurant I tried to find the day before.

When I entered my first night class I saw a variety of Ott and LED lights, some with long extension cords snaking across the carpet. It soon became apparent why. The lighting was so dim you could never be sure which color you were using. In fact, I didn't even know what my bowl looked like until I took it outdoors the next day. Unless the teacher has a light projector to show what she was doing it was so dim we often had to go up and look at what was going on.

Think these tables are small?
I have never seen work tables so narrow. They are at most 18" deep and when you are painting on a portable easel, you have to be VERY careful not to push too far back. Everyone has lots of stuff, brushes, water tubs, the area to put your paints, and the project itself. Often, with a very popular teacher you are cheek to jowl.

One of the big draws for many is the Exhibit Hall where a wide variety of vendors and teachers come to sell their wares. Now many classes begin at 8 am. Not the vendors. After the opening day they wander in at 10 am and if you were planning on doing anything during the day or in fact have that 8 am class, you will not have much time to shop. In fact you find that your morning is shot for any type of sightseeing or shopping. Vendors please note.

Tables loaded up!
Everyone has been very nice and helpful to me. Since I'm the only man in the room actually painting with them they find me a curiosity. So, of course, we chat. Many of the things I found annoying so did they. I wonder if the "staff" listens to the members who only want, what I did, an enjoyable, learning and refining their skill sets experience!

I humbly propose a series of things that should be considered for the convention in 2015 and beyond. Its not too late to change and I think in the long run, it would be more satisfying for all concerned:

1. REGISTRATION. There is no reason to make everyone wait until 5 pm (it was 5:15 in fact) when the staff has been there three days already. Convention people need to work Saturday and Sunday. Every other convention I have gone to knows this. Its a once a year event and they need to get things up and running. 12 noon should be the latest registration begins. There were special classes in session. Registration is special too.

2. BE PREPARED. So much time was wasted putting brochures together behind the registration desk. They should have been shipped ready to be handed out. Put someone who knows how to use the computer program in place to make name tags. Don't have people just standing there doing nothing as the line watches grumbling about why there aren't two people "working" there. There are only one is working.

3. CHECK THE FACILITY. SDP staff needs to check out the facility. With the staff at the site, they need to map out a core area and the classrooms around it. There were lots of electric scooters but the rest of us, many well into our senior years had to walk. It was not appreciated as we lugged our things around.

4. CHECK OUT WORK AREAS. Tables we used were completely unacceptable. We tried to cram what we needed to work on an area smaller in depth that a laptop lap pad. By the time your palette, water, brushes and project were on the table you could barely move. Popular classes had us cheek to jowl. Lighting, especially at night was unacceptable. It was so dark and dim you could barely make out one color from another. I'm sure its romantic for a dance or such, but when you are creating something with a paintbrush, lighting is important. If there is nothing that can be done, it should be mentioned that you might want to bring a portable battery powered light. Long orange extension cords snaking around the room are unsafe and just about everyone tripped on them.

5. FINISH PROJECTS IN TIME ALLOTTED.  I took 5 classes and I have five projects to finish when I get home. I really liked my teachers and the projects we did. I didn't like that even after 9 hours I still have a few hours more to do on my painting when I get home. A class must be done in the time allotted. Teachers need to be realistic and make sure we get done. Of my classes only two used paints I own already. What will happen to the others? Every student needs to get a card to fill out regarding various issues including "did you get done?" Staff need to review these cards and come up with a way to encourage teachers to be more realistic or submit projects that can be completed in the time allotted. If there is no change then stricter guidelines need to be made and enforced.

6. A MENTOR PROGRAM. It would be nice that all first time registrants had an angel. There were many events I heard about after the fact because I didn't realize they were important. I knew I was late but if I had had someone who watched over me and encouraged attendance at SDP events, besides classes, the convention would have been more important to me.

I've learned a great deal this week. I am glad that I came. The proof of course will be if I see a definite improvement in the work that I do. I just can't wait! Will I be in Chicago next year? I sure hope so. My health has been an increasingly limiting factor but already I can't wait to go!

Thanks to all the ladies that helped me. You were my "angels."

Please visit for a variety of birdhouses, crafts and photography. My new fine art store is migrating all my paintings to

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