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Art & Festivals: What I've Learnt & Tips to Survive

I have participated in three festivals around the world. Camp Flog Naw in Los Angeles, Yonder at the Sunshine Coast and , FOMO, a nation wide festival - so I feel like I’ve got a little bit of experience to share. I won’t be discussing the one dayer festivals where you go to drink, dance and leave because those are super easy to survive! Main tips for festival-goers: Don’t do drugs or if you do check if there are pill testing sites (these really do save lives), keep hydrated, look out for your mates and other groovers, if you see something say something and pace yourself. In this blog, I will be discussing the festivals where you bring out your knowledge of camping and live with your body odor (and everyone at the festivals) for a matter of three to five days. A huge shoutout to festivals that have creeks and showers - you guys really do rule the world.


Fomo Festival Madbutt

Tegwen, Myself and Carly in front of my artwork at FOMO Festival, Brisbane. 

Last year, before I went to my first festival (Yonder) as a visual artist I looked up on Google three things that I thought could help me prepare for the experience. These were “What to bring to a festival as an artist”, “How to survive a festival as an artist” and “Visual artist festival survival” and to my demise there really wasn’t much information about how to prepare for and what to bring to a festival as a performing visual artist. I knew I had to bring the basics like anyone else (food, tent, money, clothes etc) but I was going to Yonder with no idea of what to bring as an artist and I was, for a lack of a better word, winging it. It was a major learning curve for me and I want you to learn from my experience!

My Experience 

I feel like camping festivals are the scariest of all festivals for a visual artist because you are completely out of your comfort zone with hundreds to thousands of people you don’t know looking at your art and seeing the process. It’s exciting sure, but definitely intimidating for a first timer. I think it’s always important to have some type of artwork prepared in advance. Most art festivals won’t pay you for your time, this does not mean you should not take this on as a normal job. They are providing you with a free ticket and promotion to your brand. Plus, you don’t want to be standing around looking at a blank white wall wondering what you are going to do. Ensuring you give yourself plenty of time to prepare your mural is really important, I recommend to start thinking about it as soon as you are confirmed on their lineup and to start physical work on it a month before. This will help you create something seamlessly and stress-free, you will be perceived as professional, which most likely will lead to future murals and work!


this was pretty cool triple aaa pass

This was a pretty cool thing to have! Check out the name!

From the get go, I asked questions directly with the visual artist liaison contact. Some example questions are: How large is the wall? What is the access to a ladder like? Is there any shade? What will be provided? Can they provide anything for me? Is there a budget allocation for art supplies? What accommodation options are there? These questions are really important in shaping your festival experience and how you can best create your mural. You don’t want to be leaving anything assumed. For example, if you assume that there are paint rollers but you arrive and there aren’t any, you will be stressed and this will affect your experience at the festival. For Yonder, I had everything I needed except for a ladder (I couldn’t fit this in my car). I covered all bases for my supplies and I made sure that I was minimising my financial losses for the festival as I wasn’t being paid.


madbutt mural at yonder prep

One of three rolls that I prepared for the Yonder mural.

I was super relaxed at Yonder even though I hadn’t done a mural before. I felt like I had a good plan for my mural and that I would figure it out as I went along. I used my five years of experience as a professional artist to the best of my abilities. In hindsight, I feel as though I hadn’t thought about other things that could go wrong. Trust me, lots went wrong… the tent I had borrowed from my friend broke, my car battery died, the heat was overwhelming and I definitely needed an assistant to combat burnout.


broken tent at yonder festival madbutt

The broken tent at Yonder - big rip :( 

This is where creating contingency plans are great, it helps you better prepare and problem solve issues that can be hyper stressful in festival environments. Not having a contingency plan meant that I was making poor choices to deal with my stress and I was wasting time thinking of a solution. For instance, when the tent broke that meant I spent 3 hours calling up local stores asking if they had stock and calling up friends who could bring me a tent, I eventually set up a bed in the back of my car for the night. But ultimately got black out drunk on tequila and slept in a friend's camping area on the ground - not fun. I was lucky though, when my car battery died the property owner charged it overnight and I haven’t had any issues since but that was a really positive outcome in the strangest way because I had no roadside assistance (and still don’t, I should probably get onto that this week).

Murphy’s Law is that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Trust me, it will. Make a contingency plan of what you will do when something happens. Things such as having extra cash if you lose your bank card, having back up transport to and from the festival, taking your script/s with you if you lose your medication, allocating spare funds to art materials  if they get lost or stolen and preparing to change your technique or mural if something were to happen.


Yonder Festival Madbutt

The only professional photo I have from Yonder Festival of my mural.

I really wish I took better photos, I am a horrible photographer. I rely so heavily on photographers at festivals and exhibitions because I am not confident at taking shots. This is something I need to break away from because it’s bitten me in the arse each time. So please, do a better job than me and always take your own photographs of your artwork/mural because even though there are photographers there taking photos, they sometimes don’t end up on the roll. 

Once you start applying for festivals to do murals, you really can’t stop. It becomes addictive. I have applied for festivals all over the world including Glastonbury and Lollapalooza - yeah, I might not get them but they are still epic festivals to try to be a part of. Putting yourself out there is the first step, applying is free and the only thing it costs is time. Even if you don’t get it, it doesn’t mean you won’t be selected in the future, you could be on their radar for other things!


madbutt yonder mural finished

My really bad photography of the finished mural - you can see where I started to burn out because of the placement of the butterflies.

I know that when I go to Jungle Love this year to participate as a visual artist I will be way better prepared than the first time at Yonder. That’s not to say I didn’t have an awesome time at Yonder, it was a really great learning experience and I got to meet a bunch of like minded people who I will be friends with for a lifetime. I think the way I approach festivals as a visual artist will constantly change and as I apply to do murals at the festivals I love, I hope you will too!