Minnesota State Fair Prep—Part 2: Have a Plan

August 13, 2009

Fair-Trail Left: Here's a map showing my line of travel at the Minnesota State Fair for the first 3 hours or so.

This is part two of a multi-part series which began on Wednesday, August 12. These tips apply to any sketch-out adventure where crowds are involved.

Ensure you have a successful sketching day at the Minnesota State Fair with a bit of planning: route, events, times, activities (such as Spin Art creation), and eating.

The Fair can be a hot and crowded affair. Noise, dust, and aimless walking will drain your energy and wear you down, deflecting you from your peak performance levels. Know how you work, what you need to work (water, a doughnut, no doughnut, a place to sit, etc.) and plan in advance ways to make those things happen—the better to have a successful drawing adventure.

I know I can't eat sugar before I draw for extended periods of time, yet I have no problem going to the Fair, getting my drawing in and still indulging in treats. The trick is to plan. Every trip I take to the Fair starts like this:

Have a healthy breakfast and lots of water. Have a morning arrival time (10 is good, it allows me to exercise first so I'll be limber); enter the same gate (as shown in the diagram) walk through the barns (again as shown in the diagram) stopping to sketch as an animal calls out to me (for you it might be an entire scene); and 3 hours later exit the poultry barn ready for a corn dog. I'll sketch again later in the day, but after 3 hours of concentration (with breaks walking down the aisles in the barns between sketches) I'm ready for food. By having that corn dog I'm laying a good base of fat and protein and it also helps minimize "the shakes" from later sugary treats. (These are science facts folks!)

Going into the barns first in the morning, when I'm fresh, also puts me there at the least crowded time. Hordes of people arrive later in the day, taking off from work, or finally getting the family together on a day off. The barns are cooler too earlier in the day.

After 1 p.m. I mosey around the Fair to all my favorite spots. Some are food destinations, some are art and craft destinations. All follow a sensible path that may seem circuitous, but in reality involves very little wasted walking or back tracking. Again, my goal is to enjoy myself, refresh my mind, and return to the barns later in the day, ready to draw again. If I walk aimlessly from place to place, back and forth, there will be little hope of that.

I also take into account purchases that I have to carry. I want to carry them for the least distance and time possible. Because of this, for example, making Spin Art is the last activity I do before re-entering the barns on my way out. It has enough time to dry before I hit the barns, and I can put it away while I sketch—zero extra time walking around with it.

How do you make a plan if you've never been to the Fair before? Well you can go on line and get their schedules for events, animal judging, even which animals will be in which barn on which days. Check here for a downloadable list of animals and judging at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair to see what I mean.

From a schedule such as this you can tell which days the animals you enjoy the most will be present, which days there will be barn change overs (necessitating closed barns while animals are removed and brought in). Take a look also at other building hours to make sure you can view the Ginsu Knife demos (or whatever interests you) during the time you're on site. And take a look at daily admission costs, because there are always specials (seniors, library members, discount days). The last will mean you'll save money (enough for another corn dog!) but if entrance fees are less there will also probably be more of a crowd.

Other Tips

1. Look at any maps of the site to see if you can locate information centers and restrooms before you arrive. Keep your eyes open for both when you are on site. (Carry tissues in case you end up in an understocked restroom.)

2. Watch for shady places to sit and sketch. It's nice to take a break from the barns and watch people. Some artists might only want to sketch people. If that's you, watch for those shady places near where people are congregating. Crowds gather at animal competitions and product demonstrations. There are always people in "food court" type situations or "beer gardens."

3. Wear a watch to keep track of time and eat something before you get too hungry. Drink before you get thirsty.

4. If you are going to meet with people mark a map with the time and location so you can find it, before you separate. Make sure you all agree on the same entrance to a multi-entrance building. Having a cell phone might be a help, but it isn't necessary. (I tried to call CR for over an hour one year and he never did HEAR his phone ringing in his pocket! He was 86 at the time and hard of hearing, but there is also a tremendous crowd noise and music.)

5. Mark your map with any events you want to see and plan your route to minimize tiring, aimless wandering.

6. Carry some money and maybe a credit card/debit card (if you intend to buy products). I tend to take $50 just in case. Since I tend to pre-buy my tickets, I often only spend about $15 of that. Maybe you like to buy big sodas (I always bring a waterbottle).

Other Aspects of Planning
If you're there for sketching there are materials to bring (paper and tools) and comfort to think about (clothing). I'll post separately on these topics later. Now it's time to think about the logistics of your adventure. Planning ahead doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous and skip the poultry barn because there is a parade going by. Planning now helps you balance between your goals and spontaneity, so that you can have the most rewarding experience blended with both.

Note: a word about the CHS Miracle of Birth Center. This is where you'll find sows and piglets, ewes with lambs, chicks, ducklings—you get the idea. It is a crowded structure, but worth a walk through. If you miss a birth, chances are they will be showing the video on the overhead screens, on continuous loop. And you'll still see the participants live. Just a head's up—it is typically so crowded that getting purchase on any real estate long enough to sketch is a real feat. I've done it; I no longer try. Look and move on. (Oh, and I can't bring myself to call it by its new name. It will always be the "birthing barn" to me.)

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