Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Here is a suggestion from a member for a podcast:

As a "new" artist attempting the circuit I often think about the business side of things. People are suprised that I even attempt the notion of doing it full time... without a pension! It is certainly daunting as you know from your many years, and I'm sure you saw many aspiring art fair artists come and go. And it occurred to me what might be really valuable to hear would also be perfect for your audience.


In the past you've had some podcasts that were kind of a roundtable discussion amongst yourself and people with a similar thread (thinking of the art fair patrons/who buys at art shows podcast). I had an idea that you could do a podcast similar to that but instead you talk to art fair artists who actually pay the bills, make a living, or whatever you want to call it BUT they do so without a pension or some other significant source of income. In other words, these are people who figured out how to be profitable at art fairs!

Right now, it seems I can recall maybe a couple artists I met that don't have some sort of retirement benefit, pension, or ummm.... "sugar momma/daddy"? lol. Just hearing the words or people doing it successfully would be encouragement, but I'm sure their advice could be worth years of trial and error for folks like myself who love going to shows (but also want to afford to come back!).


I think this would be a nice podcast and certainly one I would listen to many times. What do you think?

Great question, isn't it? Do you meet this criteria? Would you like to be part of a roundtable discussion on this topic? If so, comment below or email me:

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I would love to hear this.  My whole time doing art festivals I have also worked a full time job.  On January 8, 2018 I will retire from that job.  It has taken me 13 years to get to this point and I will be retiring with a pension and a husband that still works.  I am excited and terrified. 

My problem was not starting until I was 47 and my husband and I had built a life that depended on a regular paycheck.  It takes time to dismantle a life with a high mortgage and four car loans.

My advice to any young person that asks me how to start doing art festivals is to start.  Start doing art festivals before you get married and have to worry about providing for someone else.  Start before you get a mortgage.  Start when you are still doing festivals out of your car because you can only afford one vehicle.

I know that once I retire I will be able to do more and better shows.  Up to this point I have been restricted by distance and vacation time.  I know that most people who are making a living at art festivals are doing 40+ shows a year.


Thanks for your story.  You were 47 when you started but I was 52!  We are fortunate we only have one debt, our home.  We have always paid extra on our mortgage, no matter where we have lived.  We hope to have it paid off in a couple of years.

We are self employed so there is no pension in our future.  We are fortunate to be able to max out the IRA available to each of us.

I would advise young people wanting to get into this (or any other) line of work, stay (or get) debt free.  Debt will hinder you as long as it is around.  It will prevent you from being able to grow in life as you are intended to.

I would like to hear this podcast and or discussion also.

I am full time Art shows. They are to support me in all ways. I am putting a lot of money into it and it must and will be self-sustaining as well as support me in the style and life I've become accustomed to.

I feel one of the perks is having a business that allows / requires travel all over the country. Yes, it's work however it MUST run efficient enough and monetarily gainful enough to allow me the pleasures I demand. I love doing my art. I do it for free. However if it wont meet the aforementioned financial gains then I might as well just do my art and give it away rather than working the fairs and draining my money more.

I am now considering buying a motorhome to use just for this business.

Sometimes we hear about artists making X amount in sales at show but that is useless unless we know how much is profit. After booth fee, travel, lodging, materials and time to create the works etc. We don't want to wind up "just working for the promoter".

But alas many great artists made most of the money on theirs works AFTER their demise ;-)

I have heard/read the same thing ... So and so made $XXXX at a show.  But no mention of how much profit s/he made.  Was the profit 50%?  25%  10%?

In my reviews where I have made $XXXX, I have posted my margin (Gross less total expenses including food, housing, travel etc.) Profit margin is something else entirely which probably wouldn't interest anyone outside leather work because we have to price our stuff to cover the irregular scrap found around the perimeter of a hide or skin and the irregular textures found within the hide making some parts undesirable or unusable. Compared to a sheet of silver where I send the scrap and sweeps back for credit on next purchase. FYI the formula I use for retail is 2.5X material plus $70/hour labor which covers overhead etc. And yes I do make a living at art, but being 73 I also get SS and a small mining company pension from the old days. I was shocked this year to find that my total income from art, SS and pension surpassed my 1989 income as Ph.D. research/exploration geologist for mining subsidiary of oil company. I'll post more later but have orders to get out tomorrow.

I can appreciate the "waste" from creating art. Myriad waste expenditures are common to many fields. I travel to places and find the lighting, conditions and / or subject matter unusable. Cutting mats leaves a lot of waste (inner window) that is unusable unless I decide to make mats that are way too small for my market. Even the left over, outside from cuts, are often not usable with mats, glazing etc. depending on the image, frame and original sheet sizes. Print paper waste is a factor, chemicals, tapes etc. I try to run efficiently but time is also money as well as giving the customer what they want so finding the balance meas waste. Then of course there are the mistakes, I'm far from perfect.
i do nothing on a "time & materials" basis. I think if I did I would price myself out of the market. Also if I added up what I put into a beautiful finished product and broke it down to balance with what I sold it for, I'd be better off working at Macdonalds. But I'm happy - and that is priceless.

How I got to the point of making money as an artist.
1.1959-65 I served a 6-year apprenticeship while in high school and getting my BS in geology at Arizona State Univ. I lucked out and studied with some of the best saddle maker artists and mechanics that came out of the famous N. Porter shop.
2. 1965-69: While getting my doctorate in Geology at Univ. Wyoming I ran a custom belt business from my basement apartment kitchen table for the high-end western clothing store in Laramie. I also started making leather field cases for students, profs., and geologists of the State and Federal Surveys housed in the Geology Bldg.
3. 1969-78 Research/Exploration geologist in Tucson, AZ: After Jean got her MA at Univ. of Arizona, she took a job at private girls’ school. Contingent upon us living on campus was room for my shop. Prior to this I was making field cases in an apartment bedroom. I resumed making saddles and placing them in two retail stores on consignment with 20% commission. One served show horse people, the other ranchers. The house we bought had a spare bedroom used as shop. I tried to get Jean started doing silver work but found we could not work together so I took it up. Sherer Custom Saddles, Inc. established in 1973 as accountant told me I was making too much money for it to be considered a hobby by IRS. Not intended, but it became a nice tax shelter for geology income thereafter as I continued to build it as a business. At this time mining companies had their own styles of field cases I made for them, I had wholesale accounts in Tucson and Toronto, and I was shipping filed cases worldwide.
4. 1978-81 Las Vegas years. I was transferred to Las Vegas to do a three-year research project at Mountain Pass, CA lanthanide (rare earth) mine. I again had two retail outlets for consigned work. The ranch shop asked me to put in a line of tack too: reins, headstall, breast collars etc. I still made field cases and oh, what an experience I had shipping a very large order to University of Kuwait. I finally ended up after 6 months telling them “you Arabs work it out between yourselves”. A big hassle over import duties with two bunches of crooks. Living in Las Vegas was another bunch of stories too LOL.
5. 1981-present. I was transferred to Denver area. The house we bought in Franktown had an unfinished basement which became the studio for leather and silver work. What started out as about 15’x15’ now occupies most of 1500 sq. ft. I opened two consignment accounts but now only have one small tack account for a lot of reasons. Mining and exploration was on the decline in the US and I got out in 1990 when UNOCAL-Molycorp decided to get out of mining business. It was a lot of fun in the early years but very political the last five years. Around this time I had sales reps. placing consignment saddles in Grand Junction, CO; Rawlins, Jackson and Gillet, WY; Rapid City, SD; and Alexandria, VA. I shut all of these down as their managements changed and reps. retired. I had to take two retailers to court to collect on sales. During the 1980’s the mining company wanted to move me into management but I wanted to stay technical. I took advantage of all of the management seminars given in Los Angeles and I talked them into paying for local accounting and management classes at the community college. I did this for the knowledge for my own business not theirs.
In 1990 an AT&T engineer friend wanted to learn more about saddle making so he set up a contract with Keystone Brothers for us to build contract saddle for them. We did it for about a year until they started sending us crap material to work with and they wanted more saddles because their clients only wanted our saddles.
Around this time I started doing art fairs, the first one being Michael Martin Murphy’s WestFest at Copper Mountain, CO. The rest is history and I have shared on this site how I have learned to research shows to find the good ones. We have tried a lot of things with art shows and I have posted reviews of all for several years. Now, we only do four summer shows in Colorado. The studio business is divided between new trick saddles sold worldwide ($3K-$6K each), restoration of antique saddles and gear (lucrative $500-$2K jobs), the summer art shows (usually around $20K), and miscellaneous studio art work and repairs. I have two guys in their 50-60s that come in a day or so a week to learn more and do work for me in exchange. I am also mentoring a 12–year old boy from church and having him do some studio work. There is no shortage of work. Good Luck.

After a 4 1/2 year hiatus from the street starting in 2011, I returned to the fight and asked myself the same question "is anyone making a living out there?".  And on my occasional drive-bys to this website  I see others implying the same question or even making a larger statement with all of the "art show booth and panels" for sale.  Lets face it, if you are not someone operating out of one of the utilitarian craft traditions, or wearables and jewelry, or a fine art tradition tuned to the interior decoration field, it's getting increasingly difficult out there to make a living, and it probably is for many in the aforementioned fields, too.  I entered this racket in 1984 coming from the far far outlier regions of the arts where I joined with poets, freaky urban malcontents, and political cartoonists, to pray for two nickels to rub together.  And it took an almost pathological optimism to get up and fight another day trying to stay fed.  I and my wife stumbled into the street shows and were absolutely blown away with the strength of the appetite for our stuff and the works of myriad other equally freaked out artist types.  Stunned, we prospered. Until we didn't.  And so we stand, shuffling about on the broken shards of a fading memory, and realizing "hope" isn't a strategy, we are moving forward anyway, signing up for affordable shows, closer to home, armed with artwork we can recover quickly for the next weekend show, priced to sell, but still imbibed with the marginally sane mindset that informed our art when we were young.  Yes, in six months I'm going on social security, starting early because I can, a small stipend to get the basics paid, but hardly a game changer. The times they are a change'n. 

I'm going to host this podcast January 25 at 5 pm and am looking for artists who would like to participate. Please contact me directly if you'd like to be part of this:


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