Art Fair Insiders

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

Hi folks -

I joined this forum just about a year ago now and I figured it was time to finally do a "proper" introduction and post some thoughts from my first year of shows.

I am a photographer and have been shooting landscapes/wildlife for over a decade, gradually improving in my craft, but last year was my first foray into shows. I'd sold a few prints through a family friend's shop in my hometown but that's about it. My father had been encouraging me to try to get into a show but as a shy person I've always been terrified of putting myself out there.  I've always been interested but always brushed it off as something I'd maybe try "someday".  A year ago when I was visiting for the holidays, he again was telling me that he was proud of my work and how I should show it rather than keep it to myself, and he got pretty emotional about it. Now, my dad is a "tough guy" and doesn't usually show that kind of emotion, so seeing that kind of lit the fire under me. I made a vow to myself then and there that I was going to just go for it - to show my work and to do it now while he is still around to see it because you never know when "someday" could be too late. It was so special and meaningful to me to be able to do two shows near where he lives, so that he could see the end result of his support & encouragement.

Anyway after deciding to jump in, I went into major internet research mode and that is how I found this forum. The information that I've found here from all of your contributions has been an absolute godsend. Larry, your blog posts are incredible and I can't thank you enough for publishing them! I've encountered so many questions along the way and most of the time I don't even have to start a new thread because I find the answers I've needed elsewhere in the forum.

I started slowly, doing a total of 5 juried shows last year, selected primarily because they didn't require a booth shot (at the time I didn't have a booth, let alone a booth shot!). Some were better than others but I managed to sell at least OK in each, and after getting over the initial fear/shyness, I found I really enjoyed showing my work and talking to the various folks who stopped by my tent.

This year I can apply to more shows, since I now have a booth shot, and I'm hoping to do around 12-15 shows depending on acceptance. The theme for 2016 was simply to get a booth and figure out how to do a show. In 2017, I hope to improve my salesmanship, become better at proactive marketing and learning how to create repeat or referred business, and better hone my sense of which images will sell in which markets.

Over the course of the 2016 shows I made some observations that I will reflect on here, just in case they should help any other newbies out:

  • Day 1's tend to be slow. My first day of my first show, I sold nothing, which was really hard to stomach. But what do you know, the next day people who had visited before came back and purchased the piece they'd been eyeing the day before. I see now that some folks need to look around and browse before they'll come back and buy. Now I'm working on my salesmanship, so that I can make my pieces more memorable to increase chances of these return buyers.
    • Exception to "Slow Day 1" rule: The largest show I did was a 4-day show that charged an entry fee, but they waived the entry fee on the first day. For that show only, I had strong day 1 business probably because buyers didn't want to come back and pay the entry on later days.
  • Salesmanship Matters - A LOT: As a shy person I'd like to believe my work would just speak for itself, but as many of you have stated, people aren't just buying the art, they're buying a piece of the artist. Through topics in this forum and elsewhere I've gotten pointed to several resources on how to close a sale, and while I still have a long ways to go, I've seen sales improvements through practicing those tips. Not only at a given show, but folks who talked with me at the show and then contact me later to order something.  I need to keep working hard at this.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: There are a couple of assumptions I had made based on other artist's experiences, particularly other photographer's experiences, that seem really logical but haven't held true for me thus far.  In particular:
    • "Local/Familiar Scenes Sell Best" - Not the case for me. I've done shows in Washington (where I live) and Utah (where my family lives) and in general Redrock shots have sold better in WA and Cascades shots have sold better in UT. My theory on this is that both locations are overrun with photographers and the respective markets may be saturated with similar local shots. My surprise bestsellers have all been some of my international landscapes, which have done well regardless of where I've shown them.
    • "More bin prints will sell than wall prints" - I assumed this was true because the bin prints are so much cheaper. For me though, I've sold a greater quantity of my larger wall pieces than bin prints. I cannot really say why this is, but I would really like to get bin sales up to help cushion totals in the event that I don't get the big piece sales at some future show.
  • Stay open til the show is over: Because several people have mentioned this on the forum, I've taken care never to start packing up until the day is well and truly done.  One time as a show was winding down a couple saw that I was one of the tents not packing up yet, so they came in and asked if they could still browse for a bit. I told them I was in no hurry so browse as much as they liked, and I answered their questions about a print that caught their eye. They ended up ordering it - and in a size 4x larger than what was on the wall; my largest single-piece sale to date.
  • The artist community is AMAZING! I'm sure there are a few jerks out there, but I've found the other artists I've met at shows to be incredibly welcoming, helpful, encouraging, and informative, just as you all are on this site. Not only am I learning more about doing shows but through talking to folks I've gotten to experience a wealth of creativity across so many mediums; it gives me a much deeper appreciation of art and what goes into it.

So, now off I go to apply to some more shows for 2017. Thanks again to all of you for being such a fantastic resource, and may you all have a wonderful year!

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To you as well! I'm a little bummed, as I did not get back into UAF this year. That surprised me (in a bad way) as I did so well there last year, and I'd wanted to go back and build on that experience.  That was also my best show for post-show orders.  At any rate, I'm happy that you were able to get in again and I hope you have an excellent show.  If you don't mind I'd like to hear how it went afterwards; specifically I'm interested to hear whether you have repeat business and recognition from people who saw you or bought from you last year, etc. 

I will be out that way in August for Park City, but I don't know how much if any overlap there is in patronage between those two shows. I'm not sure if I'll see any customers there that I met at UAF last year.

So far this year I can't find rhyme nor reason to my jury results. I've gotten turned down or waitlisted for shows I was sure I'd get into, and I've gotten accepted into shows I thought there was zero chance.  I have scheduling conflicts with a few of the shows I did last year, so unless I get called off of a waitlist all of my shows this year will be first times for me. It will be good to see how some of these new ones go so I can get an idea of which shows are best for reaching my target audience. But I really want to get to a point someday where I can repeat at a show and try to build more recognition/following amongst those patrons.

Mandy,

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and "lessons learned" from your first year in the trenches. I am a fellow photographer who is considering entering the art fair circuit next year and I can relate to so many of the questions you addressed in this post and the following replies. I have much to figure out but your posts give me many ideas to build upon.

Thanks and best wishes as you continue in your endeavors!

Mike

Thanks Mike - you couldn't be in a better forum if you are looking to learn. So many questions I had while getting started I didn't even have to ask because I was able to find information and ideas searching threads that were already posted. But hopefully some little bit of my experience will help you as well - it would feel good to give back a little! I wish you the best of success as you jump in!

What a terrific post. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights. I've been doing shows for a few years now, but you reminded me of the importance of some basics that I needed to remember!

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