Art Fair Insiders

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

I know us artists. We're gamblers. Who else would take a risk several weekends a year to travel to a strange city, spend time, talent and treasure to show our work, with the slim chance of making a living. There's always some fellow artist, at nearly every show, that has the story about how they made 50K at one show, or have celebrities fighting over their work... or other urban legends.

The first one happened in Beverly Hills, one of the very first Art Festivals I participated in. They continue at every show, big or small... here are a few I remember.

Please tell me these are real. And add your own!

  • A fellow artist told me about the bold artist who was there last year. He had a tent, and one painting on an easel. The painting was $65,000. Someone bought it for full price. Artist took down the tent and went home.
  • Artist sold a $4000.00 piece of work to a nice lady. She took out her checkbook to pay and started writing a check for $40,000.00. Artist said - no Ma'am, it's $4000.00. Lady says... "if it's only $4k then I don't want it," and leaves.
  • Artist's husband says they had their best show last year in the same location in the pouring rain. Hardcore collectors come to Art Festivals in the rain. They sold $5000.00 of art in that one day [their most expensive pieces are $500, so that's a LOT of sales to a lot of people]. It rained the day they told me the story, they had just a few sales, and husband was sleeping all afternoon, in the booth.
  • Artist says last year, he sold everything in his booth to one customer, full price
  • Customer asks artist to deliver several large pieces to her home, to see which one[s] she wishes to buy. Seduces artist. Buys everything.
  • Artist next to me has only 6  6'x8' large paintings in his booth. Realistic oil paintings, scenes from Mexico... A burro, a hacienda, bouganvillia covered wall, street scene. He is not the artist, but tells me each one takes only 10 minutes, because they are really giclee's with a little paint on them and a heavy coating. $5K each. Sells one every show.
  • Photographer is selling shrink wrapped, sawtoothed, wrapped canvas "photographs" of tropical beach scenes for $65 - $125 [with deep discounts if you buy more than one] and when asked - where was this taken? He doesn't know, his assistant doesn't speak English, they have a rented truck full of these things right behind their booth, and he got juried into an art show.

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LOL these are great stories/urban legends.  Some are probable, some are a stretch.  I will say that I have had some of my best shows in pouring rain/bad weather conditions.  The real art buyers will come out no matter what!!

Booth behind me at a show and the man was selling religious figures carved out of olive wood.  Each Customer would come in and ask “Did you carve all of these?” his reply “Oh, yes they take hours to do!”  After a while he notices I am watching this performance as each Customer comes in his booth.  The next thing I notice, as each Customer comes in asking the same question, before he answers he looks to see if I am paying attention, he answers their question turns to me and winks. 
I could see what his Customers could not…boxes and boxes the figures had come out of, all stamped on the outside “Made in Bethlehem from virgin olive wood”.  This was why he was winking at me, because he knew I knew he was telling a lie about carving them.   Later in the day he said to me, "whatever makes them happy!"

I have had some great sales during rainy weather...but nothing as huge as some of the massive sales I have heard from some artists..maybe one day...

Love it! 

To some of us doing shows only since the economy went south, I think some of the "tall tales" are just the way things were at the height of the good economy/acquisitive madness era. 

For instance, I'm told that for a couple years at the show in Wickford, RI, patrons would arrive when the artists were unloading, Friday afternoon, and buy paintings as the artists were taking them out of the vans. 

Sigh. 

ps I have had excellent show days in the rain! 

Here's another one. 

There's a guy, Richard.... whose last name I can't remember.... who does a show at Lincoln Center. You get a small but lovely space with hard walls. Story goes that a painter from the midwest showed up with one expensive piece, hung it in his space, and left this note: "I've never been to New York City, so I am out seeing the sights. Here's my cell phone number - call me if you want to buy the painting."

Any idea if he sells that painting?

A few years back we were doing the Plaza show in Kansas City, our nearby neighbor, somewhat famous in the art fair biz, Emerson, a photographer, says he's bored and he's going to go to a movie that afternoon and would we sort of keep an eye on his booth and he left until evening. Another time we were at Crosby Gardens Festival in Toledo with some gusty winds. A booth blew over and the artist, Emerson, was found sleeping nearby ;)

We did Westport, Kansas City, MO last year and the artist next to us would go to lunch and dinner for an hour or two at a time, each day.  

Great legends, Sandhi. Love the one about the seduction ...

Not so much an urban legend, but one of my favorite memories: we were participating in the Lakefront Festival of Art in Milwaukee, maybe it was our second or third year doing show. They host an artist dinner one night to pass out sizable awards and my husband, photographer Norm Darwish, won one of them! He was floored, as a relative beginner to win at this prestigious show. We were Detroiters and not used to seeing wildlife, as we were leaving the dinner that night and were driving along the lakefront to our hotel a deer came bounding across the road. Seemed to be a good omen for the future. 

Celebrity sightings: Gwen Bennett, mixed media, swears to this day that she heard a familiar voice in her booth at Arts, Beats & Eats, and looked up to see Jack Nicholson who spoke to her about her work. Seems he was scouting the Detroit area for an upcoming film.

The founder of a large mutual fund flew me from Denver to his "ranch" at Aspen to fit his horses for a custom saddle (18 minute flight in private jet). I had a dentist appointment the next morning so he had the plane wait to fly me back that night rather than stay over and fly down with him the next day. As I was fitting a horse a voice behind me said "hi, I Robert Wagner" and there he stood in his waders holding a fly rod. I said "hi, I'm Dick Sherer" and we chatted about some old saddlemakers from AZ and NM. There were no lights on the runway at Aspen then, so we had to lift off at dark. Oh, the guy arrived at the Denver field in the black limo with the chauffeur pulling up to the jet on the tarmac. Just like in the movies. What a hoot.

Love it Richard!!!

Way cool -- part of the allure of this business is the unknown. Who will appear in my booth? You just never know. Everyone, even the rich and famous, enjoys our events that are full of surprises and chance meetings.

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