Art Fair Insiders

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

Saturday I attended the Mock Jury held by the St. Louis Art Fair organization.  Two things I have to say up front:  (1) I’m not a beginner and; (2) I’m blown away by the effort expended by this organization solely for the benefit of the local artists.  Many thanks to Cultural Festivals!

So, if I’m not new to the artist community, why did I go?  Because I sell well at the shows I make it in to, but can’t seem to get into the ones I want.

Did I learn anything?  Absolutely!  Ironically, it wasn’t anything truly new.  I could have told you that your submissions must represent a “body of work”.  I could have told you that your booth shot can keep you out of a show.  What I couldn’t have told you was how to make my choices look like a body without being an iteration.  How to manipulate my booth image and when.  That the people who run these shows are there to help.  And just how important the words you put on your applications really are.

The single key to the success of the Mock Jury is that you can ask questions.  And, boy, did I!  Ironically, the biggest issue had the simplest answer.  Body of Work.  So the question was “How do I make my…” and the answer was straight arrow in one sentence – choose a central theme and go from there.  Simple, right?  It could be colors or patterns or shapes.  Don’t know why I didn’t see it before.  For me for this year it will be a set of rainbow colors that are in a couple of my favorite pieces.  I could hardly sleep that night for the creative ideas racing through my mind.

The booth issue was surprising.  First, did you know that some shows will reject your application if they don’t see your submission pieces predominantly displayed?  Do you really read the show application to see if you must have a frontal exterior shot or if you can use a more attractive partial shot?  And do you live by the standard “less is more”?  I got tired of hearing comments from the judges like “too much clutter”, “can’t tell what that thing is”, “don’t want to see the chair”, and “can’t have the name in the shot”.  They only liked the booths that were really Spartan.  I’ve known that my booth shots were weak but not how weak and why.  The judges explained that a poor booth shot will not keep you out of the first round of judging but easily can make the difference in the final round.

 A new concept for me was that show administrators can be your friend.  You can actually talk to them and get assistance.  They may call you if there is a problem with your application or something not allowed in your booth shot or just to clarify an issue which the judges may question.  They will not get you into a show – that’s up to the jury – but they will help you put your best foot forward.

And, finally, there is the topic of words.  Not every judge on every jury knows the secrets of your art form.  They see the image of the final product.  Little did I know how beneficial it can be to explain what you have done, exactly how it is accomplished, and why it matters to you.  If you are an artist applying to Fine Art Fairs, please tell me that you know that you only get about 15 seconds to make it through the 1st round.  So your images must be top notch professional.  What I did not realize, however, is that in the subsequent rounds more time is allowed.  Judges ask questions and discuss the art.  Your descriptions on your application to the show can make or break you.  It clarifies to the judge what was involved and where your passion lies.  It can tip the scale for you in the final competition.

If you get a chance to go to a Mock Jury – do it!  These judges reviewed every participant in depth – all 100.  What you learn hearing them talk about your submission is worth your weight in gold but I was also fascinated by the total.

Views: 2468

Comment by Larry Berman on January 28, 2014 at 7:11am

Now that you've experienced a jury where they critique your images to help you improve, I suggest attending the open jury for the St Louis show. That's where you will not only see some of the same images that were projected at the mock jury, hopefully improved. You will also see images from artists who are at the top of their game, some of the best in the country. St Louis is a great looking art show.

Larry Berman

Comment by Connie Mettler on January 28, 2014 at 10:25am

Good for you, Carol, for attending. I know Larry and I go on and on about this and now you know. There is nothing that is more helpful and can answer more questions than putting your images up there in front of the judges and getting the feedback.

Not only do you learn about your own and how to improve your presentation, but you see what the other guys are doing and learn from their mistakes and successes. You SEE what makes the cut and you LEARN what to do and what not to do.

I so much appreciate that you also found out how accessible the show organizers to the artists. Cindy Lerick and her partner Laura Miller are totally devoted to their show and to sharing information for everyone's success. 

If you get into shows and sell well, that is great. The purpose of attending these kinds of events though is to teach you the steps to get into even better shows because usually the reason an event is more highly rated is because artists make more money there. Why not aim for the place with the best rewards?

So, Carol (thanks for your post), what are you going to do differently?

Comment by Carol Knox on January 28, 2014 at 11:17am

My biggest failing was the "body of work" issue.  I just couldn't comprehend what would make my fused glass look cohesive with out appearing to be 4 dishes in the same pattern which I knew would have been too trite.  Now I realize I already have three different patterns (series) that are based on the same "rainbow" colors and can easily make a fourth.

By the way, the word "trite" was used in the comments and is deadly.  Trite doesn't make it past the 1st cut.

Artists should understand (by going to these opportunities) just how glaring it is to see poor photos flash up on the big screen. That can be the photos not being done well or (as in my case) disjointed offerings.  At the very least, both Zapplication and Entrythingy offer the ability to review your jury images.  Do it.

The booth shot is going to be a challenge for me still as I've already sent in several applications and more deadlines are looming.  I've figured out how to make my booth look better and am hoping for a slightly nicer day soon so I can set up the tent in my back yard.  This is no small feat for someone in my situation but absolutely needs to be done.

Cindy confirmed to me that once I have better booth shots, it wouldn't hurt to send them to the show administrators I have already submitted to.  No guarantees that an administrator will make the substitution but I might as well try.  

Comment by Joanne Daschel on January 28, 2014 at 1:13pm

The "Spartan" booth issue is one I wonder about. From looking at preferred booth images posted on this site, it does seem to be the preference, which is at odds with what I was taught in retailing: "pile it high and watch 'em buy."  In other words stocking a booth with abundant inventory.  I'm not saying there needs to be wall pieces hung at knee-level but let's face it, we only have a limited sq footage and 2-3 days to sell. Seems to me when watching and listening to buyers that they only glance from a distance at Spartan booths whereas a good selection makes them stop and really look. I wonder if the juries expect the booth shot to represent what ends up displayed in real life, when folks are trying to make a living.

Comment by Larry Berman on January 28, 2014 at 1:42pm

The more commercial your booth looks the more it will be difficult to pass the jury at the better shows. When the art shows jury, it's not about commercialism as much as it's just about the art.

Larry Berman

Comment by Joanne Daschel on January 28, 2014 at 1:49pm

Not sure what you mean by "commercialism" Larry. I mean the difference between hanging 10-12 pieces in the whole booth as seen in many booth shots, as opposed to twice that number. 

Comment by Robert Wallis on January 28, 2014 at 2:47pm


Jurors repeatedly say that you don't need to hang everything you've ever done. Make it have a classy look like a mini-gallery inside a 100 square foot space. The booth shot is not to wow the customers, it's to wow the jurors who are looking to see that you have a booth that won't embarrass the show if you get in. The idea is to stage the booth for the jurors, skip the retail look, you're presenting a gallery look.

Here are a couple of posts I've made from previous years at the St.Louis workshops that are pertinent to this discussion;

2012 St. Louis workshop

2013 St.Louis workshop (part three: the booth shot)

Comment by Carol Knox on January 28, 2014 at 2:52pm

I agree with both Joanne & Larry.  In fact, I argued with the judges over these issues.  Their response was to keep the extra stock in the back and talk to the customers offering to show them what you have in the hidden inventory.

All of the issues, I fear, are a real Catch 22.  The show administrator has the authority to remove an artist from a show if the actual booth differs too greatly from the booth image so you can't submit the Spartan photo and then build the stacked to the ceiling reality.  

I think you have to tread the middle ground. Take out chairs and anything that is not "for sale".  The judge wants to see what looks like an art gallery but you want the customers to be interested enough to step into your booth.  Hopefully, a reasonable compromise will be adequate to satisfy the judges, the administrator, and yourself.

Do remember that the booth shot is not going to make you fail that all critical 1st round.  It comes into play in the final rounds.

Good luck with the balancing act!

Comment by Robert Wallis on January 28, 2014 at 5:28pm

"The show administrator has the authority to remove an artist from a show if the actual booth differs too greatly from the booth image so you can't submit the Spartan photo and then build the stacked to the ceiling reality" 

I feel that may be over reacting to the situation. If the work is still the same, just more of it, then that's not a big deal. If what is in the show booth is dramatically different in terms of style and content from the juried work, to the point where it looks like someone else's work, then there's a chance of being removed. Going from 12 pieces of work to 30 pieces in the same style and so forth isn't going to get someone the boot. 

Comment by Larry Berman on January 28, 2014 at 5:29pm

Actually if they find work in the booth of a style that is different from what was juried with, they might ask the artists to remove that style work. I know of situations where it has happened. Sometimes an artists will include a second style of work in their booth image but not jury with that particular work. If it's a noticeable percentage of the booth contents I'll recommend carrying an 8x10 or even 11x14 print of their booth picture to show in the event they are challenged.

Larry Berman


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