Art Fair Insiders

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

I feel I have learned some in participating in shows, but mostly I feel like a failure. I have literally only sold two items last year that I participated in. I've changed my prices, my sales techniques and anything else that has be suggested. I'm broke and exhausted. Finally I decided to be a part of a co-op with it's own gallery and even that was a disaster.  I think it really could be true that you just can't create works of art and hope someone will like it enough to buy it. The rejection is hard to take. I enjoy people so much but, no sales makes me feel like a loser. I haven't met anyone in my position, and I feel like I'm the only person who has had this happen.

I think this changes an artist when this sort of thing happens, I know it's changing me. I've been told by other artists that I cant be authentic, that I need to have a distant attitude. Is art really like this? Does it really come down to recreating things you see on Pintrest that people liked, because your creative voice is speechless. 

My new game plan is not a winning plan, but just a childish desire to not let my art sit inboxes in my shed. Yes I may sell my work at the lowest bidder, I may even give it away, which I have been doing. Yes, I may change me just so my hands can continue to feel clay in my hands. Today I'm actually borrowing 25.00 for a box of clay cause I am so broke from all of my efforts. I'm frustrated. The level of bad experiences are so bizarre I can't begin to understand them.

I haven't seen anyone sell an item over $300. this is even in shows like La Quinta. Is all artwork like this? does only inexpensive art sell? is this everywhere? I only can figure that I must do simple blobs to sell anything. Should I try it? should I make a mockery of this whole art thing? should I roll out some clay and virtually play out the" Emperor with no clothes". Make blobs and convince people this is great, and see if it sells. What do I have to loose? haven't I already lost everything? 

What do you think?

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Hi Kara,

I don't think that you should consider yourself a failure. From what I see and hear there seems to be a general overall slowdown in sales, mine included.

When I first started exhibiting my photos at outdoor shows 10 years ago, my sales were fantastic. That along with my 16 awards made me a very happy camper and anxious for the next showtime.

But the last 2 years?...yuchhh!!! I also started to question myself until I found out that other fellow artists were going through the same situation. People just aren't buying like they used to. I appreciated all of their compliments but that doesn't pay the expenses. 

This year and maybe next, I'm temporarily easing off the outdoor shows and aiming for galleries.

As for Annette's suggestion, I'd be very careful about doing festivals. I did 2 - a community festival and a wine festival, where we artists were standing in a ghost town watching the people pass us by.

Art shows are still your best bet. Don't lose hope. Keep on plugging'.

Stu Kerner

Your work is really beautiful..how about more Fine artshows ? Your work is really unique ..don't give up..there is money out there...I finally after 12 years had my first 5 figger show..took a. Long time to get there, but took me about 2 years to start finding my market..everything I've learned is from listening to my customers...there is money out there to be made, don't give up ...chin up..and don't be so hard on yourself. Also, be yourself in your booth, when people ask..tell the story..they love the story...where you were, what were you thinking ..how did you get to that point in the piece..I'm very chatty and down to earth ..that seems to work with my customers, as appose to using linga  they don't understand..goodluck, hang in there ..don't give up yet, your work is really beautiful 

Are you familiar with art dolls? Art dolls aren't play dolls for children but figurative sculpture often with fantasy themes. Your work seems to me to find a home in NIADA, National Institute of American Doll Artists. Check out this page: https://www.niada.org/artists/. You can click on any name from the list for a look at the artist's work. Also, Google the work of George Stuart. It is truly awesome. I had the good fortune to study with him. NIADA has artist and collector members. Art dolls are also sold during Toy Fair in NYC in February for high prices. There are other venues as well. What do you think?

Kara, I went to your website and looked at your work. It is lovely. It is not you or your work. Who knows? Art is so subjective. I agree that you may need to simplify and make some gift oriented ware for lower price points (I don't know what your sculpture sells for?) but I would definitely continue to show the work that comes from your heart.

It could be a combination of things - sometimes shows allow too many vendors and the consumer gets crazy overwhelmed. This actually happened to me recently when I attended a show to see if it would be a good venue for my work. I thought I would spend a few hours checking it out, talking to a few vendors, etc. and before I knew it, the entire day had come and gone and I had missed a least a third of the show. Way too many vendors. AND the quality of work throughout was extremely high so this kind of situation also contributes. Additionally, location, location, location matters. Time of year matters. Maybe consider composing a short back story for each major piece. Folks enjoy knowing what inspires, what methods are used, what kinds of influences an artist has, and so forth. Unfortunately, you are not alone. It is hit or miss for many talented artists out there.... Don't lose heart!!!!

Tara

Hi Kara,

I was looking back to see when you last commented.  Almost 4 months ago.  I'm curious how you are doing.  How many shows have you done, entered, etc.  How are you feeling by now.  How have the suggestions panned out for you.  This is an amazing thread, how many people have been involved and over quite a long time!  I hope that all is well and everything is going wonderfully for you!

Kathy

Hi Kara. Yours was the first post I happened upon here and I'm so glad I did. I feel similarly to you BUT your work is so amazing! What I do is nowhere near the same caliber of the art you make. There were two that captivated me in particular: 'Rooted' and 'Seer', but 'Joy of the Spirit' was also amazing, particularly the expression on the woman's face.

I read most of the comments here and I have a suggestion that I don't think was touched upon: the phoenix.

Now, before you wonder why I suggest this, a few years ago I was looking up ideas for a phoenix tattoo. The stories of the phoenix have always resonated with me, as they have with many other people, especially women. This gave me an idea and that led me to a completely new form of the myth and legend. Many artists have been creating images like these and they struck me as so beautiful, inspiring, and just drew me in, 'like a moth to a flame'. 

Here is an example of what I am referring to, a phoenix in the form of a woman, complete with flames and wings: https://ladydomira.deviantart.com/art/Phoenix-Scarf-296205714 

Here's another, by an artist who goes by SheBlackDragon:

You may be able to find more by typing "phoenix lady" or "phoenix woman" into Google.

There is an amazing quote by Rumi that matches this theme:

"You have seen my descent.

Now watch my rising."

Reading through your comments, I found one where you say that a woman came up to your booth, assuming you were a practitioner of "witchcraft". I sincerely hope you do not hold someone's faith against them, as there are many pagans and Wiccans I know who would be enthralled by your art. I think it is important to not burn any bridges and to keep an open mind as pertains your customers. Art means different things to different people. I also like the idea of wall busts and the idea of a Green Man and Green Lady, but those are pagan-themed, so I hope you're okay with that. Maybe a Moon Goddess with white wings? Or even female angels?

I tend to agree that you should add a $50-100 price range of products, as that's the maximum someone like me would be able to afford, especially when going to an art fair. Speaking of which, do you accept credit cards? It's very important to be able to when selling in person, and there's one really good company, Square, that gives you the option to create specific items for when you check someone out in person and also gives you an online marketplace in which you can sell your work, if you so choose. Their card readers are very affordable and are compatible with both Apple and Android products. 

I hope this gives you something to think about and I hope you haven't given up yet!

Take care.

Kara - your work is lovely. Starting out is hard for most people and it can take years to actually make a living at selling creative work. Yes, some people are fortunate and hit the right show at the right time with the right crowd, suddenly get some good press, and are off and running. But that is not the norm. It has nothing to do with your art work.

There are so many different buying "opportunities" these days. Not long ago when an art show or arts and craft show was held, it was a unique buying experience and people would come with the expectation they might not see such original work close to home any time soon. Now, in larger cities, it isn't at all unusual for several really good, quality shows to be competing with each other for buyers on the same weekend.

Your work is sophisticated and personal. It is going to automatically appeal to a smaller group within the buying crowd that comes to any one show. "Fantasy" work always faces this dilemma. To help people come into your booth, you might keep your nudes arranged in such a way that the passerby is already "hooked" by the work they see and when they come into the booth they might be less inclined to shy away. Your work is not rude or inappropriate in any way - but when trying to pull in that already smaller number of potential buyers, you have to first get them into the booth. 

Most shows, unless they are taking a percentage of your sales, are not going to dump you if you just don't sell. The ones you did not get back into likely just have a huge number of applicants and whoever was making the entry decision just didn't get hooked by your entry photos. And many shows these days actually only invite back a percentage of previous entrants with the thought it keeps their show "fresh". Really frustrating for those who build out patrons in a particular show area and then cannot get back into a show. Again - has nothing to do with the quality of YOUR work - it is just a policy for the show (and often one that is unwritten so you won't know about it "officially"). 

Your work is more sculptural than ceramic. Right now it sounds like finances are tight, but in some shows you may want to enter separately in two categories (when it is allowed). 

Keep your prices high enough to pay. If you are not selling, you may actually have your prices too low. People with money who come into a show and want to put something in their homes or offices are not going to buy a $25 sculpture because they think it is "cheap" and reflects poorly on THEIR taste. Set prices that will sustain you - and stick to them. It is the market you have to find - and you do not want to sell to the lowest purchase point. Ultimately, it will hurt you more than help you.

Some things you can do that might get you the marketing you need:

1. Choose a quality organization in your area or the nearest large city near you that is having a QUALITY raffle. Offer to donate a piece if they will give your work some advertisement. Do not do this for a local small organization that has no advertising opportunities - and don't do this with more than one or two pieces. This is just to get you some press among people who have buying power.

2. Be sure you have at LEAST a quality Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest account - and work them like you would a show. You have to get the visuals out to a broad audience to grab the attention of that smaller subset that will truly love your work.

3. Get a copy of the Art Doll Quarterly and consider entering one of your pieces. If you get in (consider doing something specifically for one of their competitions), put copies in frames in your booth and on your social media accounts. 

4. Look at other print and online publications where entering a challenge or competition will get you some colorful and free advertisement of your work. Post these when you are at a show. It helps when people see that you are "accepted" by the art community as a whole.

You cannot help but feel down when you try so hard, spending time and money, and feel that you cannot move ahead. But your work truly is lovely. I think there is an audience - a BUYING audience - for what you have to offer. If you can only enter one show a year - do it and try for the best show possible with the largest walk through audience. 

You may have to take up other employment from time-to-time to make ends meet, but if you love your artwork, follow your heart and don't change it just because you think it will sell better. In the end, you will be angry at the work and it will stop being a source of pleasure for you. 

You are a talented person and your vision is unique and interesting and your skills are very good. Wishing you all the best. 

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