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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Kara:

Who do you think is your target audience?  Perhaps there are venues that are not necessarily art or craft fairs that are more in line with your audience.  For example, my husband has friends who sell their stuff at comic book or sci-fi conventions vs. craft fairs.  

Also, are there Facebook interest groups that attract your audience?  Often there are days in the month where the administrators allow people to showcase their wares.  A great opportunity for free advertising.

The point I was trying to make (not lemonade) was that even after doing shows for over 35 years, it can happen to anyone. I created a body of work that I thought could transcend the rule that what juries well doesn't sell well and what sells well doesn't jury well. Because I got into the shows I wanted to I found out the hard way that the work was not mass saleable. After investing in creating inventory.

Larry Berman
http://BermanGraphics.com
412-401-8100

Larry you are a wealth of info, so when I read what you had said, I got it. 

I think I was stuck is a thought and this was the thought... I originally wanted to do bronze work but the foundry was extremely exhausting. Then it closed and I had to learn ceramic sculpture as one of a kind. With ceramics I liked some of the freedom, ( details and texture) but I didn't like the limitations (breakage and  limited strength in balancing).  

I think my efforts in fantasy and character design are good but, my art needs to fit in and be more subtle and simple if I want my art to enter homes with more money. I have been thinking like a bronze artist in sculpture not a ceramist clay sculptor. I've been thinking, bronze sculptors don't make small trinkets , why would I need to? I mean I do make small pieces, but truly it bores me.

I got wrapped up in my theme and sculpture and didn't accept that my work doesn't fit most peoples homes and It will take a while to find the right person for each of my pieces. 

All of this discussion for the most part is stuff I knew. But didn't think that little voice in the back of my thoughts was right, mainly because it means more work. That's ok, at least it means I'm not going backwards. Well starting over is kinda backwards but, not completely.

Larry, I have the opposite problem that you have.  For the past several years I've been having a much harder time getting into the good shows.  I've been doing this for 28 years.  But when I get in, I sell better than I was selling 5 years ago.  The juries don't like my current work, but the customers do.  I have friends who get into a lot of good shows with their high end abstract work, but have a harder time selling than I do, once I get in. But I do also have a wide range of prices.

I have had the same issues. I got into krasl last year, found out today I didn’t get in this year and 2 jurors gave me 1s :(. I practically sold out last year and so am very disappointed. Have any tips? I am trying to do more research on jury photos etc. I think I will contact Larry Beerman

That is heartbreaking, Kelly. There is a lot of change going on at Krasl in the admin department. Not that that should dissuade you from upping your game. Good luck!

Kara, as I am sure you know, Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life.  His success was entirely posthumous.  This doesn't help you earn a living, but it does tell you that sales and quality don't necessarily have anything to do with each other.

That said, I have some business suggestions. First the web site.  I too am a site developer who works mostly with artists.  I think some art needs to be on the home page, but I disagree that the gallery should be.  To my mind the home page should be an introduction to you and your work, and a guide to the contents of your site.  So you might want to consider having a smaller scale slide show on the home page, that it shares with a paragraph or two about you and your work, and a separate, more comprehensive gallery page, or even multiple pages, if your portfolio is large enough to be separated into themes. The gallery images could link to a separate page for each piece with some explanation for the theme and its inspiration, with some images of specific details, and other information such as the dimensions, and the various techniques involved in its creation.  If you prefer to keep the slide show as it is, I suggest you add the dimensions of the pieces.  

I think you should have one piece in your booth that is so expensive, it makes all the other pieces seem moderate by comparison.  I think you should include your inspiration quote in your booth, with the biblical citation. It probably won't help you sell to atheists, but it might l save you grief from those Christians who forget they aren't supposed to throw stones, and it certainly will be a conversation starter.

As for the lower priced point items, here are two suggestions.  Just as photographers sell the same pictures in different sizes, and painters sell prints, as well as originals, you can create limited, or unlimited reproductions, using molds as previously suggested.  And a way to make small pieces that you might actually find interesting is to do small pieces as studies, by which I mean tests of ideas that you may later integrate into large works.  If before you created SeeHorse, you had made a series of smaller sea horses you could have refined your ideas and made saleable pieces at the same time.

Wow your stuff is fabulous! I probablycouldn't afford it myself, but I do love it.  If I could understand how selling art (or anything) works, I'd write a book on it, because there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason....  I do hope things pick up for you.  I make jewelry and my hubby makes glass beads which I feature in the jewelry.  I also have some cheaper items.  Those sell.  And once in a while I sell one or 2 of the nice necklaces with the handmade beads.  I do get discouraged, and I have a lot of inventory taking up room in my house..  

I thought your work was quite good, and suggest that in addition to other's suggestions you contact some mid- to high end galleries in the bigger cities near you (LA, SF?) and see if you can interest them in a review of your work.  Your work is skilled and sophisticated, don't sell yourself short -- try to go higher rather than lower.

You have some interesting stuff Kara - different from what I have seen from most other potters which translates to Product Differentiation.  That can be good but it brings marketing nuances - or niche that might make some venues less appropriate.  Your comment on price also brings to mind market demographics - are you in markets that can afford your prices easily?.  Sales at shows overwhelmingly call for pricing for an impulse buy, while galleries or exhibitions have your work available for longer periods allowing for customers to think about spending more.  I haven't read all of the responses so my points below might be redundant but from what I have read, it appears that what you need is a plan with a strategy,  Here are some thoughts. 

First of all try to match your product prices to the demographics of the venue or alternatively, match the market to your prices. One demographic is paramount and that is the average household income.  Your pricing should be low  enough for that demographic which would make your pricing an easy impulse buy. Bear in mind that an impulse buy threshold price for one person might be $50 but for someone else that might be $500. Don't do shows where the attendance/market area is flea market buyers.  Go to where your price fits in the place. 

Don't abandon your high end work; but do have some less expensive items in the mix. This not only makes for some "expense money sales".  They look at that high priced item and say "too much" but then might just bring themselves to buy that lower cost item.  Sometimes it actually works in reverse. psychologically they already decided to buy something on the lower price level and then, since they are going to spend $X anyway, why not spend a few dollars more and get that "really cool piece". 

In your case you might prefer juried fine art & craft shows as opposed to craft only shows. You might not get accepted to all of them but it could be a good first "filter".  Then do some research on the demographics - Household income.

I mentioned product differentiation and that ties with competition. If for example, you do a craft show that has 300 or 400 participating artists and expected attendance of 3,000 (most of whom are tire kickers) you are making life difficult for yourself.  BTW - I take the promoters attendance projection and divide that number by 2 or even three because that is more likely the number of people who will walk by and actually SEE your booth and it adjusts for the "exaggeration factor".

Competition for the discretionary dollar is fierce and art is probably at the lowest point for that dollar in most households.  For that reason alone, I avoid shows with more that 250 artists and look for the shows that might be more boutique.  

Back to "Place" for a minute. You should try to have genre that works for the area (not exclusively, some variety is good - again product differentiation even within your collection).  I do a lot of equine work, it doesn't fit well at shows at a beach resort town.  The antithesis for you would be to hit beach spots that attract a lot of tourist and hopefully timed at the peak of the tourist season.   

Selling fine art isn't easy but there is difference between marketing and sales - do some marketing (market research and planning) and use each show to learn more, remember think about what might work better the next time.  I hope this is helpful - and keep in mind that these are just guidelines that I use, there are always exceptions, 

Your work is lovely. But I have been thinking about the same topic for several months and watching customers at one show I participated in, as well as 2 co-op galleries I belong to. (I paint colorful, pastel, soft Impressionist-style oil paintings).  Feminine themes are dead. No one will buy them now. Female shoppers tend to purchase less expensive small items (jewelry, mugs, cards) and when it's a large piece or an expensive piece, a couple usually make the decision, and neither wants a piece that "reeks of femininity." No pastels. No soft edges. What is selling best now is shiny metal, photos (hard edges there) or red colors (along with grey, grey, grey). I have no solid proof of what I say, but notice fashion, decor, and attitude. Right now the culture is stressing tough female, not soft. That's just my observation. Feminine bird ladies are a hard sell in an era determined to put every girl in STEM classes. Pop culture is always changing, however, so perhaps you will emerge on the front edge of a new era in the future.

I have read every comment in this thread to this point. I am going to come at this from a different POV.

I have conversations with artists at least a few times each month who are voicing similar pain, Kara. I have worked with artists as a coach and consultant for over 40 years. 

However, I have rarely seen work as valuable, vunerable, venturesome, and just plain excellent as your collection. And with that as my foundation I say to you:

1. Don't second-guess what you have done to this point. You arrived where you are without guessing. Don't start now.

2. Understand your power as an artist. Understand that you are changing lives forever and ever. Even those who don't become collectors have been changed forever by seeing your work.

3. Learn why you have value. Learn why you have influence. Believe you have value. Believe you have influence. 

(you said at one point that you are feeling like a loser and imagined that was "felt" when you were in the public eye. it is.)

4. I am sure Connie will embrace my suggestion: Listen to our podcast together and hear what it means to believe and to feel what I call the "responsibility". We don't create for ourselves alone. We create to share. We create to bring our artist soul into the public's artistic soul. We awaken the artist soul in others. That is worth really reading a few more times. Listen to this podcast on this website: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/artfairs/2016/06/22/selling-art-face-t...

And I have one blog post that will (I believe!) sooth some of the feathers in your heart that you keep ruffling: https://mygoldenwords.com/do-you-know-why-they-should-buy-your-art/

And lastly, I believe in you. I believe that you will find your "sharing" voice and learn to become a true partner with your collectors. And while it's fine to consider lower priced items, they need to still have your soul embedded and not "stand out" as the impulse buy. If you can't feel as genuinely excited to share a $25 box, then even that box won't sell. Just as people will feel your Loser attitude, they will feel that your box is just a box you created to try to make money.

Your box CAN be elevated. In the end, we all collect what we believe gives us value - not just financially, but intrinsically, too. 

One artist here on Maui (bronzes) created what she calls "meditation coins". They are easy to keep in one's palm and are a "token" of love and peace. She regularly sells her bronzes for many hundreds and has sold many in the 10-15 K range. The tokens are often given away to anyone who shows intense emotional connections and desire.

I agree with one of the other most recent posts: Have one piece that is way over-the-top and priced accordingly. That will create a very good environment for your collection. I agree: Go Higher, not lower.

And I MUST go here: I was instantly put off by the thought of a "withered moth". It sent horrid visuals to me of a moth that had finally lost the battle with the light and had died a slow and miserable death on it's back unable to use it's tattered and burned wings. You may have a specific "cause" behind your title, but taken at its literal title.... ew....

Please give consideration to a change of branding. I know it's a big lift, but you deserve to show the love and depth of faith your work shows without conjuring a painful spiraling death. 

I am a fan. I love your artist soul. I hope you find your center.

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