Art Fair Insiders

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

     We artists may be creative wonders but many of us suffer from a hopeless gambling addiction.

     We gamble, against all odds, getting juried into the Grand-Poobah Big Shows across this fine land. We keep sending those jury fees just as surely as someone at a Las Vegas table continues to bet on the next hand being the big one.

      But the odds either in Vegas or in Artland are against beating the house. Just think: Big Show A, where you might make enough dough to retire to a life of financial ease in a warm climate, has 40 available spaces and 4 million applicants. Okay, that's an exaggeration beyond belief, but you get the point. And the odds against you have become even steeper now that a lot of now out-of-work former suits see art shows as their way to beat the system, sort of like we already did.

      There are so many of us now that we're about as easily interchangeable as AA batteries.   

      Humongous Show A rejects you yet again. You angrily vow never again to waste your money applying to this Great Event which unbelieveably has failed to recognize your valued contribution to the art world. But hold everything: Another year passes and the sting of rejection has faded. From somewhere deep within your soul, renewed hope percolates!  And so you try just once more, still against all odds but much to the delight of Zapp and to the show. Perhaps this will be your year at last!

        In this sense, we artists behave like the most most eternal optimists on earth. Like, I know a fine career artist who has been rejected for something like 25 consecutive years by one Very Large Show. He just keeps trying, God love him. I tell you, if he ever gets in I'll help celebrate by sending him a bottle of the most expensive tequila (now the official drink of outdoor art shows) one can buy.

         You say: Hey Steve, don't take rejections personally. It's a diceroll. It's a crapshoot. It's someone else's instant judgment. True, and this is the deal we signed up for. But I talked to an artist the other day who lamented that even after 30 years in the business, the rejections still hurt.

         We all have felt the pain. We have become experts at failure management. 

         Can you think of any other occupation where so much depends on such chance? That's why backing up Really Big Shows by applying to other shows on the same weekend has become an art form in itself.  Sending to three or four concurrent summer events now seems the norm, just another cost of doing business.

          We soldier on. Because, somehow, some way, being able to to this stuff for a living still beats a regular job, you know? That's my rationalization for the addiction and I'm sticking to it.

          If you're new to the Outdoor Show Big Leagues and have been stunned by a string of rejections, trust me, you're not alone.

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OHHHHHHHHH if we were rewarded as well as MLB players for batting .300 . Aint going to happen and it is a false analogy which makes as much sense as the judging & jurying at art shows.


You have to be damn good at what you do and your reward is you get to subject yourself to the whims of a most arbitrary & capricious world.


That is right BUCKOS .................. the world aint fair .

I was thrilled last year to be accepted to Bayou City in Houston on my 1st try.  I did well, even though there was hotel and travel expense.  Then I went to a MUCH smaller show only an hour away from home and made a like amount.  I'm beginning to wonder if prestige is a trap we've all bought into, and who are we trying to impress anyway?

I thought I was the only one getting rejected consistently! I gave up on Cherry Creek, but am in a lovely gallery in Denver instead. They market to art collectors in Colorado - and even though I give up 50% of the revenue, they do all the work for me and have contacts with collectors, designers, etc. Their staff is much more professional than I could ever be standing on my feet at a show trying to make a sale on the third day...


I stopped applying to shows after last year. I did the math, and what with travel, meals, booth fees, etc... I wasn't even close to breaking even. I refuse to live in my car, shower at truck stops or eat top ramen, so my travel expenses were a little higher [but thank you, Priceline!]. 

It's not my art that isn't good enough, it's not the booth shot, it's just finding the right audience for my art... and frankly, selling a bunch of prints just to make booth fee is not my thing. I want to be an artist creating great work... I got tired of trying to justify my pricing and/or point of view to the hoi polloi eating their kettle korn while out for a stroll... it's free to attend most of these shows, so art fair customers are not necessarily art buyers - of my work.

Instead, I am working on getting into more galleries and spending time on marketing & public relations so I can sell it in other venues instead of fairs. I probably made the same amount of money this year - without the shows.

I make great art. I have great photos of my work. My booth is professional - and not getting accepted into the right shows. And when I did get into shows, I just wasn't making the right connections or making the money I should have. So, I'll stay home for a while and make art...


I gotta put in my two cents worth...just can't help myself!  I did my first craft show in 1985 so I have a little experience.  My show schedule is not only art shows.  I attend craft shows and I love the flea markets during the week.  I hear the moaning and groaning on that...don't knock it until you try it!  Sometimes we need to take the stick out of our butts and have a good time...flea markets are awesome if you find the right ones!  You would be surprised at what you can learn too.

I was asked once why I beat myself up for 3 months out of the year (I'm a summer addict).  My two favorite responses are:  I don't drink, smoke or take drugs so I have to do something!  Or:  It keeps me out of the bars!

Seriously, why would I put myself through the stress of all the travel, all the set-ups and take-downs (which are different for different venues), the heat, rain and wind, the occasional theft, the beating on my body, the paperwork and the waiting for confirmations so I actually know where I'm going!  

There are lots of reasons for doing all this and they are different for each one of us.  Some of my reasons:  Everyone else is on vacation for the summer so I go too, I like to have a good time and try to make sure my customers do to, I make good products that people like and it feels good to have people tell me that, I am always challenging myself to learn new things so I can teach others that want to learn, no punching a clock (one of my favorites) and I make a good living at it because I make the changes that are needed to keep going and stay in business.

Odds are I won't get rich doing this but at least I'm enjoying my time.  That should be the main reason for being in this business...if you are not enjoying it you need to find something else to do.  

I don't whine and complain about it because its my choice to do this.  I make the best of every show I'm at...thats why I'm there.  If its slow...I work on a piece of jewelry between customers--if its busy...I'm working the customers.  I work almost everyday through the summer and every weekend through the middle of October.  By the end of summer I'm pretty tired and look forward to just weekend shows for fall.  I've done a whole lot of different jobs in my life and this is by far the best one yet!

I guess that makes me a gambler too but I wouldn't have it any other way.  Life is a crap shoot from the day we check in until the day we check out...gotta make the best of it or you might as well stay home.  Hopefully I see all your smiling faces on the road somewhere!


Amen, again!


Don'cha just love this business?

I think the more information we get from shows the better able we are to make good decisions about applying to shows. When I get a rejection email, I've started asking shows "How many application did you get in my medium? How many were selected or waitlisted? Sometimes I get informative responses and sometimes I don't. For example, Gasparilla said they had 84 photographers apply this year and they selected 7. That's useful information.

I think we should all start demanding this kind of feedback from shows. Also, it would be very simple for Zapp or JAS to implement this kind of report on a show-by-show basis. For the $25 or $35 we spend on our applications, I think we deserve some useful information.

- Robert Green - Photographer

     Mr. Green: You are a photographer and wish to get into Gasparilla? Consider the following nearly sure-fire formula as a strategy to be included in this excellent show:

      Your collage must include:

      1. A torn, burned page from any holy book.

      2. Rusty old barbed-wire.

      3. Chicken bones with dried blood.

      4. A partial human skull.

      5. Any other items suggesting blackness, pain, misery or mystery.

       The jurors will interpret this as a strong statement about the human condition and will embrace you as legitimate.

       Also important: Your pieces must be in black-and-white (or at most, sepia), framed in doomsday black with a plain white mat and, of course, appropriately glazed (a $100 word for glass).

      Follow these easy steps and you shall inherit Gasparilla!

      (It really is a good show. You're just unlikely likely to get in with some cheap, tawdry lighthouse or beach shot that you can sell).


Wow!  I haven't done Gasparilla for about 20 years and, according to Steve, their idea of "art" hasn't changed one iota!  And that's just the award winners!  If an artist does apply, make sure he/she gets a tetanus shot - that rusty metal stuff can really get at you!

A ceramicist friend of mine drove an old rust heap of a Chevy van for years.  I bet if he had entered it into Gasparilla as a conceptual art piece, he would have gotten best of show and enough money to buy a new van!  Just sayin'...

Invaluable advice, Mr. Vaughn!



There's a kinky kind of story about paying for sex:  Many years ago, a couple was married.  On their wedding night, the wife said that before they had sex, her husband had to pay her $30.  And so on, for many years, every time he wanted to have sex, she said, first the $30, then the enthusiasm, fun, experimenting - she didn't stint on the exuberance she brought to their lovemaking.  Then after many years passed, he became ill and his business suffered to the point that he had to close the shop.  He was very, very worried, because his illness had drained his bank account.  Finally, he told his wife that they were broke, they might lose their home.

She then said to him, "Remember all of those times we made love and I charged you for them? Well, here is our personal bank account, with over $1 million in it, plus a CD with $2 million in it.  We will now have a lovely retirement, free of charge!"

Thanks for reading this, it really has nothing to do with art shows, just love and money.

3 Million divided by $30 equals 100,000 times having sex.  100,000 times having sex (lets say) once a day, 365 days a year equals 273.972 YEARS!  Wow!  Maybe they did it 20 times a day.

No wonder he lost his business .......................... ! I tried the calculations a few times, maybe I am wrong and that is why I am an artist.

In spite of that, I did like the story


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