Art Fair Insiders

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

I have learned so much from people on this forum. One of the best things about being in art shows are the friends you make. Lately a couple of friends have confided in me that they NEVER make money at shows. I was shocked. Everyone has bad shows but I don’t know how people can put good (and hard earned ) money into shows that never pay off. A couple are newbies and I get that, but one couple I have seen in regional shows for years.

Since I do ok, they ask me for advice. I’m not big on this but as I look at their booth the one thing that is obvious to me is the lack of visual continuity and artistic vision. And by that I mean drawings are pencil and some water color, flowers and then landscapes. Some are framed and some matted. Wood frames and black frames and most smallish. Two photographer friends have the same problem. Some nature shots, some urban shots, some flowers and a few tiny bugs.

I would really like to see my friends do better. Is there somewhere I could point them? I suggested they walk around and look at the other booths and identify the visual themes and the display techniques that help unify the artist’s point of view. But I could tell they didn’t see what I was talking about.

One suggestion is kinda my limit when people ask for advice. I do not see myself as an expert, more as a student who is always willing to learn. So I guess what I am asking is, where could I point to, so that they get the help they need to turn a profit?

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Most people in this business learned from experience. It takes years to build a body of work that's saleable AND learn how to market it to make a profit.

One problem is that walking shows and looking at other booths is that some artists really don't see the difference. Even in their own jury images they don't see that what they're submitting is scattered, not cohesive.

So you have to ask yourself, are they doing it for the money if they aren't selling, or just as a hobby not needing the money. Are they happy doing what they're doing, after all, they've been doing it the same way for years.

Larry Berman

No I really think they want to sell. Even if it is a hobby you want to break even. I know retired couples who use shows as a way to see the country and have their travel expenses covered. But I think these people want to make the leap to making a living as an artist.  Not an easy task. And pulling a consistant profit is a start. I am often shocked at the jewelers who have no idea how much in materials they have in their work.

With all your work helping people with their jury images you probably have a good grasp of all the different mediums. Do you try to help them focus? How do you explain the concept of a "cohesive body of work" ?  

Thanks Larry.

Tell them to read Art Of The Start. It is a cheap book and a quick read. Applies to all businesses.

Thanks I'll check it out too.

Send them to Universities to see graduate solo thesis shows. Those advanced degree art students are so focused and cohesive you almost can't tell the difference between artworks. I think instructors direct students to focus too much, and I've seen some of this from fellow artists in outdoor shows on our tours.

I suppose they need to study merchandising, too. And much more besides.

How do you explain to someone who doesn't want help? I have no trouble communicating with people who contact me because they are looking to improve. But at the same time, I've found people who have no desire to improve are willing to pay zero and put zero effort into doing so. They have to want to improve to start with.

I have no problem helping artists for free. I made a the decision years ago that no artist would get left behind. But, like I said, they have to want to improve first.

Larry Berman

I can attest to the dedication, commitment, and assistance that Larry provides. He has helped my wife and I on a couple of occasions. I have found that some exhibitors are either so set in their ways or are afraid of change that they would rather just stay the course.

Thanks to several people on here, my wife and I were able to make it through the hard times. 

Hi Larry,

I just wanted to chime in and thank you for some invaluable help you gave me years and years ago (probably a decade or more) when I asked you for advice about photographing my hand painted etchings for slides (obviously a long time ago - who makes slides anymore?).  You helped me see that I could have better slides by just using my wide format scanner in the studio  than I could by having them professionally done...even though this wonderfully effective technique (which I've been using ever since then) meant that I would no longer be hiring any photographer to do my show slides.  It's been an incredible bonus for me to have that aspect of my business totally under my own control and I can't thank you enough for your generous gift of knowledge.


Tell them to come here. Just by lurking and reading all the advice given by this crazy gang has to help.

You can't teach artistic vision or style, you either got it or you need to keep practicing! I see so much crap and amateur work while doing these shows, it amazes me. If your heart isn't in it, give up! You should compare the quality of your work to work that is selling in successful galleries. "Starving to successful" is a good book that teaches you how to get ready for galleries/shows from quality and consistency to selling.  Another big factor is what and where your selling. For instance, I make contemporary abstract paintings but live in AZ where contemporary art is not very popular. So I don't do many shows here, I go to California where contemporary art is selling! You should eat, sleep and breathe art otherwise you probably won't make it.

Brian, just who are we to refer to another exhibitor's work as crap? Everybody has a level of ability and they exhibit at that level. And there are amateurs exhibiting at the same shows you do.  Not everyone is striving to do gallery quality work, so why should they be denigrated?

Maybe they're just doing it because they actually enjoy doing it. They're not trying to be the next Picasso or Dali or Rockwell, they're just enjoying what they do and are making money. Galleries are the furthest thing from their mind. 

When you say those things you are actually saying "I'm better than you"! Really? They got juried in just the same way you did. And who knows? Maybe their work is selling like crazy to people who like that style. Once that show begins, they are every bit as equal as you.

One of the worst things you can do is look down your nose at a fellow exhibitor! No matter what they're selling.

I see you've been doing this for 2 years. My friend, you have so much to learn about our business. The first thing you need to learn is humility.

I refer to my own photography as "my s**t" all the time.

This thread reminds me of the old saying, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink".

Larry Berman


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