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

At a show in Charlotte, NC, a couple weekends ago, promoter Patty Narozny pointed out that there are very few young artists at the shows. And as I looked around that weekend and this past one, I began to see that she has a point. 

I'm 56. Most of the artists I see at shows are in their 50s or older. Is this the way it has always been? Is it a symptom of changing economic times - young artists putting art aside to earn a steady paycheck? Or is it something about Gen Whatever It Would Be - Gen Zsquared? 

When I do see a young artist at a show, he or she is often doing something really innovative, really cool, really interesting - and inspiring to me. So what's going on here? 

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Back about 20 years ago, I was doing a lot of figurative and nude work. When I was in grad school at the time as a non-traditional mid 40's student kind of guy there was a lot of resistance to someone like myself doing figurative work. I started signing work as R.Wallis to be gender nonspecific and side-step some of that nonsense for those who didn't know me. I've continued that to this day,'mostly out of habit and consistency. The recurring refrain I found at the art fairs when I still had the nudes for sale was that the customers thought the artist was a woman, and I was the spouse ;-) One or two thought the work looked like that of Joyce Tennyson although I never thought it did.

I'm 27 and this is my third year doing festivals.  AND I also sell on Etsy, but I sold over $20,000 there last year, so I can't be grouped in with the ones happy to sell 150 $20 items.

There are over 300,000 "shops" on Etsy. And a rule of thumb is that only the top 2% make any real money.

I went to your Etsy store and I saw you had 454 sales since May of 2010. That would put you I guess in that 2%.

But the other 98%....


Etsy is interesting indeed.  You do have to put a ton of work into (especially in social marketing and understanding SEO, keywords, etc..) if you're going to make any money at it, but it is possible. 

It's definitely a journey in learning about marketing though as much as making art.  My higher end shop (more one of a kind, more expensive) typically is like doing a really great art show a year without having to leave my house.  My lower priced shop is what keeps me on my toes, and pays for me to go to art shows, and really pays the bills.  (So, not surprising, it is the lower priced items being sold on their overall)

Yes... I guess my Etsy shop is in the other 98%. I do far better at art fairs. My Etsy shop has only had 5 sales since it opened in 2010...

Hi! I'm 27 and am on my 3rd year of fairs. I'm fortunate enough to have the perfect part-time office job: it pays the bills and only runs through Wednesday. I'm doubly lucky to have a generous man who's self-employed (with flexible schedule) and willing to help me with all of my fairs. Triply, in fact: I have zero debt right now, so I can live lean. All of the stars have aligned for me to do art fairs.

At fairs I do notice that there aren't all that many artists in their 20s... and now and then I meet with a disgruntled veteran who complains that they're ready to pack it in and be done, art fairs just don't provide a living anymore. I can believe it. Though my work is finally starting to bring in some respectable cash these days, there's still no way I could live off art sales alone. I tend to think of my profits as a nice fat bonus at the end of each year.

There seems to be a good deal of pressure on the workforce newbies to pursue jobs in technology, and to get the steady paychecks and promotions and big bucks, etc. That may be no different than in years past... Consider though that the recession hit just shortly after people my age graduated from college, striking fear in the hearts of us all. We started off our career-lives scrambling just to exist and to manage hefty school loans. I participate in art fairs because I love fairs and love running my own business, but also because I CAN.

I'm 26. I did my first show when I was 19.  A couple years ago I took the leap to fill-out all the awful legal paperwork to make my business official. Last year was my first year officially as a business.  This has been a great year of growth for me so far with my jewelry.  I finally got a website up, have increased the number of shows (and better quality shows) that I'm doing this year (although the number is still no where near where I need to get it to), and had a gallery accept my work on consignment with another one interested when they start taking new artists again.

I'm 61 and my wife and I have been doing a few local shows over the last year.  A comment was made earlier about young people not buying at fairs.  I'd have to agree.  They seem to like my photographs, but I suspect I'm too traditional for more modern, edgier tastes.  And, of course, older people don't buy many because they've got all their walls filled with stuff.  So, near as I can tell, I have a fairly narrow band from perhaps the mid 30s to the mid 50s that seem to make up the bulk of my, admittedly few, sales.

I'm 55 and have been exhibiting for 23 years.

This is a tough business which has its ups and downs.

When I meet a new, young exhibitor I want to shout "head for the hills" but I don't. No one shouted that at me and the many lessons I have learned have been thru experience.

I truly love exhibiting. You never know who you're talking to and I've met some truly wonderful customers and exhibitors over the years.

I'm going to continue to exhibit as long as I'm able - and there are still good shows to go to.

The true exhibitor "family" is a unique one. We've got each others backs even if we've just met. We'll help each other out when asked and we respect each others craft and expertise. Our wares are safe when we're not physically at the show as true exhibitors don't steal from each other. It's an honor to be a member of this family and I hope some young artists continue to follow their ambitions to be exhibitors.

Hmm, what is young? I'm 38 and I show my art at a lot of comic conventions where in Artists Alley I'm usually the old guy. The younger art/illustration crowd is at the comic con circuit, I guess. Most of them don't even draw comics, just paint pop-style art. Comic cons seems to be where the younger crowd is spending, so the younger artists go there to sell.

I am 45 and my partner turns 47 in November. We retired a lot younger than most people do and we do this because we enjoy it and it keeps us busy!

We are 47 and 51 and have been doing shows for 14 years. I still work part-time and my husband is full-time handling the business. My main reason for keeping a job is that we both get health insurance through my employer :)


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