Art Fair Insiders

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

Lately, you hear a lot of artists talk about making expenses or not making es at a given show.   I find it hard to define what they mean by that.   Let me explain.   Let's just assume that your total expenses to do a show are $800.00.   That is show and jury fees, cost to get there, hotel and food costs and these all total $800.00.   

Then the show sales are not good and you sell $800.00 worth of your art.    Have you made expenses?   No not at all.   Lets assume your cost to produce the artwork including frame, tent, display system, etc figures out to be 40% of your sales.   That would put your cost at $320.00 or profit from the sale at $420.00.   $420.00 does not cover your expenses of $800.00 for that show.  Yes, everyone's costs will vary.  But you need to get a more accurate handle on these hidden costs.  

A friend once told me that if he ever won the lottery he would still do art shows........ until the money ran out.     How true that is.  

So do you know what your cost is to produce the art you sell?    To see how you are really doing you need to keep good records of your purchases and costs.  Otherwise you might be just fooling yourself on "making expenses".  

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Keeping good records is key and something I do. When I mention expenses as in not making them, I am referring to costs of doing the show. When there is a profit, then I deduct cost of producing the art. Otherwise I would be reducing the costs per piece for every show. Make sense? Complicated I know. I deducted display costs out of profit and once it was recouped stopped taking that deduction. Fortunately I have a good CPA that does the depreciation calculating for me along with keeping everything else in line too. Otherwise I would be drifting along in a fog.

Yes it makes sense.  I am not an accountant and do have one to teach me these things.   

If you did it any other way, you would only be fooling yourself.  

I convinced the mining company I worked for to pay for one semester of basic accounting and another of corporate accounting. Best money I ever weaseled out of them. Doing your own accounting ( which I don't like doing) gives you the most insight into the costs of doing business.

Yes, I do my own accounting too. Yes, this is just my second year doing art fairs but I understand the cost of art fairs and consider a fair which has sales way up from costs is good.

I too do my own accounting. It's really not that difficult. I can't deduct my time, so I don't bother keeping track of it.

I used the canopy issue to say that canopy cost me $2.80 per show. Real money, not accounting money.

I keep my books simple. Keep track of my expenses, and deduct that from my sales. I would go insane if I tried to figure out how much I actually made at each show. So it's sales minus cost of show, travel, lodging, food, and what's left over is mine. "Cost of goods sold" is done in February.

As far as mileage, when you put a vehicle into service, you can either take the mileage exemption, OR actual operating costs. Then that engine would have been on the table. But once you decide, you can't change as long as you have that vehicle. Me? I take the mileage.

Don't forget to include the vehicle cost (depreciation, gas, maintenance). I use the IRS standard deduction to avoid getting too complicated. I think a lot of artists fool themselves about how well they're doing because they forget the real cost of using a car. Those long-distance shows are a killer when you take mileage into consideration. I mentioned the IRS 55 cents/mile standard mileage deduction to an artist at my last show and got back a wide-eyed stare.

How can you include the cost of your canopy in the expenses? The payment of that tent comes out of your sales overall, not at any particular show.

I bought my KD Canopy in 1987. It cost $700 at the time. I used it for over 25 years doing an average of 10 outdoor shows per year. That breaks down to about $2.80 per show. Same with any display system. You amortize those over time, not all at once.

You cannot figure the cost of your work unless you only plan to do one show and that's all. At the next show you can't figure the cost of the same work if you added it at the last show.

Our "expenses" are the cost of doing the show, (jury fees, space fees, etc) hotel costs, gas for travel, food, and little else.

As far as winning the lottery, I've been saying that for years. Because I just happen to love what I do for a living. Even when I don't "make expenses".

Depending on the tent, it can be deducted anywhere from one year to several. I don't know what the floor limit is for treating a tent as a capital item, but the pop-ups would probably qualify for a one year deduction and a $2000 tent could be written off in 3-5 years. Assigning a per show deduction is an accounting convenience.

Common says says you dont figure the cost of a canopy into one show.   But like you said, if you amortize it over the usual life of a canopy, the usual life of display panels, etc etc.   You would have another $50.00 in costs that are hidden to someone who does not calculate these things into their costs.  

The reason for this posting is to make artists aware of their true costs.   In this day and age, with shows bringing in less and less income, an artist has to watch things much closer to make the lonely dollar profit at a show.     Like was mentioned above, the IRS deduction for mileage, a lot of artists do not figure in that cost when doing a show.  If the show is 300 miles away that is 600 miles round trip or about $330.00 in costs at 55 cents a mile (insurance, gas, wear and tear etc).  

I enjoy doing art shows also.   It is a challenge to see if I can pick the right show where a profit can be made.  Plus meeting and talking with the other artists.   That just adds to the enjoyment of doing this.  

You can get into all sorts of minutia with accounting for the cost of doing a show. There are also differences if you are a corporation versus sole proprietor, etc. Keep it simple and consistent to compare shows: booth & jury fee, travel, lodging, food and misc. expense. Keep the other stuff for figuring your net profit/ loss at the end of the year: depreciation, cost of goods sold, other expenses. I learned from rich folks that it is nice to run you business at a loss so you can use that loss to offset the tax due on your other income: investments, pension, SS, or wages if you still work for them. That's why a lot of wealthy people have horse operations - they literally eat up income and are fun to have around.

Very interesting observation Richard and sure is something to think about.  My thought is that I am not doing this work, and the hard labor in the 95 degree temps to lose money to offset my personal income.  I can find or figure out many other ways to lose money to offset income without spending this much time and effort.  I am sure the wealthy and well to do, will not start a business in which they have to schlep all this equipment around in the rain and heat to set up, tear down, and spend two days at to lose money to offset their very lucrative business.  

Those horse business' are worked by people they hire to take care of and feed the horses.  The owners just show up to ride.   So that is not a fair comparison.   If I had someone to set up and tear down my shows along with sit there for two days and I could just come and socialize then it is a comparison.   I have never seen that done by true artists.  

So for the little guy who does all the work, the little things add up.  Especially when you have artists who did not know about the cost of operating your vehicle to do the shows.  55 cents a mile for costs adds up to quite a bit in the way of expenses.  

Just my 2 cents worth.

B. David, not suggesting an artist set up their business like a horse operation. The point I want to make is an art business like any other business can be operated to show a loss at years end to offset other income. I make money with my art business (a subS corporation) but on paper at years end I am going to make that large equipment, computer or other purchases to push me into the loss column so that the loss will offset my pension, SS and investment income. Also in regards to vehicles, some years it pays to look at direct operating costs rather than the $0.55/mile (note that this changes frequently by IRS). My 88 Suburban drinks gas in the mountains when loaded, plus new $5K engine and set of tires this year would not be covered by the mileage allowance. I let my accountant figure it out. My other point is, the more you know about how wealthy people keep more of their money the more opportunity you have to apply it to you own situation, even on a smaller scale. The tax code applies to everyone, the differences are in knowledge about it and how you use it to your advantage.

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