Art Fair Insiders

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

I’ve been at this about five years, only about five shows a year, invited back at State Street Ann Arbor every year. Looking to find my sweet spot, I check out fairs through my region.

Several fairs I have considered attending have a reproduction “edition” rule which states that “all reproductions must be numbered and signed.” This rule appears to apply to all 2D art.

I absolutely agree with this idea in media where printing is a variable or laborious process, such as wet-developed photography, intaglio, block printing, etc. For these media, signed, numbered editions are quite sensible ways to provide art to the collector. It’s fair to say the print IS THE ART SOLD.

But in oil painting, prints are a sideline for lower-budget buyers or where the original is in a private collection. Most of use “giclée,” in which a digital file is preserved, with NO limit to the number of “perfect” copies. The idea of a “limited edition” for such items is PURE MARKETING HOKUM, disingenuous, not to mention completely outmoded. Nobody’s going to pay a penny more because I didn’t print enough copies.

I have spent a lot of money (for me) on getting these reproductions of my paintings made. (See photo) Each costs me $60 and up. I only order one or two of these at a time. As you can see, the fact of and nature of each print is clearly printed on the canvas where it turns over on the back of the stretcher. I’ll NEVER make anywhere near 250 prints (let alone 500) of any one of my paintings.  The market doesn’t exist.  I sometimes order a couple of prints in smaller-than-original sizes from the same digital file. Is each different size another edition?

To add a signature over the signature embedded in the print would be silly. It would also be difficult, given the coated finish of these repros. To add a number would be simply disingenuous.

Anyway, I have written to fair organizers saying I'd like to enter their show and asking for clarification of this rule. I’ve explained what I do as above. What did I hear back?


So, friends, what do I do? What do you think?

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Wendy, Larry, I enjoy your comments. But the point isn’t whether hokum makes the world go round. I wrote some for Oldsmobile. Remember them? The question is whether an art fair – especially one run by a museum – should require me to engage in this particular type. It's a museum-run art fair that started me on this. I don't expect marketing types to blush about anything but I expect better of a museum. (OK, OK I know they're good marketers too... generally.)

I agree with you David.

I would desire for a museum to be above all this. Whether or not they are is in question.

I don't like numbering my prints. To me, the value of the finished product should not be predicated upon it's limited supply. 

Among the best at manipulating a market, based upon this, is the diamond industry.

I number because it is what is expected of me. It is what some of the buyers want. I do keep records and adhere to the editions. I don't agree with it. So we are of the same mindset on that. I do it though.

Interestingly, I've encountered photogs at shows who told me, for that show they put numbers on the pieces, because the show wanted it, but they don't normally do nor keep records or keep to it.

If I like a particular sculpture enough to buy it. I pay the price I feel it is worth to me. Whether there are 1,000 copies or if this is the only one, makes no difference to me.

I have from others, as well as made my own, pool cues. Some believe that to be art. Some are quite valuable, due to the maker being deceased. Personally I only care about the workmanship and the hit. A friend of mine made a cue and sold it for $140. He passed away. not too long afterward it was sold for $8,500. Marketing because of demise and limited supply. UGH!!!!! A Nasty part of life.


You can't change a system from the outside.

Apply get accepted, question respectfully.... but don't blame.  Blame won't get you very far.  Make good points.... and maybe one day you will change the system. 

Frankly I find that most artists do not have the capability to market.  Is their art lesser?  No, it many cases it is superior.  Artistic DNA fights this and it is However if you can't sell yourself and your artwork you are not going to be successful financially.  Each artist has to maneuver this minefield, but some battles are not ones I am keen to fight, but instead I find them to be small obstacles.

Wendy, I agree with your points. I've been marketing-art-writing guy. I know I'm my own worst marketing client. But my question was to find out what other artists do about this question and then decide if I'm willing to break the rules. Because I'd have to do that in order to, as you say, get accepted and question respectfully while my prints sit there breaking their rules right in front of them.

I'm not inclined to think that, somehow, they'll answer a question at the show they won't bother to answer in a respectful letter. After all, I don't apply to shows to change their rules, only to get my art seen and maybe sold. This is all about choosing a show. If they want me to pay their fees, they can answer my questions or JUST SAY IT'S OKAY. That WOULD be better marketing.

What I'm hearing so far inclines me to walk away from this microfight and, regretfully, give up on some of these shows that could be so good if they wouldn't shoot themselves in MY foot.

Thank you all for your thoughtful input.


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