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

Hi folks -

I joined this forum just about a year ago now and I figured it was time to finally do a "proper" introduction and post some thoughts from my first year of shows.

I am a photographer and have been shooting landscapes/wildlife for over a decade, gradually improving in my craft, but last year was my first foray into shows. I'd sold a few prints through a family friend's shop in my hometown but that's about it. My father had been encouraging me to try to get into a show but as a shy person I've always been terrified of putting myself out there.  I've always been interested but always brushed it off as something I'd maybe try "someday".  A year ago when I was visiting for the holidays, he again was telling me that he was proud of my work and how I should show it rather than keep it to myself, and he got pretty emotional about it. Now, my dad is a "tough guy" and doesn't usually show that kind of emotion, so seeing that kind of lit the fire under me. I made a vow to myself then and there that I was going to just go for it - to show my work and to do it now while he is still around to see it because you never know when "someday" could be too late. It was so special and meaningful to me to be able to do two shows near where he lives, so that he could see the end result of his support & encouragement.

Anyway after deciding to jump in, I went into major internet research mode and that is how I found this forum. The information that I've found here from all of your contributions has been an absolute godsend. Larry, your blog posts are incredible and I can't thank you enough for publishing them! I've encountered so many questions along the way and most of the time I don't even have to start a new thread because I find the answers I've needed elsewhere in the forum.

I started slowly, doing a total of 5 juried shows last year, selected primarily because they didn't require a booth shot (at the time I didn't have a booth, let alone a booth shot!). Some were better than others but I managed to sell at least OK in each, and after getting over the initial fear/shyness, I found I really enjoyed showing my work and talking to the various folks who stopped by my tent.

This year I can apply to more shows, since I now have a booth shot, and I'm hoping to do around 12-15 shows depending on acceptance. The theme for 2016 was simply to get a booth and figure out how to do a show. In 2017, I hope to improve my salesmanship, become better at proactive marketing and learning how to create repeat or referred business, and better hone my sense of which images will sell in which markets.

Over the course of the 2016 shows I made some observations that I will reflect on here, just in case they should help any other newbies out:

  • Day 1's tend to be slow. My first day of my first show, I sold nothing, which was really hard to stomach. But what do you know, the next day people who had visited before came back and purchased the piece they'd been eyeing the day before. I see now that some folks need to look around and browse before they'll come back and buy. Now I'm working on my salesmanship, so that I can make my pieces more memorable to increase chances of these return buyers.
    • Exception to "Slow Day 1" rule: The largest show I did was a 4-day show that charged an entry fee, but they waived the entry fee on the first day. For that show only, I had strong day 1 business probably because buyers didn't want to come back and pay the entry on later days.
  • Salesmanship Matters - A LOT: As a shy person I'd like to believe my work would just speak for itself, but as many of you have stated, people aren't just buying the art, they're buying a piece of the artist. Through topics in this forum and elsewhere I've gotten pointed to several resources on how to close a sale, and while I still have a long ways to go, I've seen sales improvements through practicing those tips. Not only at a given show, but folks who talked with me at the show and then contact me later to order something.  I need to keep working hard at this.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: There are a couple of assumptions I had made based on other artist's experiences, particularly other photographer's experiences, that seem really logical but haven't held true for me thus far.  In particular:
    • "Local/Familiar Scenes Sell Best" - Not the case for me. I've done shows in Washington (where I live) and Utah (where my family lives) and in general Redrock shots have sold better in WA and Cascades shots have sold better in UT. My theory on this is that both locations are overrun with photographers and the respective markets may be saturated with similar local shots. My surprise bestsellers have all been some of my international landscapes, which have done well regardless of where I've shown them.
    • "More bin prints will sell than wall prints" - I assumed this was true because the bin prints are so much cheaper. For me though, I've sold a greater quantity of my larger wall pieces than bin prints. I cannot really say why this is, but I would really like to get bin sales up to help cushion totals in the event that I don't get the big piece sales at some future show.
  • Stay open til the show is over: Because several people have mentioned this on the forum, I've taken care never to start packing up until the day is well and truly done.  One time as a show was winding down a couple saw that I was one of the tents not packing up yet, so they came in and asked if they could still browse for a bit. I told them I was in no hurry so browse as much as they liked, and I answered their questions about a print that caught their eye. They ended up ordering it - and in a size 4x larger than what was on the wall; my largest single-piece sale to date.
  • The artist community is AMAZING! I'm sure there are a few jerks out there, but I've found the other artists I've met at shows to be incredibly welcoming, helpful, encouraging, and informative, just as you all are on this site. Not only am I learning more about doing shows but through talking to folks I've gotten to experience a wealth of creativity across so many mediums; it gives me a much deeper appreciation of art and what goes into it.

So, now off I go to apply to some more shows for 2017. Thanks again to all of you for being such a fantastic resource, and may you all have a wonderful year!

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Thanks... great post.

Can you add a bit about your jury experience? ZAPP used? Percentage successes? Any useful feedback that helped with subsequent juries?

All of my applications last year were through Zapp. I applied to 7 shows and was accepted into 5. Of the 2 rejections, though I didn't get feedback my guesses are:

  • For one show the application requested a booth shot.  I didn't provide one nor had I gotten confirmation from the show as to their expected process for new artists.  
  • For another show, it is a selective show, and my work from the collection I chose to submit doesn't quite seem to fit the style of the show as compared to other artists who have exhibited in the past.

Of the 5 accepts, one was to a fairly large and seemingly selective show (I'm defining "selective" based on #Artists Accepted / #Artists Applied. If a show has a 25% or less accept rate I consider it selective). The other 4 were to less selective shows (50% or greater acceptance rate). I didn't apply to many shows last year as I didn't have a booth shot - I wasn't going to buy a booth until I knew I could get into some shows!

Anyway,  I have never received any kind of actual feedback from the jurors so far. I do see one seemingly selective show I might apply to this year that gives an option to pay for juror feedback. I don't like having to pay extra but I will do so this time in the hopes of learning how to better appeal to the jury. My advice thus far:

  • Don't apply to shows that require a booth shot without a booth shot. :)
    • I did this on my very first application, and unsurprisingly I was rejected.
  • If you want to apply anyway, contact the show first to ask if they have a process for accepting new artists without a booth shot.
    • I should have done so for my first application and would not have wasted the money. In one later case for a smaller show the coordinator instructed me on creating a booth mockup so that I could submit, and in that case I was accepted.  All of my other shows did not require the booth shot.
  • If possible, research past year exhibitors for a given show in your medium, and assess how your work compares in style and in uniqueness. Also check out what the accept rate is in the Zapp "Jury Details" link (if possible - not all shows provide this info).
    • After that first no-booth-shot rejection, I applied to two large-ish shows that both had around a 23% accept rate. When I looked at past exhibitors for one of them, I saw at least a few other color landscape photographers. The other seemed like they were geared more toward "artsier" stuff (for lack of a better word) - abstract B&Ws, etc.  I was accepted into the first and not the second.
    • I have a different collection of work that would likely be better received at the second show; in the future if I apply there again I will use that collection instead.  I'm just not sure currently that I want to meet the expense of maintaining a whole separate inventory just to get into that show.
  • If you think your style of work seems to fit a show based on their past exhibitors, your next step is choose jury sample images that will stand out from the crowd amongst similar applicants. Think about who else may be applying to that show. What advantages does your portfolio have over your competition? Leverage those advantages!
    • This is something I'm trying out new this year, so it's TBD how well it works. I've applied again for the big show that I didn't get into last year with no booth shot. I've attended it in the past and have seen enough representation amongst landscape photographers that I feel there's potential. BUT, there are also a ton of landscapers here locally that I will be competing with.  I know many of them are heavy on popular local imagery, and I'm thinking a potential advantage over the competition in this case is that my portfolio spans the globe. So my jury images for this application still depict a unified theme of mountains and water. But they show remote locations in China, Norway, Chile, & New Zealand. I'm hoping that this will help my work stand out amongst a big sampling of the typical local shots of Mt. Rainier, the Palouse, etc.  I will find out in February whether this approach bears fruit or if I am rejected again! 

Thanks again!

I am where you are a year ago. Never been to a show. I've applied to about 6 or 7 juried shows, mostly through ZAPP. I set up my booth in my garage, and have a booth shot, so that wasn't an issue for me. Of course, I won't have any results for months. But your 5/7 sounds terrific, and I'd be very happy with that ratio.

I've also signed up for a couple of non-juried arts & craft shows, and 2 or 3 that are what I call "semi-juried," meaning that there's no jury, but the show organizers need to see your work, including booth shot, before accepting you. Haven't gotten those results either.

Out of all this, I'm hoping to attend about 6 shows between May and Sept.

Well, to have gotten your booth shot done you already have a booth and some you're already miles and miles ahead of where I was this time last year! :)  Here's hoping for some great shows ahead for you!

Mandy, thanks so much for posting your experiences.  What kind of inventory did you start with?  How many different images did you show?  Did you show canvas, metal art, or framed wall pieces in your booth?  What sizes did you go with for bin and wall prints?  I see a lot of debate on these questions and am curious how you navigated it.  Thanks!

Hi Rae -

I have seen a lot of those kinds of discussion too and have to preface my answer here with a caveat:  while I considered many of the points people raised, ultimately I don't know that any of my choices are "right" or that I wouldn't have done better having made different ones. It's all conjecture on my part, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt.

My wall pieces were all done on metal, all on white base with high gloss finish, all with the inset frame for a frameless look. I did metal for a few reasons: It saves me the time and effort of framing. The pieces are much lighter weight than their same-sized framed counterparts, but more durable than lightweight canvas wraps; it's therefore easier for my small/weak self to transport and hang them without poking holes in them or breaking the glass. And mostly because for the style of work I'm showing, the detail and depth of my work visually pops a lot more on metal than on canvas or even fine art paper. That said, I'd guess more than 50% of the photographers I saw at my shows were doing metal, so it's not something that really set me apart.  Some people really liked the metal; some people think it's too trendy; and some styles of work look better on a more traditional substrate.  Not sure that there's a right answer here.

Some artists I've seen hang a mix of framed/metal/canvas pieces to show all the different options the customer can choose from.  I didn't do that because I wanted a consistent look and feel throughout my display.  I do let people know both with a sign and when I chat with them that if they prefer a matte finish, or traditional framed prints, or canvas prints, or framed metal, I can do that as well, and I offer free shipping if they place the order then - I'm trying to get better about converting buyers on the spot rather than letting them walk out and losing a sale. I have had people place orders for custom sizes and a couple people have opted for a matte finish instead of glossy.  I've not yet had anyone ask for a framed piece or a canvas piece, but I do sometimes wonder if folks who show a mix of substrates are able to convert more custom orders than I do. I think without examples people's imaginations might be limited but perhaps if they see a framed piece they might think about how if this image they like was only framed like that one it would go great in their office, etc.

Anyway in my bins I have only two standard sizes: 8x12 matted to 12x16, and 12x18 matted to 18x24. Most of my 3:2 aspect ratio pieces from the wall were also available in the bins, as well as many other pieces that weren't on the walls.  My original thinking was that if someone likes an image from the wall but can't afford it I'd try to sell them the smaller image from the bins rather than lose a sale completely; and if I had an image in the bins that wasn't on the wall that proved really popular it would be a clue that I should do that one bigger and put it up on the wall. What actually ended up happening was that usually if peopled like the image on the wall, they just bought it off the wall.  I had only a couple instances where people would look for a wall image in the bins instead. I've had a few people find an image in the bins and order it in metal instead. I haven't had enough bin purchases overall to find a clear pattern of images I should promote to the walls. I would really like to improve my bin sales this year. I have toyed with the idea of introducing an even smaller 4x6 size or postcards, because some folks I've talked to have advised me that they do a good amount of business that adds up in small item sales. But I question whether I would see the same results, since I'm already not selling a ton of 8x12s.  And it seems like inventory management for lots of tiny prints would be a pain. So for this year I'm sticking with the same two sizes.

Depending on the show and booth placement I've had different wall configurations, but typically I would have somewhere around 25-30 different pieces up on the wall. All different images, covering a few different "standard" sizes: A few in 12x18 at the small end, most of them at 16x24 (which I figured would be the most popular size piece; it's a "sweet spot" budget-wise for people buying off the walls), and 20x30 at the large end.  I also had a couple of 2:1 panoramas in 20x40, and my "masterpiece" panorama in 20x60. As expected the 16x24's was my best selling size of the wall sizes.  I'm considering whether to add a 24x36 or even a 40x60 to the walls next year to try and get some larger orders; again this is based on my guess that if people see it as an example they might be better able to imagine it in their home.

My 20x60 pano is my most impressive piece (well up through last year anyway...I have a few new ones for this year that I'm really excited about too) and I priced it at a higher markup than the others.  My intent was actually not to sell that piece but to keep it on the walls, because it more than any other piece helps draw people into the booth and gets them asking questions. I'm going to price it even higher this year because it sold too early at some of the shows. I'm considering a slight overall price increase this year in general.  I did a lot of pricing research last year based on other photographers in the shows I applied to, and I arrived at a pricing scheme for year 1 that put me just under the median. This year I will likely aim a bit higher and see how it goes.

Hope this helps! Again I don't yet have enough data to say I made the "right" choices...or even "good" choices, but I'll keep at it, keep learning as much as I can from other more experienced folks, and experiment and adapt as needed.

Mandy, thanks so much for your in depth answer, I truly appreciate you sharing all of your lessons learned and your describing your thought process in the decisions you've made.  I look forward to hearing more about how your second year goes!

Thanks again. Really great posts with all that detail.

But, about the large piece that you raised the price of because it sold too early. Why not let it keep selling and just have spares that you can put on the wall?

That is a very logical idea. :)  I've not done it yet for a couple reasons -   Firstly because that piece's length makes it unwieldy for me to transport spares in my limited vehicle space and also more difficult to store them safely at the shows. I'm experimenting with a different large piece that is new this year.  I'm offering it as a triptych to see if that style will sell - if so, I can more easily keep backup stock on hand.

Secondly, since customers are already paying a proportionally larger price for that piece I want them to feel they are getting something unique, rather than having them walk by again and seeing the same piece on the wall - thus I've also limited the number of that piece I plan to produce and I use that uniqueness as a selling point.

And thirdly, raising the price will be an experiment; I want to get a better feel for what is my price ceiling for my best work.

All that said, I'd probably be hauling in more money overall if I just made more of them and let them sell like hotcakes - and if that triptych sells that is just what I'll do for that image which I expect will also be popular. :)

Thanks for sharing Mandy, that was a great read!

My own experience is very similar to yours.  I likewise am a landscape photographer who finally decided to jump in last year (only with a few less shows than you did).  In fact, I think we may have met at one of the Utah shows where we both had booths.  That was my first show ever!  If you are who I am thinking of your work was incredible and I'm glad to hear it is going well for you!

Like you, I was rejected to every show that required a booth shot last year (I tried setting stuff up on a counter in my basement but it was for naught), and I am putting a lot more applications out this year now that I have a real one.

My takeaways from my first year are very similar to yours (except the bin vs. wall disparity), especially the part about the artist community being amazing.  When my booth neighbors found out it was my first year doing shows they couldn't wait to divulge all their knowledge and experience on me in hopes of helping me make it a success.  One of the most amazing communities I've ever been a part of.

The one thing I might expand on is I would say the "1st day rule" really applied out to a "weekday rule" for me as well.  Several of my small handful of shows had Thursday starts, and I think I may have sold one matted print across all of the Thursdays combined.  Friday mornings were much the same.  It wasn't until Friday evening and through the weekend that things really started selling.  I would say this is the one thing to keep in mind for people doing their first show.  Don't panic and get discouraged if things aren't going well early on in a show.  There is a lot of time for things to turn around and the people looking to spend money are much more likely to be out browsing on the weekend than during the week.  At one of my smaller shows there were a lot of first-timers that got really discouraged by the lack of sales early on and were in too down a mood to interact with customers as much as they should have once the weekend rolled around and people were actually looking to buy.

Hi Ryan - yes, we did meet at the Utah Arts Festival! Very surprising that was your first show, as your booth looked so professional as if you'd been doing this a while. And your work was stunning; I particularly enjoyed your nightscapes. IIRC you are from that area so hopefully that show let you connect with a lot of locals who will continue to follow your work. Did you apply to it again this year? Other than the LONG days - and the 100+ degree heat - I really enjoyed that show and did pretty well there so I am hoping I get in again. Guess I'll find out in a couple weeks.

Glad to hear you have applied to more shows this year, and I wish you luck both with the juries and with the customers! Hopefully I'll bump into you again at UAF and/or other shows this year!

Yes I applied again this year.  Just got my invite email today so I'll be back there again.  I applied to more shows in the area this year so good chance we'll cross paths again!  Good luck out there in year 2!


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