Art Fair Insiders

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

My thoughts on next year--after 43 years in this biz

I really liked Oscar's latest post. It got juices rolling about next year. Gas prices, soaring stocks, more disposable income, all great topics.
Two things missing from this prognostic discussion ( good word to use in Scrabble, Barry).
One, the factor of too many A/C shows everywhere.
Two, the dumbing down of America about appreciating art. The present generation could give rats-doodles about art. Electronics rule, wall art comes a poor second. Craft always has a chance, especially traditional work.
I started in the 70's, prospered thru the 80's, started to see the slow unraveling in the 90's.
After the tech balloon bust in 1999, and the recession in 2008, it has been an uphill battle to keep one's head above water.
Now we enter 2017.
Here are some of my thoughts.
Chew on them, then give us all some feedback. Our lives depend on it.
First off, you can not go blindly and stick your head into the ground and ignore the fact that there are too many outdoor art/craft shows going on at any moment and in any community.
To give you my basis. I know not everyone knows me.
I do 33-36 shows per year nationwide. Have done so since 1974.
I am a photographer.
I dance to my own drum. I do not always do the cliche or the traditional.
In the 70's, while I was mostly in Hawaii and had just returned to Florida, I showed mostly black and white images of: guys surfing in Hawaii, naked women posing in exotic waterfalls, and guys growing outrageous Ganga from Hawaii. My best sellers back then was "Billy Smelling the buds" and Fallen Angel ( a beautiful blonde naked woman lying on the beach).
In the 80's I transistioned to flamingos and Art Deco. I started doing color images. I could barely make a living doing b/w. My name was not Ansel Adams.
I took my little plastic flamingos and stuck them in railings overlooking Niagara Falls. I shot the Deco buildings on Miami Beach. This was the "Miami Vice Era at Coconut Grove". You could take the residue from $100 bills and snort a line.
I transistioned into the early 90's by combining b/w images with color images in collage form. Then under the influence of my wonderful wife, Ellen Marshall, I started putting pastels on my images.
Beginning the new century my eye was drawn to strong lines in architecture and shooting neon images in the evenings.
Now I do the architecture, but I have a whole new portfolio that came out of my open heart surgery in 2012.
With a new physical body, came a new body of work. I started looking for iconic persons who I rendered in black and white images and then hand colored them using acrylic inks and oils.
I have won a lot of awards in my time, over 400 at major shows. I have always made a profit every year. I do 33-36 shows per year, and I will be 72 soon.
I just say all this, not to brag, but to hope you will listen to your elder, he knows some shit.
First off, the middle class is never coming back again in our lifetimes. They will not be spending like in the past. Technology and politics has changed all that. Sorry, Oscar. Get what you can, but the numbers will never be there again.
Secondly, the number of art shows will only proliferate. They are not going away. Too much profit for the promoters. Within 10 years you will see a $60-$75 jury fee for the biggies. A thousand dollar booth fee will be the norm for big shows,
Problem is, for most of you, your sales will not ride up too.
Too many shows. None of them feel precious anymore. Not unless you are in the really biggies.
If you luck out and get into Winter Park, the Plaza, St. Louis Art Fair, Artisphere, Coconut Grove, et al., of course you are going to make some serious bucks. The serious art buyers are there. They want something very precious, very special, maybe even a little out of the box.
Nowadays, it is very hard for an artist who does "art from the heart" to make it on the circuit. There are not enough buyers out there for them.
Because we have lost so many serious artists we have lost the same customers who no longer come to the second and third tier shows. Those artists have been replaced withe the more traditional and commercial artists. And also the rising plague of buy/sell that now inhabit our industry.
This trend will continue in 2017. Only the strong will survive. Yeah, if you do out of the box, art, you might survive if you get into a lot of the top tier shows.
If you do traditional art, you will survive more easily, no matter at what level you show.
Unfortunately, the more commercial artists will continue to flood our arena, which only keeps us one scant level from the flea markets.
Before you all get pissy and aghast with my last statement, let me expound.
All I am saying is that the outdoor shows are becoming a difficult
venue anymore for a fledgling artist to try. Fees are very high. Failure, of sales, can easily set you back mucho bucks. The traditional and commercial will always survive
So, 2017 looms ahead.
Trump or not, it is a tough time to sell original art outdoors in America.
My advice.
Create your own unique form of art that lets you stand out from the herd.
Be willing to try new areas to sell your work.
Be flexible.
It is a marketplace. Keep your prices realistic.
Be willing to negotiate. Do not lose the sale. It pays the rent
Stay vigilant, learn from others.
Read my blogs, check out my past ones. I have a lot of good info. I am still standing, I have seen hundreds drop off by the wayside. Gee, maybe I know something.
Mele Kelikemaka everyone.
Mat Hatala knows that one..

Views: 2003

Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 20, 2016 at 5:28pm

One thing I was going to add after watching that video is that those people were making their art, their concepts, their vision. Today, it's about making what sells. That is the approach of 95% art fair exhibitors. If you read many of the comments and posts here, that is the conclusion you will come to. That's what I believe you mean when you say "commercial artists will continue to flood our arena." Ironically, I believe, that approach ultimately kills their sales and everyones because the real buyers stay home. It used to be that collectors would go to the secondary shows to find those artists because there was always a chance that someone great would be there. I know this as a gallery owner. Now there is no chance in hell that someone would find a gem among the mundane. You would all be better served if you stopped making what sells and sell what you make. Take a risk. Even if you don't sell, you may win a prize.

Trends are cyclical. At any moment that generation that only has an interest in technology realizes that their hand made object that they got as a gift gives them pleasure and they have to have more. We aren't dead, yet.

I think the first half of 2017 is going to be good and that will continue if the stock market keeps climbing. It has always been the case that people who make money in the market reward themselves with artwork.

I loved those $100 bills. And I loved doing Coconut Grove in the '80's. The Mutiny Hotel in those days charged an hourly rate and had mirrors on the ceiling. Now it's $500 a night to stay there.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 20, 2016 at 5:30pm

I need an editor. I never proofread my comments and I only notice my errors after I post them. There should be an edit function, at least.

Comment by Ron Roland on December 20, 2016 at 11:57pm

Nels nice blog. Saw you were in St Pete last weekend. Are you doing a review. Just wondering how the show went for others

Comment by karen cooper on December 21, 2016 at 2:58am

Agreed.  And along with the subject of too many a/c fairs:  I can still remember the moment a guy walked up to me at Chicagoland event, trying to sell me on using his giclee printing service.  (it was a new deal back then :)  )  AND I quote, "it's just like printing money".  Heavy sigh.  And now the poorly educated tech-age thinks a giclee IS a real painting.  I am pretty sure we mostly shoot ourselves in the foot.  Have not done a show for 3 years due to not being in the US.  We will be there full time again in 2018 and currently, I'm seriously doubting starting back in.  But I will continue reading the experts thoughts until then  :)  .

Comment by Robert Wallis on December 22, 2016 at 12:37am

Barry, the edit function only works on discussion replies, and on your own OP discussion/blog posts. The only way to "edit" your response to a blog post is to copy it, delete the original post, paste it back in, and then edit it before hitting the Add Comment button. It's a clunky way to do it, or write your responses in Word before copying over to the text block which takes away some of the spontaneity.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 22, 2016 at 12:12pm

Since the erudite Nels Johnson posted his blog twice and there are four other comments in the other one I'm taking editorial license and copying them here. Hope these four people don't mind.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 22, 2016 at 12:33pm

From Kevin Knittel:
I'm new to AFI and recently decided to re-enter the market after a 25 year hiatus. Last go round, AFI didn't exist so artist communication was limited to a small circle of friends. Thank you Nels for sharing your wisdom and experience. As was said by someone (my mom mostly), 'experience holds a dear school and some will learn from no other'. So, I take to heart the gift of your experience. I plan to explore as many different avenues to market my work as possible. Thanks again, you definitely rock!

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 22, 2016 at 12:33pm

From Craig Roderick & Sara Beck: Thanks for the insight Nels. I agree with your assessment about the middle class, no recovery in our lifetimes (I am 65). We run into people at shows and elsewhere where the conversation eventually reverts to what they lost during the recession and, in their estimation, will not come back. The list usually includes health insurance, bonuses, profit sharing, raises, and in the recent case of an ex bartender, liability insurance. Of course all of this impacts all sorts of buying decisions, including those that are totally discretionary. In a way I am glad this was our first full time year of shows because we do not have any frame of reference to the pre-recession days. If you never experienced the "good old days" the current situation does not seem so bad. Nels, we crossed paths a couple of times this year but I did not have a chance to stop by your booth and introduce myself. Hopefully we can correct that this year.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 22, 2016 at 12:33pm

Christina Towell: Great advice for young and old...thanks for being the "sage of AFI", you rock! Happy Holidays, Nels...

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 22, 2016 at 12:34pm

Oscar Matos Linares: It very is very hard in this days to expect at lot of money. I trying for at least two shows per month. I had exceptions down and after the car accident in June where I lost all my inventory I reduce my prices and the same time sales improve. Only three bad shows this year Des Moines indoor, St James Court and Columbus winter fair. I think that all three shows have to much of blue collard jobs people and was not my crowd. The think if you try different markets you wont be able to keep going because show year to year change to much.
Thank you, Old Man!


You need to be a member of Art Fair Insiders to add comments!

Join Art Fair Insiders

Want to sell more online? Advertise with Reach over 60,000 fiber arts lovers.

60 Page Report - Best US Art Fairs

Click Here to
Learn More


  • Add Photos
  • View All

Top 10 Reviewers on for January and February

© 2019   Created by Connie Mettler.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service