Art Fair Insiders

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

Reading through the various posts, it seems that Reviews of Shows are a sought commodity. Thus, I thought I'd do a little blog-journelling, as I am getting ready to jump into the Art Fair scene for the first time. Might be worth a few laughs for you, the experienced artists out there, as you read about the various shenanigans I get into as I go along. Here's where things stand today:

1. Who am I? I'm an old retired guy who has been a closet artist for life. A few years back I started participating in local  juried art shows with some success. But it seems that the big problem here is distribution and exposure. The juried art show (not fairs) arena is loads of fun but awful for sales. The Gallery setting seems like the totally wrong environment. 50% commissions? Absolute exclusivity? Yikes! It's like my piece could, maybe, be seen by a few dozen folks in a whole year. Not too promising. So, I rejected that and decided the best way to get both exposure and feed-back was on the Art Fair stage. This remains to be seen but, at least, is logical. Galleries and Art contests? Not so much.

2. So, I went out and bought a tent. After checking around for something economical I found that there is no such thing. Only flimsy vs. solid. Or: cheap vs. expensive! I bought a Show Off Canopy which will likely take me a couple of seasons to pay off. But, it looks like it'll stay put in a rain storm, so you do what you gotta' do. This ain't my cub scout pop tent. Heavier than you know what and just about that clumsy to cart around as well. I've put it up a couple of times now. First time: 5 hours and that's without placing art! Second time was more like 2.5 hours and with the art hung also. I've put the right corner in the left corner and the up in the down. I've put the top on upside down and the back door in the front. I forgot to put the center bar attachment in for the half wall and had to fake it in with a piece of PVC that I lashed on. I've fallen off stools, rammed my head through the netting and punched holes in my skin with various pitcher hanging devices. I'm pretty bruised and battered and my first show is this Friday! Still have my right ankle wrapped in ACE after nearly breaking it stumbling around trying to get set up. Whatever!!

3. My first show will be the Maitland Rotary Art Fest on Lake Lily. Beautiful looking park, but I really have no idea of how to judge it for the stated purpose. Sure looks like they know what they are doing however. I've gotten plenty of good communication from them at this point and have confidence that the management of the event will be professional. I'm hoping because I gotta' believe I'm going to need help at some point over the weekend. Thank you Kelly Feist for all of the great effort in my behalf so far.

4. I thought I had the inventory issue handled but it seems like no matter how much effort one has put into creating art, there is always a lag on the production side. Those 10 or 20 prints of pieces that seem just "sure" to sell, turn out to be 2 or 3 finished pieces as time and energy run low. I keep telling my wife that we'll be the tent that sold everything! She says: "Yeah, cause we got nothing to sell!" Well, it's not quite that bad but I can see that working on that inventory (which doesn't sound that much like an "ART" word) is going to be a big deal each season. I think by the time we get to the second show, Cape Coral in January, I should be in good shape.

5. Of course I had to plunge in on a Card Reader. For all of you who are pros at this, the Card Reader thing is kind of intimidating. It seems like the one key thing that could spell disaster for an artist. My first one didn't work right, so I'm on issue #2. While it has processed a couple of fake purchases that I ran through, I'm not going to be a believer until that first transaction succeeds. Everyone says this is no big deal but being a typical artist with math and technical skills that sometimes don't come along for the ride, I'll have to wait and see. Definitely an area of anxiety, though. Gawd! What if I run off without it?

6. All this art of mine fits in a big DEWALT container-cart which is very convenient. Except that it weighs about  200 lbs! I'm going to roll it into the SUV with a ramp. It's sketchy. The tent weighs another ton or so. Hope I have some punch left after set up! Hope the excitement of doing the first show will carry me.

7. Okay! Just back from Office Depot where I bought business card and brochure holders. I'm printing up a bunch and hope to start that "on-line presence." I'm also trying to solve last minute problems like I didn't realize Daylight Savings Time was going to make it dark at 6 PM. Need to come up with some kind of lighting pronto or I won't even be able to take my tent down at night. They have told me that electricity is available within 30'. Probably lug along an extension cord and 2 or 3 clip on utility lights. I guess if things get rough, there is a Home Depot somewhere close. 

8. My next post will be an actual review of this show. What kind of things should I cover? Additionally, I'll be attending Cape Coral, Hyde Park, St. Pete, and possibly Coconut Grove (#8 on wait list presently), and have applied to a couple others that I haven't been informed about yet. I'll review all of these and continue with side notes about what the entire experience has been like so far. I'd have to say I'm very complimentary of the Maitland Rotary folks at this juncture. I'm pretty sure this is going to be a good show and a good time.

Cheers, the Laugh's on Me!

Rick Plummer

Views: 730

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on November 13, 2018 at 11:14am

Good luck. Check weather forecast ahead of time but be prepared. Be sure you have sufficient weight on your tent. Take a notebook and write down "everything I need to do for next show". Do your homework to make sure your art fits the demographics of the area. After the show, analyze the results...all that math stuff LOL.  Don't forget the duck tape.

Comment by Nels johnson on November 13, 2018 at 12:59pm

I like your spirit.

It will be an adventure.  Keep us posted.

BTW, I blog on this site quite extensively, you might want to research a number of my blogs, they are down for newbies like you.

I have been in this biz for nearly 45 years.

Good luck.

Comment by Nels johnson on November 13, 2018 at 1:00pm

meant they are done for newbies, fricking fat thumbs of mine.

Comment by Connie Mettler on November 13, 2018 at 1:31pm

Oh, the tents, the tents ... I searched on this site because there is a video somewhere on how to put these babies up quickly ... couldn't find it, Rick, but it seems you have the right attitude here. Totally an adventure and pretty cool life style if you have the guts and tenacity for it. As most of the members would say, "beats having a job."

You are totally correct that although it might be prestigious to be in a juried show or gallery ... how many people are going to see your work? Art fairs are the best venue for turning art into cash, much better odds.

One of my favorite tips is to get set up early (yeah, I know the first time that will indeed be a challenge) and get out of your booth and "see the show" before it opens as well as you can. I second Dick's suggestion to take notes. AND visit as many shows as possible to get an understanding of the differences and take note of your competition, especially the "biggies."

Welcome to AFI. We all look forward to hearing more from you. You also might enjoy some of the podcasts at, especially the ones from people talking about their "first art fairs."

Nels is right, he blogs a lot and you can learn a lot there. We all like to hear the best parts and the worst parts and "what I learned". Please keep it coming, Rick.

Comment by Leslie Turner on November 13, 2018 at 7:50pm

Never leave your sense of humor at home, you'll need it!

Comment by Rick Plummer on November 14, 2018 at 1:27pm

Great to hear from mentors! Richard: Maitland weather looks to be perfect which is probably the scariest possible forecast. I'll take rain gear and weights anyhow. Thanks for the idea on taking notes. Nels: great reads! I've gone back through your blogs and learned a lot. Wish I was going to be in one of those great spots to grab breakfast and a NYTimes. Course the bars would be a more likely place to find me! I can see some of the issues from reading your posts...parking, set ups and crummy weather. That and the expectation that one might not even sell one thing. I'm setting my sights pretty low at first. Just hoping to be able to make the card reader work and get the tent up successfully. I'm sort of thinking of this first show as a scientific experiment. Connie: I'm hearing you on the early set up as this is one of my anxieties. Luckily at Maitland I can start at noon on the day before the show. I'll probably just be finishing up when the show starts the next day! But, gosh, can one really leave all the art in the tent overnight? Leslie: yeah, that sense of humor thing. I have left home without it before. Not good! But, in general, it's the best of my senses. Thanks again for all of the good wishes. I'll be posting about the "best parts, worst parts and what I learned, as Connie suggests. Geronimo!

Comment by Nels johnson on November 15, 2018 at 8:07am

Leave the work in the tent overnight—unless, you are a jeweler.

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on November 15, 2018 at 1:09pm

I leave aout $50K of work in tent overnight -leather. Walls  and pedestal-tables are draped with 4 mil drop cloths. Aisles are blocked with saddle stands, stools, ladder and hand truck - my landmines making other booths easier pickings. There is overnight security at most of the shows I do too and I only recall theft/vandalism (Tubac, AZ was one) in booths about twice in 20 plus years. I worry more about rain overnight than theft.

Comment by Rick Plummer on November 15, 2018 at 2:16pm

Okay, I'm going to jump in there and leave everything in the tent, go have an Old Fashioned and not worry about a thing. If I get wiped out I can claim I was so successful I didn't have any art to carry back home! Just about finished loading the SUV and things fit, barely. Might have to tie the suitcase on the roof. I didn't want to have to rent a trailer and I think I'm good on that, long as I have a safe trip. I'd hate to be in this car, loaded up, and get rear ended or something. Next up: going to the bank to get bills and coins to make change on the outside chance of someone buying something. Hope I at least sell enough to buy our drinks. Most of the pre-show jitters have flown at this point. I'm more concerned with things that might go wrong, which, of course, I really don't have any way to determine. So, I'm bringing along "generalized solutions." Duck tape, string, scissors, magic markers, box cutters and the essential "solves everything" tool, the credit card. Was at my Grandson's 5th grade play this morning. Sort of puts it all in perspective. Goal: meet some neat folks, chill on any problems, enjoy. Life is Good (occasionally). Make Art Great Again!

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on November 16, 2018 at 3:01pm

Relax, enjoy and have fun.I always look forward to dogs, little kids and newborns.


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