Art Fair Insiders

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

Picking your Poison When Chosing Shows

Chosing shows can be a double edged soared. If you chose to go with booth fee that can mean fees from $100 to $1500 and add jury fee $25 to $100 and none refundable and if the promoter dose their job and it's a great show we all smile. Now let's talk reality you will never get the jury fee back and you need to sell a lot if the booth fee is high and than add Mother Nature into the mix and now your possibly running at a loss and that's not taking into account your costs for time and travel and possibly lodging. So let's talk about that other show,jury fee nonrefundable no booth fee but 10 15 percent of your sales if the promoter did their job both you and the promoter smile if he didn't you both feel the pain and with respect to Mother Nature you lose but not as much and the promoter loses a little bit. The one thing I look at is to chose the shows that I can be sure I am not losing to much. Because I hate to have to add in product loss like tent,displays and the worst my art.
So which is the best way to go when Chosing shows. I guess you go with your gut and pray.

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Comment by Paula Decker Haynes on June 28, 2016 at 11:04am

Alot of good thoughts here. I have not gone outside of my home state as of yet. I will definitely be doing some thinking on going outside may in a couple of years. I feel I need to build up my painting for now and see how it goes here at home first. 

Comment by Kaytee Sumida on June 27, 2016 at 10:49am

Re: pricing/tagging-- my price tags reflect the sale price at the venues that cost the most. Not doing these at the moment (consignment), but still using the pricing formula for tags. For the shows I currently do (art shows at local sci-fi/comic conventions), sales are through a silent auction process, and I indicate a starting bid at wholesale + commission (10-15%), and a "quick sale" price of ~ 10% off the "retail" price. For direct/in person sales, or the rare internet sales, I usually include tax and at least partially subsidize shipping in the "retail" price.

Re: the original question on choosing shows-- I choose local, indoor shows that don't need me to "sit" for long hours. The art shows are "perfect" for me-- everything I need fits in my car... set-up takes an hour or so, somebody else takes care of sales and security, and at the end of the 3-4 day show, I pack out (takes maybe a half hour), sign out, and I get a check a week or so later. And am not "dead" for a week afterwards (except for post-Comic Con, but that's not because of participating in the art show). You might consider doing one of these shows, even if they are not local, if your art does not need special display pieces, that is, if they can be hung on a panel from hooks, or set flat on a table-- most of the shows do accept mail in art. "Genre" for the conventions I do is science, sci-fi, fantasy, goth, pop-culture, anime/manga/comics, horror... with "cats and dragons being the best sellers". And yes, one of the most popular artists (sends in mostly LE prints) has combo cat and dragon subject matter.

Comment by Jane Shaffer on June 13, 2016 at 10:15am

Regarding the issue of booth fee versus a percentage of sales is based on what you expect your sales to be at that show.  If you are debating whether to do a 15% show or a $300 fee show, it depends on whether you think you will sell $2000 or more. 15% of $2000 is $300.  So if you are going to sell less than $200, the 15% show is cheaper.  If you are going to sell more than $2000 then the $300 fee show is cheaper.  In my early years, I found the percentage shows to be a good deal because my sales were not as high, and I had very little risk of losing money.  Now that I am more established and my sales are higher, I prefer the flat fee shows.

Comment by Cindy Welch on June 12, 2016 at 4:13pm

I agree, too, about consistent pricing from one show to the next.  Having to raise prices due to supplies going up is understandable.  But lowering them because show costs are lower ... nah, for the same reason that customers may get wind of it and those who paid higher prices may feel cheated.

Comment by Jan Hubbard on June 10, 2016 at 6:33pm
Larry I agree with you a lot of work that could possibly cause you trouble. Pricing has never been a problem for me. I do my pricing according to my product cost and time. Than at my show I make adjustments based on the demographics of the area of the show. So I have a sale or I do a buy one get 1/2 off or just price down certain styles 10 to 15 % for clearance this way there is no questions regarding my prices.
Comment by Larry Berman on June 10, 2016 at 4:38pm

I disagree about having different prices at different shows. In all the years I've ever done shows, I always kept my prices the same from week to week. Otherwise eventually you'll run into someone who has previously purchased and will wonder why the prices are different, and will ask out loud and cause you to possibly loose sales. Prices can go up but shouldn't go down.

Larry Berman

Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on June 10, 2016 at 1:13pm

Here's another trick that I learned from a wonderful teacher:  I put code letters on most of my jewelry pieces instead of prices.  I have a printed price list, that lists the code letter and the corresponding amount, which I post with the jewelry.  I actually have 2 price lists, one is 10% more than the other, and I use whichever price list is appropriate for the cost of the booth rental, expenses, etc. For shows with a lower booth and jury fee, closer to home, etc. I use the lower price list.  I still make a good amount with either.  For me, sometimes it takes a couple of times doing a show to let people know where I'll be.  For other shows, I know immediately that it's not going to be a good match, and it's "Get outa Dodge!"  Good luck in your choices. 

Comment by Larry Berman on June 10, 2016 at 9:24am

That's not what choosing shows is about.

You need to develop a marketable body of work so you have some sense of what your sales are going to be depending on the quality or level of the show you choose to apply to.

When I started, living in New York City (Queens) I did all the Long Island mall shows and local shows in the New York and Connecticut area for years before branching out to travel to outdoor shows. To salve money I used to share motel rooms with friends. By the time I started traveling I had a sense of at least the minimum I could do in sales. My first show outside of my comfort zone was the original Gold Coast in Chicago. I cancelled Mystic and drove to Chicago three days before the show. I had heard that they gave away no-show spaces to people waiting on line at the show office. I waited on line for two full days and got a space in the middle of the show and killed it. Best show ever. But I already had a marketable body of work.

My advice is to stay local until you have both the work and confidence to start traveling. Or at least choose shows where you can minimize expenses by staying with relatives or friends, or combine shows with family events.

Larry Berman

Comment by Christina L. Towell on June 9, 2016 at 8:27am

Great responses Richard and Barrie...I tend to think that you need to be fairly financially secure before even starting out on an art fair career but budgeting and being careful and smart are key too.  Good luck to you, Jan!

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on June 8, 2016 at 8:46am

Jan, what you've described is the scenario everyone faces and has to overcome. It's called business. You've gotta figure out what works for you, and it's gonna be different for you than for me or others. We might have some similarities in our modus operandi, but there'll most likely we'll all make decisions for different reasons.

I am in Wyoming. I have made my art fair career doing shows mostly in Florida. They have big prize money down there, and that's the main reason I started going there in 2004. The other reason I went there is because I could get into five or more shows happening on consecutive weekends that are reasonably close to one another.

I scheduled tours to be in fall and spring. Sometimes I did a show in Alabama or Mississippi or Tennessee or Georgia or South Carolina along with the bulk of shows being in Florida. Booth fees in the South East are usually lower than everywhere else, too. So show fees cost less. Even Winter Park Sidewalk in March is $450 fee and they have $72K in prize money. Shows out West are expensive and don't even have prizes.

I also did a few big shows like Ann Arbor, but when I did them I felt the cost and trouble out weighed the glory.

I usually did shows that allowed repros, too. Ann Arbor doesn't allow them, so most artists offer something original for less money. That's not my game. Originals are $1,250 and up.

Hotels and lodging? I stayed mostly in Motel 6 early on, then Red Roof Inn when I could get them, and then later when we started doing better making $ in La Quinta. Sometimes I got weekly rates. Sometimes stayed in Extended Stay hotels. My wife and I traveled with four Maltese dogs and we never boarded them. I cooked my own food.

You see, there are so many factors. I haven't even mentioned the expenses at home that had to be covered while traveling. I had to make at least $1,250 a week while traveling to pay all expenses and break even. Then in 2008 food and gas and everything got more expensive. I needed to make a little more each week and be more even more budget conscious to break even.

Keep expenses as low as possible to still be comfortable. Rethink what comfortable is. Rethink your expectations, too. Have dreams, certainly, but be realistic. Seems  you might already understand the realism of all this. It's definitely eye-opening. But keep on plugging away at it.

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