Art Fair Insiders

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

That's what the snotty GPS lady says whenever we veer off her predestined route. I say "snotty" because sometimes I swear she sighs in exasperation. She seems to want to say "make up your mind, twit, I have things to do". She has a point because I have already veered off my topic here.

I am rethinking my whole art biz thing here. I'm not talking about a slight deviation, I'm thinking of reinventing myself as a working artist.

About 15 years ago I decided to develop a profession outside of the government job I hated so that I could move on. I started as a papermaker which led to the book arts and I settled into a niche. I stopped making my own paper, concentrated on journals and various specialty books, along with some peripheral items that were paper related. For a while it was pretty lucrative. The inherent low materials cost with having a paper-based specialty allowed me to make less gross money with a healthier net. And I loved my books. Still do. But I think the journaling craze may be about over because my books are selling a lot less than before.

I tried making new items, using imported Italian text blocks for diaries and photo albums, etc. They sold but very slowly. When re-thinking product I always concentrated on functional because I had confidence in myself as an artisan but never called myself an artist. (unless I was asking where the artist parking was. Someone here said that once. so true.)

A couple of years ago I started playing with collage, using the scraps from my bookmaking. I never expected them to sell, I just needed to have a back wall and I have always been drawn to mixed media.  They started to sell. I experimented with making prints of them to bump up the bottom line. They sold very well. I made cards of them. Bingo.

So, holiday gifts shows are winding down and I have some hard choices before me. My journals used to sell like crazy as a gift item. Not this year. I just finished a three day show that earned me gas money and little else. Outside of stocking stuffer items, I sold more collage- - framed, prints and cards, than books.

Now I'm thinking that it might be smart to spend the next couple of months working on the craft of collage and doing a show or 2 early on that focus on them.  See how it goes.

This is a scary detour because the collage is totally about the art itself. As we say here, nobody needs our stuff, and they need stuff on their walls the least. And rejection of these works would be a total rejection of me, because they are totally me and not a widget someone might use.

But I think I'm going to do it, and you know why? Because when I go up to my studio on the days I am making collage, I have a little bubble of anticipation in my gut and I am happy. When I finish one and hold it against the mat to see how it will look, I am happy. When customers comment on little things in the design, yep...happy.

I know happy doesn't pay the bills, but if I can do this right, maybe it will. Because if it was just about the bills I would still be occupying a 10 X 10 cubicle instead of a canopy.

Time for a legal u-turn, I'm thinking.  

Views: 1163

Comment by Paul Flack on December 13, 2013 at 10:21am

You have NO choices. Logic and business do not apply to success in the art world. By success I mean filling you personal voids, not popularity or money. Art is the soul's expression. You will do what your soul alone wants to do, don't try to fight it. Just do it, you will be better off in the long run. And, above all, don't ask lost to help you find your way...just kidding, good luck!

Comment by Kay Cummins on December 13, 2013 at 10:35am

Hi Pat, you will just have to see.  I can only offer that you will need to have your game on.  Mixed media is very competitive and sales seem tough in many categories the past few years so it will have it's own challenges and may be better, may be worse.  You are smart to think about your work and the consumer.  I wish you the very best!

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on December 13, 2013 at 10:54am

When you made cards of the collages you spanned the divide between functional and fine art.  What about continuing down that road?  Think of the back wall of your booth as a gallery that displays 2D originals and prints, then use the two sides to offer functional items that feature collage art.

Comment by Pat Sorbini on December 13, 2013 at 11:29am
That's kind of what I am thinking. Mixed media is a tough category, especially now that jewelers and other competitive categories are coming over. But I have been applying that way for a couple of years with success. I will still make books but they will not be my focus. Unless the collage tanks, of course :)
Comment by Suzanne Ens on December 13, 2013 at 12:15pm
Pat I think continuing to make your own paper to use in your mm collages is the key. As is well known and already stated mm is a very competitive category both jurying in and selling, and both jurors/judges and customers will appreciate your making your own materials. Push on!
Comment by Christina L. Towell on December 15, 2013 at 8:15am

Pat, Isn't making art all about evolving and changing to satisfy not only potential customers but also your own sense of creative flow?  I know I can't wait to try something new even if the 'tried and true' is selling's what keeps us going.  You have a lot of good advice here and it sounds like your prospects for continuing to sell the mixed media collages, cards and journals are good...much luck to you, enjoy the journey!

Comment by Stefani Tadio on December 28, 2013 at 8:16am

Hi Pat - I was interested in this article for my own recalculating reasons and when I clicked through the email, saw it was you! - I was even happier because I like and respect you so much! Because of your success with prints of your work, I started thinking about prints of my higher end wall pieces. I can't wait to see what 2014 brings for both of us!

Comment by Roxanne Coffelt on January 6, 2014 at 12:42pm

Sometimes I think it's hard to say how much of a slump is the economy and how much is the artist.  I don't know much about mixed media, but if you enjoy it, and people are buying it, I would say go for it!  As Suzanne mentioned previously though, I think if you make your own paper that gives you an edge.


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