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

I am licking my wounds right now and avoiding my credit card statements after the last two shows where I didn't even make expenses.  Two shows which by all research should have been at least paycheck shows, and I'm all out of Xanax.  What is an artist to do?

Setauket, a little village of wonderful demographics right next door to my hometown on Long Island, sorely disappointed in many ways, especially with the nighttime booth robberies.  But I'll address that in another blogpost.  I did well as a rookie art show artist here in 2008, and expected (perhaps delusionally, in retrospect) a sort of prodigal-daughter-returns-home kind of show.  It was a dogwalk.  There are some shows that urge me to take up pet portraiture again, because THAT would have sold.  The shoes were here.  The weather was perfect.  The wallets stayed firmly out of sight.  And every breed in the AKC was here too.  I had some maddening nibbles from two interior designers, who of course  did not have their business cards on them, one said she had a client on the Gold Coast who"didn't want a landscape, but something beachy" and my giant conch "was perfect".  Now I know how guys feel with a case of blue balls. 

Well, ok, I thought, this whole trip so far has been one good show, one bad show.  Onto Montclair, NJ.  Let's go wrangle this monster RV over the Cross Bronx Expressway and the GW into the well-heeled Jersey suburbs.

Aaaack.

Did I say my prayers Friday night?  Did I neglect St. Luke, the patron saint of artists?  Should I have conducted a small animal sacrifice? Should I have bought far more cheap wine and cigarettes to numb the increasing panic as the hours ticked down to five o' clock Sunday?

Oy vey. (I can say this, I just back from Long Island and stuffed myself on good bagels and lox)

Howard and Rose did everything right.  They advertised prolifically, and are wonderful people to boot.  The show is in a great area.  The weather again cooperated.  But the dogwalkers ruled the day.  Munks described in a recent post the vacancy in peoples' eyes, the absence of hope.  My booth buddy neighbor said, "These people could walk off a cliff."  I was not the only artist who didn't make expenses.  I'm stymied, and more than a bit anxious.  And I don't like the cheap red wine I'm drinking.  I'm second guessing my decisions made earlier this year (completely sober, thank you) on where in New England to show my very New England beachy work.  If it's true that it takes three years for an audience at a particular show to accept that you are here for real as an artist, well then, I'm screwed, because I'm basically unemployable at anything else.

So how do YOU prop yourself up after falling face first?

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Comment by Geoff Coe on October 10, 2011 at 9:50am
Someone on another thread posted a comment in which they priced their work according to the "Priceline.com model": They didn't tag anything with a price.  Instead, they invited browsers to bid for a piece, with the proviso that if the artist accepted the bid, they had to buy it at that price.  And if not, they could bid again. 
I did a very slow show north of Tampa this weekend, so I put this to the test with a half-dozen framed pieces that I haven't taken to a show for several years.  On my iPhone I loaded two sound effects: a klaxon (old car horn), for when a bid was too low, and a ringing bell, for a bid I accepted.  I sold three pieces, the customers were happy, and everyone had a good time.   I wouldn't do this at a fine art show--(or would I?  Hmmm....) but this was a pretty informal event.
Comment by Caroline Kwas on October 6, 2011 at 6:54pm

Sometimes, I kinda feel like Private Joe in Idiocracy...

http://http://www.worstpreviews.com/trailer.php?id=8&item=3

Comment by Daryl Cohen & Kevin Frosch on October 6, 2011 at 5:36pm
One of my biggest sales ever was from giving out a business card and the very wealthy young woman got home and ordered all of her bridal attendents gifts, all of her Christmas shopping and a number of personal pieces. A couple other business cards brought me wholesale orders.  I get my cards from Vista Print on line and nearly no cost, with their specials, I have gotten orders from people who have told me my booth was too crowded so they left and called me later, from re-orders, and from friends of friends of customers. I just cannot see a down side to having not only business cards in the booth readily accessible without people even having to ask for one but I also use glossy color postacrds with my designs and my design process explaiined.
Comment by Pat Falk on October 6, 2011 at 2:27pm

I have never displayed business cards in my booth just for the taking.  A few years ago I stopped giving out random requests for business cards.  I noticed many of these people had fists full of artist business cards.  Other artists cards and post cards were left on shelves in my booth.  Have you noticed all the cards that are left in the restrooms or lying on the streets?  Sales from those random request for cards were nonexistant for me.  I think the majority of business card requests are simply "get out of artist booth free cards".  If someone seemed truly interested in a certain piece and we have had dialog regarding a piece, I would make an exception and give them a business card.  And yes, the spam I have received is another issue.  Of course I always include cards with purchases and that's where my subsequence sales have come.  Any thoughts?

Comment by Annette Piper on October 1, 2011 at 8:16pm

I like your outlook Noel!

 

Comment by Noel Skiba on October 1, 2011 at 4:47am
I love being an artist. I paint whether or not I'm selling. I paint at every show. Last year I had 7 bad shows... This year I had 3. I figure where can you go and promote yourself or get advertising for the cost of what we pay for most shows. I know there can be many variables... We are only incharge of one... Us! I say I'm here for a reason & I'm learning something even at the bad shows. Maybe I make a friend or a new connection... One show the only sale I had was to a little girl who was buying a birthday gift for her friend. What she wanted cost $40. She had $7. I told her that was just fine ... She knew it wasn't so she dug around & found some change. She was the highlight of my year. Just think how much she loved her friend that she chose my art.
I've been rained out & blown over... But face it we have to be a lite nuts we go out there because we are blessed with a talent & we share it with the world ... Which inturn blesses us back, even if it's not monetarily. When things are down I change it up, add a few extra shows or drop prices... Dog walkers are like car show people... They are into ther thing... The art show just happens to be in their area... Probably on their dog walking route. You can't change city hall. Adapt yourself.
Sometimes I just visit more, say hi to everyone, give away something, maybe food, people like to eat & they talk longer so sometimes they buy... I sometimes send out send out emails, with invitations or discounts... wear a new out fit. Last show I sat on the ground & painted ... I had dozens of kids watching & parents & sales were great, I also won best of show. I just had fun & believed I was doing great. As I finished loading my van I had one last sale.
I figure I never know what God has planned for me so I just better be ready with my paint brush.
Have fun... Remember why we are creative...
One year a show could be up & down the next. I like 1 day show but I do a variety. I can make about the same whether 1 or more days... I discover I sell most from 10am-2pm, with that end of the day sale occasionally... When near dog people have dog things or car things near car peoe... Stretch yourself.... When things get bad i add More shows, more exposure, more exposure, more buzz, more buzz more $$$.... However take time to rest! Ps this is my only income! God bless all your sales, Noel Skiba
Comment by Jillian Cori Lippert on September 29, 2011 at 9:51pm

Wow!  This has certainly been an interesting thread so far.  I was very interested in the number of artists who are reassessing their products and offering items with lower price points.  I had just decided in the last couple of weeks that I need to offer some mosaics with a lower price point.  That's a little tough, since mosaics are pretty time consuming.  Luckily, I came across a fair amount of free wood I'll be able to use as a base for some items.  That'll certainly help keep the costs down.  This discussion has really supported that decision.

 

I was also interested in the comments about getting out of your booth.  I don't think most of the artist expressions at slow fairs look pissed; it's more of a glazed eyed desperate look.  When I walk thru a fair, either as an artist or a customer, I know when I see that look the artist has had a bad show & I agree, I think the vibes being given off are really negative.  I always have a huge smile on my face and a cheerful hello for anyone who comes into my booth or even pauses outside.  I've had a lot of people come into the booth who looked like they were going to move on.  I also changed my booth set up recently so that altho I'm sittng/standing behind display tables, I'm actually in the as opposed to sitting outside in the back.  It seems like the booth is more inviting to people and I'm getting a lot more stopping in to look (and buy).

 

I've always been one of those afraid to leave my booth for fear of theft or missing a sale.  (It's almost caused me to have a potty accident a time or two.)  I think at those slow fairs, I will try getting out & walking around a bit.  If nothing else, I think it's good to stand outside your booth during a fair and try to look at it like a customer would.  A tweak here or there may make all the difference.

 

I'm almost thru with my 3rd summer doing art fairs.  What an economy in which to start this endeavor!  Thanks for all the encouraging words from everyone.  I've decided to try again next year.  This economy HAS to get better some time.

Comment by Ann Marie Crosmun on September 29, 2011 at 11:20am
I have been offering split payments this year; they can either put the jewelry on a payment plan, or split the cost between credit card(s), checks, and/or cash. So far, no takers. I will not reduce my price. I found out years ago, that, if I offer a discount to one individual, she tells her friends, and they all want discounts--it's a downward spiral. I cannot cheapen my work that way. But, what I will do, is create some less expensive pieces-maintaining my quality of work, and, my dignity.
Comment by heather on September 29, 2011 at 10:14am
Caroline, hang in there. Here in New Orleans we have a robust art market scene that has been going since 2002. My earnings have severely dropped since the recession and this is my fulltime job. I know other artists in the area who are also saying the very same thing you are. One of my painter friends is now working on movies down here (we call it Hollywood South) in the art department to make ends meet. These are scary times and we must do what we can to hold on, if possible. I think we are in for a lean period of at least 3/4 more years. At least that is what Bernanke is saying. Don't know if I can hold on till 2015, but I will try with all my might.  Keep your chin up and you are great at creative writing! Maybe this is your calling? :) I keep telling my customers, "Thank you for supporting the cultural economy of New Orleans!" And, nothing could be further from the truth. Best wishes to everyone here. And, y'all keep your chins up!
Comment by Janet Rose on September 26, 2011 at 9:27pm
I am sorry but selling directly to patrons had nothing to do with Howard's post. It was making fun of one of our exhibitors, who made the error of misreading Munk's post, that motivated the response.

This is Caroline's thread so let's let the focus be on her concerns. She is a very talented artist and writer.

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