Art Fair Insiders

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

Mini rant of the day.  I am sure I am not the only one.

Why do artists / crafters think we need to hear how badly they are doing?  Now, I am always willing to help out in any way possible, but this is my peeve:  Please don't complain about the show, the customers, your terrible sales, it's the worst show you have ever done, then tell me that you are coming back next year?  I can only think of 3 reasons:

  • You think I am stupid
  • You are stupid
  • The worst show you have ever done is still very profitable for you! (I hope this is the one)

I love 99% of the folks in our business, and love to hear success stories.  It just seems that far too many of us would rather find fault in everything.  My motto- "If you are up to your neck in Horse crap, there must be a pony in there somewhere!"

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Comment by Richard L. Sherer on August 12, 2014 at 11:06am

I read all of the news; good and bad. Several artist I know will give a bad show a second shot before writing it off.  It does seem that there are more "bad" shows in the Midwest and East than here in Colorado, or is everyone keeping it the "best known secret"? But, statistically, there are more shows in that geographic region. Decades ago, I read an article in Forbes where some high powered business profs studied some used car dealers to Fortune 500 outfits. Those that maintained, analyzed and studied date for their business, were more successful (DUH!). That's why I read about all shows; good and bad. One last example of returning to a "bad" show. Grand Junction, CO has slipped enough that it is on the "don't do list". I may go back because we can visit grand kids for several days, make some money, and write the whole deal off on taxes.   

Comment by Alan Anderson on August 12, 2014 at 11:21am

Richard - I am a big fan of "Showcations" myself.  The folks I am talking about are the gloom and doomers, with no apparent reason to return.  I will give you the fourth category though!  As for what makes a show good or bad, most artists don't seem to have a metric.  Completely subjective.  I too analyze data to identify trends and look for reasons that a show or area is good or bad.  Thankfully I can say that in 5 years we have only seen red ink twice.  We have been blessed!

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on August 12, 2014 at 11:46am

Hang in there Alan. in over 20 years we only had one $0 show and it was one I did to schmooze a folklorist who administered grants - wrong reason to do a show, and she up and died before I got a grant. LOL maybe. It's art, art, art but also business, business, business.

Comment by Alan Anderson on August 12, 2014 at 12:07pm

LOL.  I hope and pray we never have a zero show!  Our worst ever was a first time show that was in a convention center, $1,000 rent, great marketing.  200 vendors.  less than 600 consumers over 3 days.  We had the 2nd highest sales at $650.  Nearly a riot ensued......

Comment by Mark V. Turner on August 12, 2014 at 1:44pm

I agree with Richard about giving a show a second chance. You can complain about the poor sales, but we all know that for most artists who do fine art or fine craft (especially those who do nothing but originals - like me) each time you do a show, its a total crapshoot. So I usually give an event a couple chances to show its true potential to me as an all-originals painter before I try another. This helps even out elements like good or bad weather, proximity to competing events, floating holidays, local road construction.....

I have had several 0$ shows that I paid several hundred plus a jury fee to participate in.

I have noted a pick up in sales since I upgraded my booth display. And for nearly a decade, I kept telling myself that my customers should be evaluating the art (which has it's share of awards) rather than the walls it is hung upon. Obviously, I was never born to be a psychologist...

I have also noted that those exhibitors who deal in women's wearables (no offense) tend to fare better in most shows because women are the primary attendees and purchasers. They will nearly always buy something to wear or adorn themselves with before they will buy something to put on the wall. 

It is plain that I am not the only one who has figured this out given the show balances and early closures of wearable categories (especially costume and fine jewelry)... I have considered making the switch to this genre over time after seeing a consistent revenue stream at events constantly flowing to these exhibitors - good or bad quality... Poor quality costume pieces still sell a lot more in volume (even the dreaded 'beaders') than original paintings.. My artists aesthetics are the only thing which keep me from switching over to wearables 

So, I think that people dealing in wearables have an easier time making their expenses and a profit regardless of event. Alan, I think you might agree that your biggest revenue generation issues are optimizing your event schedule to find as many shows as possible that are more profitable than others you might currently be doing; rather than trying to find events where the customers will click with your work or are sophisticated enough to see what an artist is trying to communicate.

Do you see where I am going with this? I think that women are far more experimental with what they display on their bodies compared to what they will display in their homes. And I think this is a thought pattern ingrained into women as they are reared... Women are taught to constantly be aware of fashion changes and to keep their wardrobes changing to keep up with other women who are constantly comparing and judging each other based on their accoutrement (is that a $0.50 word or what?) Men OTOH are positively sticks in the mud and loathe to change their fashion styles - which is why there are so few mens wearables exhibitors regardless of venue and also why there is so little mens jewelry, too

So back to the original topic... I think the dynamic on picking shows to keep or toss is different for wearble exhibitors than for other fine art and craft exhibitors.. For wearables, it is less about finding a market for your product and more about maximizing your revenue stream.. For fine artists, it is more about finding an audience which appreciates your particular field of endeavor and then your style that you bring to it. This is why the events like Central PA Fest. of the Arts, Rittenhouse Sq., Reston Arts, and others are so competitive for fine artists as they know these venues are known for customers looking to buy fine art and fine craft furnishings for their homes. I think it is far easier for wearables exhibitors to make a profit regardless of venue. And I cite as an example that even common 'table fee' craft shows are loaded with wearable vendors. I rarely speak to one who doesn't come away with a profit.

Obviously, precious metal wearables have a product price point which keeps them out of these types of shows as it does fine artists. But since I do both fine art and more common craft, I think I can speak to both and note the commonalities.

Comment by Alan Anderson on August 12, 2014 at 1:50pm

Well stated, Mark and I completely agree.  To my point, however, don't (not you) bitch and moan for 2-3 days about how bad the show is, then tell me you will return.  And you are correct.  I grade every show A-F, and return to the ones that fare better than other options for that week.  For example, HDG Seafood Fest just jumped from a B- to an A show for me.

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on August 12, 2014 at 3:05pm

I would add to Mark's wearables selling well, "Functional art" which includes most of what I take to art shows: belts, holsters, canteens, folios, dog tack, horse tack, etc. About the only decorative stuff I have ever sold were bell straps and horse brass martingales. 

Comment by Charlotte Burnett on August 12, 2014 at 4:30pm

Mark, I used to feel the way you feel regarding sales of jewelry and wearables.  However, I am no longer finding that to be the situation.  Here in SW Florida, it appears that people are selling far more wall art that previously.  A new housing boom is going on and many people are buying for their new walls.  I have found my jewelry sales to go way down in the past year.  I have talked to other jewelers who are having similar experiences.  Granted, I do work with precious metal and have to have higher price points.  The ones who are selling a lot of jewelry are the ones with items priced less than $50. 

Comment by Mark V. Turner on August 12, 2014 at 5:27pm

My folks who live in central florida close to The Villages, would disagree about a home buying boom as they are trying to move from there back north. However, I am sure they are hoping it hits there very soon. And yes, the 20-40$ range jewelry is what moves. I created an entire series of 40$ originals to compete when the economy tanked back in 2009...

And... I did rant last year about the HDG Art Show and the glut of wearables..And here I am hoping it dries up in time for the HDG Art Show again... But I did win the blue ribbon for painting last year..... and that's why I am probably hoping it will be better this year, while still annoyed at the show mix last year... If it had not been for my craft booth selling so well, I might have written off the show... But the price is right and its close to home...So I keep doing it....

Richard, I think leather, tack and saddle work is more likely fine craft out here... Of course you have eastern horse farms, hunter jumper competitions, dressage, turf point to point races, and there seems like there should be the $ to buy such work.. However, it is rare to see a saddle and tack craftsperson at one of these events that I attend... I have no idea if there is a market for it

I probably sold more art at the seafood festival than I will at the Art Show... That's how it was last year and the show was crammed full of wearables

Comment by Barbara Pitorak Bloom on August 15, 2014 at 10:37am

Wow, there is a lot to be said about what we say.  Economics, and the demographics of the crowd attending seem to be the biggest factor... If that fact that only 1-5% of the population will buy art, then i am always hoping the event has been promoted well to that demographic.  And the sheer number of people attending has no choice but to bring a higher amount of buyers.  Yes, we use metrics to measure the show and rate it.   Profit is one measure, but we consider how efficiently information was disseminated, how convenient load in and load out were, how engaged the promoters were in the show (or did we even have a clue they were there?) and how well received our work was.  

It is a challenge in this post economic crash era to find people with readily expendable money.  I think we can all agree that the middle class has been hit hard by the changes in our economy, and that extra cash in each pay is now consumed by the cost of living.  This is what we have seen in Northeastern Ohio - a flat line of the economy, high unemployment, and more people appropriating their budget to daily expenses.   That said, there are pockets of the market that are flourishing, and people with a good income, stability and willingness to buy art and fine craft.  We have sought out those markets.

As to wearables, I do fiber (Hand dyed silk), which is not inexpensive.  I also judge a show on how successfully my silk sells.  My inexpensive pieces start at $45 and work their way up... so if they are handing me a credit card for a piece of silk I found that niche of the market that can affort it and appreciate it.  

One side thought in this discussion is this - Attitude affects success.  In the business world the saying is "Attitude affects Altitude".  People step into your tent for various reasons - perhaps they are killing time, or perhaps one thing attracted their eye, or maybe they wanted to just window shop... How they percieve the artist is as important as how they view the work.  I have walked into booths with no acknowledgement, no engagement, or overhearing conversations that were grumbling, fussing about issues with the show.  It kind of turned me off, and made me want to just run from their booth even if there was something i wanted to buy.  Attitude is not the only predictor of success, but it is contageous... whether good or bad.  And the subsequent reviews begin to reveal the underlying tone.  

Yes, we have had nearly $0 shows, but not often, and the only times we have had low shows were appearing to be weather related.  

My momma always said "Pick your attitude, and make it a good one".  Yes, we will all have days that suck majorly, but it is not in dwelling on that, but choosing instead to find the good, give the second chance, give the benefit of the doubt.  I wrestle with what i want to say after a show is done.  Its too easy to find something negative to chase after.  


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