Interested in turning your artistic hobby into a business? Find out how you can make money by selling your handicrafts at art shows and craft fairs.
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When Terry Speer was a struggling art student in the 60s, he put himself through college by selling his prints and paintings at local art shows. In 1979, after eight years as an art professor, Speer left academia to do the show circuit full time with his wife, Deborah Banyas, a fellow artist and quilt maker.
"I had tenure and benefits," Speer recalls, "but I was miserable. I thought, 'Why am I torturing myself as a professor when I can have more fun doing this and make more money?'"
Speer hasn't looked back once. Today, he and Banyas run a homebased business selling their whimsical mixed-media sculptures at art festivals and craft shows around the country, including the recent Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Miami where they rang up sales of several thousand dollars over the three-day Presidents' Day weekend. Despite an estimated $3,000 in travel and other miscellaneous costs, Speer and Banyas ended up making a tidy profit. Then they packed up their truck and headed home to Oberlin, Ohio, where they stayed for less than a day before traveling to another show in Baltimore.
"This isn't an easy way to make a living," says Banyas, who estimates that the couple exhibits at 12 shows a year. "You've got to be willing to drive a truck and get up at four in the morning."
Still, Speer and Banyas can't see themselves doing anything else. And they're not the only ones who feel that way. Though it's impossible to know how many artists and craftspeople sell their wares full or part time at shows and festivals, their numbers appear to be growing as crowds turn out by the thousands to buy paintings, sculptures, woodwork, metalwork, glasswork and jewelry and to meet the artists and craftsmen who make them. And as Speer and Banyas have discovered, there's real money to be made. Last year, the Coconut Grove festival drew more than 150,000 visitors who purchased approximately $4 million in artwork from more than 330 exhibitors over the course of the three-day show. (Figures for this year's show were not available at press time.)
"I think it's a great opportunity for the public to connect with artists," says Lisa Remeny, a Miami artist whose painting was picked to be the official poster art of this year's Coconut Grove show. "You don't have that in a gallery where people buy from dealers."
For homebased artists and craftsmen, selling at fairs and shows provides an opportunity to ring up sales and find new customers at little cost and no overhead. Typically, shows charge just a few hundred dollars for a booth and allow artists to enjoy big markups on the work they create--profits they don't have to share with a gallery or store owner. But making money at fairs and shows isn't as easy as it seems. It requires research, planning and the ability to keep a smile on your face while standing on your feet for long hours. And that's not for everyone.
"To be successful at shows, you need to have a retail personality and that's not me," says Debra Sachs, who creates fanciful wooden canes with her partner, Marilyn Keating, at their company, The South Jersey Museum of Curiosities LLP in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Even though Sachs says she and Keating made a profit at every show they attended, the shows took them away from doing what they really loved--creating art. "We're doing public art projects now," Sachs says.
Think selling your work at shows and fairs might be for you? Follow these 10 road-tested tips to success:
1. Walk the show. Just because your Mom used to tack up your drawings on the refrigerator doesn't mean your work is professional enough for people who aren't related to you to buy it. First, attend a few shows to see if your stuff is good enough to pass muster. Some shows are juried, which means that judges review your work and select you; others are open to everyone.
It's also important to find the right venue for your work. While an indoor art show may be beyond your grasp, a craft show or Renaissance fair may fit the bill just right. You can find out a lot of information about the shows by talking to artists and craftsmen you meet there. "The best way is to ask other vendors where the best shows are," says Christopher Spelman of Wax Creations in Oceanside, New York. "They'll tell you which fairs to not even bother with."
2. Do your homework. Find out who typically attends the show, what kind of turnout you can expect and how much it will cost to exhibit there. Even though booth space typically costs just $200 to $300--the Coconut Grove festival charges $550--you need to factor in travel costs, shipping costs and the cost of a table, banner and the booth itself. And don't forget the materials costs; for jewelry or sculptures made of precious metals, those costs can add up. And depending on the city or state the show is in, you may also need a license or permit to sell there. It's best to figure out your breakeven point--that is, how many items you need to sell in order to make a profit--before you decide to pack up and go.
3. Start small. Most established artists and craftspeople sell to repeat customers who frequent the same shows every year and often collect their pieces. While you're establishing your reputation and building a following, keep your expenses to a minimum. Speer suggests renting or borrowing a booth from another artist instead of buying your own. Another option is to share a booth with another artist or craftsperson. "Don't invest a lot of money until you're sure it's going to work," he says.
4. Price it right. While cheaper work is easier to sell, you've got to sell a lot more items to cover your costs and make a profit. At the same, an artist selling $10,000 paintings may go home empty-handed. That's why many art show veterans offer a range of price points to potential customers. Biba Schutz, a New York City jewelry artist, sells her work for anywhere from $150 to $900 but offers one-of-a-kind pieces for up to $5,000. "If your material costs you $10 and you double it, you've got a $10 profit," says Schutz, who works in silver, bronze, copper and gold. "If the material costs you $200 and you double that, it's $400. You need to sell less to make those numbers."
5. Bring your credit card machine. Credit cards are the common currency of shows and fairs, and if you don't accept them, you're going to lose sales to vendors who do. You also face the risks of dealing with bounced checks from strangers who may be hard to track down after the show. Especially if you're selling work priced in the hundreds of dollars, credit cards are a must. To find out more about obtaining merchant credit, see our " Resources " section.
6. Don't go it alone. While shows can be exciting and profitable, they can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. That's why it's important to bring along someone to help you work the booth and deal with customers. This will also give you a chance to get up and go to the bathroom and grab a hotdog or something to drink without losing sales. Spelman of Wax Creations works the fairs with his wife. "You need a lot of good friends and family willing to help you," he says.
7. Pack your stuff. Make sure you bring enough work to sell but not so much that you'll have to carry most of it back. Besides your artwork, you'll also need to pack your booth, several chairs, a small table, a calculator, a credit card machine, bags for customers to carry your products home in and any brochures or marketing materials you might have.
8. Put your best foot forward. People like to see a craftsperson creating artwork in his booth, not just selling it. While this isn't always possible, it's a crowd-pleasing idea that works well for jewelry makers, woodworkers, quilters and other craftspeople. At the very least, make sure your display table is clean and attractive and that your products are well displayed with prices clearly marked. Some artists, like jewelry maker Schutz, string lights in their booths and display color photos of their work to spice things up a bit.
9. Build a mailing list. Shows are a great way to develop your customer database. Try putting a fishbowl on your table and offering people a chance to win a piece of artwork in return for giving you their contact information or business cards. Giving away promotional items with your company's name and logo works, too. This way, you can send out postcards inviting prospects to your next show. Don't forget to collect e-mail addresses, too! It's a lot cheaper to send out 100 e-mail messages than it is to pay for paper and postage. "I have some customers who've bought from me every year for 10 years," Schutz says. "These days, I send more e-mails than postcards, and with my wholesale customers, I actually call them."
10. Count your money. Before you move on to the next show, sit down and figure out how much you made on the last one. For example, if you spend $1,000 on this show, did you make $1,000 back? Remember, we're talking about profits, not sales! Don't forget to include the cost of your materials, the booth space, travel, shipping and cleanup. This kind of breakeven analysis will help you figure out if you should exhibit at the same show next year.
Don't be disappointed if you don't make a fortune your first time out--or ever. Except for artists like Speer and Banyas, who sell exclusively through shows and fairs, most artists and craftspeople also sell through galleries, wholesalers, the Internet and other marketing channels. "My best year ever I made $18,000," says Spelman of Wax Creations, who does most of his business at parties and events. "I'd consider making $2,000 in a weekend to be a success. Some people live off these shows; other people use it to market their business."
Looking to break into the world of fairs and shows? Check out the web links below to jump-start your business today.
Rosalind Resnick is president and CEO of Axxess Business Centers Inc., a boutique consulting firm for startups and small businesses. She can be reached via her website.
Thanks for all of the feedback! -- View image here: http://episteme.arstechnica.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_smile.gif --
While I would like to offer a larger size than 13x19, it's just not feasible at the moment - mostly because my printer will only do 13x19 max
I think I'll use that logic, though, to make the 8x10s the "middle size" and do a small run of 4x6 prints.
I would like to have a theme, or match the pictures more to the audience, but I just don't have the source material available. I'll definitely give them another look, though, as I do have some airshow pictures to print that might work (we're near an Air Force base, so maybe we have some aviation fans).
Apparently I deleted the freaking original for that train shot, meaning the print I have of it (I printed about a month ago) is an extremely limited run -- View image here: http://episteme.arstechnica.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_frown.gif --
I'll also rethink that egret shot - While I agree a closer crop would be better to a trained photographer's eye, almost everyone I've shown it to loves the fact that there's a reflection. Also, the small size I posted doesn't do justice to the print - especially the 13x19 - as you can see the action nicely. Still, I might play around with it more to get a better outlook.
Thanks for the tips, though. I'm mostly just testing the waters to see if I'll even sell a single picture - if not, they'll be cheap Christmas presents for my family :-D
There's something about the feeling of having someone admire your product, pick it up or try it on, and then pay you for it in front of your eyes.
If you have, or wish to have, a home craft business, sooner or later you will want to do a craft show. Craft shows can range from the tiny (small-town celebration, six booths, outdoors) to the enormous (large city, 500 booths, convention center).
Juried versus Non-Juried Shows
There are many different categories of crafts shows, but it all boils down to two types: juried and non-juried shows.
What’s the difference? Very simply, juried shows are pickier about the quality of the crafts they allow in than non-juried shows.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with non-juried shows. In fact, they can be nicer, because they’re less expensive and often more local. The diversity of products offered for sale can be wider than in a juried show. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing.)
For a juried show, you will be asked to send in a craft application along with photos of your product. Send photos and descriptions of all the different types of items that you sell. The craft coordinator will determine who is accepted to the show based on the quality of the product, the professionalism of the booth, and the compatibility of the product with the theme of the show. He may also limit the number of vendors with similar products – for example, too many jewelry applicants.
Booth Fees and What They Get You
Let’s say that you wish to do a small, local, non-juried craft show. The booth fee is $100. Is this reasonable? Probably not.
Booth fees are – or should be – based on show quality. A small show that is not juried, that will attract fewer customers, and has a limited number of booths should not be charging such a high booth fee.
What makes a high booth fee worth it? Look for high-quality vendors with most or all of their products hand-crafted; look for excellent and broad advertising; and find out the anticipated attendance. If a show attracts 70,000 people, a $1,000 booth fee may be worth it. If a show is expected to attract a maximum of 500 people, make sure the booth fee is low.
How Far in Advance Do You Apply?
It depends on the show. Some shows are so popular that you need to apply literally years in advance and get on a waiting list. Others are so relaxed that you can call the craft coordinator a week ahead and get it, though this tells you something about the show’s quality and money-making potential.
The only advice is to contact the show producers and ask. Most juried shows have application deadlines a few months in advance so that they can jury the applicants. Have a selection of photos handy so that you can apply with ease. Always make copies of any applications or other paperwork, including checks, to keep for your records. Always bring acceptance letters and copies of cashed checks with you to the show. Sometimes, paperwork glitches occur, and you may need to prove you were accepted and have paid for your booth space.
Follow the Rules
It seems obvious, but you need to follow the rules of the show.
Some shows are themed. If a costume is required, wear a costume. If plastic pop-up booths are not permitted, don’t think you can get away with using one.
Whatever the rules of the craft show may be, it is your duty and responsibility to follow them. The rules should be clearly laid out in the paperwork. Be aware that the shows themselves often must follow rules and laws (such as requiring booths to be treated with a flame retardant), laws that you also must obey. If you don’t comply, the craft coordinator must shut you down or risk shutting down the entire venue. These laws include fire safety codes, health department codes, guy wires, public safety, etc. Be sensible and comply.
Other rules to follow: Be on time. Sell only what was juried in. Don’t set up late or tear down early. Get your vehicle off the show site as soon as possible.
Make sure you understand that the published opening time of the event is not when you show up, ready to construct your booth. The opening time means you are ready to open for business: your vehicle is parked off-site, your hand truck is put away, your stock is displayed neatly and professionally, you are dressed appropriately, and you have a big smile on your face for the early browsers.
Okay, you’re at the show. Now what? How do you bring customers into your booth?
It goes without saying that your booth is attractive and not sloppy. You are wearing appropriate clothing that is neat and professional. You have a nice, friendly smile.
Selling takes a certain psychology, as any good salesperson will tell you. When customers are browsing, the last thing they want is to feel pressured. Don’t act like the stereotypical used car salesman, talking constantly and trying to force a sale.
Offer a browser a friendly, but neutral, greeting (“Good morning!”). You’ve acknowledged the customer’s presence without making any additional demands. Don’t start peppering them with unwanted or unasked-for information. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that the customer will back-peddle out of your booth with a mumbled excuse about meeting Cousin Bob somewhere else.
Naturally, you’ll be available to answer specific questions about your product, but answer in such a way that does not imply that you now expect them to buy something (“That knick-knack is made out of solid walnut…so, can I wrap it up for you?”). A little humor sprinkled in makes the customer feel more comfortable. But don’t talk too much; customers generally want to be left alone to make up their minds.
It’s a fine balance. Being friendly with your customers improves your chances of making a sale, but trying to make them your best friend by nagging them will damage sales.
And, of course, most people will walk into a booth, and then walk out again. Most won’t buy anything – at least, not yet. It’s up to you to make their brief browsing experience so pleasant and unpressured that they’ll feel free to come back later and buy.
Booth layout is difficult to discuss, because every product is different. Some items need to be behind glass with bright lights shining on them (such as jewelry). Some items need to be dangled from above. Some items need to be displayed on tables.
But, in every case, the key ingredient is visibility. It may seem obvious, but if the customer doesn’t see the product, and see it quickly, then it doesn’t exist.
Consider the power of a vertical display. Items that are displayed where the eye can sweep over them at a glance – and see the entire selection – are far more likely to result in higher sales.
Keep your shelves full. It’s a strange element of show psychology, but customers who see half-empty shelves are not impressed by how well your product has been selling. Instead, they will glance at your nearly vacant display, and walk on. It doesn’t matter how many pieces you still have on display. Half-empty shelves equal “no selection” in the eyes of a potential customer.
So, if you sell one piece, replace it with another piece. If you run out of replacement stock, then either reduce the number of shelving or display units you have available, or have something on hand to act as “fillers” for empty displays (silk flowers, driftwood, roadkill; anything is better than nothing).
• Bring a friend. Always try to work a booth with another person. Not only is this helpful during bathroom breaks, but it’s important to help deter shoplifting.
• Do a dress rehearsal. If you are going to an event with your own booth, make sure you have assembled it at least once, in advance, at home, preferably blindfolded and standing on one leg in a rainstorm in the dead of night, to reproduce all the difficulties you’ll no doubt encounter at one time or another. It’s called a dress rehearsal, and theater or dance companies do them for good reason.
• Keep a sense of humor. Cultivate a sense of humor. Display a sense of humor. Humor relaxes people, it makes you seem less “predatory,” and it creates an instant bond.
• Sometimes you’ll get a person in your booth who looks and looks and looks, and then leaves without buying anything. This person is valuable to you. To a passing browser, there is safety in numbers. People are more likely to enter a booth when someone else is there ahead of them. So don’t lose patience with the person who spends a lot of time looking and then leaves without buying; they’ve provided you with a service by attracting other customers to your booth.
• Know in advance what the show producers will provide. Some shows supply booth, tables, skirting, and signage (these are usually the more expensive shows). Others provide nothing but a square of grass. Be clear in advance what you’ll need to bring so you won’t be caught with your pants (metaphorically) down.
• Never, ever leave a vacant chair available in your booth. A vacant chair means you’re a captive audience to anyone who wants to sit down and relate Great Aunt Martha’s gall bladder surgery.
Love the Life
Selling at craft fairs should be – and often is – fun. You’ll meet new people, see new places, and hopefully make some money.
But, craft shows can be frustrating, as well. Despite the best preparation, you never know how much – or if – you’ll make enough money to make it worthwhile. It’s important to understand that a show could be a bomb. That’s why, hopefully, the information in this article will help steer you in the right direction.
A lot of details have changed since this article was written in 2008, but the general principles still apply — and they apply to artists in any medium, not just photography.
One morning in late 2007, one of the hard drives in my computer wouldn’t spin up. This drive contained all 17,000 of my photographs going back seven years. I wasn’t doing much with them; printed a couple here and there, but they just spent most of their time being ignored. I was too lazy to do backups then, and my computer was well aware of that fact. It seemed like the machine conspired with fate itself, “well, Jason, if you’re not going to use all those pictures, we will gladly take ’em! Thanks!”
My father and I spent all day and half the night running data recovery software on it, and slowly, one by one the images came back.
A week after the recovery, I discovered that in fact I had made a backup of the images six months before. They were on my second drive! Excellent! I’m better at backing up stuff than I thought– oh, wait… that drive is dead as well.
This whole situation snapped me to attention. I learned two things: First, do NOT use a Shuttle XPC as your main computer. They neither have proper airflow nor strong enough power supplies for a heavy workload, and the hard drives are likely to fail because of it. Second, if you don’t do something with your artwork: fate, entropy, and the immediate environment will try to consume it, and leave you with nothing.
Browsing around the internet back in 2007, I got a few responses from forums and other blogs about how to get into art shows, but I didn’t learn much until I jumped in head first and started doing it. And now I’m here to recite everything I learned. here we go..
If you’ve been to an art festival, you’ve probably seen some excellent work. And likewise, you have probably also seen work that makes you wonder how it got juried into the show in the first place. I have seen people use obvious photoshop filters like plastic wrap, a few lens flares, and a bunch of silliness that wouldn’t even pass muster in high school, let alone a decent flickr group. If you’re somewhere between silliness and excellence, you’re already beating half the competition.
That’s a good idea, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing both. Galleries give you permanent exposure, but art festivals are more engaging — you are there with a zillion people enjoying themselves. Even if you don’t sell anything, you’ve still placed your name out in public.
Even then, a few people ask me where my gallery is, and I have to create an excuse, “Uh, you’re looking it! It’s a mobile art gallery! Unlike a brick & mortar gallery, this one fits in my minivan, and I can take it anywhere I want!”
Attend a few shows as a customer and pay attention to what the artists are doing. I cannot emphasize this enough. Pay attention to everything you see, because your goal is to someday be a part of this environment. What kind of displays are the other artists using? What kind of accessories do they have (print bins, easels, podiums)? How do their business cards look? How do they process credit card transactions? How are they preventing their tent from flying away when the wind comes? Feel free and ask an artist, “What do you think of this show? I was thinking of applying.”
This is a hazy area, and my little scheme might be way off. In this section, I have to be careful not to encourage price fixing (which is illegal). Even though my prices are clearly visible on my website, don’t just copy them — they might not work for your business situation.
You would be surprised how easy it is to forget this: your selling price must exceed what it cost to make the work, otherwise you won’t make any money. The technical term is “cost of goods sold.” If you’re really serious, you not only have to consider how much it costs to create one piece, but to operate the entire business for a solid year. Since you will be your own boss, what will you pay yourself?
No matter if you are selling unique pieces (painting, sculpture, etc), as opposed to prints of the same image (photography), your price will be based on how much time you spent on it, and how much your time is worth to you.
Consider every square inch of the piece — the image itself, and the workmanship. How is it printed? matted? framed? Did you use linen hinging tape, or did you dry-mount the image? Did you use matte paper or Exhibition Fiber paper? Is the framed piece using standard glass, or non-glare museum glass? Is the canvas simply wrapped, or adhered to a solid backing?
Offering your work as limited editions is another factor for justifying the price of your work. (see “the “Limited Editions” sections below)
Think of this as how much it costs to permanently license a printed copy of the work to your customer.
There is the psychological concept of “perceived quality.” Customers generally expect the prices of similar things to be comparable to each other. Simply, “does your work look like it’s worth it?” If you set the price too low in relation to your perceived quality, people will consider it “cheap art”. (You know the mass-produced stuff at Hobby Lobby: “It sure looks nice, but it can’t be all that good because it’s so cheap.”) If your price is comfortable, the customers who are just looking for cheap art will ignore you, but the more serious art collectors should come out of the woodwork. If you set your prices way too high, they’re all gonna laugh at you. There is no concrete answer for this, and it will vary from one venue to the next.
Depending on a few factors, consider how your own work might fit in with those around you. If you see an artist with mediocre 9×12″ matted images for $20, and you think yours are better, set your prices a little higher. (Show some confidence in your work.) If you see a seasoned veteran of the art show circuit selling gold-framed 24×36″ prints on canvas for $1800, and you’re not a seasoned veteran, then you might have to set your prices a little lower — but once again, don’t undersell yourself.
Don’t change your prices randomly from one venue to another. Some people do this, and they don’t last long when customers find out about it. “Hey! That print was $45 last weekend, not $75?!” Wait for the next season to adjust prices. And if you want to be nice, let people know in advance. Even better, let them know why: “This is a second edition of prints, offered on a better paper, with conservation matting, etc. yadda.”
There are entire books on this topic as well, so I’ll just cover what I learned from random places. See the COA section below for more info.
Many of the biggest art shows will only allow an artist to sell photographic prints if they are from a limited series (in a series of 250 or fewer, for example). This means that once you sell that many copies of a given image, you will effectively “destroy the negative” and that’s the end of it. This is for two reasons: (1) the value of each image goes up when customers know that there are only so many of them in existence, and (2) the printing plate or negative will slowly degrade with use.
You’re probably thinking, “Since part 2 doesn’t apply to digital photography, why should I still use such a seemingly arbitrary limitation?” ..because that’s what everybody else does. (Also, see the legal requirements in the COA section below.)
But don’t worry about limiting yourself, you’ll probably get bored selling the same image 200 times. It might take you a few years to sell that many copies, and you might (and should hope to) have better work by then.
According to some, the series number can affect the price of the print. Most often, you can justify raising prices as you progress through the series. If you are only offering 10 copies, 8/10 can be considerably more than 1/10 because there are fewer pieces remaining.
This is not the biography page that some artists put on the back of their prints. This legitimizes the artwork.
The concept of a COA goes hand-in-hand with numbering prints — upon the sale of each print, provide an official-looking sheet of paper that describes the image (title, number in series, medium, process, date), and put your name and signature on it. Heck, sign it right in front of the customer if you can.
Oh, boy.. this is a big can of worms. There’s no format for COAs, there’s a lot of fraud running around, and it’s a bit of a mess. Some artists are really strict about it, and others don’t care. The best thing is to play along and be honest.
NOTE : A few states apparently have laws requiring the use of COAs. See: California Civil Code Section 1740-1745 , and New York ACA (Arts and Cultural Affairs) Article 15. (I am not a lawyer.)
Startup Costs: $4,000ish
(optional, about $300)
A lot of art shows will go past sunset. Some of them will offer a wall outlet for a fee, while others will leave you to fend for yourself in the dark.
If you don’t take credit cards, you ain’t gonna sell much.
$100 and up
They give you a business presence in a thousand places at once.
My cards above are one of a zillion ways of doing it, but they definitely get people’s attention. I designed them in Photoshop, and printed them on Epson presentation paper with a little inkjet. Since the paper isn’t quite cardstock, I have been using 3M’s Super 77 spray adhesive and gluing a sheet of 24lb paper to the back of each printed sheet before cutting them. Total pain, but it works.
I get sneaky with these cards when I’m running my booth.. I will stand back and watch people as they enter. When someone starts paying real close attention to a certain image on the wall, I’ll grab the stack of cards and move the corresponding one to the top. When the person makes eye contact with me, showing interest, I’ll talk with them and do my routine. When we wrap up the conversation, I hand them that specific card, and their eyes light up like Christmas! “Wow! Your cards have that picture on them!” “They certainly do!” It’s great fun! :)
If you don’t want to print them yourself (and I wouldn’t blame you.. Super 77 stops working in temperatures below 45F):
“What’s the title of this? Where was it taken? How much does it cost?”
There are a zillion ways of doing this. Come up with something that complements your own style. Some artists print a little price tag and wedge it in the corner of the frame, some use sticky labels, some people leave the price off altogether to encourage haggling.
I designed these little guys in Illustrator and printed on matte paper. They are the size of business cards, and then glued to black foamcore (my first version used Super 77 adhesive). A little strip of velcro makes them hang on the carpeted panels.
Another cool technique I saw was an artist using little tile pieces with the price written in sharpie. That way you could wipe them off and write something else on there without having to print anything!
who are you, what do you do, and how you do it? (more and more shows are requiring this)
And if you’re feeling excessively narcissistic, get a big sign with your name on it:
First order of business, get a subscription to Sunshine Artist Magazine. Do it.
If you’re not already a member of a big local art club, check and see if your state has one. (Here in Oklahoma for example, we have OVAC.) Hop on their mailing list, and they will tell you everything art-related that’s happening in the state — art shows, galleries, and even restaurants and banks that rotate out local artwork.
The big website that a lot of shows are using is zapplication.org. It’s really easy to use, totally free to browse, and each show charges about $30 when you submit an application. But that means if you’re not accepted, you’re out the $30. The problem is that since each show only accepts a few hundred artists, there will be a huge number of rejections because Zapp’s growing popularity is getting more people to apply. A lot of people on their forums are complaining, “I can get in all the local shows that don’t use Zapp. But when I apply for 10 of them on Zapp, I get nothing, and then I’m out $300 in application fees!” So, if you are lucky enough to get in a Zapp show, then chances are it’s going to be HUGE and will earn you millions. Yay.
A clever way of finding local shows: Go to any local art festival and pick up a business card from each artist. Go home and check their website. Find the section of their website labeled “schedule” or “past events”. (For example, here’s my Events page.) It’s a trail of where they’ve been.. enjoy! :)
Look for art festival promoters like Howard Alan Events (from Florida, and who uses the conveniently-named website artfestival.com), or the smaller, but equally-well-respected Amdur Productions out of Chicago.
If you still can’t find a show, either check your local Chamber of Commerce site, or google a random city’s name + “art festival”.
Most importantly, find the “style” of the show, and see if your work matches it. Is your work a little funky? Then you might fit better at a show with other funky artists. Do you have a contemporary style? Then you might fit better at a downtown show among the skyscrapers. Check the website of a given show, and see which artists were accepted in previous years.
Most shows are juried. That means they have a panel of professionals who examine all submissions and only accept artists who are of a certain quality. They generally require each artist to submit 3-5 slides of their work, and one image of their booth (submit them on CD, or over Zapp). If the show isn’t juried, it’s a matter of getting your entry in before the show fills up. Juried shows are usually better because the purpose of the jury is to select artists of a certain quality (filter out “buy/sell artists” ugh.. don’t get me started). If a show is known for having better artists, they tend to get more customers.
All shows tend to have a signup period which is somewhere between three to six months before the show itself, so expect to enroll in the fall for the ones that occur next spring. (The application period is so far away from the actual event because it takes a long time to set up a show. Once they know exactly how many artists will be there, they have to get all the fiddly details worked out — get permission from the city to borrow a street, get the site inspected by the fire marshal, find volunteers, advertise the event, and so on.)
When you get accepted, expect an admission/booth fee from $50 to around $300 — the biggest shows in the country are $500 and above. This is on top of the application fee you will have already paid. For some shows, you will submit a check for the booth fee with the application, and if you get denied, they will mail the check back to you. (Don’t worry, all of these details will be on the application.)
After taking care of the finances, all you’ve got left is figuring out how to pack your van/truck/trailer with everything required to assemble the booth.
Most shows allow artists to set up the day before the show begins.
The first thing you do upon arrival is sign-in at the management tent. They will give you a welcome packet and let you set up your booth. The packet will contain things like: the tax rate in the city/county/state, a tax form if you want them to report your taxes for you, a map of who goes where, an itinerary for the schedule of events, contact information in the event of an emergency, a name tag that lets everyone know you’re a world-famous artist, a t-shirt, travel mug, and probably candy.
This is when you build the booth. (Practice ahead of time.. get accustomed to building the thing in your back yard. Work out all the kinks before you get to the show. You do not want this to take more than a couple hours.) When you set up your booth, it should be pretty easy to navigate. People don’t buy much if they feel like they’re in a maze. (And if you do shows in the summer, consider air flow. If the air can’t move around, people can’t either.)
Once you’re set up, the selling process is simple. It’s a retail environment, but it’s not anything like working a register at Walmart — all your customers are there because they are genuinely interested in artwork. And you don’t have a boss. You’re there because you want to be there, and so are your customers. This is a happy place, enjoy it!
Don’t expect to make a lot of money at first. After the startup costs, you might not break even until you’ve done a few shows. You will have good shows where you sell a dozen pieces in an afternoon, but you will have bad shows where you don’t sell anything for an entire weekend. Even though you might not sell much at a given show, customers may ask for a business card and contact you later about commission work. That’s when it branches out and gets even more interesting.
When you sell something, take notes:
I may have missed something, but I think that covers the basics. enjoy!
Send photos and descriptions of all the different types of items that you sell. The craft coordinator will determine who is accepted to the show based on the.
From time to time someone on these pages asks a question about ideas for marketing their work at craft fairs or other similar venues. I've just spent the last few months trying to flog prints in this way and, for whatever it's worth, I thought I'd share my experiences. Maybe I can save someone else the heartache and money (with apologies for the length of this post).
First, a bit of background information. I have 30+ years of images that I drew upon to print and offer for sale. I made a deliberate decision to offer a variety of styles and formats and so I had both colour and B&W images (all silver gelatin), traditional landscapes and abstracts, large format, 35mm and Polaroid SX70 images, 8x10 up to 11x14, matted as well as both matted and framed prints, along with (for good measure) greeting cards. I even scrounged up some old concert photos (CSNY, Billy Joel) from the 1970's. In other words, I tried to cover the waterfront in terms of variety. This was done in an effort to appeal to the widest possible audience.
I priced my product as cheaply as I dared: from $4 for a blank greeting card up to $140 for a framed and matted 11X14 B&W print. Some of you will say that I was giving it away.
The venue was a local Saturday market which was attended by dozens of different vendors: Fruits and vegetable produce, ethnic foods, hot dogs, baking, and many crafts such as jewellery, painting, woodworking, pottery and handmade clothing. Again, a pretty wide variety in an established outdoor market. The location itself is in Victoria, BC which, although not big, is a prime destination for tourists from all over the world. The market was located near the downtown core with access to both tourists and local residents.
Although I did not attend every Saturday, I made a fairly significant commitment in time and was in attendance most Saturdays from June through mid-September. In an effort to make the sale as painless as possible, I arranged a Visa/Mastercard merchant account. In hindsight, this was not smart because of the set-up costs.
The results were unfortunate. Here's what I learned.
First, price is not really the issue. One potter in the market offered many pieces that were $200+ price range and was selling stuff. Another artist was selling paintings done in a folk art style on old furniture and driftwood in the same price ranges as my stuff. Woodwork in my price range was also selling.
The market attracted many 'tire kickers' who were just out for a Saturday stroll, but there were also people who truly seemed to enjoy and 'get' photography. I had many compliments on my work - but I only sold one print (plus a couple of concert photos and a bunch of cards). People liked the work - many commented on how they loved B&W photography. I tried to play up the fact that these were traditional processes and not digital images - again, people seemed to respond to the 'retro' angle. But few sales.
I learned that paintings, no matter how mediocre in terms of artistic merit, sell better than photography, no matter how good. People will ooh and ahh over and eventually spend $100 on a poor painting before they will spend $50 on an excellent photograph. Apparently, one is art and the other is something else.
I think the real issue is that purchasing visual art is a major commitment for most people and they won't make impulse buys in a market type environment. They have to really love the image and be able to picture it hanging on their wall.
Anyway, I'm vain enough that I'm going to seek other outlets and will try some of the local galleries to see if there might be a fit. But selling photography in craft markets is a tough gig.
Photography forums to discuss digital photography, film photography, Selling and Presenting Photographs to sell at a local Craft Fair.
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