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03-15-2019, 08:13 AM - 2 Likes   #1
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Weekend art show sales

Most "weekend" festivals by various names will have often many photographers set up with boxes of matted and plastic sleeved photos in boxes underneath hung copies of their work. From my inexperienced eye they seem good quality work. My question, and I am not thinking of joining this group, does this effort pay for itself in on the spot sales? Is it worthwhile as a promotion for contract work? Is there something I am missing (in this specific subject)?

03-15-2019, 08:39 AM - 1 Like   #2
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Clearly, YMMV but a pro I know told me a few years back that he gave up on these (and then opened his own cooperative gallery, ok?). The reason being that these sort of festivals, require a lot of your time, you hope for big sales but generally you sell the little stuff as people want bargains. That's my $0.02 USD on this.
03-15-2019, 08:57 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by blackcloudbrew Quote
Clearly, YMMV but a pro I know told me a few years back that he gave up on these (and then opened his own cooperative gallery, ok?). The reason being that these sort of festivals, require a lot of your time, you hope for big sales but generally you sell the little stuff as people want bargains. That's my $0.02 USD on this.
Well said, that's been my experience too.

Also, you need to factor in the $200 - $500 USD to rent your "booth space". When factoring in all the time and related expenses, I decided to stop doing these weekend art shows (anyone want to buy a 10x10 white booth? ).

If you'd like to give this a try, there's a must have source book you need to buy to figure out which of the many Art Fairs make the most sense for you to participate in.

Last edited by Fenwoodian; 03-15-2019 at 09:15 AM.
03-15-2019, 09:39 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by blackcloudbrew Quote
The reason being that these sort of festivals, require a lot of your time, you hope for big sales but generally you sell the little stuff as people want bargains.
Totally agree. I think the times have changed. We are in Facebook and Instagram world now. There was a time that these shows "made money" but not anymore.

My son is an artist who draws game characters and occasionally goes to shows to sell prints. Typical three-day show, grosses him about $500-600. After expenses, his net profit is in the $200-300 range. The only saving grace is that he gets some exposure and has been able to network with other artists. From a pure effort/time vs. profit point of view, it does not pay.

03-15-2019, 09:41 AM - 2 Likes   #5
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My experience has been somewhat different. But perhaps my expectations were lower? I did 9 weekend 'festivals' last year, and I say festivals rather than 'art show' even though they were all billed as art shows. There is a range of 'arty-ness' in shows. The artier they are the more expensive they are. The highest booth fee I paid was $200 and most of them were $75. I avoid the really pricey ones.


I made money on all but one of them and that one we had awful hot weather. Now whether you have the time to invest is another story. I do count my time as well as the cost of prints, mileage, booth fees and insurance. It works out to more than working at McDonalds. But not a whole lot more.

If you like being out talking and meeting people shows can be a lot of fun and you can make wages. If you buy a booth and sit in the back reading a book then you are just wasting your time and money.

I show a good selection of metal prints but most sales are matted prints or cards. If I sell 2 or 3 metal prints I call that a very good show.


The downside of this is the inventory you have to invest in to have a nice looking booth. You have to watch that carefully or you end the year with all your profits tied up in prints.

A few of my rules:
1) Never buy a booth at a show you have not attended first to see what the crowd is like

2) Never travel to a show that requires an overnite stay. They don't pay for me
3) Never do a show that calls you. If they are calling you they did not sell their booths and are struggling. Usually because other artists already bailed on them.
4) Join a group / galley / guild, whatever to make contacts. There are lots of show regulars and they will gladly tell you which shows pay and which do not.
5) When you attend as a buyer to test a show ask the vendors how things are going. Tell them you are an artist and are considering this show for next year. Ask them what their experience has been. Most will be very upfront and honest.
03-15-2019, 09:52 AM   #6
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I did the show circuit for 15 years. Yes, art fairs can be quite lucrative. In general, I'd say photographers are second
only to the jewelers in terms of success at the art fairs. One only needs witness the number of photographers shelling
out for double booths. I know quite a few artists who make good livings as full-time show artists.

Nonetheless, sales are by no means a sure thing. You need to bring the right subject matter. Travel photography
of far off lands, particularly bright colors, typically sells well. Photos of images from around your home town may
or may not. Anyone can capture those images, but if you have a deep portfolio of lost landmarks that can be a winner).
B&W is a much tougher sale all around, and ANYTHING minimal, artsy, experimental, etc is almost assuredly DOA.
Attend a few shows and take careful note of the subject matter on offer, and who's selling.

IMO, success at art fairs has as much, if not more to do with your own personality and temperament than anything
else. You have to really like the carny lifestyle. You have to like chatting a LOT, with a diverse range of people who
may be asking the most inane questions. You have to be resilient to all the variables outside of your control, such
as bad weather and conflicting events. You have to be willing to float a good amount of money up front on booth
fees with no guarantee of return, trusting only that a few shows will be good enough to cover the costs of the season.

Since it was mentioned above, I would sternly recommend NOT purchasing the Source Book. Grossly over priced
for what it actually delivers and the key statistics are highly suspect. The only real use of the source book is as a
reference for dates and to learn what shows are out there. That information can be gathered elsewhere. It >might<
be worthwhile to purchase a prior year book for a fraction of the cost. Much better to wet your toes with a few local
shows and become part of the family of fellow exhibitors. Ask questions and you'll quickly learn which shows are
worthwhile and which are not.

Last edited by tvdtvdtvd; 03-15-2019 at 10:53 AM.
03-15-2019, 10:01 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
A few of my rules:
1) Never buy a booth at a show you have not attended first to see what the crowd is like

2) Never travel to a show that requires an overnite stay. They don't pay for me
3) Never do a show that calls you. If they are calling you they did not sell their booths and are struggling. Usually because other artists already bailed on them.
4) Join a group / galley / guild, whatever to make contacts. There are lots of show regulars and they will gladly tell you which shows pay and which do not.
5) When you attend as a buyer to test a show ask the vendors how things are going. Tell them you are an artist and are considering this show for next year. Ask them what their experience has been. Most will be very upfront and honest.
Excellent advice, though I will say traveling to distant shows, (#2 above), can be worthwhile but you
really have to do your research beforehand. It is usually the high profile shows that are worth an
overnight stay, but those require the most investment in terms of time and money. You want to get
that equation right before you start booking shows 1000 miles from home.

Most effective way to learn which shows to do is to get to know your fellow artists. Become their friends and
they will tell which shows to do, (or at the least, which shows not to do). As in any business, you some times
need to read be between the lines as few will share hard numbers and some may even lead you astray
for fear of adding you to their competition. But most artists are friendly and honest and looking out for one another.
03-15-2019, 10:06 AM   #8
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It rather comes down to the 'quality' of a) the show b) the visitors c) the weather or if clashes with Wimbledon/World Cup etc in the UK.

I've done many and various shows/events/invited exhibitions for the last three years - it is very unpredictable. Sometimes very little activity. Other occasions you get pleasantly surprised (understatement) when someone buys many pieces to decorate a large set of office buildings. Sometimes the event gets rained off, flooded, blown down etc after several days of installation - not good. Others go very smoothly and it's great fun. Immediate sales are important, but being seen repeatedly is the key to getting subsequent "I saw you at show xyz and would like to buy ...". Sometimes, a lot of extra post-show work is down in creating a special order, but on one occasion when I delivered the work (an A1 sized framed print) the buyer burst into tears - good - it meant a lot to both of us.

So is it worth it ? Financially ? - just. Effort ? - probably not. Rewarding ? - can be very rewarding. But it IS mostly a shop front to be used as a stepping stone, or so is the theory.

I should say, you do have to like talking to folk. Nearly all sales are made as a result of a conversation with a potential customer. This is a key point.

I have a friend who is working in more prestigious shows than me. He's been on the circuit for 10 years plus and it is certainly worth it for him. Similarly, another who's been trading for 10 years+ who's seen sales plummet in the last couple of years and is giving up. It does vary a lot ...


Last edited by BarryE; 03-15-2019 at 10:12 AM.
03-15-2019, 10:12 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by tvdtvdtvd Quote
You need to bring the right subject matter.
If I was a customer this would be important. You with experience probably hear, "I could do that," or "you take better pictures," from the person's spouse. I think this is related to subject rather than technical details most do not recognize. What would catch my eye is a subject I have little hope of photographing, exotic animals in natural habitat, landscapes that are beyond my physical ability to visit.
03-15-2019, 10:46 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by gump Quote
If I was a customer this would be important. You with experience probably hear, "I could do that," or "you take better pictures," from the person's spouse. I think this is related to subject rather than technical details most do not recognize. What would catch my eye is a subject I have little hope of photographing, exotic animals in natural habitat, landscapes that are beyond my physical ability to visit.
The "I/you could do that comment" is so often heard. Next popular comments are the probing about how it's actually done. I tend to deflect the gear conversations, preferring to stay gear neutral, so most questions from customers on this topic end up at a dead end for them - it's not that I'm being unhelpful, it's just most gear can do what is required, the extra is what those customers are prepared to pay for.

Interesting what you would buy. In my experience, exotic doesn't work too well. Buyers do, however, like a story behind a photo and if you can find a common point of interest then success is easier. This makes the local scene much more popular - it does help that all my shots are around dawn, so I suppose this makes it nearly impossible for most folk
03-15-2019, 11:14 AM   #11
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Typical art fair conversations:

Customer: "Oooo, that's pretty. (To Friend): Do you think it will go with my guest room decor?"
Friend: "Well, you did just buy that pink sofa, maybe that 'blue' picture over there."
Customer: (To disinterested spouse who is really annoyed he's missing the Big Game) "Honey, what do you think?"
Spouse: "Hmmmph."
Customer: "Oh look Honey!", as she points to another booth and leaves with party in tow.

Customer: "How did you do that?"

Customer "How long did it take?"

Customer "My child/spouse/friend/aunt/dog can do that."


Not uncommon conversations:

Customer: "Will you give me a discount?" (Almost invariably asked by new customers. Repeat customers don't ask this
question unless you previously answered "Yes".)

Customer: "Is this a picture?" or "Can I hang this on the wall?" or "What's it made of?" or some other inexplicably inane
question.


Rare conversations:

Customer: "I love it! A bargain, here's my money!"
03-15-2019, 11:16 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
it does help that all my shots are around dawn, so I suppose this makes it nearly impossible for most folk
You're the other one! Just stay out of my viewfinder Oh yeah, exotic merely means animals that I haven't seen.
03-15-2019, 11:39 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by tvdtvdtvd Quote
Typical art fair conversations:

Customer: "Oooo, that's pretty. (To Friend): Do you think it will go with my guest room decor?"
Friend: "Well, you did just buy that pink sofa, maybe that 'blue' picture over there."
Customer: (To disinterested spouse who is really annoyed he's missing the Big Game) "Honey, what do you think?"
Spouse: "Hmmmph."
Customer: "Oh look Honey!", as she points to another booth and leaves with party in tow.

Customer: "How did you do that?"

Customer "How long did it take?"

Customer "My child/spouse/friend/aunt/dog can do that."


Not uncommon conversations:

Customer: "Will you give me a discount?" (Almost invariably asked by new customers. Repeat customers don't ask this
question unless you previously answered "Yes".)

Customer: "Is this a picture?" or "Can I hang this on the wall?" or "What's it made of?" or some other inexplicably inane
question.


Rare conversations:

Customer: "I love it! A bargain, here's my money!"
Yes potential customer's decor is frequently a problem.

You missed the "I love/like the photo, but I just don't have space on my walls". Early in the show day I am most professional in my response, later in the day I feel like saying, "well just junk the picture of the ancient dog/granny/holiday and buy something you actually like, or move house", but I don't - just !
03-15-2019, 11:47 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
"I love/like the photo, but I just don't have space on my walls"
Which "show" did I see your stuff?
03-15-2019, 12:16 PM   #15
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The ones I love are the guys that pull out their phone and spend 20 minutes showing you that they can take great pictures too. I had one guy who actually came to my booth all three days and totally monopolized my time showing me pictures on the back screen of his Sony P&S. I finally got rude and told him I had to help customers.

I agree content is critical. If you have pictures of flowers or really anything that anyone could take (or think they could take) they are not going to sell. If they look at it and their jaw drops, then OK you have chance. Sunrise, sunset, unusual weather, astro-photography, places that are hard or impossible to get to will sell. I also do quite well with iconic tourist shots that really anyone could take but they would rather buy. One of my best sellers has consistently been a rather mundane 'brochure' shot of Multonomah Falls. Which has been photographed 125 million times at least. But it sells consistently. The image has to resonate with the buyer. I have a nice picture of a horse herd and I cannot tell you how many times it has sold because the buyer thought it reminded them of a horse they used to own.
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