AN INTRODUCTION TO JURIED FINE ART FAIRS

By Zack Schnepf

INTRODUCTION

I get a lot of people asking me how I got started selling prints at fine art shows so I thought I would write about my experiences in this blog.  This will be the first in a series of articles.

Four years ago I was mostly a stock photographer.  I was in the process of transitioning away from commercial work like wedding, and product photography.  I wanted to find a way to make money photographing what I enjoyed, nature and landscapes.   Stock was already drying up for me so I knew I had to find something else to fill that gap in my income.  I thought about doing art shows, but didn’t really know where to start.  It is during this time that Mike Moats gave me some great advice.  He told me about his success doing art shows and he helped me get started with some very helpful advice.  I thought I would do the same and share some of my own journey into the art fair adventure.

I’m right in the middle of my third season and in spite of the economy I’ve been very successful.  I started out looking for a way to fill in a gap in my income and now I make about 50% of my income from shows alone.  I only do about five or six shows a year, any more than that and I start to get burned out.  Avoiding burnout is very important for me.  I know photographers who do 20+ shows a year and love it, but I’m not built that way, I prefer to do a handful of quality shows and spend more time in the field and doing workshops as well.  This is a balance everyone has to figure out on their own.

SHORT DESCRIPTION OF AN ART FAIR

I think it would be helpful to describe what selling prints at fine art shows is like.  First of all, it’s very hard work, but it can be very rewarding as well.  It’s fun talking about your photography with people, and I actually enjoy selling my photos.  On the other hand, the days are long and you are at the mercy of the elements (at least for outdoor festivals).  Setting up and tearing down is physically exhausting and it takes a lot of stamina to man your booth and be in selling mode for three or four days in a row.

Here is a very short description of doing a single art show.  First, you need to generate a massive inventory of prints in multiple sizes, fewer sizes the better.  I carry about 200-300 prints to every show.  Mat and frame ten to fifteen display prints to adorn the walls of your booth, the bigger the better.  I carry about eleven framed pieces, three 32×40 show stoppers and eight 22x28s.  Box up and pack your inventory, canopy, display walls, and everything else in a van/trailer.  Drive to the show and unpack everything in your 10×10 booth space.  Setup your canopy, display walls, print bins, desk, and hang your frames.  Go home, mix a strong cocktail and relax 🙂

Wake up bright and early the next morning and sell prints for 8-10 hours, unless it’s slow which means you have to find something to do to look busy.  You can’t read a book, or play on your iphone, this makes you inaccessible and turns off customers.  You need to find time to eat and drink in there somewhere.  I stay pretty busy at most shows, except on Friday mornings because most people are working.  You will end up telling the same stories and answering the same questions all day long.  This is just part of selling and you need to stay positive all day long or you won’t sell anything.  Attitude is everything; I will go into more detail on this in a later blog.  At the end of the day you’ll pack up your credit card machine (required if you expect to make any money at a show) and receipts and head home to pass out from exhaustion.  Rinse and repeat for two more days.  At the end of the last day of the show, you pack up everything into your van/trailer and head home.  It usually takes me a few days to fully recover from a show.

INVESTMENT

One other important thing to know about doing shows is how expensive it is to get started.  My total investment my first year was about $14,000.   This included a new printer, canopy, display walls, display bins, framing materials, flat file, mat cutter, packaging materials, and lots of other miscellaneous items.  You don’t have to spend quite this much, but I wanted to have a very professional looking booth to compete with veterans of the art show circuit.  Having high quality work also helps a lot, but I’ll talk more about that in the competition section.

RESEARCH AND RESOURCES

Before undertaking an endeavor like this I always do extensive research to find out if it is something worthwhile.  There are some great resources out there to get you started.  I started by talking to Mike Moats (http://tinylanscapes.wordpress.com/)

and a few other photographers that were having success.  Mike in particular was very helpful and helped put me on the right track.  There are also many online resources to help find information.  One of my favorites is http://bermangraphics.com/artshows/artshowphotography.htm.

Larry also runs a forum devoted to photographers doing shows, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/artshow_photo/.

One of the best resources to get a feel for the show life is a book by Maria Arango called Art Festival Guide.   I found this book to be invaluable when getting started

http://www.artfestivalguide.info/book.html.

The other thing I found extremely helpful was go to some art shows and talk to artists.  While you’re at the show, look around and see if this is something you would enjoy.

I will continue this series later.  I will talk more in depth about topics like competition, setting prices, doing your own printing, selling, attitude and many other helpful topics.

Advertisements

~ by photocascadia on August 6, 2010.

14 Responses to “AN INTRODUCTION TO JURIED FINE ART FAIRS”

  1. Been their, Done That, know exactly what your talking about. Did for 15 years and finally got burned out. Good Luck, Conrad Rowe

  2. Thank you so much for the information, I’ve often wondered myself how to go about even starting and what I would need. 🙂

  3. Great blog Zack. Can’t wait for the follow-up blogs.

  4. Never commented before, but just wanted to let you know I really appreciate all that you put up for Photo Cascadia. Very Beautiful, informative, inspiring.

  5. All very interesting. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. Look forward to the next segments.

  6. Great post. I plan on getting into art shows, as soon as I can afford all the stuff I need. Thanks for the info. I look forward to your future posts.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  7. Wonderful insight and advise! This type of info is hard to find and pointing us in the right direction is invaluable! One thing to think about when sitting around for hours, while this is very hard work there nothing as rewarding as a complete stranger purchasing one of your art pieces.

    Good job!
    Jack

  8. Thank you so much for this post, and the ones to follow on this subject. This seems like a daunting task to finally “get started” with art shows but you’ve been able to fill in a few holes in my research including at least SOME idea of how much actual inventory to bring to a show. A tremendous introduction to this topic!

  9. Thanks a lot Zack. Well written and very helpful. Hopefully you’ll address this topic again soon. Thanks so much!

  10. I see that the prints you have hanging on the walls of your tent are framed. Have you tried canvas wraps? I’m seeing more of them at art shows, but I’m wondering if they sell better or worse than framed prints.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  11. Looking forward to hearing more of your experiences and wisdom on this subject! Thanks for the interesting blog.

  12. Ive been doing art shows as a photographer for 19 years and let me tell you it’s very hard work and the shows right now are a) way down for income and b) flooded with photographers. Not to be too negative, but dont quit your day job yet. the economy is on everyone’s mind and since everyone thinks they are a photog these days, no one wants to spend much on photographs. Even the really big shows that were profitable in the past (most are in the midwest in the summer months) are way down the last 2-3 years.

  13. You have a really lovely display. I’d stop and look at your photos. I just learned about your site and look forward to reading more.

  14. […] Part 1: https://photocascadia.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/an-introduction-to-juried-fine-art-fairs/ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: