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Thread: Advice needed about art festivals

  1. #1
    Stephen Willard's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Fort Collins, Colorado

    Advice needed about art festivals

    My partner and I have decided to exhibit at a few art shows this year to sell some of my work. We have decided to apply to high-end festivals thought out the west in hopes of being more profitable. We are aware it will be very difficult to get accepted to the more popular shows. To increase our chances we intend to apply to 10 to 15 shows hoping that we will be accepted to 2 or 3 of them for our first year.

    To provide you with a little background, I do representational color landscape photography. I can make prints up to 30x40 and 20x50 in my own darkroom.

    We have zero experience with art shows, and so I am hoping to draw on your experiences to better our chances of success. Any considerations would be greatly appreciated.

    Here are some of the questions I can think of, but I am sure there are other issues that I have not considered.

    1. What sizes and formats seem to sell best? I have a 4x10 camera, and I can print 16x40s and 20x50s with this format. I also have a 4x5 and a 5x7.

    2. What price ranges should I use to generated sales and be profitable?

    3. How many prints should I bring? Some for display and some in reserve?

    4. Should I accept credit cards? If so what do I need to facilitate this? Do you accept personal checks?

    5. Do the organizers generally provide power?

    7. Do I need to bring a canopy, or do the organizers provide them?

    8. How do I transport my photographs?

    9. Most art shows last for several days? How do I secure my prints each night? Do the organizers provide security for you?

    10. What do you do for meals and lodging? This can get expensive.

    11. What tools and techniques do you use to enhance sales?

    12. How do you display your work? Do you use easels?

    13. For those of you who do landscape photography, are there certain types of images that seem to sell better than others?

    Again thanks for any considerations?

  2. #2
    MIke Sherck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Elkhart, IN

    Advice needed about art festivals

    I've never exhibited at art shows, although I've attended a good number of regional Midwest shows (and bought prints!), and I have close friends who make their living this way, so take what follows with the appropriate grain of suspician:

    1. You're selling wall decoration, not art. Medium sizes sell much better than small (8x10 or smaller) sizes. The camera format you use is irrelevant so long as the image holds up. If you use a large format camera (any size) you get a subtle psychological advantage for a certain percentage of your potential buyers (it impresses some people, makes them think you're more serious, etc.) so be sure to mention it (in an offhand manner) in your literature or brochure.

    2. The lower the price the better: for the most part you're selling to someone who wants a pretty picture for the dining room or something and they aren't willing to pay Art prices. The real question is, how much do I have to sell to make this worth while? How can I keep my costs low enough to make this work? Assuming pictures that people like, you'll sell bunches for $25, many for $40, fewer for $100, not very many for $250. STill, there will be some. Do what the rest of the exhibitors do: 5X7 or smaller for $25 or so, 8x10 for $40 or so, 11x14 for perhaps $100, etc. Be careful that you don't have too much inventory! That'll kill you. Better to miss a couple of $25 sales (at $12 profit) than to have $1500 in unsold inventory sitting around for the summer.

    3. It depends. Assuming any success at all, you are going to run out of some image in some particular size, sooner or later. Make it easy for customers to buy from you outside of shows -- website, mail address, take credit cards. Take to shows what you can afford to take (inventory is a cost. Write that on your forehead! It's a central point of staying in business.)

    4. Credit cards: absolutely. It's a plastic economy: if you don't take credit and debit cards you are cutting yourself off from at least half your sales. You do have a business bank account, right? Don't try doing this through your personal checking account. Open a business account at a real bank and ask them about taking plastic. They'll set you up and, with luck, won't take both your arms in fees. Checks? It's a personal call: how comfortable are you with risk? Consider: you are almost always going to be "out of town", so the checks you get will be, too. In my experiance most people are honest and personally I'd take their check, but I would also assume that I'm going to get some bad ones. Cost of doing business. Trust your feelings: if a greasy-looking fellow comes up and wants to write check #134 for $10,000 for a bunch of prints...

    5. usually, yes. Well, access to power, anyway. Bring a long, heavy-duty grounded extension cord. Maybe a couple of them. If you get juice for a couple of lights and a fan, you're in hog heaven! Might be an additional charge for electricity, though.

    7. Your own canopy. Your own chairs. Your own water. Your own food. Your own tables/displays. You get a patch of lawn or asphalt and, if you're luck, power. Anything beyond that is gravy. Oh, don't forget that you'll often be expected to "donate" something that the organization putting the show on will donate to charity or some such. Smile when they ask.

    8. In your car, truck or van, usually. In protective boxes, with paper interleaved between prints to protect the print surface. Prints should be mounted onto decent quality mount board; matted and framed prints should cost extra. Overmatt and possibly frame 11x14 and larger; whether you have a couple of smaller ones framed or not depends on what people ask for at the shows you exhibit at. You'll learn over time.

    9. If you can "close them in" at night with heavy currtains or a tough tarp, and lock it tight, then that might be all right. Otherwise, you either sleep with them or you pack them back up and lock them into your car/truck/van each night. No, seriously. Orgzanizers might have "security" but don't count on it -- even if they do! They aren't paying much for whatever they have... Remember that extension cord? You may want to consider securing that at night, too. Not every exhibitor will have remembered to bring theirs...

    10. McDonald's, Burger King, Subway... A cooler with ice and bring your own. There are often food and drink concesssions at these things: the cost is too high for you. Stay away from them.

    11. A ready smile, openness, a willingness to talk to customers, being a friendly person. That gets you the most mileage. A nice sign outside your booth, clearly indicating who you are and what you're selling. Make sure that folks walking past can see examples -- lots of examples -- of your work without having to come inside. The show may have some sort of guidebook or pamphlet: it pays to get into that. The longer you're on the circuit the more that's worth to you, so long as the cost is reasonable (i.e., negligable.)

    12. Most of the artists I know have built some sort of vertical wall system on which they hang their prints, paintings, etchings, etc. Make it light but sturdy and easy to set up/take down. Easels take up too much room, generally, for showing one print. You aren't a gallery, remember.

    13. Color sells. Sunsets, sunrises, flowers, water. Small puppies and kittens. Look at the calendar section of your local bookstore: that sort of thing. Remember -- wall decoration! Colorful, inoffensive, comforting. Leave the edgy, controversial stuff for a gallery.

    Good luck! Maybe I'll run into you sometime!

    Politically, aerodynamically, and fashionably incorrect.

  3. #3

    Advice needed about art festivals

    I spent last year doing smaller art shows in the New England area. I've started to investigate some larger shows, myself. Some of what I say below may not scale to to the larger shows but reflects how I think/hope it would.

    1. What sizes and formats seem to sell best?

    2. What price ranges should I use to generated sales and be profitable?
    <br />
    I have found this to be really variable. This past year I focussed on selling prints from my 35mm nature work and tried to make it easy on myself by selling notecards, 11x14s and 16x20s (the latter two were matted/framed to that size). One show I only sold notecards, another only 16x20s. Most were a mix. I would hazard to say that the more 'art oriented' the crowd, the more sales I had of large prints. I was sometimes surprised at which shows had the more art oriented crowds. These crowds also cared more about the process and not just that you had a 'pretty picture'.

    As for prices, I went by what it costs me in total materials to present the print and multiplied by 2.5 as a starting point. This gives me a decent profitability on materials, but devalues my personal time put into the product. How well this placed me again depended on how art oriented the crowd was. The more art oriented, the more I think i could have multiplied my base costs by 5 and still made sales.

    3. How many prints should I bring? Some for display and some in reserve?<br />
    I usually hang about 30 different prints and have a duplicate available for about 20 of them. I've yet to have a need for any additional layers of duplication. If I ever did, I could always offer to print one especially for them if they are willing to wait a couple of weeks for delivery and leave a deposit.

    4. Should I accept credit cards? If so what do I need to facilitate this? Do you accept personal checks? <br />
    I haven't taken credit cards in the past, but plan to this year. Since I've not used anything but my debit card for purchases in the last several months, I just have this feeling that I must be losing sales because I don't have a mastercard logo on my display. My bank offers to help merchants set up credit accounts, you might check with yours. Because of that, I've done most of my sales by check. I haven't been burned, yet.

    5. Do the organizers generally provide power? <br />
    In smaller, indoor, shows: sometimes. Small to medium outdoor shows: only if you have solar cells and a sunny day.

    7. Do I need to bring a canopy, or do the organizers provide them?<br />
    I've had one of eight outdoor shows provide a canopy for me. I picked up a basic canopy for all other occasions. Not perfect, but it's a start.

    8. How do I transport my photographs?

    9. Most art shows last for several days? How do I secure my prints each night? Do the organizers provide security for you?
    <br />
    I throw everything into/on the car. Next year I may invest in a small trailer.

    I've yet to participate in a show where night security was provided. It was always break-down and set up again in the morning and hope I have a secure place to leave the car overnight. Some of the larger shows that I've seen do provide some sort of overnight security.

    10. What do you do for meals and lodging? This can get expensive. <br />
    I find a nearby state park/campground and pitch a tent (I am a nature photographer, after all)

    For food, I often just find a grocery store and prepare my own meals in camp.

    11. What tools and techniques do you use to enhance sales?<br />
    Still figuring this one out myself. So far, I haven't gotten past the "I show up, hang my stuff and people buy it, right?" stage.

    12. How do you display your work? Do you use easels?<br />
    I built a set of walls with 2x2's for posts and some wood lattice for the wall surface. Relatively cheap, easy to transport on the car and stable in the wind. Probably wouldn't work quite as well for a truly upscale art show, but it can be made to look quite nice. That, plus a couple of folding tables and I can fill up a 10'x10' space pretty well.

    13. For those of you who do landscape photography, are there certain types of images that seem to sell better than others? <br />
    For me, this has varied from show to show.

    Good luck!

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Socorro, NM

    Advice needed about art festivals

    Stephen - I began the same process myself last year and have had the same goals as you - a few higher end shows to maximize my return. Taking photographs has almost nothing to do with selling them. Marketing (pricing, sizing, quantities, etc.), physical booth setup, retailing (talking to customers, display, packaging), traveling and a host of other variables each generate their own list of questions.

    My suggestion would be to start your information gathering at the link I have indicated below. It includes a link to a forum for people like us who both need information and are willing to share it. Best of luck.


  5. #5
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Advice needed about art festivals

    A few additional points to consider:

    1) Most of the larger, more prestigious shows are either individually juried or require membership in some juried association (e.g. New hampshire league of Craftsmen, Virginia Art League, etc.).

    2) My excperience has been that there is very little market at any of these shows for prints of any size over $50. It is nice to have one or two large prints around to draw people to your booth but don't expect to sell them. I find thast 8x10 and 11 x14 sell best if you are offering them in a price range from $15 through $40. I generally offer prints packaged in clear bags but will always offer to mat and frame at an additional price. Prints in this price range, produced digitally, have a nice profit margin.

    3) Also my experience that notecards sell much better than larger prints. I sell them boxed with envelopes in boxes of 10 for $12 - $ 15 depending on the size and sell a reasonable amount of them. But .... there is not as much profit in thme as there is in the prints. I look at them as a marketing tool as much as anything else.

    4) Do not skimp on production values. I always take top quality prints and the notecards I sell are basically same top quality small prints. Last month, at a Christmas Craft Show I was selling prints and casrds on one side of a hall and there was another photographer on the other side where I could see her table and the traffic there. She was selling similar scenes at similar prices but they were commerciaslly offset printed cards (not original prints) and not real well produced prints. As best I could tell she sold very very little. I sold 20+ boxes of cards, took special orders for another 5 or so and 8 prints + framing.

  6. #6

    Advice needed about art festivals

    Stephen: Take a look at

    Lots of good information on how to go about doing artshows.

    Ted: What process do you use to produce notecards. I am looking at doing some note cards but I haven't found a decent quality/cost option.

  7. #7

    Advice needed about art festivals

    I have been doing shows for three years starting my forth . I have been in shows from Ohio to Florida, litter 150 art's shows to the monster show this weekend in Miami called coconut grove witch is two shows and 500 art's and a million people , the hard part is finding art show not craft show . your slides get you in . It is easer to sale one print for 250 dollars then 10 for 25 . my 24x30 sale the best ,that is a 16x20 in 24x30 matte . the thing I have fond is you have to get past the I can do that size !! the 8x10 in 11x14 matt don't sale well and 24x30 or 32x38 dose that and still fits on the wall . you have to remember your not making photos or art you are making furniture, and it is a business !!!

  8. #8

    Advice needed about art festivals

    sunshine artist has show listing by city and state

  9. #9
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    New Hampshire

    Advice needed about art festivals

    Philip, my general procedure follows:

    1) Most of the time I use 4x5 or 6x9 originals. Every once in a while a 6x12. Whichever, the images are scanned at 3200 ppi on my Microtek i900. I work with the full high resolution image in Photoshop.

    2) I print two sizes .... 7x10 folded to 7x5 and 9x6.25 (A6) folded to 4.5x6.25 ... using Red River prescored papers ( Red River has a range of prescored papers available but I usuallyuse their 47 lb. premium matte (most economical) or their 60 lb. polar matte. You will find a nice breakdown of costs per card, with some assumptions on ink kusage that I think are a little high, for each of their papers. I print on an Epson R800 but will switch to the replacement for the 4000 when it hits the US Market (same inks bigger printer but lower ink costs). The image on the front of the card and a title, copyright info, contact info, etc. on the back. Unless otherwise requested for a special order I am printing on single sided paper and I leave the inside completely blank. This size and process gives you a very professional looking card. part of the trick here is that these are more standard card sizes than wht you get from the paper available form most other suppliers. BTW, the tech suport folks at Red River are great too, they really know their stuff when it comes to ink and printers.

    3) I package the cards in a normal commercial card box with a clear top. 10 envelopes and 10 cads to a box. I get the boxes from Red River as well (but am looking for a less expensive supplier ... Red River is about a buck a box) and sometimes the envelopes although there are a bunch of envelope suppliers and it just depends on where you can get the best deal. I buy envelopes in large lots (500 or 1000 boxes and save a bunch as a result). I find that using these sizes and this sort of packaging goes a long long way toward selling the product. The 'art' looks great and the packaging is what the customer expects to see from Hallmark.

    4) I usually package the cards with a variety in each box and display them with a different card on top of each box on display. Additionally, I print a an 8x10 sheet of 'thumbnails' showing all the cards that are in each box; thus, potential customers aren;t tempted to go rooting through the boxes.

    5) I try to stay tuned with the market. I make sure that each box has at least three or four images that are ones I love and think of as my excellent fine art work but I also make sure that there are lots of images that the public likes. Here that means covered bridges, light houses, dogs, etc.

    Finally, selling the cards is a great way to publicize your other work and I find it does lead to sales of prints sometimes too. Cards are tough in terms of a profit margin though. When I pare my costs per card down to the absolute bone they still come out at around 65-70 cents a card and at shows I find you will sell a lot more at $10-$12 a box than you will if you go higher.

    Good luck

  10. #10
    Doug Dolde

    Advice needed about art festivals

    Alain Briot wrote an article on this:

    He does VERY well.

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