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This week we’re discussing art fairs. We both have a slightly different perspective on these events – one of our rare disagreements – so today we’re tackling it head on. Louise asks: “Are art fairs really a viable sales vehicle for most of us? Or are many artists paying high fees to rent space without earning a return on the investment? 

We debate our differing viewpoints and discuss how you can determine whether an art fair might be the right place to show your work. This includes considerations such as whether you are ready for this step, what kind of fair would suit you best, is the event well-run and well-attended, and how do art fairs fit into your overall plans?

One listener asks about where we prefer to sign our paintings and Louise has a strong viewpoint on that to share. Do you agree? If you are buying original art, is the signature of the artist important to you?

We also announce an exciting end-of-year event scheduled for the week of November 18th. “Your Best Art Year Ever” will be an interactive live 5-day event during which we will share our approach to planning for success. There will be live chat, laughs, sound advice, a chance to ask questions, and even a few free downloads so that you can plan your own “best art year ever.”

You can join the Facebook group now and start to get to know everyone, so that you’re ready for when we start on November 18th.

Just click HERE to join, or the image above

Mentioned:

Alice’s post about finishing paintings:
https://alicesheridan.com/after-finished-painting/

Louise’s video about sealing and framing paintings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x435LhnbrzU

If you have a question you’d like us to discuss, click here to send it to us

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Credits
“Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

10 replies
  1. Louise Luton
    Louise Luton says:

    I loved this discussion. I’ve only been doing art fairs for four/five years and I know the joy of an amazing fair and the agony of not making your money back. Like you Alice, I feel that art fairs have helped me push my art and my business along. . I only do two or three “proper“ art fairs a year plus a couple of other events. But all bar one of the galleries I’m in, found me an art fair, and I wouldn’t have been found by publishing house had they not to seeb my work in a gallery. I look back at my first couple of fairs and can’t believe how overcrowded my stand was. I ignored the advice of everyone and plastered my stand with every possible piece of artwork I could. That works for some folks, but not for me and I’ve learned to trim things down a bit. though I still have a tendency to overhang if I’m too excited!!
    However I very much like Louise‘s point of view that for the money, you might be able to put your work out there in a better way, and if you have your own big studio it’s perfectly possible to have a nice cheese and wine evening. But you need a good mailing list to make that work well; there’s no point in a load of your friends coming round that would’ve come over anyway!

    I think for me the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in art fairs is you absolutely have to be able to talk about your artwork. And that in turn helps you write decent copy for your website.

    Next year I have plans to do fewer art fairs than I’ve done this year but I’m going for a bigger space in the few I am doing and I’m paying attention to the events nearer me next year. We have to mix it up a bit, for me I’d still recommend to an emerging artist to go to an art fair. They have to visit first and then have the courage to book the booth. Consider how much money people spend on workshops on how to do business, or on market research; there are some invaluable lessons to be learnt at an art fair. But there is no getting away from the fact that they are getting more and more expensive and there’s absolutely no guarantee that You will make money. But I believe it does come back in time…recently I’ve noticed my after fair sales exceeding the amount of money I take during the fair itself.
    I enjoyed the podcast enormously.

    Reply
    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Thanks Louise – and I can’t believe you had time to write such a lovely long reply just the day before setting up at one yourself! You must be super-organised by now 🙂 Copy writing is another of those skills we are not born with but learn to adjust and improve and talking (and listening!) for 3 days about your work is a huge help for sure. Each time you can practice a slightly different take – I often have one of those notecards in my back pocket and if I come up with a particularly good phrase I write it down!! (also at my first one I had a checklist of things to do because I was so excited to make a sale I forgot to ask for their email details)

      Reply
  2. Dan McCarthy
    Dan McCarthy says:

    Interesting to hear the viewpoints on art fairs. In my opinion, it comes down to the answers that the artist can provide to these questions:
    1. Can you build an attractive display or are you willing to learn how to do so over several shows through trial and error?
    2. Do you enjoy talking about your work to complete strangers AND do so in a way to create new collectors, close a sale and generate leads for future sales?
    3. Are you willing to work HARD to make your shows successful? Researching which shows to apply for, what price range of works to include, what the audience is like for any given show, preparing your work, your display and your “office supplies”… All these things are a lot of work in addition to set up and tear down. Are you willing to do that?
    4. Can you make the financial and time investment to do all of the above?
    5. Are you willing to be PATIENT and realize that you may not make any profit over the course of your learning experience, but that it WILL come if your work is good and you learn from your experiences and those of others.

    My best recommendation would be to answer those questions for yourself and if you answer “Yes” or “Maybe” to ALL of them, to give it a try and see what you think.

    Art fairs are certainly not for everyone. It takes a certain entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to engage with the public that is not universal.

    In my first art fair a few weekends ago, I met many artists who make their livings on “the show circuit” as we call it in the US, participating in 10 – 20 shows per year. I felt I did very well for myself, covering my booth fee and all of my expenses with a reasonable profit to take home. Enough so that I am already engaged in the work to aelect and apply for many more shows in the future.

    Reply
    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Great checklist of questions Dan. Art Fairs are not an instant solution for sure, but it sounds like you have a great approach and made a good start with your first one too!

      Reply
    • David Nelson
      David Nelson says:

      That’s a great list Dan, and not bad after just one Art Fair. What I would say is that if you can’t answer these questions positively (i.e. willing to learn from experiences, work hard, invest in yourself and your art, and have patience) then you’re going to struggle to sell your Art anywhere! There are no quick fixes or miracles out there!

      Reply
  3. Dave Nelson
    Dave Nelson says:

    Wow, Louise really does not like Art Fairs!

    Full disclosure, I’ve done 15-20 Art Fairs of different types, and am a big fan. Here’s my take on why it’s worthwhile (note sales are nowhere on the list!)

    Curate and display a body of work
    You can think of this as a Solo exhibition. So as you said doing it repeatedly and seeing lots of other examples educates you very quickly. Louise was wrong to say you are relying on the Art Fair for marketing. If it is a local fair you can invite your own contacts and mailing list, promoting it as though it were a solo exhibition. I know several artists who just do one fair a year, local to them, for exactly this reason.

    Deadline to work to
    As you said Alice, deadlines can be really useful, give focus and drive to your work. As Louise talked about not actually doing much painting, certainly not currently, I did think that if she had an Art Fair in the diary making Art would actually come up her priorities and she’d probably find she painted more. Of course it’s self-imposed, but so are most of our drivers. You are setting deadlines for your courses, podcasts etc. – why not have one for your Art?

    Meet lots of potential art buyers and so grow your mailing list
    I have found this is the best way of building my mailing list. If you remember Nick on CVP, mailing lists are the No. 1 priority for an Artist. And Art Fairs are a fantastic way of gaining a lot of emails – many of these have delivered sales post-event or at later events, sometimes years after I first met them. You need to be organised at the Fair, with a simple form for people to give their details, and also you need to ask them!

    Practise talking to people about your work
    This has actually been the no. 1 benefit for me. I had no idea how to talk about my work when I started, and basically an Art Fair is a weekend long intense role play of talking about your work. Several hundred attempts, all with direct feedback (were they interested in what I was saying?)

    Meet and get to know fellow artists
    Louise seemed to rubbish this benefit on the call (chatting to a few artists!), yet where else can you meet 100+ other artists, many quite local and all at similar levels and having similar goals? I have made so many great contacts at Fairs, many great friends and many inspirational artists. For example I met you at an Art Fair! Through you I heard about and was recommended CVP, and was brave enough to sign up, and that was literally life-changing.

    So of course as Louise says you can get all these things by having an Open Studio, or hiring a local gallery or space. But then you are doing it all yourself. And you are totally relying on people already on your list (and maybe a few friends of friends). Unless you do a whole lot of actual marketing (which costs you money, as well as a lot of time). An art fair is giving you all this with no effort at all on your part! It’s really a bargain.

    Louise said that you were an exception Alice – but I actually wonder if in fact Louise is the exception as an artist. She has managed to build a business by really putting herself out there, (her input and commitment to CVP was inspirational), and taking on these courses , doing the blog etc. The spin-off benefits for all this is she grows her contacts and followers. However I think for MOST artists these activities would feel over-whelming – really an Art Fair is so much more manageable.

    Reply
    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Thanks Dave for taking the time to add such a helpful comment – it’s great to have your viewpoint and you make many good points. I love your take of “days of role-playing” your art! You get so much practise in conversations and it really helps you to understand your work and your potential audience. It’s up to all of us to decide what things we want to add in…. some people love teaching workshops, others offer online courses, some prefer the gallery model, to be honest, none of it is a given for success – it all needs work! But art fairs offer such a wonderful direct opportunity open to all of us. Not many things do that. Really nice to know you are listening 🙂 x

      Reply
  4. gwynnepenny
    gwynnepenny says:

    Brilliant podcast episode this week. Very interesting to hear the various viewpoints on art fairs – something I’ve started thinking about for myself, (but I know I’m not ready yet!) On the topic of signing paintings, I’ve always signed my paintings and sketches, on the front, from an early age. I use my initials and typically sign in the bottom right or bottom left. Sometimes I sign within the painting, as part of the piece. I usually sign in paint, but sometimes using a liner pen. I’m also experimenting with stamping my initials using a carved soapstone.

    Reply

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