4. Every day is different. Some days people buy. Some days they don’t. Saturday and Sunday crowds tend to be different. And it’s really hard to know why or what to expect. The most consistent predictor I found was the weather. In beautiful spring or fall weather, people love to get outside and are generally in a good (and hopefully "buying") mood.
5. Locally organized festivals tend to take better care of artists and promote events better. They have more at stake, the support of the community, volunteers on site, the attention of local media and are often doing these as fundraisers for some local cause. Certainly, there are exceptions, and that doesn't mean shows by promoters cannot be great shows. But I did notice a significant difference in the shows I attended.
6. In addition to needing inventory in all price ranges, it really helps to have a signature “gift” item for $20-25. Even at slow shows, the artists who had this still had sales to cover their out-of-pocket expenses. I haven’t figured out what mine is yet.
7. Every sale you make takes effort. Art is not a commodity. It is a very personal purchase. When others buy art, the connection they make with the artist is usually an important part of that process. In turn, I genuinely loved connecting with buyers--hearing what attracted or spoke to them, how they planned to use the artwork, and even a bit about their personal lives. I love knowing my work has found a good home.
8. Not everyone is going to like your art. In fact, most people will never even cast a glance your way. And that’s okay. We all have different preferences for food, music, clothes and, yes, art. I'm learning not to take it personally.
9. Inventory portability, durability and weight are all issues to consider. You have to load and unload your artwork every time you go to a show; it can take a beating in your car if you don’t pack them well; and customers have to carry pieces home once they are purchased. I switched from glass to acrylic midway through the season; now I'm exploring options to eliminate framing altogether.
10. Each venue is different. I'm not sure I realized just how different each show is until this year. If you’re going to participate in festivals, you have to figure out where your audience is and go there. Is it big cities or small, rural communities? Is it an arts-and-crafts fair or contemporary art show? Indoors or outdoors? Mountains, coast or plains?
I had several good shows and a couple of truly forgettable ones. I believe I have a better sense for which types of shows work for me and which don’t. If I continue participating in art festivals, I have some changes I’d like to make in my inventory and the way I present my work. For now, however, I just want to rest and spend some time in the studio creating new work. I also have other markets I’m anxious to explore—in some cases, based on feedback I received at the festivals. Whether I continue participating in festivals or not, they were good learning experiences and I loved being able to share my work with others in a casual, outdoor environment.
I also made some wonderful friends along the way. The artists and art
isans I met at these festivals were kind, generous and hardworking. They’d lend a hand in a heartbeat and were generous with tips and advice. We’d keep an eye on each other’s booth for bathroom breaks, and keep each other company when the weather turned bad and festival goers went home. Some of these folks make their living doing two shows a month; others were more like me, just trying to figure it out. I tip my hat to all of them and wish them much success in their artistic and marketing endeavors.