In the last article we explored the idea of making a living as an artist by doing weekend art shows and festivals. In this second “chapter” we will take up two topics – how to find and be accepted into an art show and equipment needed.
You actually need an art show display tent and display equipment before you can apply to an art show because almost all shows will require a photograph of your booth and display as part of the application. So you have to buy the tent, set up your booth in your yard and photograph it in order to have pictures of it before you can even do a show. But there’s no need to invest in expensive display equipment to begin with.
Buy a white (some shows allow only white) EZ Up 10’x10′ tent or a brand that is similar at Sams Wholesale or online. Use some kind of screen to hang 2D artwork or use folding tables draped with cloth covers to display jewelry, sculpture or any kind of 3D artwork. You can upgrade to a more substantial art show tent and Pro Panels (carpet covered art display panels) or pedestals after you try a few art shows and decide this is really what you want to do. But an immediate investment in a “Show Off” tent and Pro Panels, for example, would cost minimum of $ 2,000. Unless you can buy them used from someone who is getting out of the business, it’s usually too big an expense for someone just starting an art show career.
You should already have ideas of how you want to arrange your display and what kind of equipment you want from your visits to art shows as discussed in my last article. And you have by now, after reading the first article, accumulated enough inventory to fill it.
The easiest way to apply to an art show is at www.zapplication.com. But although this website has some good fine art shows, it also is more expensive than applying to local art shows using snail mail or their own websites. Because it is so easy and available, many artists apply to these shows. So whereas a smaller local show will have 100 applications to fill 80 spaces, a show on zapplication will have 1500 applications to fill 200 spaces, so you are not as likely to get accepted. Also, your local show will have a booth fee of perhaps $ 80-$ 200, but your zapplication show will require a “jury fee” of $ 25-$ 50 (which you have to pay whether you get accepted or not) and a booth fee of $ 300-$ 800. I have often made more money at the smaller shows than at a big expensive show in a big city. Not always – but often enough that I like doing the smaller shows. One of my most profitable shows this year was not on zapplication, and had a $ 250 booth fee. Gross income was $ 3,300.
The non-refundable “jury fee” is what you pay to have your artwork photographs examined by a “jury” to determine if your work should be put in the show or not. I think it is basically a way for a show to make more money. Jury fees on zapplication are usually higher, because the show has to pay zapplication $ 1500 to get their show listed.
For your first few shows you aren’t going to want to travel 1,300 miles, so look for something nearby. (I do travel that far to do shows, but not usually – I go to Florida in the winter and do three or four shows consecutively, because there are no art shows in the winter here in Texas. Sometimes in the summer I do the same thing, but head for Colorado or Missouri.)
Find shows online at zapplication or www.festival.net or by looking in art show magazines, Sunshine Artist or Where It’s At. Brochures from different cities and towns often list festivals and shows, as do websites for cities and shows. Ask other artists to find some shows that would be good to start.
You cannot tell by the name of a show what it will be like, so you have to ask other artists or ask the promoter – who sometimes will not tell you the truth, but sometimes will. For example, I would not think that Gruene Market Days out in the country north of San Antonio would be any kind of art show at all. It’s monthly – the third weekend of every month. From the name, I would think they sell tomatoes and strawberries. However, it turns out to be a great little art show – the promoter only lets good quality work in, and the public knows this and they come to shop for arts and crafts. There are no tomatoes.
There are arts and crafts shows that are only two days of the weekend and have reasonable hours (10 am to 5 pm) with set up on Friday evening. There are huge festivals that have arts and crafts, but also 5 stages of music and a carnival and a petting zoo and last 3 or 4 or 5 days with horrendous hours (like 10 am to 11 pm). You will have to decide what your limits are. I have one artist friend who only does indoor shows (there aren’t many, but he does them all). I personally prefer outdoor shows. But when you pick shows, you have to take a lot of things into account. I chose Old Pecan Street Festival in Austin even though it is difficult to do and has a high booth fee ($ 425) because I live only 25 miles away (no hotel or camping expenses, nearly no fuel bill). I once did a show in Louisiana instead on the same date, but although the booth fee was lower ($ 250) when I added it all up, I had more expenses than doing the local show.
Start asking and start searching the web for show to apply to. Most have applications online or will send you an application if you email or phone them. Every show has different directions and requirements for applying. Most require you to send photographs of your work and a photo of your display booth. Shows used to require slides, but almost every show these days either requires actual photographs or a CD of digital photographs or will let you email photographs to them. The requirements for size and resolution of the photos are different at each show. The applications are all different. You just have to read all the directions and fill them out.
Don’t stop doing whatever you are doing to make a living before you try out some shows. Get a calendar and be aware that deadlines for applying to a show are usually 3 to 6 months before the actual show, so plan your show times well. Do your best on the photographs of your art and your booth display – great photographs can improve your chances to be accepted. But be aware that even with the best possible art and best possible photographs you may not be accepted. Don’t dwell on it if you get a reject. Those of us who have been doing art shows for a while know you can be accepted one year for a show and be rejected the next. One show which will remain nameless had a poster contest for the show and managed to reject the artist who won the poster contest.
You never know why you got rejected if you get a reject, and nobody will tell you. That’s kind of suppressive, but just let it go. You don’t have to get used to it – you just have to determine to win with your art no matter what someone else’s opinion is. And that’s all it is – just opinion. Sometimes it’s even less than that – reasons for rejecting artists from art shows often do not have to do with how good your art is. It can be that there were too many applications for your category or that they had to let the sponsor’s sister in. You never know. Don’t feel rejected.
One thing you can do to improve your chances of being accepted to a show is to make sure your photographs are perfect. As long as you have very good photographs and a nice display booth with no clutter in it, that’s the best you can do.
Just make up your mind to flourish and prosper as an artist. You will be the winner. Sometimes your determination to succeed will be more important than anything you can put on an application. I figure that if people actually like my art enough to give me money for it, that is the real validation, not whether some jury likes it. A little story: A lot of art shows have cash prices, and they select judges to determine who gets the prizes. I rarely win a prize – my prize is enough money to pay the bills and eat well! But the first time I won first place in painting was at a show in Florida (I paint southwestern). I already determined there were two painters at that show better than I and that I had not a chance of a prize. But I got the prize and they didn’t, and that was the judges’ opinion. I like those judges, of course, but my point is that the decision of who would get the prize was just someone’s opinion. In this case, I’m glad their opinions were not the same as mine – but if someone else had gotten the prize, I certainly wouldn’t be upset, and I would be happy the other guy got the prize. So let any rejects just dissipate and you just keep on flourishing and prospering and you will succeed.