One way to put yourself (or myself) out there as a photographer is to participate in “ArtFests” that are held in many communities across the country. It is not only a way to directly sell your work, but to distribute your card (advertise) to potentially interested customers and get feedback on your work.
Listings of many of the ArtFests are available at www.zapplication.org which can also process applications. It is usually $25-$40 for a jury fee and if you are selected, anywhere from about $100 to $500 for a 10′ x 10′ booth fee. The lower priced booths tend to be for one-day shows or smaller venues; corner booths or double booths may cost more. In general, the juried fairs have good quality work from many types of artists and craftsmen. The better shows do not allow re-sale of factory made objects and require that the artist be present. Acceptance at the higher end (i.e., more affluent communities or more established artists), from my experience tends to be inconsistent; you may not be accepted one year, but accepted the next with the same work. Some of this is explainable as different judges, different numbers or types of applications, or categories that are filled. My approach and recommendation is to try to find shows more focused on art and less on crafts, although some of the wood, pottery and glass crafts are truly exceptional. Where does craft shade into art? In my opinion, if it serves a utilitarian purpose it is craft; if it is strictly decorative or for appreciation, it is art, regardless of the media. [Revised 9/1/13]
The biggest advantage of these shows, in my opinion, is that unlike a gallery, where someone else decides if your work is “saleable” you get to make the decision as to whether the public should be exposed to your work and let them make the buying decision. You also bear the costs if your images don’t sell and the costs of the learning curve if you think you can do better.
I had done several local shows in 2008-09 and stopped because selling got harder as the recession became more intense; I was also very busy at work. With my retirement and an improving economy, I decided to try again. So far this year, I participated in the Patriot News ArtFest in Harrisburg, PA, about an hour and ten minutes from home and the Gunpowder ArtFest in Hydes, Maryland, about a 25 minute drive for me.
Harrisburg had some excellent artists and photographers and the crowd was very good. Some vendors found that sales were slow (remaining caution post-recession?), but some folks did better on the final day. I didn’t make back my costs and I am in the process of analyzing what I need to do better, including both presentation and pricing. I did save some money by traveling back and forth each day rather than lodging at a hotel. Also I calculated mileage cost at the federal rate. Friday was setup, Saturday – Monday (Memorial Day) were show days so there were four travel days. Two days I used our Prius, but for Friday and Monday I used a Subaru and a rented trailer. The trailer was a little over $100, including insurance. After PA sales tax, gross sales were a about $300 short of direct expenses [jury and booth fees, mileage (at the federal rate), trailer rental]. If I use actual gas costs instead of the federal mileage rate I am short about $160. So although I lost money, I am close enough to profit that continuing is reasonable if I make some changes.
The Gunpowder ArtFest was very different. Set at a winery, it was also a brutally hot day (90+ degrees). I had participated in this fair, which also benefits the Northern Baltimore County Art Foundation twice before. I paid an extra $50 to be in the barn (total $150) although I had not been in the barn or questioned conditions (a big mistake). The show was Saturday from noon to 7:00. Traffic was much lighter than Harrisburg, the Barn was probably a mistake as by 1 PM it was hotter than outside. It was recommended that artists bring their own lighting, but that wasn’t noted on the application. Because people were using lighting and fans, the electrical circuitry wasn’t up to the job and went down briefly at least three times. I didn’t rent a trailer because I could make multiple trips because the venue was closer to home. Total sales a pitiful $5. People around me said they had done better at total rain outs in other locations. So for show 2, a smaller loss only because expenses were so low. However, the effort was high, the day was very uncomfortable because of the heat. Probably won’t repeat this show. More experienced folks have told me that deciding which shows to attend is an important part of the equation, but also that at the same show success can vary significantly from year to year.
I have another show this coming weekend: the Jersey Shore Fine Art Show. I wasn’t initially considering this one, but the area was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and so they offered booths without a fee in order to help bring back tourism and I felt that it was both a good cause and a good deal to check it out. That will be my last show until the fall. Will report back next week.