Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

Four reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work

Wells Street crowd

How often have you heard an artistic friend say that they don’t sell at art shows because [insert reason here]?

Overheard in a forum today:

I have not been successful with art shows, because I have only done flee [sic] markets and Craft shows with very poor results. I have had success in the Commissioned paintings dept. I visit people I know with 3 or 4 of my latest pieces. If they like it, they commission me to do a painting for them at reasonable prices. This saves on the very expensive overhead of having to do shows where you invest a lot of money upfront.

From the sounds of this statement. the artist is probably approaching the art fair market from the wrong direction. Flea markets and craft shows typically don’t attract patrons willing to spend lots of money on original art, but typically are looking for small bargains and “finds”. Fine art festivals, on the other hand, pride themselves on quality artists. You have to find a good fit between your work and the potential audience.

Reason #1 — Quality. If your work is really original and unique, you have a great chance of standing out at an fine art show. Shows that are 1) juried and 2) fine arts and crafts only, will attract customers more amenable to browsing thoughtfully, and spending on art that appeals to their decorating tastes and emotions. Juried shows are also tougher to get into which may eliminate some of the low-end imported crafts. IME, it’s impossible to compete with dried flowers and manufactured cutting boards if you’re an artist. The top shows weed out the buy/sell junk, and feature only the best of the best.

Reason #2 — Traffic. Fine art shows are one of the best ways to attract buyers and potential commission sales. It’s one of the few ways an artist can expose his work to a mass audience in a few days. Most of the people that come in your booth and speak with you are qualified buyers. They may not have the money now, but they are interested in YOUR work, otherwise they wouldn’t have walked in. Many people are there for entertainment value, it’s true, but there is always a small percentage that is there to consider and purchase art.

Nowhere else can you get the maximum amount of exposure for as little money as an art show. Some top shows attract as many as 70,000 people in a good weekend. If only 1% of those people come in your booth, that’s still 700 interested people. If you make sales to only 10% of those interested people, that’s still 70 purchasers. Many galleries don’t see that kind of traffic in a week!

Reason #3 — Cost Effectiveness. Balance the overhead of exhibiting at a good show with the added benefit of post-show sales and you have a very effective advertising opportunity. Not all good shows will cost an arm and leg for booth space. Local art museums, community organizations and non-profits often stage very high-quality opportunities at low cost, to support their artistic community. But the bigger shows tend to attract more people than the smaller local shows. You want enough people attending to make it worth your while. A show with only 2,000 attendees is not going to generate the sales that a show with 10,000 people will. Sunshine Artist, The Art Fair Sourcebook and other resources can help you research a cost-effective venue.

And, while it’s true that doing shows carries with it its own overhead of canopy, panels, bins and transportation, this is an amortizable business cost. After all, you are in business, right? Here’s a post I wrote a while back with some useful reading on getting started.

Reason #4 — Exposure. In our increasingly visual world, artists are competing not only with themselves, but with Target and Walmart, television, the internet and social media. Everywhere you look there is visual stimulation. Broadcast advertising is simply not cost-effective for most small-business owners, unless you buy many spots on late-night cable. Art shows and galleries are two prime areas in which people actively seek art in which to create a calm oasis for themselves. They choose to be there, to view art. Maybe your art. You owe it to yourself to seek out markets in which your work will be a good fit for the audience, and to take steps to expose yourself to that audience.

Sure, you can do it one person at a time. In fact, selling is all about conversations between you and the prospective buyer. But in order to make sales, you gotta have leads. And the more exposure you have, the more leads you will generate. Remember, if you’re keeping your paintings stashed in your studio, no one is seeing them at all.

I have a friend who is a painter who has been doing shows his entire life. He and his wife work as a team, and typically the Monday after a show, they will be showing paintings at two or three private residences. If those showings don’t generate an immediate sale, often they will generate a commission. This is frequently the only way to sell larger work, as the customer can’t carry it home in her Porsche Carrera convertible!

January 4, 2010

You May Also Like…


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Hi There,
    I have been been pursuing my art professionally for 3 years now,.. and I haven’t even considered art shows. I appreciate you sharing your insight and experience, the numbers add up!! I feel open to this avenue for selling art now, whereas before it just wasn’t on my radar. Thanks!


  1. Bibelheimer . Info » 4 reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work | Life As … - [...] See the rest here: 3 reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work | Life…
  2. Tweets that mention 4 reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work | Life As An Itinerant Artist -- - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PattyHankins, James W. Parker. James W. Parker said: 4 reasons why art…

Submit a Comment