Art Fair Business 101

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2010 Booth Shot • artist Marie Scott

On Wednesday night we set up the tent. Since it was only 95 degrees in the shade, we took a break and went for a swim. Then about 6:30am Thursday morning we added the mesh walls (which the paintings hang from,) and then the canvas side walls. I wasn't concerned about rain, but I thought the white walls would help the paintings show up in the photo better.

Tim spent his lunch hour hanging up all the paintings for me in the tent. Again, it was in the high 90s, so needless to say we got a little sweaty. The thermometer on our patio said 123 degrees since it's in the sun.

He took the first painting out, and we realized that we hadn't wired up these pieces yet. So Tim got out his drill and two screwed d-rings onto the back of each canvas. I then put the wire on each of the these paintings.

Here's a view of the tent looking down from my studio. For some crazy reason, when I bought this tent, I ordered it extra-tall. I guess I just thought it would be nice to have the extra room inside. But if we raise it up to full height, it looks like a monster towering over all the other tents. So we normally keep it at a lower height.

After we got it all set up, I took 61 different photos of the booth. I tried having a few things inside, but then did some reading online from art show jurors and decided that I shouldn't have anything in the tent that distracts from my paintings.

Here's the actual booth shot image I submitted. I did some retouching to make sure the colors of the paintings were accurate. The black bars are an added requirement. It's easier for a juror to look at all square images -- for consistency's sake -- so if your photo isn't square you add the black bars to make it square.

Here is the first of three painting images I submitted.

These each also have the black bars.

Here's the 3rd and final image.

Whenever I’m talking to people about applying to an art show, more often than not, they seem surprised by the fact that you “have to apply.” So here is my first lesson on what it takes to get into an art show.

I spent the first half of this year working on creating two different series of oil paintings that all have a similar theme. A cohesive “body of work” that (1.) looks like it was painted by the same person and (2.) looks like it could hang together in the same room.

This week I put the finishing touches on the very last of these 10 paintings.Now that my two series were complete, I photographed all ten of the paintings with my 35mm camera.

However, when I got the film back yesterday, I realized the sun was over-lighting the canvasses, making the texture of the canvas fabric too noticeable so I had to re-shoot all of them again. But this time I took 6 or 7 shots of each with my digital camera; all from different angles so I could have a choice in how they were lit.

Most art show juries ask for a “booth shot” and then 3-5 images of your work. At every show I do, I photograph my booth, but I still have never felt like I’ve had a strong booth shot. Mostly because of the fact that I’ve never had my tent full of paintings that were consistent. I seem to be in the habit of selling off my “best” paintings right away, so then when I’m at a show it’s been a hodgepodge of unrelated pieces.

So since I still have all ten of my new water themed paintings in my possession, I decided I needed to set up my tent here at home and hang them all up together.

I’m hoping that this will gain me more success in the shows I apply for. I had been planning on doing this for a few weeks, but was motivated to do it when I stumbled across a show in Atlanta who’s deadline was the very next day.

My super-amazing-husband Tim graciously agreed to “help me” set up my tent after dinner (which basically means I’m just assisting him while he does the bulk of the work) — even though I just asked him while we were eating.

So the past two days were a whirlwind of trying to get ready to apply for this show. But now that I have all my images ready, it should be a piece of cake when the next opportunity comes along.

In a nutshell, here’s what it takes to get into an art show:

  • submitting 4-6 digital images of your artwork, including a booth shot
  • $25-$35 jury fee
  • being “picked” to participate out of the hundreds of other applicants
  • money to pay for your space at the show (this can range from $100 for a small local show, to $350 – $500 for bigger shows)
  • money for hotels, gas, food, etc.
  • a VERY thick skin, as you sit for two days while people walk by and comment on all the work you’ve poured your heart into for several months of  your life

I did get my application to the Midtown Festival of the Arts submitted in just the nick of time… less than two hours before the Midnight deadline. Unfortunately however, this factor alone means the chances I’ll get accepted are pretty slim. I’m guessing that 500-600 other artists will have applied for the 105 booth spots and they are probably picking about 10 painters for the show (the rest of the slots will be or jewelry, sculpture, photography, etc.).

And since my application is probably at the bottom of the stack the jurors will probably already found the painters they’ve got their minds set on before they even see my work. The odds are not great, but my eternally optimistic mind keeps me submitting applications/jury fees.

Every now and then I do get lucky and get into a show. And maybe this year will be different, now that my booth shot is strong and my body of work is cohesive. And since my digital images are all ready, I’ll be applying on the opening day of applications for the shows I’ve already picked out for the upcoming months. Being seen at the beginning of the jury process definitely helps your odds of getting accepted.

The biggest art shows are all on “Zapplication.” So you have this one web site where artists load their images and then once that’s done, it’s super quick and easy to apply. The downside of this easier system is that it also makes the competition much greater. Since it’s easier to apply than it was five years ago — as well as easy to find out about shows in other states that you would have never heard of before — the judges have more soooo many more artist applications to pick from.

I have heard however, that shows are getting less and less applicants in the past year or two as the economy has impacted the art market. It’s just too costly for artists to be shelling out $25/per application with such slim chances of getting accepted. So maybe my luck will start to change.

But then once you’re actually set up and AT the show… making a profit for the weekend is a whole other story. That’s something I’m still working on too! 🙂

UPDATE: July 12th, 2010

I got ACCEPTED!!! 🙂

Downtown Atlanta, GA • September 25, 2010 10 a.m. - 7 p.m • September 26, 2010 11 a.m. - 6 p.m

The premiere festival will be proudly presented in and along world famous Peachtree Street between 5th Street and 10th Street. The road nicknamed the Midtown Mile will be temporarily transformed to showcase a vibrant artist market – including up to 100 visual artists – as well as stages for performing arts, literary arts offerings, and a culinary arts area featuring chef demonstrations, special tastings and retail booths from more than 25 outstanding restaurants.

9 thoughts on “Art Fair Business 101

  1. Marie-your booth looks great! I hope you are successful in getting in the Atlanta show. I really appreciated reading what you wrote regarding applying for shows. I have only done a few…some successful, some not so much… I got in my first juried show for this September…a bit nervewracking…

  2. Any art show would be crazy not to choose your work. Beautiful exhibit. Sending good vibes ~~~ that you hear good news soon :). Thanks for sharing the photos and the inside scoop on applying for a show.

    Stay inspired!

  3. Good job on the explanation, Marie. I’m thinking it took almost as long doing this writing as to do a painting 😉 Plus, excellent booth shots. I liked the one best where you had the portfolio bins sitting in the middle, but it surely looks like you followed all the rules. If I were to critique this set of slides I’d say you definitely followed all the rules–and that puts you way ahead of a lot of people. Plus, the work is excellent, interesting, shows your point of view.

    Wishing you well in the art fair biz.
    Connie Mettler

    • Hi Connie! I liked the shot with the flip bin in the middle too. I probably would have used that one, but one juror I read said that you shouldn’t have anything in your photo that distracts from your art. My real booth is actually a lot more crowded with stuff than this booth shot. I think I need to rethink my “real” set up for my next show and keep it less cluttered.

      Looking forward to following you on 🙂

  4. Congrats Marie. I’m so pleased to read about how your work paid off. Your booth looks so vibrant in person, so the photos do it justice. I absolutely love your work. The colors are just gorgeous. Hope you sell out!

    Lynn Pilewski

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