How To Sell Photography At Art Festivals

Campbell Property Management (Stillwater, OK)

Koryn Rolstad Sheltering Movement

A Little Insight Into My Development Process

How To Sell Photography At Art Festivals

A lot of details have changed since this article was written in 2008, but the general principles still apply and they apply to artists in any medium, not just photography.

One morning in late 2007, one of the hard drives in my computer wouldnt spin up. This drive contained all 17,000 of my photographs going back seven years. I wasnt doing much with them; printed a couple here and there, but they just spent most of their time being ignored. I was too lazy to do backups then, and my computer was well aware of that fact. It seemed like the machine conspired with fate itself, well, Jason, if youre not going to use all those pictures, we will gladly take em! Thanks!

My father and I spent all day and half the night running data recovery software on it, and slowly, one by one the images came back.

A week after the recovery, I discovered that in fact I had made a backup of the images six months before. They were on my second drive! Excellent! Im better at backing up stuff than I thought oh, wait that drive is dead as well.

This whole situation snapped me to attention. I learned two things: First, do NOT use aShuttle XPCas your main computer. They neither have proper airflow nor strong enough power supplies for a heavy workload, and the hard drives are likely to fail because of it. Second, if you dont do something with your artwork: fate, entropy, and the immediate environment will try to consume it, and leave you with nothing.

Browsing around the internet back in 2007, I got a few responses from forums and other blogs about how to get into art shows, but I didnt learn much until I jumped in head first and started doing it. And now Im here to recite everything I learned. here we go..

If youve been to an art festival, youve probably seen some excellent work. And likewise, you have probably also seen work that makes you wonder how it got juried into the show in the first place. I have seen people use obvious photoshop filters like plastic wrap, a few lens flares, and a bunch of silliness that wouldnt even pass muster in high school, let alone a decent flickr group. If youre somewhere between silliness and excellence, youre already beating half the competition.

Thats a good idea, but theres nothing stopping you from doing both. Galleries give you permanent exposure, but art festivals are more engaging you are there with a zillion people enjoying themselves. Even if you dont sell anything, youve still placed your name out in public.

Even then, a few people ask me where my gallery is, and I have to create an excuse, Uh, youre looking it! Its amobileart gallery! Unlike a brick & mortar gallery, this one fits in my minivan, and I can take it anywhere I want!

Attend a few shows as a customer and pay attention to what the artists are doing. I cannot emphasize this enough. Pay attention to everything you see, because your goal is to someday be a part of this environment. What kind of displays are the other artists using? What kind of accessories do they have (print bins, easels, podiums)? How do their business cards look? How do they process credit card transactions? How are they preventing their tent from flying away when the wind comes? Feel free and ask an artist, What do you think of this show? I was thinking of applying.

This is a hazy area, and my little scheme might be way off. In this section, I have to be careful not to encourage price fixing (which is illegal). Even though my prices are clearly visible on my website, dont just copy them they might not work for your business situation.

You would be surprised how easy it is to forget this: your selling price must exceed what it cost to make the work, otherwise you wont make any money. The technical term is cost of goods sold.  If youre really serious, you not only have to consider how much it costs to create one piece, but to operate the entire business for a solid year. Since you will be your own boss, what will you pay yourself?

No matter if you are selling unique pieces (painting, sculpture, etc), as opposed to prints of the same image (photography), your price will be based on how much time you spent on it, and how much your time is worth to you.

Consider every square inch of the piece the image itself, and the workmanship. How is it printed? matted? framed? Did you use linen hinging tape, or did you dry-mount the image? Did you use matte paper or Exhibition Fiber paper? Is the framed piece using standard glass, or non-glare museum glass? Is the canvas simply wrapped, or adhered to a solid backing?

Offering your work as limited editions is another factor for justifying the price of your work. (see the Limited Editions sections below)

Think of this as how much it costs to permanently license a printed copy of the work to your customer.

There is the psychological concept of perceived quality. Customers generally expect the prices of similar things to be comparable to each other. Simply, does your work look like its worth it? If you set the price too low in relation to your perceived quality, people will consider it cheap art. (You know the mass-produced stuff at Hobby Lobby: It sure looks nice, but it cant be all that good because its so cheap.) If your price is comfortable, the customers who are just looking for cheap art will ignore you, but the more serious art collectors should come out of the woodwork. If you set your prices way too high, theyre all gonna laugh at you. There is no concrete answer for this, and it will vary from one venue to the next.

Depending on a few factors, consider how your own work might fit in with those around you. If you see an artist with mediocre 912 matted images for $20, and you think yours are better, set your prices a little higher. (Show some confidence in your work.) If you see a seasoned veteran of the art show circuit selling gold-framed 2436 prints on canvas for $1800, and youre not a seasoned veteran, then you might have to set your prices a little lower but once again, dont undersell yourself.

Dont change your prices randomly from one venue to another. Some people do this, and they dont last long when customers find out about it. Hey! That print was $45 last weekend, not $75?! Wait for the next season to adjust prices. And if you want to be nice, let people know in advance. Even better, let them know why: This is a second edition of prints, offered on a better paper, with conservation matting, etc. yadda.

There are entire books on this topic as well, so Ill just cover what I learned from random places. See the COA section below for more info.

Many of the biggest art shows will only allow an artist to sell photographic prints if they are from a limited series (in a series of 250 or fewer, for example). This means that once you sell that many copies of a given image, you will effectively destroy the negative and thats the end of it. This is for two reasons: (1) the value of each image goes up when customers know that there are only so many of them in existence, and (2) the printing plate or negative will slowly degrade with use.

Youre probably thinking, Since part 2 doesnt apply to digital photography, why should I still use such a seemingly arbitrary limitation? ..because thats what everybody else does. (Also, see the legal requirements in the COA section below.)

But dont worry about limiting yourself, youll probably get bored selling the same image 200 times. It might take you a few years to sell that many copies, and you might (and should hope to) have better work by then.

According to some, the series number can affect the price of the print. Most often, you can justify raising prices as you progress through the series. If you are only offering 10 copies, 8/10 can be considerably more than 1/10 because there are fewer pieces remaining.

This is not the biography page that some artists put on the back of their prints. This legitimizes the artwork.

The concept of a COA goes hand-in-hand with numbering prints upon the sale of each print, provide an official-looking sheet of paper that describes the image (title, number in series, medium, process, date), and put your name and signature on it. Heck, sign it right in front of the customer if you can.

Oh, boy.. this is a big can of worms. Theres no format for COAs, theres a lot of fraud running around, and its a bit of a mess. Some artists are really strict about it, and others dont care. The best thing is to play along and be honest.

NOTE: A few states apparently have laws requiring the use of COAs. See:California Civil Code Section 1740-1745, andNew York ACA (Arts and Cultural Affairs) Article 15.(I am not a lawyer.)

( me, its pretty handy 🙂

If you dont do your own framing, find a frame shop and get the most basic frame style you can (i.e. black metal, white mat, plain or non-glare glass). At the minimum, you will need one copy of each item you are selling. But when you sell something, you dont want to leave a gaping hole in your booth, so you should print and bring duplicates. Then youll need to carry them. (Remember, each frame contains a sheet of glass.)

..UPDATE: To heck with all that glass! The new hotness is canvas gallery wraps! mThe even-newer hotness is metal. (But be mindful of just hopping on a bandwagon just because thats what everybody else is doing. Do what is right for your specific work.)

either make boxes out of wood (stupidly heavy, but its the most professional), use cardboard boxes (can be a bit fiddly, and they are not waterproof), or something like this huge Rubbermaid plastic carrying totes from Home Depot ($35 each, also use foam to keep the frames from knocking around).

cardboard boxes from for selling the framed images. For protection: use foam bags, or line them with bubble wrap. Cardboard is abrasive.

Clearbagsfor protecting the matted prints

handle bags from mfor selling the prints (If youre selling 1824 matted prints, they fit perfectly in 13-gallon trash bags. Theyre way cheaper, and theyre called Glad Bags because youre glad to sell some artwork!)

(Not required, but very handy.) Im pretty sure every US state considers this a business, so you will have to charge taxes and report them on a regular basis. Some people register as an LLC, but being a Sole Proprietor is the most common. If you dont get a Tax ID, you will have to submit your taxes at each show you do. (They will provide tax forms, but its more tedious than the already tedious method of reporting them in bulk when you get home.)

(canopy) either an EZ-Up tent (which is $200 each time the previous one falls down), or a pole tent:Light Dome,Trimline, orShowoffcanopy which are a lot more sturdy, and depending on options are between $900 and $2000.

My EZ-Up turned out to be a suicidal thing with low self-esteem, and that was only my second show.

tent weights(for pavement)  No matter how good the canopy, it WILL take flight if you dont use enough weight! The more the better.

One option:build them out of PVC pipe and quickcrete(35-50lbs), about $50 for all 4 weights. I prefer 4 PVC.

Another option: use a bunch of five-gallon water jugs (40lbs each). You can fill them and empty them at the site, and you dont have to drive around with 200 pounds of extra weight in your car.EZ-Weightsare an interesting looking water weight system.

: surplus ammo boxes from Atwoods, and fill them with weights from an old weight machine (find scrap metal at junkyards). Seven of them fit nice and snug in each box, resulting in 70lbs per corner!

(for grass) Get 8 spiral tent stakes (dont get the straight ones). I know, you might only use 4, but if youre in high winds, you will want a couple more. The straight ones might be easier to push in the ground, but they can pull out on their own (causing your tent to take flight).

They attach your booth to the weights or the tent stakes. Theyre immensely handy for a lot more than just holding youre tent down.. Heck, Ive seen artists use a dozen straps wrapped all around their booth just to keep the thing square. Straps are awesome.

I have seen artists use upturned shelving racks, and other homemade stuff, but a lot of art festival promoters require a carpeted wall system:Propanels(Dallas, TX) orArmstrong Displays(Guthrie, OK). Their price is around $1200 to $1500 for enough panels and accessories to fill a 10 x 10 tent, and they look wickedly professional.

(A more reasonably-priced option isa set of mesh panels by Flourishfor about $500. They look sturdy, but if the wind picks up, your work bounces around.)

(and maybe an easel or podium) about $50 for easel orprint bin, but a podium is $200 Armstrong makes a good one that matches their panels:see the Fold-a-Desk at the bottom of the page.

If you have carpeted . done.

Otherwise, drapery hooks are pretty strong ($3.50 for about 30 of them at Hobby Lobby), but they will put weak spots in your carpeted walls.Heres a clever way to use velcro, but I havent tried it. has a super strong (yet somewhat expensive)wire system, but you have to velcro it down so your work doesnt dance around in the wind.

truck or van. (assume 15 mpg..) For artists with tons and tons of inventory, you will notice them unloading an entire trailer full of art and supplies.

I went a long time without one, and my joints are hating me because of it. Some shows will require you to park about a quarter-mile away from your booth, and you wont want to carry everything by hand.

If you dont mind dealing with Harbor Freights non-existent customer service, theyve gota foldable hand cartfor about $60.

A lot of art shows will go past sunset. Some of them will offer a wall outlet for a fee, while others will leave you to fend for yourself in the dark.

. It can hold a consistent charge for a lot longer than any other 12V battery. Gel batteries are better than wet ones because they dont leak. If your battery tips over during travel, you do not want battery acid to destroy your floor mats. (Trust me, it smells awful.)

to convert the power from 12V to 120V. Its just a little box with battery cables on one end, and three-prong wall outlets on the other. (This750W Black & Deckerfrom Lowes is what I use.)

all through your booth use either 14W spiral fluorescent ones or LED bulbs. (I use 10 bulbs, and a full battery can power them for over 8 hours.) Some people use a mess of50W halogens, but they must have a pile of batteries to extend the life past about 10 minutes.

After the show each night, charge the battery at your hotel with a

If you dont take credit cards, you aint gonna sell much.

If you have a smartphone (who doesnt?)

or Amazon Local Register, or Intuit GoPayment, or PayPal Mobile. (Its hip to be Square.)

The cheap route uses an old-style knucklebuster : $40 for acredit card imprinter, $60/year for a phone and web-based

The expensive route can involve such things as a wireless

handheld terminal along with a transaction service (1st National Processing). They will nickel-and-dime you with fees though.

little strips to hold stuff to your carpeted panels.

$50 bucks will practically get you a lifetime supply from Amazon.

If youre using Propanels, all you need is hook only Velcro.

75 feet of sticky-back hook-only velcro for $37!

to help hang your artwork, if you dont already have one. (The ones with the ruler along the side is especially handy for centering framed work on the panels.)

CAUTION: If youre OCD, dont bring one. Youll be re-leveling all of your work after every slight breeze.

, for sealing the boxes when you sell a framed image

. There are thousands of ways to do this.. If you know HTML, sign up for a hosting site and make one from scratch. Template sites such assmugmugorzenfoliocan help you configure a site, and allow you to use your own domain name, but they cost a little bit more than a simple hosting site. If youre just starting out,flickr.comisnt bad, but it doesnt look professional when its on a business card.WordPress(what youre reading right now) is a pretty decent blog site, but it still doesnt do photo galleries very well (even version 3, which they said would address it.)

I useACT Insurance. One year plan is $265. No deductible, and it covers up to $10,000 per incident, and $50,000 for the year. (I havent yet had to file a claim, but its there if I need it.)

(anecdote time) A storm came through a show late one night, and a woman left all her paintings in her tent (which you should never do, for security reasons). She lost everything found the tent and all its former contents scattered about a block away. When people talked to her, she seemed upbeat, everything was covered by insurance, its not a problem! I guess so, but still.. All the money in the world will not replace original pieces of artwork.

If youre doing outside shows (which are most of them), you will be standing in the sun most of the time. Even if you think you wont burn, give it eight hours.. A great companion to sunscreen is a goofy straw hat. I wear one.

as always, allow a few hundred bucks for

. You never know when some kid will drop a funnel cake in your print bin.

They give you a business presence in a thousand places at once.

You could slap together a bunch of stuff in MS Word, print it on cardstock, and still get the point across. But consider that youll be at an

festival.. People are there to see art, style, and creative genius. Be impressive.

My cards above are one of a zillion ways of doing it, but they definitely get peoples attention. I designed them in Photoshop, and printed them on Epson presentation paper with a little inkjet. Since the paper isnt quite cardstock, I have been using 3Ms Super 77 spray adhesive and gluing a sheet of 24lb paper to the back of each printed sheet before cutting them. Total pain, but it works.

I get sneaky with these cards when Im running my booth.. I will stand back and watch people as they enter. When someone starts paying real close attention to a certain image on the wall, Ill grab the stack of cards and move the corresponding one to the top. When the person makes eye contact with me, showing interest, Ill talk with them and do my routine. When we wrap up the conversation, I hand them that specific card, and their eyes light up like Christmas! Wow! Your cards have that picture on them! They certainly do! Its great fun! 🙂

If you dont want to print them yourself (and I wouldnt blame you.. Super 77 stops working in temperatures below 45F): Everybody and their dog uses them. glossy on both sides, which means you cant write on the back, but the print quality is excellent. (Overnightprints coupons!) Hence the name, they offer overnight printing. (very handy if youre like me and put stuff off for the last minute)

Whats the title of this? Where was it taken? How much does it cost?

There are a zillion ways of doing this. Come up with something that complements your own style. Some artists print a little price tag and wedge it in the corner of the frame, some use sticky labels, some people leave the price off altogether to encourage haggling.

I designed these little guys in Illustrator and printed on matte paper. They are the size of business cards, and then glued to black foamcore (my first version used Super 77 adhesive). A little strip of velcro makes them hang on the carpeted panels.

Another cool technique I saw was an artist using little tile pieces with the price written in sharpie. That way you could wipe them off and write something else on there without having to print anything!

who are you, what do you do, and how you do it? (more and more shows are requiring this)

And if youre feeling excessively narcissistic, get a big sign with your name on it:

First order of business, get a subscription toSunshine Artist Magazine. Do it.

If youre not already a member of a big local art club, check and see if your state has one. (Here in Oklahoma for example, we haveOVAC.) Hop on their mailing list, and they will tell you everything art-related thats happening in the state art shows, galleries, and even restaurants and banks that rotate out local artwork.

The big website that a lot of shows are using . Its really easy to use, totally free to browse, and each show charges about $30 when you submit an application. But that means if youre not accepted, youre out the $30. The problem is that since each show only accepts a few hundred artists, there will be a huge number of rejections because Zapps growing popularity is getting more people to apply. A lot of people on their forums are complaining, I can get in all the local shows that dont use Zapp. But when I apply for 10 of them on Zapp, I get nothing, and then Im out $300 in application fees! So, if you are lucky enough to get in a Zapp show, then chances are its going to be HUGE and will earn you millions. Yay.

A clever way of finding local shows: Go to any local art festival and pick up a business card from each artist. Go home and check their website. Find the section of their website labeled schedule or past events. (For example, heres myEventspage.) Its a trail of where theyve been.. enjoy! 🙂

Look for art festival promoters like Howard Alan Events (from Florida, and who uses the conveniently-named ), or the smaller, but equally-well-respectedAmdur Productionsout of Chicago.

If you still cant find a show, either check your local Chamber of Commerce site, or google a random citys name + art festival.

Most importantly, find the style of the show, and see if your work matches it. Is your work a little funky? Then you might fit better at a show with other funky artists. Do you have a contemporary style? Then you might fit better at a downtown show among the skyscrapers. Check the website of a given show, and see which artists were accepted in previous years.

Most shows are juried. That means they have a panel of professionals who examine all submissions and only accept artists who are of a certain quality. They generally require each artist to submit 3-5 slides of their work, and one image of their booth (submit them on CD, or over Zapp). If the show isnt juried, its a matter of getting your entry in before the show fills up. Juried shows are usually better because the purpose of the jury is to select artists of a certain quality (filter out buy/sell artists ugh.. dont get me started). If a show is known for having better artists, they tend to get more customers.

All shows tend to have a signup period which is somewhere between three to six months before the show itself, so expect to enroll in the fall for the ones that occur next spring. (The application period is so far away from the actual event because it takes a long time to set up a show. Once they know exactly how many artists will be there, they have to get all the fiddly details worked out get permission from the city to borrow a street, get the site inspected by the fire marshal, find volunteers, advertise the event, and so on.)

When you get accepted, expect an admission/booth fee from $50 to around $300 the biggest shows in the country are $500 and above. This is on top of the application fee you will have already paid. For some shows, you will submit a check for the booth fee with the application, and if you get denied, they will mail the check back to you. (Dont worry, all of these details will be on the application.)

After taking care of the finances, all youve got left is figuring out how to pack your van/truck/trailer with everything required to assemble the booth.

Most shows allow artists to set up the day before the show begins.

The first thing you do upon arrival is sign-in at the management tent. They will give you a welcome packet and let you set up your booth. The packet will contain things like: the tax rate in the city/county/state, a tax form if you want them to report your taxes for you, a map of who goes where, an itinerary for the schedule of events, contact information in the event of an emergency, a name tag that lets everyone know youre a world-famous artist, a t-shirt, travel mug, and probably candy.

This is when you build the booth. (Practice ahead of time.. get accustomed to building the thing in your back yard. Work out all the kinks before you get to the show. You do not want this to take more than a couple hours.) When you set up your booth, it should be pretty easy to navigate. People dont buy much if they feel like theyre in a maze. (And if you do shows in the summer, consider air flow. If the air cant move around, people cant either.)

Once youre set up, the selling process is simple. Its a retail environment, but its not anything like working a register at Walmart all your customers are there because they are genuinely interested in artwork. And you dont have a boss. Youre there becauseyouwant to be there, and so are your customers. This is a happy place, enjoy it!

What to do put on your dog & pony show

Acknowledge everyone who enters your booth. Think about it, youre paying to be here. Use this opportunity!

Introduce your work, ask questions, start a conversation about a particular piece that the customer is looking at.

If theres nobody in the booth, activate the space: clean your work, tidy up, straighten your frames, stand and admire your own work and pretend like youre a visitor youd be surprised how effective the herd mentality is when one person is in your booth.

Dont sit down unless youre in a directors chair that keeps you at eye-level to people who are standing.

Dont sit in the back of the booth and peck at your phone / tablet / laptop / or read a book. (If you absolutely have to check your phone, explain what youre doing: checking the weather, finishing up a sale. Be relevant, and indicate that you will be done quickly.)

Dont sleep. Obvious, but Ive seen it.

Get used to not wearing sunglasses. They might make you look cool, but its much more comfortable to show your eyes when handling other peoples money.

Dont expect to make a lot of money at first. After the startup costs, you might not break even until youve done a few shows. You will have good shows where you sell a dozen pieces in an afternoon, but you will have bad shows where you dont sell anything for an entire weekend. Even though you might not sell much at a given show, customers may ask for a business card and contact you later about commission work. Thats when it branches out and gets even more interesting.

When you sell something, take notes:

Art Fair Insiders their forum is quite popular.

Art Fair Source Book its a bit pricey, but I hear its very handy.

Facebook Groups:Art Show Photo(general discussion),The Corner Booth(debate and discussion)

Art Festival Guide FAQs, sample documents, even a book about the entire process.

I may have missed something, but I think that covers the basics. enjoy!

Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)

Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)

Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)

Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)

Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)

Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)

Click to print (Opens in new window)

A Little Insight Into My Development Process

We are looking into setting up a photo booth at our local art and wine festival. I have absolutely no clue where to start and how much money it will cost us.

I wanted to thank you for your blog! It was very useful! Thank you for taking the time to write all that out.

Thank you for this very useful information. Can you give me an idea of how much money youve made at various sized festivals? For example, a 1-day local arts festival with 20K attendees compared to a week-long 500K attendee state fair? Thank you very much

There doesnt seem to be a link between gross sales and the size of the show, at least wheremywork is concerned. My work is location-based, and customers seem to be more attracted to imagery which was taken in their back yard at least imagery which was taken in their home state. For instance, I had a three-day out-of-state show with over 400 artists and 300,000 visitors, and I only made $100 in sales. But there have been several occasions where Ive done relatively tiny shows here in Oklahoma (~60 artists, ~10K attendees), and I broke $1,000 in the first day.

Also, Ive only been doing the art show circuit for three years. Even though I have had repeat customers, it hasnt really been long enough for me to make a name for myself. Ive heard of artists who can make upwards of $20,000 per show, but numbers like that are impossible for me because I dont even carry around half that much inventory.

The old chestnut your mileage may vary definitely applies to the art show circuit! 🙂

I appreciate you sharing all your experiences in presenting photography at Art Fairs. I am interested in giving this a try and I like how you shared your honest experiences and want others to learn from them as well 🙂

Thanks for all your great info! One question i hope you will answe