All Good Things Come From Art Fairs
How I Created A Thriving Art Business By Marketing My Art In Art Fairs
This lens briefly chronicles my journey from an art fair "newbie" to the present, as it lists all of the benefits that I have experienced from doing art fair venues. My business began with art fairs and has grown to what it is today, which is a thriving business that supports my family, a showroom gallery complete with full-service frame shop and giclee publishing house and a strong web presence. All a direct result of choosing art fairs as a way to market my art and generate income. To be honest it is a surprise to even me just how far those art fairs have taken me.
It Ain't Easy
Anyone who has read my blog Fur In The Paint has heard me go on and on about the difficulties I face doing the art fair circuit every year. I have been through storms that have destroyed literally $10,000 worth of inventory (It would have been exponentially more had I not been able to save all my original work.) I have been rained on, rained out, hailed on, and once even snowed on! There have been tornadoes. I have suffered from heat exhaustion, freezing temperatures, cranky customers, unprofessional art fair management and the list of atrocities doesn't end there. It culminates in the fact that the older I get, the less I like all the hauling and toting as we pack around 1,500 lbs of artwork, displays and tents (yes, we take more than 1 tent.)
After reading all of that you may well wonder how I can say "all good things come from art fairs." Well because in regards to the growth of my art business, it's true."for me art fairs were a way to make some money without really having to know what I was doing."
I want to be clear that I am not promoting doing art fairs as the best way to grow your art business, (though it's certainly a viable one.) In fact, considering the recent economy, I think making a living doing the circuit is getting harder all the time.
On the other hand, when I started out I knew nothing of promoting my art. I had worked in the art business. But running a museum frame shop is completely different than becoming a successful artist. In fact my lack of knowledge is exactly why I chose the art fair path. I have no training in the arts and back then I had no solo gallery exhibits to my credit, no awards, no portfolio of quality work and no idea of how to talk with galleries." . . . doing art fairs allowed me to gain the knowledge I needed through experience."
Art fairs for me was a way to make some money without really having to know what I was doing. I mean if someone liked my work, they bought it. It can't get much easier than that right?
Of course the truth is you still need knowledge on how to sell your work, especially in these times of uncertainty. But doing art fairs allowed me to gain the knowledge I needed through experience.
All copyrights are retained by the artist,
Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery.
The artwork or content in this lens may not be used or reproduced, either
in part or in whole, without the express written consent from the artist.
How It All Began - Let's Begin At The Beginning Shall We.
The fact that I am an artist making a living by selling my art, is a big surprise to me. 20 Years ago I had a completely different life in mind. My goals then were become a Veterinary Technologist and work in a zoo. Which when accomplished though wonderful, turned out to not be what I expected. When we moved to rural Iowa in 1995 to take over my husbands family farm, I got a lung infection and when I was just barely recovered my husband got severely burned. Our plans to be organic farmers while not ended, were definitely changed by our financial issues over the farming start-up costs and paying off the hospitals.
I grew up in an artistic family and drawing was something I did all of the time for entertainment. However it was a wild card that I started a gallery and pursued my art. It was never a plan or a goal. It was more like "What can I do out here in the boonies to help make some money." That's how it all began. I had done a little freelance art in college for some extra money and also did a couple of art fairs for fun, so I thought "well why not?
And all it took was $500 and the tenacity of a Pitbull.After much discussion we decided to give this "art fair thing" a try. We decided to buy a printer which was at the time one of the only ones to use lightfast pigments that was even remotely close to being in our budget. (even then I was all about quality) It cost $500. Yup, my total start up cost for my business was $500. Now I gotta say that at that time, in the financial crunch we were in, $500 was a huge investment. The debt load we had was enormous and this plan seemed so risky. But in the end it worked amazingly well.
I would say the one other most important thing I did to contribute to my success was creating reproductions of my work. I am not a fast painter so prints were the only way to create volume sales. If you are considering getting into the print market please visit my lens How To Know If You're Ready To Make Prints Of Your Artwork
Confidence Builds Success.I started out in small events, made some sales and then reinvested some profits back into the business. From this I gained some confidence and moved to bigger events. Now 15 years later that is still my path. I continue to keep challenging myself with bigger venues. The truth is, in large part it was participating in art fairs that gave me the confidence to deal with galleries and clients. Art fairs provided me with the opportunity to earn an income while in my spare time I learned the art business and more importantly continued to create better art.
Participation In Art Fairs Has Benefited Me In The Following Ways:
Gained Confidence In Myself As A Professional
Opportunities for Gallery Exhibitions
Awards & Recognition
Financial Growth for Business Expansion and Living Income
Signed With An Art Licensing Agent
Developing Patrons, Collectors and Mailing lists
Opening Up New Venues Which I Might Not Otherwise Have Access To
Became A Regular Magazine Columnist To Write About My Art
Develop Wholesale Accounts
Became Part Of An Artistic Community
Recognition and Resume' Builder
Exhibititions & Awards
On average I get offered 1 or 2 opportunities to have a solo show with galleries or art centers a year. And because I will travel long distances for quality events, it exposes my art to galleries that I would not otherwise even know about. This is nice because cold marketing myself to galleries ranks right up there with cleaning the grout in my shower. So with this there is none of that working for years to build a portfolio, mailing it out to dozens upon dozens of galleries, and then waiting by the mailbox for it's return hoping they'll like me.
When I'm approached at the art fairs, most times they just introduce themselves, hand me a business card and say "We'd like to extend an invitation for you to exhibit with us." Very Cool!
"In my opinion galleries should be judging the work before them. . . Alas, those kind of Utopian ideals rarely exist."Awards
Currently, I have no real use for awards other than it is always nice to have your work recognized, I am not actively looking for exhibitions. However, galleries like to see awards on your resume' because then they don't have to figure out if your any good on their own. I know that sounds a little harsh but I can't really see any other purpose for including awards and honors on resume' when submitting for a show.
Financial and Business Growth
Cash, Patrons, Collectors & Mailing Lists.
No need to elaborate on this one. The most important thing here to to do events that are big enough. Generally I only do events that get 35,000 to 150,000 people through on a weekend. Anything less may not payoff in regards to the cost you put into it. The key here is to find the quality events and do good enough work to get juried in.
Resources For Finding Quality Art Fairs
I have used all of these at one time or another and all provide excellent information. But perhaps the best option is to go to the events you are interested and talk with exhibiting artists.
Patrons and Collectors
My definition of a patron is anyone who buys original works. A collector is someone who buys prints but has yet to invest in an original. My mailing list is comprised of both types of buyers. It is primarily through art fairs that I have met these people.
Nearly every name on my list has been a direct result of attending an art fair or meeting them at an event that I was invited to, because of an art fair. These people have seen my work, like it and requested to be added to my mailing list. Had I not been doing art fairs all these many years, I certainly wouldn't have the large, well-defined list that I do.
Whenever I create new art, I send notices to those who have expressed an interest in a certain genre or type of critter. I do very specific mailings only, so people aren't inundated with notices. Heaven forbid I should send so much I become junkmail or spam.
Reaching Out To New Markets
Signing With An Agent, Art Journalist & Wholesale Accounts
I have been invited to horse events, zoo conferences and all sorts of expos because someone has seen me at some art fair somewhere. Many of these events I would never have known about or had access to without the benefit of an invitation.
Signing With An Agent
At an art fair a man walked into my booth, looked around and asked me if I had thought about licensing my work. I told him I get approached all the time to have my images used on someone's product. But I never reach an agreement because I don't have a clue how to handle the legalities of that situation. So after some lengthy discussion and the signing of document I am now represented by an art licensing agent. And so now, whenever someone wants to use my art for a t-shirt or something, I just hand them over to my agent. Plus, I now have recourse if someone uses my work illegally. Had I not been to that event, I would not have an agent.
Became An Art Journalist
The opportunity to write for the equestrian magazine Apples 'N Oats came because the editor Carol Eilers seen a newspapers article about an upcoming art fair. There was an extensive write up about me complete with pictures. This happens quite often. The local newspapers run large articles and often highlight various artists.
Anyway, Carol seen the article, went to my website, read my artist journal entries and apparently thought my quirky (and often grammatically incorrect) writing style was something her magazine could use. So she extended an invitation to write for her. It's been a great relationship ever since.
In a like manner to gallery offers, many business's and gift shops offer to carry my art when they see me at an event. Nearly every wholesaling contact that I have, has come where a business owner has approached me to sell my work. Once again it is participating in art fairs, that brings the customer to me.
Became Part Of An Artistic Community
While this is not really a quantifiable business benefit, it is beneficial. I tend to think of those of us on the art fair circuit as glorified carnies. We do form a family of sorts. Often when I do only one event in a certain area or state it's like a family reunion where I meet up with friends. These friendships both support me emotionally as well as offer valuable insight into art fair issues and economics. That's the kind of direct business information that you can't get from any other source. Only those in it, know it.
All My Art Business Gains Are Directly Related To Doing Artfairs
And I do mean ALL.
What started as just something to do to earn a little cash, grew from a one bedroom studio space in the upstairs of my home to eventually taking up all four upper level rooms. At the point when my art business began to start creeping downstairs in our living area we decided we needed to get it out of the house. In 2000 I opened Wild Faces Gallery storefront with my husband Mike and a few years after that he quit farming and went full time into the art business with me. The gallery Itself is a beautiful 100 year old large brick building. Initially I rented part of it but several years ago we just went ahead and bought the building so we'd have plenty of room to continue to expand.
It's hard to imagine that I went from a couple of art fairs so long ago, to having a thriving art business that I have now, which we're hoping to expand even further through Squidoo.
So there you go. It wasn't easy. In fact I think it is the hardest thing I've ever done. That being said, it is also something that I am passionate about. I feel like by pursuing my art I am continually discovering who I am and what I can accomplish when I set my mind and my heart to it.
Okay, so if you're thinking this art fair thing might just be for you. . . then I want you to go back and read that paragraph about the storms and cranky people and hard work, again. If that still doesn't dissuade you then you may want to check out my other lenses about art fairs
And Good Luck!
About The Author Of All Good Things Come From Art Fairs
Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery
My name is Mona Majorowicz I am a professional artist who has been making my living selling my work for some time now. I am an animal artist, (meaning I paint critters) who works primarily in Oil Pastel or Water Soluble Pencil.
I own and operate Wild Faces Gallery with my husband Mike in a small rural town in Iowa. There we sell my original artwork and prints, as well as do quality custom framing and offer Giclee printing for other artists as well as for ourselves. I have over 20 years in ate art and framing industry both as a business owner and as a working artist.
Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.