Monday, March 7, 2011

Applying for a Show

Tonight, as I was applying for four Dallas/Fort-Worth shows, it occurred me that folks might want to know what goes into a successful art application. So here are my thoughts.

Generally you'll either get invited to apply for a show, see a "call for artists" or see some similar invitation for artists'crafters. Obviously you'll want to ask several questions in order to determine if it's going to be a good show for you. See my other blog posts for those questions.

The call will involve filling out an application and, in most cases, paying a small fee ($10 - $30) as a jury fee. This is usually separate from the entry fee and always non-refundable. It in no way guarantees your acceptance. NOT sending it does guarantee you won't get accepted!

After work is juried and decisions are made, the jury/acceptance committee will notify folks who have been accepted and then folks who are on the wait list. DON'T get discouraged if you're on the wait list.....Often times it'll mean you get in at a later date... Accept it and participate. Once you pay your entry fee, you'll want to focus on getting ready for the show. Watch for a sendout of the festival paperwork...hotel info (act fast on this for the best rates), directions, setup times, etc.

All of the above points to good e-mail communication. Check your spam and manage your e-mails and your communications. It's important if you're going to get into shows.

What should you pay attention to when you're filling out your application? Well, unfortunately it starts loooong before you fill out the application...including generating and photographing great work and taking a great booth shot! Get to it!

1) Great work and great pictures of your work - I don't care how good your work is...whether you paint, sew, sculpt or whatever. If the jurors or the folks picking out who gets to participate in the show can't see the quality of your work, it'll do no good. Either have a pro take great pictures of your work OR do it yourself..and have an acquaintance (who is not your mother) critique your photos. Better to have a couple of great ones than a bunch of so-so ones!

2) A great picture of your booth - Most contemporary applications for decent shows want to see what your booth looks like. It's not that they really care what you do in your booth, they want to see the level of professionalism an indicator of the level of artist/crafter that you are. See my typical booth picture to the right here. Not only does it show a decently nice set up, but it's dramatic...set against the beautiful Dallas skyline! Decent booth pictures are a dime a dozen. Make yours stand out!

3) A submission letter - Lots of folks fill out the application, attache a check and submit it. How can you make yours stand out? Submit the standard application with a brief letter on your artist/crafter stationary... Oh! Don't have any? Hint, hint... I also submit my booth and work pictures on a tiny 3-inch CD. Why? Because everyone uses the great big 4-inch ones...again, this marks me as somehow different!

4) Your application - Fill it out cleanly and type it if possible. I generally print out two so I can make doubly sure that it's clean, clear and speaks well of me. Submit it on time, making out the check to the correct payee, etc.

5) At the Show - Askk around about The Kessler Craftsman. Show promoters will tell you he's reliable, flexible, has great work and is a true professional. What does that mean? I show up in plenty of time to set up. I bring everything I need and play extremely well with others. At the end of the show, I purposefully find the promoter and personally thank them for the opportunity to participate. You absolutely want to get invited back. You want them to remember you as an attribute to their show and in no way a boat anchor that brought bad energy, burdened them, etc.

Good luck as you apply for shows!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Three Questions To Ask A Show Promoter

Having done this awhile, I get lots of invitations to shows...big and small. How do I separate the good from the bad? Here are some thoughts:

First of all, there's no science to this. I did a show this weekend that was fabulous for me! Probably at least a few folks didn't do so good....first point.

How do I decide which ones to go to?

First of all, ask other artists, crafters, weavers....folks who do what you do. I ask other creators of fine craft, jewelry and glass....there's not much point in my asking weavers about shows...they travel in a different circle. Have they done the show at least 2 years in a row? Were crowds good? Were sales good? How did they treat the artist? A good recommendation from someone that's like me goes a long way...

If I'm contemplating a show, it doesn't hurt to ask folks who visit your booth..or your colleagues and friends, if they've heard of the show. If they haven't, it could mean that it's not established OR it's not being promoted well. A "must" for getting attendees/buyers to the show!

I also look for established shows that are well-promoted and which are promoted for the kind of work that I do. Case in point: The Country Craft Peddler shows have been going for at least a decade, do decent promotion, etc..but not at all to my audience. I'm just not interested in doing those.

Finally, I want to understand/ask these questions, particularly of a new show:

1) Is the show juried? If not, how do you monitor/guarantee quality of the artists and crafters exhibiting?

2) Do you allow resellers to display/show/sell? Does the show require the artist/crafter to be present at the entire event?

3) How will you promote your show? Who is your audience for this show? Ask for specifics, including the timeline for promotion. The bigger and longer lead time, the better. Ask if they support artist promotion: do they supply you with postcards, signs, e-mail/facebook/twitter markers, etc.

Finally, and I've written about this before, I have a rule that I do a show at least three years in a row before deciding it's a dog or a fabulous show.....I believe that if it's a truly good show, your first year will net some sales, but folks won't go expecting YOU to be there. The second year, folks who aren't on your mailing list may go hoping you'll be there...remembering you from last year. The third year, they'll expect you to be there... and will purchase accordingly!

So, get out there...apply for some shows, and share candid feedback with fellow artists and crafters so that the quality of shows get better! It helps us all!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Is My Work Right For Your Show"

I hear the above question a lot.

What the person is really saying is "will my stuff sell at that show. Will the return on my investment (time, show fees, etc) pay off".

That's a great question, and one of the hardest. I think it also reflects lack of knowledge about the very important business of targeted marketing.

Creativity is generally the 'fun' easy part of what we do. I can stay out in my studio until midnight creating something fun and new and colorful and meaningful. And that's generally what I enjoy the most. But that is clearly not enough!

I've seen fabulously creative folks show up at a show and do poorly just because the event wasn't well attended by folks who were interested in buying that person's artwork/craftwork.

New folks assume that it is the responsibility of the show promoters to attract an audience. While that is partially true, it won't guarantee your art-buying audience. I did ArtFest in Dallas this year...and one of the marketing strategies was to bill it as a dog-friendly event and get that demographic to attend. And do you know what? It worked! We had droves of and families, of all walks of life, attending the event with their dogs. But do you know what else? Folks who have a dog with them, particularly an average to large dog, won't go into a 10 x 10 semi-crowded booth space full of tail-height glass work!

We each have to build up a following and target our past customers and potential customers, getting them to attend the shows we much as possible.


First, does your work encourage re-purchasing? I know a potter that does all of his work in just a few colors/styles..and makes an incredible array of pieces in each theme. Folks return time and again to purchase pieces to add to their (growing) collection of his themed work...

If you're a jeweler who just does pendants, consider adding earrings, bracelets, pins, etc in a carefully-targeted someone who has bought previously, can add to their collection.

Secondly, let your audience know what is new with you. Adding sterling silver to your glass pendants? Tell 'em! Learn to do Keum-Boo or colored-pencil-on-copper? Tell 'em. Do you have a new theme? Tell 'em!

Thirdly, consider offering an incentive for folks to come to your show and buy from you. Offer a small discount for returning customers. Or offer a 'free sample' of something that you can afford to give away. Now, maybe if your medium is large-scale bronze cast sculptures, that's not feasible, but your job is to think outside of the box. So do it!

Good luck. It's a jungle out there!


Monday, July 6, 2009

"What Kind of Tent Do I Need For Shows"

This question frequently comes up for artists and crafters who are either new to doing shows OR want to move from 'indoor' to 'outdoor' shows.

There is a myriad of considerations and a progression of cost/complexity as follows.

The standard tent size is 10' x 10'. Whatever you buy, get that size.

For a first-time crafter, I'd start with an EZ-Up brand tent. I strongly, strongly, strongly, recommend you stick with that brand name. I got mine a couple of years ago at Sam's for about $150. You can also order them from EZ-Up on the web... For that price you get the frame, the nylon top and four walls that tie onto the frame and then zip together. It is sturdy enough for one-day shows and the occasional multi-day show (where you'll use the walls at night, etc) in decent weather. These tents are the easiest to erect and easiest to bring down. Unfortunately, "easy up means easy down". If you get inclement weather, high winds, etc, this tent may not fare as well as others mentioned below.

Now, note I made a pretty strong recommendation for that particular brand. Why? I've seen at least 6 of the Ez-Up knock-offs (and you can get them at sporting goods stores, E-Bay, etc for about $100) in one or more of the aluminum frame struts just snapped in two when it was being put up or being taken down. My friend bought one on E-Bay and the first time she used it, one of these metal struts broke. Can she still use it? Yes...sort of..but she'll need to splint it and 'mess' with it every time she sets it up or takes it down. The same thing happened with my friend Julie. She bought a dozen of these at a good price from a discount sporting goods store...with the identical results.

My E-Z up is a couple of years old, has had hard use and is still going strong...well worth the extra $50 I paid for it.

Now, after you've used your E-Z up and you start doing serious shows, multi-day shows and inclement weather shows, what do you do? This is where the serious "festival tents" come into play. These are manufactured by several makers (mine is a Craft Hut) and cost around $1000 for the frame, top and four sides.

What do you get for that? A much sturdier frame (which is also harder than an EZ-Up to put together/take down), much, much sturdier vinyl..probably five times as thick and waterproof an the EZ-Up and uber-strong nylon zippers that take an extreme amount of punishment. Weighted down, these things will withstand gale-force wind, horrific rain/lightning, etc. Note I said "weighted down"...something you want to do with all tents...see below. With Festival tents you also get many more options, since these are generally custom-sewn. Options include awnings on 3-4 sides; matching banners, colors other than white, vented skylights, stabilizer bars, screen panels, alternate sizes (10' x 20', etc). I've used these tents that have been in use for 10-15 years and still going strong. I've only had my Craft Hut for a year and so cannot speak to its' longetivity..but I get glowing recommendations from other artists.

Weights - Regardless of the kind of tent you use, weigh it down. to withstand wind and rain! The smart shows require weights. How? I purchased a long piece of 4-inch plastic PVC pipe, four PVC end caps, some PVC primer and PVC glue, four loooong eye bolts, some strong nylon webbing and two bags of quick-setting cement...all from Home Depot. I cut the PVC pipe into four equal lenghts and glue on the caps with the primer and glue. Once those are dry (20 minutes, maximum) I mixed up the cement and poured into each of the four pipes, standing them on their ends. Before the cement starts to set, I insert the looooong eye bolts into the end of each of my weights. Once dry, these weigh about 55 lbs apiece...generally the required minimum is 35 or so pounds of weight per corner. I then loop the nylon webbing through each eye bolt and hang one on each corner..and have withstood significant wind and rain this past year. See the picture to the left: My Craft hut, minus sidewalls and with my weights..gotta paint them pretty though!

Others use big barrels of water, spiral tent stakes (which are preferable for dirt/grass, but what if you're setting up on asphalt or concrete?) or 25-50 pound free weights attached to the tent legs.

Fire Retardance - some shows will require you to produce a certificant attesting to the fact that your tent is made of fire retardent material. I don't think EZ-Ups are. My Craft Hut came with such a certificate without my asking for it.

Keeping It Clean and Dry - Both options will deteriorate if you store the tents wet, allowing mold and mildew to form. If you break down in heavy dew or rain, set it up when you get home and allow it to dry thoroughly. If it gets mold, find out what the manufacturer recommends to remove/kill the live mold.

So there we have now know about at least two options for tents and then a little bit about taking care of it and making it work for you. Good luck out there!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Golden Opportunity or a Really Bad Show? How Did I Decide?

This morning I got an invitation to a show happening in Dallas...

Once you've been on 'the circuit" for awhile, this happens quite regularly; you get applications or invitations from schools and churches and hair salons and art festivals and galleries and... and the list goes on.

This one was for a first-time music festival, StarFest, in downtown Dallas. Not only did I immediately reject it, but sent a pretty straightforward note 'counseling' these fools about their chances at attracting any artist!

What were the deal-breakers?

First of all, was the cost. For a well-known, well-established 2-day art festival with decent promotion, a jury and the caveat that no re-sellers are allowed (Resellers being defined as folks who buy and then resell the work in over 50% of the case), I expect to pay between $150 and $300 plus jury fees for a 10' x 10' space. This entity wanted $400 if I sent my money in by June 1st and $550 if after June 1st. Strike one!

Now, does that mean that $400 is just plain too much? Not at all! Put me in an established Fine Crafts show that caters to wholesale buyers (art galleries, gift shops, etc) and I'll expect to pay north of $1000K for even a small one of these...and it'll be worth it. SOFA, in Chicago might be several thousand...but those are geared toward my audience, guarantees me access to folks interested in purchasing large quantities of high-quality work and puts me in a crowd of like-craftspeople/artists.

The second "strike" is that all of the advertisement and brochures and materials that accompanied the application advertised this purely as a music festival. I don't know about you, but when I see an ad for a music festival, I'm going for the music..not to look at 100 art booths! If you want me to pay top dollar, bill it as an art event! Strike Two!

Thirdly, this is a brand new event. No one knows how it'll do or who it will attract. I don't mind taking some risks and trying a brand-new festival or show, but don't also expect me to pay 40% more for the booth until it's well-established as a superior show!

Some other things I look for that are important:

How well organized is the show? I recently signed up and paid my $25 entry fee for a small one-day show at a local community animal shelter. I had a Saturday show booked and had nothing, it was close and had some potential, as they were billing at least a couple of well-known artists' presence. So why did I bail at the last minute? They never aknowledged receipt of my application, addressed set-up or tear-down times or gave any of the applying artists any info about the show. They gave no information about the required donation, etc... And if the 'organizers' (SIC) can't return your calls or e-mails, how're they going to put on a good show, promote well and do all of those things that'll make it worth your while? Ditto for a seemingly good show that is announced a month or two out....if they're that late in the game, how's their other organization and promotion.

Now, find those good shows and spread the word! We need more of them!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

You Wanna Do More Art Shows?

Today, a fairly new artist/crafter asked the question "How do I find out about more art shows".

I've posted a long answer for a seemingly short question, but first, a story:

Years ago, my artistic and fabric-loving friend, Reid, was my art-idol....I'd do one or two shows a year and always was amazed by the number of shows she got into that I'd not even heard was amazing..and I told her so.

These days, she comes by my booth and just laughs, because I do twice as many shows as she

So here's some concrete tips for getting info about shows..but you've gotta think in the long term...:

1). The first 'thing' is to ask other artists....what shows are 'out there' and how do you get into them.

2). E-mail your artist friends and acquaintances once a month and some of them will share. The good ones aren't threatened by other artists. They know better. Besides, if your mother comes to see you at a show, she might end up buying something from me! Ask Sheyne and Tefi and many, many other artists...their moms all bought from me! Smile.

3) Know that Spring and Fall is our busy time, at least for most indoor/outdoor festivals... April 1-June 15th and then Sept through the first weekend in December...THAT is when you'll do shows..they don't happen in the summer or during the X-mas holidays/winter... That means start checking intensively about 3-4 months in advance...for the smaller shows. The larger shows can jury up to a year in advance.....

4). Watch known sources. Check Craig's List under "Artists" at least once a week. I see a couple of good shows a month posted.

5). If you're in Dallas, join Dang (Dallas Artists' Networking Group) and other groups that will know about Art/Craft/Jewelry shows, etc. Go to and find DANG. There are lots of other groups. Church groups, neighborhood groups, fraternal organizations, schools and civic groups, communities...

6) Remember what I said about the long-term approach? Watch the paper, etc for'll see small and large shows listed. By the time yous see that "come to our show this weekend" announcement, you've missed getting in, right? So mark your Outlook calendar for 8 months from today..put in the name of the show, a URL if they have a website, etc, and then google them four months out and apply next year....see the long term pattern developing?

7) Google "Art Shows" and you'll see Z'application and EventLister and those kinds of entities pop up. Get on their lists, even if they're not the kind of show you want to do today...I was on Z'application for the past three years..this year I juried into, and got into, two of theres....surprise, surprise. We evolve! Check out sources such as The Craft Report and similar trade rags....if you don't want to subscribe, share a subscription with a friend or group of crafty friends...or look for it quarterly in a bookstore or the like.

8) Network with other artists. Ask them not only about shows they know about, but also, what shows are good. But be careful...just because it sucked for them doesn't mean it'll suck for you. I have a friend, Jill the Potter. She did the Arlington Center Street Festival with me. Everyone (but me) did poorly. I did a fairly large amount in one day! Three weeks ago, we both did a show called The Funky Finds Spring Fling. It pretty much sucked for me, but it was her single best show take everything with a grain of salt.

9) I follow the 3X rule... Do a show three times before deciding it's not for you...unless it's clearly not your cup of tea (i.e. you're selling hand-turned wooden pens and everyone else is selling pretty-colored plastic office supply pens...not your kind of show). Why three times? The first time, folks will 'discover' you..and might buy something, but probably not... The second time, folks may remember you and hope you'll be there...and will buy IF they remember you. The third year, they'll expect you to be there. Heck, they may come to the show JUST to look for you and buy a piece that's been percolating for a year! If they want what you sell, they'll buy yours over the other me!

10) Finally, focus on what you do between those busy times.... Create new and exciting pieces with that 'Wow' factor; Work on that display; Look for other ways to sell....

I hope that got you started. Come to my Craft Circle or a free "new artist" class sometime and ask me more...or bring wine and sweet talk it out of

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Promotion and Rolling With The Punches

This weekend I did a Saturday first-time show. My sales covered all of my expenses and fees, but were otherwise uninspiring.

My initial thoughts? "First-time show... The economy... Fort Worth..." etc. But I generally aknowledge that success is sometimes purely a crap-shoot. Mood or whim or location or whatever can contribute to an 'off day'..and I had one.

Imagine my surprise when another vendor and friend at the same exact show commented that it had been her single most successful show ever!

Who knows why, but two things stood out for me:

1) She had fresh work, just produced/finished that week and;

2) She'd invited tons of folks she knew, had sold to before, were family and friends, etc.

Maybe just excitement, fresh work and promotion did it. Or maybe not...but it doesn't hurt!