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  • June 27, 2013

    Art Festivals to Market your Paintings

    This article was originally written for the Xanadu Gallery RedDot art marketing blog

    Getting started
    You’ve been painting for years. Friends and family members give you positive feedback, telling you how much they love your work and suggest that you should be selling. Or maybe you’ve visited an art show and have seen other painters selling their work. You imagine setting up a booth in front of thousands of people who might purchase your paintings. You’ve been told that art festivals can provide a viable way to earn a living doing what you like best.

    Creating artwork that juries well and sells well
    Contrary to what you might think or have heard, it’s not that easy to get into an art show. One of the first things I learned that helped me get into the better shows with my own photography was the importance of having a unified or related body of work. It made for better jury results and helped attract buyers that were interested in a personal style, not just a random piece.

    The application and jury process
    The application requirements of “juried” art shows are that you submit individual digital images of your work, usually three, four or five, depending on the show. Additionally they require an image of your display or booth. The display image will come across more professional looking if your body of work is unified and matches the style of the individual images submitted. Some major art shows get over 1,000 applications for about 200 – 300 spaces. Smaller more local shows get fewer applications and are easier to get into. Jurors spend very little time viewing the images of each applicant so your jury images need to be of the best quality with nothing to distract the jurors. Projection juries use multiple digital projectors and project the entire set of jury images simultaneously, usually for less than 20 seconds per artist in the first round, where up to 50% may be eliminated. Images are viewed by each medium so you are competing with other painters for space in the show. The preparation of your jury images is the most critical component to your being accepted because your images are all they have to go by. You can be the best painter in the world, but if that isn’t reflected in your images, you won’t get accepted. Photographs of paintings should not include mats or frames as they make the painting look smaller within the space allocated to each image in the jurying process. The display image should be representative of what your display will look like at the show. The work should be shown hanging in the booth under a white canopy or tent without identifying signs or people. If you don’t have a white canopy yet or have never even done an art show, look for a show (usually only a few of the top shows) that has an emerging artist category where the show provides the display. If you apply in this category you’ll be juried only against other emerging artists. For the smaller shows, communicate with them, explain your situation, and they will probably let you photograph a grouping of your work or submit an additional artwork image instead of an image of your display or booth.

    Where the shows are
    Online resources have largely replaced print media. ZAPPlication and Juried Art Services are the online application systems that most of the major art shows use. Artists use ZAPP® to find shows to apply to and art shows use ZAPP® because they know that’s where the artists look for shows. Art Fair Insiders has art show listings besides being an online forum/blog where over 9,000 artists share information. Art-Linx has a large artist e-mail list and art shows pay to have e-mail blasts sent out with their information and closing dates. There are even a few Facebook groups where artists share show information. For new artists, Sunshine Artist Magazine is the only trade publication for artists doing art shows. The Art Fair SourceBook lists the particulars of the top art shows in the country and also has regional editions. Both are still available, though the SourceBook is now only online. Most art shows have application deadlines 3 to 6 months before the show actually takes place. Artists doing shows regularly plan their schedule up to a year in advance. For example, Florida winter shows take place in January through March close in September and October. Midwest summer shows close in January through March. Most areas have nationally rated, difficult to get into shows, and there are thousands of smaller local shows that are much easier to get into and are a good place to get your feet wet, so to speak. I strongly suggest walking a few shows to see how other artists are displaying. Even better if you can walk shows that you’re specifically interested in. The best tip I can offer is to attend an open jury, even if you have to travel some distance. A few of the top shows allow artists, even those that haven’t applied, to sit in the back of the room to watch all the submitted images projected. It’s an amazing experience and there’s no limit to what you can learn by seeing how your images, or those of your competitor’s, project.

    Getting accepted – the display
    You’ve gotten through the jury process and are actually going to put together a display. White tents or canopies can range in price from $200 for an EZUp at Sam’s Club (or Caravan at Costco’s) to $900 for the starting price of a Trimline canopy, the sturdiest canopy you see at art shows. You may consider renting a tent to start off, but rental tents are usually opaque, not letting light through, so your paintings will not be viewed well. Canopies like Trimline and Light Dome (lighter but still sturdy) are translucent, designed to let light through and make the artwork hanging on the walls look good. Inside the canopy you will need walls to hang your paintings on. The most professional looking are the carpet covered Pro Panels. They look like walls of an art gallery but light weight and sturdy. The best alternative are mesh walls made by the Flourish (Trimline) company for all types of canopies. They are made from a vinyl mesh and roll up taking very little space in your vehicle. If you sell reproductions of our paintings, you will need a display bin for your unframed work. You will also need a desk or table for making sales and displaying promotional material or business cards. Pro Panels makes carpeted desks in the same style as their panels. Your vehicle will probably determine what type of display you eventually end up with unless you plan on always renting a van. When I downsized from a full size van to a minivan, I stopped using my Pro Panels and went to mesh walls because they fit better in a smaller vehicle. I now rent my Pro Panels to artists who do shows in the Pittsburgh area where I live. Whatever canopy you decide on, make sure to use lots of weight in each corner to reduce the chance of wind damage.

    Making sales – taking credit cards – packaging
    You need to be able to take credit cards. The Square (and similar credit card processing companies) allow anyone with a mobile device and a data plan can sign up for the Square and take credit cards wherever they are. For packaging the sold painting, I’ve always been a believer in using large clear plastic bags so your painting can advertise for you as your customer walks around the show.


    Larry Berman – Exhibiting my own photography at art shows for over thirty five years and currently working with artists as a consultant; photographing their artwork or improving their jury images.

    © Larry Berman