Art shows and artists

Even though I’ve lived in this town my whole life, I attended the St James Court Art Show for the first time today. It takes place in a neightborhood in the “old” downtown section, among grand old mansions in a park-like setting. There is a vast array of art available, oil painting, jewelry, sculpture, photography, leather works, clothes, mealtwork, stoneware etc. And, since I’m somewhat dis-satisfied with my own life and constantly wonder about what else I could do and what my life would like if I did that something for a living, I wonder what these artists’ lives are like. There are many local and regional artists, and many that travel from all over the country. You can find little knock knack pottery peices and jewelry for less than $10, or you can buy the ten foot diameter leaded glass sculpture for $5000, and I’m sure there are more expensive items, I couldn’t go through everything.

I suppose the first thing I wonder, how much money do these people make? Do they do shows as often as possible to make money? My wife asked about one welded steel wine rack that looked like Dr Suess designed it, the guy said he brought 20 and had two left. They started at $200. Now I understand that making these things take time and money, and learning the trade takes time, so I don’t begrudge the guy for the money, I wonder what the profit margin is. Some smaller shows I’ve been to it seems the artists might be more “hobbyist” than “artist”, but I think most of the folks at this show would fit the “artist” category. Do some of these folks hold down “day” jobs and then ship out for the odd show when they can? Traveling a lot of weekends would be difficult logistically, if one had a full time job.

I have no real interest in being an artist, as I have no talent at anything. but I find it fascinating nonethe less. I’ll take comments from anyone.

And is anyone impressed that little ol’ Louisville, Ky, has one of the largest art shows in the country?

I live in a little Beach Town in Southern California where art fair’s are fairly
common during the Summer. They are held in the grassy park area directly in
front of the Pier. The majority of the artists and vendors are nice & friendly.
Many of them have retail stores and this is a good way to show their wares.
Buisness cards are readily available at the booths. These Vendors are required
to have a city Buisness license for every city they sell in. At about $180 a year,
per city.

DaddyTimesTwo, I haven’t participated in any arts festivals so I can’t answer your question. But I think perhaps you’re not getting much of a response because this may not be the best forum for it to be posted in. You might want to think about asking a mod to move it to Cafe Society, which is the forum dedicated to the arts.


Sorry, I didn’t notice prior to posting that you have been a member since 2002. I’m sure you know about the purpose of Cafe Society. In light of that, my post may sound condescending. Please know that none was intended. :slight_smile:

Here’s a LONG response but it’s exactly what you’re asking. It’s kind of all over the place, but the ideas are there. If there’s anything else you want to ask, I’ll check the thread.

My wife does these types of shows, and in particular did the St. James Court Show last weekend. She’s makes/designs her own line of jewelry.

That’s her “livelihood” – more on that later.

Let me fill you in on her business and that of some of her friends.

She spent a little time in an art-school and started learning the trade by doing bench-work for another jeweler about 8 years ago. She was designing/building her own line about 6 years ago and started doing these types of shows about 5 years ago.

Originally, they weren’t nice shows like St. James Court. They were cheaper shows and she might be standing next to a guy selling stuff he whittled. The quality of her work has improved as has the look of her booth and most importantly the quality of her slides. These shows are “juried” which means you send in slides (a lot are going digital) and a jury decides whether to let you in or not. Slides of ONE piece of work can be a couple hundred bucks.

If you get in (application fee: $50), then a booth fee can range from $100 for cheap shows to $1000+ for big shows. $500 is a typical booth fee. Now that she’s in, she drives to the show (say $200), stays in a hotel (say $400), eats ($100) so she’s out at least $1000 when she shows up. If she sells $1000, you’d think “break even”. No, because she’s out all of the labor and materials. She has to do $2500 at a show like St. James before she’s not unhappy. $4000+ might be what she expects. There are people there doing over $10K.

There are shows, like the ACC craft show in Baltimore (THE show) where the average take is over $10K. BUT, that’s a VERY difficult show to get into. She hasn’t got into yet, but she’s doing a tier of shows below that.

On top of shows like St. James, she does wholesale shows. These are shows where gallery owners place large orders for their stores. The wholesale price of her jewelry is HALF of the retail price but it has it’s benefits. Each order is bigger (she has one order for $2500) and she can streamline the operation for a week or so if she knows she has to make 100 of one kind of piece, for example.

This ISN’T an easy racket. First of all, her studio has thousands of dollars worth of equipment. She has had tons of shows where she lost money. And her first year she lost money, broke even the second, turned a marginal profit the third, and the last two years, she has finally started growing the business account. Her wholesale accounts are doing better. She’s getting into better shows. There’s no real good health care package for these people. Some people have made token attempts to kind of unionize but these are typically people who are somewhat individualistic, dig?

She had a New York show cancelled once because of 9/11. She had a Maryland show cancelled once because of the sniper. One of these shows might be 5-10% of her yearly gross, keep in mind.

And, it’s just a lot of work. She spends 40 hours per week in her studio with torches, chemicals, sanding her fingers off, cutting herself, burning herself. Then, packs a TON of stuff in the car (clothes, product, cooler, tent, display cases, lights, credit card machines, mirrors, etc. etc. etc.), drives up to 9 hours for a show and has to set up a tent and her display cases. She sells all weekend, then packs it up and drives home. If there’s bad weather or whatever, she can do it all for nothing.

She does about 16-20 shows per year. Right now, grossing anywhere from $2000-$5000 per show. A couple years ago, that was more like grossing $1000-$3000 per show. That’s GROSS.

Anyway, a lot of the artists do have second jobs.

Some have supportive husbands (working for the MAN living vicariously through their self-employed wives, hypothetically speaking).

Some are just pretty bohemian, just selling enough to keep themselves going from one show to the next.

And SOME, make a LOT of money. My wife has friends who do this that have several employees, lots of big wholesale accounts, and gross WELL over $100,000 per year. As for us, it’s a small business that she runs. It’s already becoming a nice supplement to my income, and has the potential to become much more.

And then, some of them are MASSIVE operations. With lots of people, basically a small factory, and do millions each year. They started out small, found a product that sold like the dickens, ran their business well. This is NOT the norm.

Some have their own stores, but not many.

But, you’re not going to be one of those people if you just string beads on a wire, or wrap a stone in copper wire, hang it on a chain, and call it a necklace. A lot of these people are somewhat talented artists, with design backgrounds, and very good technical foundations.

There are cheaper shows for people who do “resale”. They buy crap in bulk and just resell it at shows like this, but not exactly like this. St. James Court won’t let people in who do resale. Or, some people buy “components” and put them together.

My wife’s stuff is all her design and construction from the ground up. She gets castings made of pieces she designs and works them into necklaces, pins, earrings, rings, bracelets. She makes one-of-a-kind pieces that take her weeks that she doesn’t even really sell (well, if the price is right), but just gets photgraphed and used as “loss-leaders” basically, to attract people to the booth, get them talking and looking.

That said, a lot of people try this, find that they’re losing money, can’t handle it and just drop out. It’s pretty frustrating to go to New York for a weekend, work like hell, stress like hell, and come back in the hole.

To be successul, you need to believe in the work, make appropriate changes, spend money, be patient, be stubborn, be frugal. See what works, see what doesn’t work, put together a nice set of slides, tailor your display and your merchandise appropriately to the show you’re at. All that takes time, and experience.

But, it can be rewarding. You’re your own boss. It’s creative. You get money for what you do. She has friends that make sculpture, do bead work, make purses, make clothing,

THat kind of got snipped.

I was just going to wrap up saying: Yes, a lot of people do this. No, it’s not easy.

There are easier ways to make a living but its rewarding, creative, and a great outlet for artists who don’t think its beneath them.

Thanks, Trunk, that’s the kind of answer I was looking for. I knew just from a little thinking that it couldn’t be a simple, easy way to make some money. I only envy the people who get to do what they love and support themselves. I’m supporting myself, but I don’t exactly love it.