The true cost of art.
I had good reason to expect that the two festivals I got into to would be decent shows for me. I did my research on both events and I heard great things. But I'm not naïve, I know that doing any art show - especially if it includes large travel expenses - is a huge gamble. But I figured that if I could double the amount of sales I made at one show last year, it would be worth it.
"I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"
Unfortunately, the end result of this experience has left me not only in debt, but also questioning my art. I've decided to share the true cost of selling my art at these shows. This is not an easy decision; I know that people unwittingly prefer to support winners and I could lose sales over this. I usually try to be as upbeat as possible about my art career in public. But I'm not sure it can get much worse; this week I definitely feel like the loser in Beck's song.
Two Art Festivals in Florida, February 2023
Costs and Expenses
What costs are not included here?
Artists are not paid for their time.
It's hard to imagine all of the time the entire art-festival-going process takes. Usually I try not to think about it since none of it is paid time. But, in an effort to be transparent, here's a look at some of the time I put into doing these two art festivals.
The hardest question I always get asked is:
"How long did it take you to make this?"
"Okay," you're probably saying, "but how much money did you make?!"
Here is the dismal truth...
Show one: $698.00 in sales
Show two: $2,323.00 in sales
Total after expenses = -$3,290.00
This result is extremely embarrassing to share. Sure, there are places I could have cut costs. I could have slept in the cheapest (worst) hotels available. I could have driven through the night (dangerous and stressful). I could have done the second show without my husband's help (no lunch or bathroom breaks and no support) and saved on his airfare. But regardless of expenses, the amount I made in sales wasn't worth it.
Where do I go from here? I don't know. I have more questions than answers.
Is it me? Does my art suck? Should I get a "real" job? If so, what makes something a "real" job? Maybe it's not me, maybe it's the economy? Perhaps people are too worried about inflation? Do people ever spend money on art? Do any artists make money at art fairs? Maybe it's my medium? Perhaps people aren't interested in purchasing textile art? And around again: Is it me?
Who knows. All I know is that I can't NOT make art. (I've tried to stop.) So despite the huge emotional toll all of this puts on me, I'm already planning for my next art festival.
It's been my long-time dream to have a studio in the historic Northrup King Building. I didn't think it would ever happen. But, when the quarantine drastically prohibited me from working in my own crowded home, I realized the time had come to move...
You can visit my new studio and gallery!
I will be open to the public for Open Studio Saturdays every Saturday from 12-4pm, starting July 11th.
I'll have original art for sale (both textiles and pastel paintings), as well as note cards, prints, handbags, and more.
Step three - and very importantly! - I've got to purchase a tent. It'll happen soon. I'm doing research.
Edina Fall Into the Arts
And so! This September, I'll be at the Edina Fall Into the Arts Festival. This will be my first ever outdoor art fair! I'll have a tent full of my new work in pastels, both originals and prints, along with a nice selection of my textile art work. I'm very excited. I'm hoping for nice weather and a great crowd!
Examples of the work I'll have at the festival
I hope to see you at the Edina Fall into the Arts Festival this September!
Find more of my upcoming events here.
My Biggest Show Yet
Two weeks ago I was in Chicago, at the One of a Kind Show + Sale. This show had been on my art show wish list for a while, and I'm really proud that I accomplished it this year! About 70,000 people shopped this holiday show and over 600 artists exhibited.
I hadn't felt ready to apply for this large, well-known show until this past spring, when I figured, why not just apply and see if I get in? And, what do you know? I got accepted! Which was thrilling! Even so, I had a hard time deciding whether to go for it or not. It has a very expensive booth fee, and I was still waiting to hear if I received the grant for which I had applied. In the end, my "nothing venture, nothing gained" attitude pushed me to do it.
There were many times over the past six months when I felt that I wouldn't have enough time to make all the items I wanted to bring with me. And I certainly didn't make everything on my to-do list. (In fact, I spent quite a bit of unplanned time learning to draw and paint with pastels. Whoops!) But, it turns out, knowing I was going to do this show so far in advance gave me plenty of time to prepare. I had more than enough inventory with me.
One Week Pre-Show
The best decision I made was to take an entire week before the show to do prep work. Hesitantly, I set aside the remaining partially-completed purses on my work table. Instead, I spent that final week packing and prepping my products, preparing for my booth set up, and accomplishing tasks for my time away from home. It was wonderful; I arrived feeling calm and stress-free. And I didn't encounter any of those "Oh no, I forgot to do/bring " moments.
Top 3 Things I Will Do Again
3. Have a final day sale.
Personally, I do not like sales for handmade products and art. It doesn't make sense to me to have sales, because I try my best to give a quality product at the best price I can, always. And honestly. it can be hard to turn a profit as an artist.
Even so, I felt that a final day sale at a 4-day long show made sense. I wanted to reduce my inventory to take home and I wanted to turn last day lookers into buyers. Since it was just a one-day thing, and only for in-person sales, I felt okay about doing it.
And last, but not least... Thank you to all the kind and friendly people who visited my booth. I am exceptionally grateful for my wonderful customers, new and returning! Your support allows me to keep doing what I love. Thank you!
See you next year, Chicago!
Now, don't get me wrong, being busy is good news. But having down time is also important. I can get crabby when my mind and body haven't had a chance to recover from a big event or an intensive period of work.
This past weekend I was finally able to take some restful time off. Spending time outdoors in the sunshine, and also reconnecting with my family, has rejuvenated me a bit. I actually got antsy at the end of the weekend; inspiration for another piece of art has been nagging me. It is a challenge to put off a creative urge until there is time to devote to it!
So, here I am, two weeks late, taking a moment to write..
A Quick Recap of the Show
And if the thoughtful reception by the public wasn't enough, I was thoroughly astounded on Friday afternoon when the American Craft Council presented me with the Award of Excellence in Booth Design.
Here I am being presented with the award by ACC director of education Michael Radyk (left) and ACC executive director Chris Amundsen (right).
From the American Craft Council:
"A tradition established at the start of the American Craft Shows, the Awards of Excellence recognize and celebrate show artists ... From a pool of more than 200 incredibly talented makers, five were chosen to be honored with awards at our 2017 American Craft Show in St. Paul.
Taking home the award for booth design, which honors both quality of work and booth presentation, was textile artist Mary Pow, whose display highlights the clean lines of her striking, color-block work."
After floating through the rest of Friday with stars in my eyes, I didn't think the show could get any better. But Saturday proved me wrong.
We were anticipating a slow day due to the beautiful weather outside. And while Saturday may have been quieter; for me, it is a day I will never forget! I made my first-ever sale of wall art.
Of course, after I sold a piece of wall art, I had to scramble to figure out how to wrap it. I was not prepared for a sale! Luckily, my very kind booth neighbor, artist Amber Harrison, helped me out by bringing me cling wrap and felt. (She is the same person who, after I received the award for booth design said to me, "And you were so worried about your booth!" True. I was.)
Here I am standing next to my four-panel piece, The Interplay of Opposites, right after it sold.
I think maybe the best part of the show is meeting the artists. Since artists tend to work in solitude, gathering for a craft show is a rare opportunity. It forces us to get out of our studios and interact with each other. I think, although we enjoy spending time alone, we also like to find out how other artists work. I know one of my favorite things is to hear about the process behind the craft.
Thank you to the American Craft Council for honoring me with such a prestigious award. Thank you to my husband for his encouragement and assistance. Thank you to the show-goers and patrons who support fine craft. And thank you to the artists who inspire us all!
Months of prep, hours and hours of research, lots of designing, tons of sewing, hours of over-time, and yes, even a few emotional melt-downs... Plus, two days of show set up, one evening at the preview party, three days of the retail show, and a couple quick hours taking it all down...
I did it!
On Thursday afternoon, I leisurely put the finishing touches on my booth, got all my products displayed, and made sure everything was ready for the evening's preview party.
I was very pleased to see that women loved my handbags. They raved about the unique colors and designs, and the lightweight quality of the fabrics. Actually, men also loved the purses; several told me that if they were women, they would be buying from me!
It was surprising to find out what colors most people were drawn to. The pink sunset with a touch of gray was very popular, as was the gray ombré with a pop of red.
I was thrilled on Saturday morning when, first thing, a well-dressed man wearing a dashing hat and a long red coat purchased a pouch that matched his outfit (center photo, above). He immediately transferred his phone and credit cards from the case he was using to the new pouch!
My wrap belts were very well received! Several woman who thought they couldn't wear a decorative belt tried them on, loved them, and purchased one! Many people told me how great they would be when traveling: just add a beautiful belt and an outfit will look completely different from one day to the next. Great idea!
One woman exclaimed to me, "You haven't been here before. I would remember if I had seen your work here before. I know you weren't here last year. Such great work!"
At two separate times, men came up to me and said, "Your work is the best at the show."
A woman wrote, "Best new artist at the show! Fresh & fun & beautiful."
Other written comments included, "Beautiful!!" and "Lovely!"
What a show!
I want to give enormous amounts of thanks to my dear, wonderful husband. Chris, you are the greatest!
To my many friends and family members who came to the show to give support: Thank you! I appreciated seeing your friendly faces so much!
Many thanks to my parents for their support and babysitting efforts!
Thank you to all the fantastic people I met at the show: I had a great time! Keep in touch!
How am I feeling?
I'm proud of myself.
I'm scouring artists' blogs and Instagram to get an idea of what to expect.
I still don't know what to expect!
What's Happening This Week
I'm excited that I got a chance to set up my booth this week because now I'm not as nervous about the show. I even got to try out the lights, something I was very concerned about. I'm keeping it set up all week so I can add the finishing touches to it slowly.
Having an art show booth set up in my living room has transformed part of my house into a show room. (It also means I have to walk through a maze to get to the front door! What a strange experience!) I'm surprised how happy I am with how it looks. Perhaps you remember when I was so worried about figuring out how to create this booth in the first place? I have learned so much in these past few months!
Back from the Printer
One disappointment: I did not get the domain name I was anticipating for so long (www.marypow.com) in time to have it printed on these cards. But maybe that's good; it gives me plenty of time to figure out how to switch everything over to the new domain later, without feeling rushed.
Yet To Do
Pricing. Maybe that's a topic for a future blog post. But for now, I have a stack of half-finished purses calling my name!
- You can find out more about the St. Paul American Craft Council Show here.
- Purchase advance tickets to the St. Paul show here.
- If you are a member of the American Craft Council, your entry is free. I highly recommend becoming a member. The magazine alone is worth it!
In my new line of handbags and accessories I've been contemplating my education in architecture. Working as an artist for the past few years, I've realized that my creative style may be different from artists with other education backgrounds. I like straight lines. I like crisp, clean edges. I like structure. I like things to be tidy. So, my repetitive use of parallel lines and crisp edges in this work takes me back to my days at the drafting board.
Hello, my name is Mary. And I'm a DIYer.
Eventually I would love to hire a photographer, and a model, and a day in a photography studio. But, since the ACC show is just a month away, I really needed to get some photos taken quickly so I could send my promotional postcards and business cards to the printer!
So, I became photographer for a day (again), used myself as a model (again), and did all the editing as well (again). You do what you have to do when you're in a pinch. My printed postcards haven't arrived yet, but you can get a sneak peak of them below. (Did I mention that I'm also my own graphic designer?)
What I need this year is an actual BOOTH. Walls, lights, signage, display -- everything!
There is so much that goes into these big capital-A Art show booths, as I'm learning. I can't believe how much time I've already spent researching booth options. It makes me nervous that I'm not spending enough time making the items that will actually go into the booth! But, without a booth I will have no way to display my new work. It must be done.
- easy to assemble and disassemble on my own
- needs to fit in my car
- display my work in the best way possible
- needs to be cost effective
- must be flexible, so I can use it at different sorts of shows in the future
So, do I spend loads of time scouring the internet and local fixture stores to find the best deals for used display options? Or do I drop some money and just get new? It's tempting to buy new and be done with it and focus on the creating of my work. But, how much money do I want to sink into a booth? There is already the booth fee to attend the show in the first place. And part of the equation must also include the question: what if I decide I don't like doing this kind of show after all? I don't want to waste money on a display I'll never use again!
Ahh, so this is a journey, isn't it? Putting myself out there, trying something new; it can be a balancing act! Of course, for all the difficult decisions I need to make for my business, I wouldn't trade it for anything! I really do enjoy being a working artist. I'm even enjoying designing this booth ... though I wouldn't mind having a little more time. April's never seemed so close to January before!
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.
I also enjoy reflecting on the human condition.
In my blog, I write about my musings and my art.
Find my bio here.
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