Art Shows - Is it worthwhile to do?


I was wondering if I could get some comments on doing shows and
festivals. I have not done any, but was curious as to others
experiences. Is this something that is worthwhile to do? Is it better
just to do a few each year? Is there a way to know which will suit
your style, etc. Any comments are much appreciated. Also, what is the
normal cost for doing something like this?


There are shows and shows. I just did a show on Saturday which was
abysmally bad for me. Some folks did well- those which were selling
items costing $2 to $40. It was supposed to be items only handmade
by the local artist but… well, the bottom line was that the show
was an OK venue for inexpensive items.

If you want to do a show, look at the economy of the community where
the show takes place. Ask yourself if the folks there have the $$$
to spend what your work costs as an impulse purchase. Ask if there
are well-to-do tourists coming through or whether you will be
depending on the locals. If you can, visit the show as a customer and
look at what gets in there and what is selling - you don’t want to be
at the show where they are peddling kleenex boxes made out of
popsicle sticks and the items that sell are less than $10.

As for the normal cost, it is all over the board. The ones that are
dirt-cheap are usually dirt-cheap for a reason - lousy venue, no
publicity - and the kleenex box people will be there. Prices for
shows can range from $10 to $600 or more. But the high price is not
a guarantee of good sales, but sometimes just larcenous organizers.
There are good shows here locally where booth rent is in the $100


Hi Delias

You haven’t mentioned any specific shows so it’s hard to give any
input. Where are you located geographically? The cost can be anything
from free to a couple thousand dollars. Besides the booth fee, you
have to add in the cost of display (tent, cases, lights, cc machine
rental, electricity etc). They can be very worthwhile if you have
enough money behind you to get you going.

I wrote to Thomas Mann once and asked him the same question. His
advice was to sell to friends and family a lot first. Do home parties
and small local shows first. This way, you have a bit of experience
selling your things and you have a reasonable expectation of what
will do well at a big show. Visit all shows if you can and ask
questions of exhibitors (if you can). They can be very helpful if it
is not interrupting their selling time at the show. Getting their
card and emailing them later is probably the best thing to do.

Also, check your area for things you can be involved in that are
less expensive. I’m doing an Arts Trail "Open Studios by the Sound"
this holiday season. It only cost me 150 dollars and some of the
other exhibitors have said they have made up to 6k in it.

I had an open house last year. I sent an invitation with a with a
photo of a bracelet (it cost 40 cents a mailing). We had torrential
rain that night so, I only had about 5 people show, but those 5
people spent 1200 dollars. I thought it was worth it.

Good Luck
Kim Starbard

Hello Delias,

There are no pat answers to your questions, but I’ll give it a shot.
I’ve been doing shows for 15 years or so. First of all, realize that
just to do one show will involve an investment from you. Once you
have the equipment, the cost drops as you continue using it, so plan
to do at least 3 shows. Initially, I suggest that you do one-day
shows near your home. Keep travel costs low and work to get local

If you start out by doing indoor shows, you won’t need to buy a
canopy and self-contained lighting equipment, plus bad weather will
be less of a factor in your success. You can use card tables
initially, (but you’ll want to upgrade after a while) so see if you
can borrow them from friends, or rent tables from the show organizer.
Don’t forget table covers - I sew, so I tailor covers to slip over my
tables, and use fabric that is wash and dry! Business cards can be
inexpensively printed from your computer - have at least 150/show to

If the interior is dimly lit, you’ll want to highlight your work.
Electricity is usually available at indoor shows, but you’ll need a
heavy-duty extension cord, power strip, and several lamps. Drafting
table lamps that are on extendable arms work well, and can be
clamped on the edge of a table. Don’t forget some sort of chair, a TV
tray type table for your cash box, receipt book, pens, and cooler for
drink and food. I NEVER eat from food vendors - a holdover from my
days inspecting them. I can’t afford to get sick during a show!! (The
stories I could tell about their ideas of “sanitation!”)

You’ll want some kind of display. Initially, that may be as simple
as putting earrings through fabric stretched on embroidery hoops.
You’ll get other ideas as you “shop” some shows. Security may be an
issue if you have items priced >US$100 - perhaps a case or some way
to secure them.

ASAP GET A SALES TAX NUMBER!!! At least here in Kansas, the state
dept. of revenue is watching such things closely. The other financial
thing is to spend a few bucks with a good accountant to get books set
up and understand what records you need to keep - planning ahead will
make your tax reports sooooo much easier.

Is it worthwhile? - Sometimes it is and other times, it’s a bust.
Expect both results. The best way to determine if a show will be
suited to your work is to go and look it over for a few hours. See
what kind of booths are drawing a crowd. Observe if many people are
carrying purchases - if you don’t see many, than it’s a crowd of
lookers. Why are they just looking? Is it because the prices are too
high, quality is poor, etc. If you look at things as a shopper,
you’ll know.

Is it better to do a few each year? - Well, how much stock can you
produce? Assuming that you have a sellable product and the price is
right, that will be your limiting factor. Since you don’t know the
answers to those two questions, I’d suggest that you make up a nice
variety of stock - things you can brag on. Select four shows that
you feel are right for your work and apply to them. Be prepared with
jury photos. For a relatively inexpensive way to document/photograph
your work, see if your scanner will provide good images. My first
scanner gave amazing images, but my new one is a disappointment in
that area! I’ve observed that shows with modest entry fees (US$75)
are more relaxed about jury photos, but as the entry fee climbs you’d
better plan to have professional quality photos.

What is the normal cost? - Hard to define normal. Start with your
show fees, then determine and add up the following: photographs,
displays, tables and covers and lamps, tax accountant’s time, travel,
lodging and meals for multi-day shows… these basic costs will vary
greatly, and you need to think through what you want to do before you
do the math. I’m not listing the cost of making stock as I assume
that you are making it anyway, but it really should be part of the

I’m sure you’ll find lots of wise advice from other Orchidians. Best
of luck and let us know what happens,

Judy in Kansas


This past summer I decided to attend a few local craft shows as a
jewellery exhibitor. I live in Ontario/Canada and referred to the
Ontario Crafts Council Craft Show Directory for about:
dates, costs for the booth, locations and expected attendance, among

I applied to several that were “juried” shows and managed to get
into three.

There is no way of knowing what kind of business and sales you will
achieve at these shows. Although I made plenty of contacts and met
some wonderful people - both customers and other vendors, the
revenue generated from these events wasn’t enough to warrant my
return next year.

In addition, I was confronted with plenty of competition from nearby
exhibitors that were selling $10 and $20 handcrafted sterling silver
jewellery with gemstones (!?) Don’t know how these people stay afloat
in their business but I refuse to compete with that "Payless"

To sum it up, I also encountered a few irate passerby’s and hagglers
that felt the need to openly express their dismay with my prices
(i.e. $60 for genuine coral and turquoise necklace with sterling
silver Bali beads and silver findings).

Just because we are artists/artisans does that mean we should sell
our work for next to nothing? What about our labour, material costs,
our booth cost, vehicle rental, overhead costs, and the wee bit of
profit we feel justified in providing ourselves for our skills and
hard work?

I am very reluctant to partake in future trade show events unless I
can be certain I will at least ‘break even’. I’m also quite new in
the jewellery industry struggling to launch my business, so any
advice would be greatly appreciated.


Joanne Malakassiotis
jewellery artisan
Toronto, Canada

Hello Delias,

I started my jewelry career doing small shows. It is a way to get
your name out there and to get future clients to see your work. It is
also a great way to see how you fit into the marketplace, get
feedback on your designs, colors, etc… As for which shows to do you
should check them out for yourself. I know that takes a year until
you can then get into the show but it can really save you the time
and trouble of doing a bad show. You know you are at a bad art show
when a school bus pulls up next to you, at the spot for their booth
they stretch a giant pair of ladies unmentionables accross the front
bumper of the bus which read “We Airbrush Anything”. Well, I didn’t
do that show again.

Cost can range anywhere from the $5 that I do at the local Farmers
Market Artisans Show (for weekly spending money) to $75-150 for some
smaller shows, up to well over $1000 for the large wholesale shows.
It does not always hold true that the more you spend the better the
show, you really need to do your research. Also a good show can be
completely ruined by the weather and a bad show can do surprisingly
well for some strange reason. A great display and attitude always

Just my opinion.

See my reply to “Independent Jewelers in Today’s Marketplace.”

Here are some things to think about that I didn’t mention in my
other post:

  1. You will pay a booth fee for the privilege of one weekend (or
    other limited block of time) exposure to a customer base that you
    probably won’t see again unless you do that show again next year. You
    have no guarantee of getting in next year.

  2. You will have the expense of a jury fee for shows you get into
    and shows you don’t get into.

  3. You may get rained out completely. If so, you’ll get no refund
    from the show promoter. If it only rains part of the weekend, you may
    have to pack all of your belongings into your car wet. It’s not fun
    to break down in the wind and rain.

  4. The show may be poorly managed and underadvertised, no matter
    what they claim. I’ve been to art festivals who claim to be reputable
    but who let in resale crap and allowed “25% OFF” posters on the last
    day even though other artists complained.

  5. They may hold the artists who apply to higher standards than they
    hold themselves. In other words, if they don’t get enough
    high-quality applicants they may take whoever they can get to fill
    the spaces so they can collect the maximum amount of booth fees.

  6. If the jurying is poor, the crowds will be low-end.

  7. A lot, not all, of the public doesn’t know the difference in
    craft shows and art shows. That’s been my experience in Texas, New
    Mexico, and Colorado. I think it’s because the show promoters have
    too often compromised the quality of artists they accept.

  8. You could break down on the way to the show and lose one day or
    all the days. If that happens, you may get charged for a missed motel
    reservation and have to incur another one where you break down. You
    will have the expense of repairs. Consider the wear and tear and
    extra mileage you are putting on your vehicle. Your show fees are not

  9. Be sure you count ALL of your potential expenses before you
    decide you are breaking even: jury fees for all shows, booth fees,
    displays, a quality tent, plastic sheeting to cover your stock if it
    rains, weights to anchor the tent in the wind, gasoline (a big one
    right now!), meals, mosquito repellent, ice, rain slicker, sunscreen,
    something to level your displays, lights, fans, production time
    missed, visa fees, visa processing machines or swipers, sales tax,
    cost of goods sold, parking fees, motels, long distance phone calls
    to home, silent auction donations, etc., etc.

  10. Don’t go into credit card debt to do shows, hoping to recoup on
    the next one if the current one is a bomb.

  11. Most shows want the booth fee 3 to 6 months or more before the
    show opens. If you are applying to a lot of shows, that’s a lot of
    money. If you have to cancel for some reason, some or all of the
    booth fee is forfeited.

  12. Consider how many days, including driving to and from the show,
    that you must give up. Tally up all missed production time or time
    away from a job.

  13. Find out from other artists if the public seems to be attending
    AND BUYING. The shows I did last year were terrible–even the ones
    that I felt very lucky to get into. The public did not attend and the
    ones that did were there just for something to do–not art

  14. Are the hours of the show reasonable?

  15. Inexperienced show promoters seem to be oblivious to the
    environment that artists need to sell art to art lovers: Is there
    music? Loud? Are you guaranteed to be far enough away from it to hear
    yourself think and your customers speak? Are there mimes, clowns,
    pony rides, face painting. Is the atmosphere that of a carnival?

I could probably go on. My advice is to do shows close to home that
don’t cost much and branch out slowly. In other words, don’t apply to
a bunch of shows in the first year and have all the expenses already
committed before you see if any shows will be profitable.

J. S. (Sue) Ellington

Delias - This is a big question.

There are several kinds of art shows - juried, or those where you
just buy a space. In my opinion, if you actually make your own
jewelry, the juried ones are more desirable. If you are buying
jewelry and reselling it, you probably can’t get admitted to a juried

There is substantial expense in doing shows - you own your own tent,
weights and display materials - basically a portable store setup.
Jury fees run about $25 to $30 to apply, and if accepted, booth fees
can run from $100 to $800 for a two or three day show. You should be
prepared to take credit cards so you need to learn about merchant
processing. Checks and cash are fine, but are a small part of the

You need to have really good pictures of your work to complete an
application - so you have the expense of a professional photographer
or the expense of buying a camera and learning how to use it. Many
shows now require on-line digital application - such as and for that you need a photo manipulation
software program such as Photoshop elements. Of course you can hire
much of this done, but then that is an expense too.

Once accepted into a few good shows, it takes several years to
develop a customer following, thus you need to maintain a customer
database and mail promotional literature, another expense. If you do
only a couple of shows a year, you will have a difficult time
developing a following.

And not to forget, you need to have substantial inventory to do
these shows. If you plan to sell $3000 at a show, I’d suggest that
you have at least 3 times that much inventory. Customers like to pick
from a selection, they don’t usually buy the one item on display. If
you are not a natural sales person, you need to learn that too.

Go to several shows locally. Observe the artists and their wares.
Most will talk to you if you ask informed questions. There are rating
services available for shows, both local and national - one is . Some of the magazines also rate shows -
such as Sunshine Artist.

And yes, it can be very profitable to do juried art shows. And you
can also lose your shirt.

Judy Hoch

For a relatively inexpensive way to document/photograph your work,
see if your scanner will provide good images. 

For anyone who wants to photograph their jewelry and have it come
out looking nice, I recommend building a drop shadow box. Amy
O’Connell’s site-

has a basic demo on this, and our own Charles Lewton Brain has
produced an excellent book and video on the subject of Small Object

The materials are inexpensive, the difference in the end product is


Hi all,

Kimberly said,“I had an open house last year. I sent an invitation
with a with a photo of a bracelet (it cost 40 cents a mailing). We
had torrential rain that night so, I only had about 5 people show, but
those 5people spent 1200 dollars. I thought it was worth it.”

I did this as well. I got tired of paying booth fees for shows and
making negligable profits so I started selling at home. Last December
I set up in my living room just like I would for a craft show. I had
free coffee, tea, and cookies, put on some nice music, and voila!
instant home show! I put up flyers at my college, sent out
invitations by mail, and called all my friends. I made a nice tidy
profit and didn’t have to give any of it away to promoters. I plan on
doing this again this year and probably forever. After I graduate next
Spring, I’m hoping to have a lot more time to make jewelry, and
hopefully do more home shows. I’m trying to think outside the box and
come up with my own ideas for venues to sell. I’ve had some kooky
notions, but I’m determined to reap all the benefits of my work and
give as little away as possible.

Augest Derenthal
Cry Baby Designs

I was wondering if I could get some comments on doing shows and
festivals. I have not done any, but was curious as to others
experiences. Is this something that is worthwhile to do? Is it
better just to do a few each year? Is there a way to know which
will suit your style, etc. Any comments are much appreciated. Also,
what is the normal cost for doing something like this? 

As others have already replied, the costs vary widely depending on
the type of show, location, etc.

IMO, doing shows is a gamble. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
Even a show that was good one year may be a bust the next year. I did
one last week that I had sold at last year for the first time. Last
year I did really well, and was looking forward to doing the same
this year. But this year the organizers had family troubles and
“forgot” to promote the show, and they “forgot” to tell the vendors
that nobody was coming. So there were 21 vendors and hardly any
attendees. The vendors spent most of the weekend selling to each

As for choosing shows, talk to other vendors who have done that show
in the past. If they seem honestly enthusiastic about the show, it may
be worth trying. But be warned–if they are selling items wildly
different from yours (ie., cement garden gargoyles vs dainty wire toe
rings), what was a good show for them may not be such a good show for

As near as I can tell, doing any kind of art or craft show comes
down to 'how much are you willing to bet"?

Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Pet Jewelry

Hi again, as I have said before I am new to the jewelry part- but I
have been doing an art for 14 years and dealing with art shows. When
I started my business I made a decision, retail or wholesale. I had
already done the one man art shows (dealing with my fine art) and
knew I couldn’t make a living so for my Indian art I chose wholesale
shows. When I started off I tried the jury part of my main wholesale
show, it wasn’t original enough, so I went on to the main floor for
retail stores. So 14 years later having established a bread and
butter business wholesale and working with the jewelry at night I
have decided to do some juried shows. I have already learned shows
with food or entertainment as the main draw don’t work often. By
word of mouth I hear about “good” juried shows, but visit them
first. I have gone into the juried part of my wholesale sale for the
first time this year. I am a little leery as to wholesale part and
my jewelry. I am ok with the Indian part. It is scary to do the 4x
formula for retail but like my husband said," Do I think so little
of myself and my art?" So I have really thought it out for the
wholesale price and have decided not to cut myself short. If they
want it in their store then they will get it at the price I decide
or not. Otherwise I will do the few but better juried shows. Am I
right or not? Any imput. Incidentally the warm soap and water and
fingers worked great.

Thank you. Terri

Joanne. I am so new in the jewelry part that I hestitate to give any
advice but will anyway. I have found that between my artist outfit,
my stories of my pieces, the unusualness and uniquen ess and one of
kind, people are awed and proud to own a piece. Now this started
with my Indian art (not jewelry) and it does get a little
embarrassing to be the “artist”. Oh you did these? I have found it
carries over to my jewelry. You have to sell yourself. You have to
outshine the rest. You have to do something that makes people stop
and stare and then draw them in with stories of you or whatever. Do
not come across as “I need to sell” Lots more to tell to. It is not
always easy to not be shy about what you do, but if you think about
it as sharing and involving your lookers, buyers, then you will do

I forgot to mention that I ultimately got into the habit of googling
or searching Yahoo for the art fair name. It will bring up the
websites of artists who have that show listed on their “Show
Schedule” pages. I would call and ask their feeling, in general,
about the quality of the show, etc. I didn’t just stick to other
jewelers because no one can tell you if you will do well. Any artist,
though, can tell you whether they thought the show was managed well,
juried well, advertised well, etc. We need to talk to each other and
stick together to help each other do well as much as possible.

J. S. (Sue) Ellington

J. S. (Sue) Ellington offered you the up side of shows…let me add
in that in t’ain’t all that bad. :sunglasses:

We do nothing but shows and far prefer them to working with
galleries and wholesaling. Each business has it’s down sides and
upsides. FIgure out how you like to sell your work, what kind of
artist you are, and make whichever “deal with the devil” fits your

Educate yourself:

Subscribe to Craft Reports. That is THE magazine for show artists.
Start small with local shows. Check out the Art Fair Source Guide

The Art Fair Source Guide is THE guide to which shows are good and
which are dogs. There are SHOWS! “eeee HA! !!!$$” and shows-" Oh
gawd, why am I here?" The source guide while spendy is worth every
penny to keep you out of the bad shows.

Another place to go to educate yourself is the NAIA website: The NAIA is the National Association for
Independent Artists that is made up and for show artists. They
address with shows and promoters many of the negative things Sue
touched on…rule enforcement, buy- sell, refunds, etc. They are a
wonderful organization that is doing a lot of good for show artists.

Visit the good, the bad, and the ugly shows in your area. Talk with
the vendors when they are not busy. Be up front with who you are and
most artists are happy to answer your questions.

Do as Sue suggests and try some shows in your area and see if you
enjoy doing them. If you are in the east or midwest, congrats. You
have shows everywhere to apply to. If you are in the west coast,
less shows.

Try some, you might like em or not. It depends on style and what
bugs you. I personally love doing shows, even with all the downsides
Sue mentioned.


Hi, Another plus for doing shows, I love to share with people and
talk and love to see the delight on someones face when they purchase
one of my pieces. Wholesale makes me feel cheated.

Hi, Another plus for doing shows, I love to share with people and
talk and love to see the delight on someones face when they
purchase one of my pieces. Wholesale makes me feel cheated. 

Well put. I think this is an important point that has been
overlooked. Shows have many difficulties, but it is easier to get
into shows than galleries, and there is that feedback/gratification
issue… For me, just making things is not enough. I need to share
them with others, and I need the validation of having someone shell
out money to own them. I also need to see them do that, at least
some of the time, and that means doing shows. It also provides a
detailed feedback on people’s reactions that cannot be gleaned from
any other source.

I just wish it were not necessary to use glass cases, so I could do
more watching of what people reach out and touch. I have a few
inexpensive designs that hang on my side walls, and I am fascinated
to watch which ones people touch. I rearrange them during a show (if
I’m not too busy) to try to figure out how much is location, how
much is item. This kind of marketing and people-watching
is a large part of the “draw” of doing shows. Plus, when people meet
you, especially if you give them a story to go with the piece, they
have an investment in you emotionally as well as financially and are
more likely to tell others about you and return to buy again. I love
it when people come back to my booth with friends and repeat the
things I have just told them.

Can’t get any of that from a check in the mail.


Noel WHY do things have to be in glass cases? Mine aren’t, not
saying that is right but I am such a touch person and if something
is in a glass case, I normally will not want to “bother” someone to
see it—Terri-

Noel WHY do things have to be in glass cases? 

Well, mostly so they don’t get stolen. Even with glass cases, I’ve
had pieces lifted a couple of times. I always have a few things out
where people can pick them up-- especially rings-- but most are in
the cases.

There are also many shows that will not accept jewelers who don’t
use cases. And, finally, I think people expect lower prices is
things are not under glass.


Hi Noel.

There are also many shows that will not accept jewelers who don't
use cases. And, finally, I think people expect lower prices is
things are not under glass.

Thank you, I had not thought of the “not expensive bit” I don’t show
on tables. I have fold up racks and use props to drape suede over and
attractively arrange my pieces, which I hope makes the pieces look
more expensive. But I think I will use some glass cases also. Thank
you again. Much to think about.