Confessions from My First Art Show

Here are the framed pieces I submitted for the art show:

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These were the pieces I had matted to go in the art bin:

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The art show was a definite learning experience.  First and foremost, congratulations to the artists that did well (i.e. sold a lot of stuff), and thanks to my friends and family who stopped by the show.  It really meant a lot to me.

I only sold one piece, a matted 11×14 swan photo for $35 (that someone I knew bought).  I invested a total of $884 for framing and matting the pieces that were in the art bin, $40 entrance fee to enter the show and a total of 15 ½ hours volunteering at the show, for a grand total of $924 in costs (which doesn't include the time I spent volunteering).  Of the $35 I earned from the sale of my photo, the Guild keeps 10%, so I will get a check for $31.50.  The framed photography did not sell well for most people.  Another new Guild member I met sold 8 matted photographs from the art bin.  They were all Chesapeake Bay themed, and were priced higher than mine.  She charged $40 for her 11×14 matted photographs.  The photography I entered for this show was not focused on the Bay.  I thought I would offer something different.  I took a gamble, and as a result, my stuff didn’t sell.

It was really disappointing not to sell more than one thing, especially considering the money I spent on framing and matting.  Lesson learned.  Another lesson is to offer a product that will sell to your target market.  The people in this area love anything to do with the Bay, nautical, boating, crabs, fishing, etc.  I should have had some Chesapeake Bay themed pieces as well.  One woman bought a sunflower painting for $400, I had a framed sunflower photograph that was priced about half of that, but I guess the customer was drawn to this painting.  You just never know what will sell or what people are looking for. One of the women who sold a ton of stuff did silk screening on scarves, wall hangings, purses, and cards.  She offered something different that no one else was doing and it sold really well.

I am putting all of my experiences out here for the next person who wants to do an art show.  Start small.  If you are a photographer, focus more on matting pieces for the art bin rather than spending a small fortune on framing pieces that may not sell (because there are so many photographers and it's a really competitive field), make some note card sets, or post cards, or products from another hobby like book making or hand made jewelry.

For a first show, less is really more in terms of inventory and money spent.  This should really be research and development — keep your eyes and ears open and watch what sells and adjust accordingly.  Of course, every market and every show is different.

Go with your gut.  I wish I had.

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