Creating Artwork for an Art Show

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Once a student gets past that awkward stage and begins to see significant progress in his workmanship, he may hear nature’s persistent call.

That, of course, is the calling of his mercenary muse to become a professional artist and sell that which he hath wrought.

It is expected and human nature. We all want approval, and what better approval is there than someone giving us real, honest to goodness cash for our work? The chance of a novice artist to have his work accepted in a gallery show is about the same as becoming a major league ball player. Many artists begin their selling career by exhibiting and selling at local art and craft shows. This type of marketing can be very profitable, and many artists and crafters make a decent, if hard-fought, living doing the show circuit.

It’s All In The Details

An artist must wear many hats if he plans to participate in an art festival. Creating a body of work is only a tiny percentage of the effort involved to be successful at a fair or exhibition. The artist is responsible for the following:

  • Create a body of saleable work for the intended marketplace
  • Develop competitive pricing for the area in which the venue is located
  • Plan a theme and create a booth or selling area to display the artwork
  • Arrange everything necessary for the events, including booking the show, lodging, meals
  • Make available transportation to and from the event for merchandise, display and personnel
  • Have in place a retail-selling plan, including vendor’s license, tax forms, cash register, credit card acceptance system, invoicing procedure, and inventory control

It’s Great, But Will It Sell?

There are two kinds of art. One is the inspired, soul-wrenching, thought provoking piece to which every artist aspires. Yes, artists can and do sell those inspired pieces. However, they are mainly sold in a gallery setting, where knowledgeable collectors are always on the lookout for the next up-and-coming wunderkind.

Then there is art that is created for selling. This art should be the focus of any attempt to sell in a public venue. The work is meant for the public at large. Remember that the typical buyer is looking for a piece to accent or enhance a particular space in their home, or as a gift for someone else’s home. The attendees are looking for pleasant, eye-catching artwork at a reasonable price. Many knowledgeable customers who know good art will attend the show. However, the average consumer is looking for size, color and price. It is in the artist’s best financial interest to remember this when assembling a body of work for any public venue.

That is not to say that the artist should not bring his best work to the show. However, he should realize there is a good chance he will also return it to his studio. If the artist has a real showcase piece, he may wish to display it as a focal point. It will draw attention to his booth, and if it is an award-winning piece, it can be part of the marketing strategy.

Play To Your Audience

Once the artist decides he should paint with the consumer in mind, it is time to discuss what he should create. Art follows trends and fads. Each year new colors are touted as the fashion choice for home decorating. Interior designers, paint companies, fabric and furniture manufacturers scramble to develop lines of products, based on this year’s hot colors.

An artist interested in his bottom line should pay attention to these trends. Subscribe to interior design publications, and read the trade journals to be prepared for the upcoming season with this year’s fashionable colors. Browsing the selections of art available for interior designers will give artists ideas of the upcoming trends decorators will be using for their room designs.

Not only are the colors important, but the subject matter, style, size and type of paintings will have an effect on the painter’s choices. Diptychs and triptychs have become very popular for both paintings and photography. Multiple, colored mattes are favored to add a color accent to a room. Keeping abreast of decorating trends will provide ample fodder for the artist’s palette and pocket book.

What Is It Worth In The Marketplace?

Pricing is very difficult. Moreover, it is very difficult. Yes, that phrase was repeated. It may bear repeating again. An artist’s work is like a child. He conceived it, developed it, soothed the cranky fits and was ultimately blessed with a fully actualized, completed being. At least that is how the protective artist may feel toward his work. How can he place a value on it? He may want to pin the mortgage payment on the wall near his easel to remind him.

Different regions have varying ideas of market price for artwork, some of which is based on venue, and some based on the celebrity of the artist. Items for sale at a craft show probably command less than the same items displayed at a high-tone art show. If the artist is just starting out and needs to establish a name for himself, celebrity is immediately removed from the equation. Urban areas are more likely to command higher prices than rural locations. Education, sophistication and economic status are also factors to consider in selecting venues to show one’s art.

Before setting prices, talk to fellow artists exhibiting in the area shows. Attend festivals to get a feel for pricing. Artists tend to run the full spectrum of pricing their work. Some beginning students put exorbitant prices on their work. Others barely cover the expense of the materials. Know what it costs to produce a piece of artwork.

Many crafters use a formula to calculate their selling prices. These formulas can be found on craft forums and magazines. They include the cost of supplies, an hourly wage, and a percentage to cover overhead. This may be well and good for crafts that are produced in quantity, but what of the artist who creates unique pieces? The creative muse is not paid by the hour. However, the craftsman’s formula is at least a starting point from which to work. Pricing art is one of the hardest jobs an artist can take on, but is one that is critical to success as a working artist.

Preparing Art For Sale

If the paintings are to be sold framed, make sure all costs are calculated into the selling price. Do-it-yourself framing cuts down on cost, but is also time consuming. Using standard sized supports allows the artist to purchase ready-made mats and frames, which are less costly than custom-made products. Whenever feasible, purchase supplies in bulk.

A watercolorist should develop the skills to cut mats for their work. It is a simple task and does not require a large investment for the proper tools. Artists working in other mediums who have reproductions made of their artwork will also benefit by being able to mat their prints. Some watercolors are sold like the prints, matted but not framed.

All artists should learn to prepare their works for sale, mounted and encased in sturdy plastic. All these items are readily available from art suppliers and packaging wholesalers. Using the proper materials and methods gives the artist’s work a professional appearance and therefore, more saleable. Shopping for the best prices makes a huge difference in the bottom line, and using quality materials shows the consumers that the artist is a professional, whose work is worthy of the asking price.

Is It Real Or Is It Memorex?

Since the previous section refers to reproduction of artwork, the pros and cons of reproduction should be discussed. A variety of prints can be created for different uses. Prints suitable for framing are a logical choice. An artist can have several sizes of prints made to sell as frame-ready artwork, sets of note cards, postcards and calendars. Prints may be produced on fabric, as t-shirts or tote bags motifs.

Of course, all of this requires a good deal of research and planning. The logistics of printing quality reproductions involves understanding the process and having a good working relationship with a print house. Other artists invest in their own equipment to make reproductions. This, however, is a costly investment that is generally pursued by well-established, successful artists.

An artist can certainly take advantage of modern technology to create some reproductions himself with a little knowledge and reasonable start-up expenses.

The next installment (Creating Art Show Booths To Sell your Art) will focus on designing and producing an attractive and portable themed booth, and discuss the logistics involved in running a successful on-the-road business. A business plan for an artistic entrepreneur will also be discussed.

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