In my first year of art as a business, 2019, I decided to make myself a rule that I would only apply to be a vendor at an art fair or other art event if I had been there at least once just to observe… and sample the fair food. I broke that rule. I mostly regretted it.
That’s a picture of the disaster that is my studio one week after participating in Art Beat in downtown South Bend, Indiana. The rest of my house doesn’t look so good either. I’ve had a week to rest up after all that work, now it’s time to put my house and my life back to normal.
I had never been to Art Beat before this year. I meant to go last year, but — like most in-person art events last summer, it was canceled. It seemed like a big deal to so many other local artists. There was a lot of buzz about it on social media. It seemed like it would fit my schedule since it was local. It was a one-day event on a Saturday, so it didn’t conflict with my day job or my volunteer responsibilities at church. Since other artists seemed so anxious to be accepted, I assumed they had experienced a good volume of sales there. There weren’t a lot of other options available to me.
I applied. I was accepted, and then I was accepted again to the “fine art scene” where I supposed my work would be a good fit. I was hopeful of making a significant profit for all the work and expense I put into it. I was so wrong.
Now, I want to say emphatically that Art Beat is a great event! It was well organized. It was well attended. The music was good. The food was really good! The parks department and all of the volunteers did a fantastic job. If I had been there just as a visitor to have a good time, it would have been a lot of fun. I might have even done a little shopping. But it was the wrong event for my art, and I would have known that if I had been to Art Beat in the past.
In the three weeks before Art Beat, I started a new job that wasn’t going well and required a lot of overtime that I hadn’t anticipated when I signed up. So it wasn’t until two nights before that I was filling the required sand bags to weigh down my canopy. That was a minor disaster, starting with the discovery that the bags I had ordered were the wrong type and didn’t hold enough sand. I had to improvise with less than attractive gallon water jugs. The night before, I was up past midnight packing the car and printing signs and price labels. And then correcting them and printing again. Luckily I did get some sound sleep once I hit the pillow.
The day of the event was SO HOT. SO, SO MISERABLY HOT. I drank so much water — a few ounces short of a gallon, and still I didn’t need to use the port-a-potty until 6:30 in the evening. When the wind picked up and we couldn’t leave the back of the tent open to let some air in, the tent got unbearably hot so that we had to stand outside the tent to greet people. I thought my husband might pass out, so I sent him to the bar across the street to sit in the air conditioning and drink ginger ale for an hour.
What did I get for all that work? Well, I sold three of my smaller paintings. I thought that might mean I would at least turn a profit. But no. After subtracting what I had spent on the event, I calculated a loss of about $100. If I were to subtract the damage to merchandise and equipment that got knocked over by the wind (or by me) then the losses are about double.
I gained other things. I got many kind compliments. (Enough to give me swelled head.) I met some very nice people, including the artists in other booths nearby, and I met the publisher of an online magazine that features local artists, poets, and writers. He invited me to submit my work. He kindly posted on Facebook about my work at Art Beat too. I got to spend the day with my husband, which we hadn’t been able to do for a while. We didn’t even get into a fight setting up the tent like we did when camping.
The most important thing I gained for my business was a little “education.” I learned that my rule about only applying to events with which I am familiar was a wise rule that I should never break again without very good reason. I learned that outdoor events are a LOT of work. I learned that I really need a good van if I’m going to do more of them. And I learned that I’m going to need to search for events that are better suited to selling my art, or explore some possibilities for selling online instead. I gained experience.
I need to paint more. A lot more, because selling art isn’t the fulfilling part of art business, making art is the part that feeds my soul. I am toying with the idea of having a sort of clearance sale to move out the art I’ve already made and make room for new and even better creations. If you’re interested in a bargain, stay tuned!
I’m also contemplating starting a YouTube channel, though I haven’t settled on what type of content that would be if I do. I know that people who buy art, often do because they feel a connection to the artist. I know that the artists whose work I want to own myself are artists I’ve become acquainted with through their YouTube videos. I’m not so comfortable with the idea of putting myself out there like that, but neither were they.