Most artists looking to show their work start out by choosing art shows based on location. Typically, they apply to art shows that are close to home so they can easily drive back and forth. They aren’t usually looking to pile on hotels, food, and other travel expenses.
But if you’re serious about participating in art shows, you quickly find that there are only so many in your immediate area. You begin to apply to shows slightly further away, though probably still close enough to travel back and forth between home and the show without an overnight stay.
It’s still only a matter of time before you go through all the suitable options within same-day driving distance. How long that takes depends on where you live, obviously, but it will happen.
Adding the Element of Travel
Out of necessity, you branch out even further. Eventually, you open up to art shows statewide, and maybe beyond. Once you make the leap beyond that same-day radius, you open up a whole new world of possibilities.
It’s always nice if you can find a friend to stay with locally, but yes, this usually means making hotel arrangements, carefully planning to ensure you have everything you need, and getting a handle on safely traveling with your artwork.
It can be a little intimidating at first. And, for the so-called starving artist, it can be a financial burden. But it’s a sign that you’re becoming ever more successful, and that you’re gaining new exposure outside your local community. It means you’re living your dream. Hopefully, you’re also making enough sales to turn a profit.
The Challenge of Choosing Art Shows
That coveted profit largely depends on picking the right shows when you travel. I’m lucky to live in Florida, a state with weather that supports art shows throughout most of the year, and that has an endless supply to consider and apply for. Many artists have to cast their net a lot wider, though, to fill their calendar with shows throughout the bulk of the year.
The best shows for you and your work may be the furthest from where you live. How do you determine which are the best? How do you narrow it down when you’re perusing a website listing hundreds of shows across countless locations?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. It’s a highly subjective field. You can talk to 100 artists about a particular show, but that feedback is of very limited use because it comes through the funnel of their own art and experiences. Every artist’s work is unique and priced differently, every artist’s interactions with the public are different…
Ultimately, you have to participate in a show to know how good a fit you and your work will be. It would of course be any artist’s dream to be able to determine in advance, with no personal experience, which shows will be best for selling their art. But it’s impossible; mostly, it’s trial and error.
Learn from Personal Experience
Develop some sort of organized system for keeping track of your show experiences. Once you start filling your calendar and participating in shows year after year, they may start to blur together. Don’t waste your time and money revisiting shows that weren’t a good fit. Have a way to refer back and remind yourself whether a show is worth applying to if you’ve already been there.
With experience, you also start gaining insights into the type of locations where you do best. Some artists sell more at small-town shows, while others sell the most in urban cores. You’ll find places where you particularly like the people and the vibe, and these tend to be successful places for you (plus you’ll enjoy going back). Use these as jumping-off points to try finding other locations with a similar vibe.
Most full-time show artists will tell you that it takes an average of three years to find your niche market and the shows that work best for you and your art. Most of the successful ones travel all over, often thousands of miles from home, to be at shows that work best for them.
Once you pay your dues, so to speak, with the trial and error and find the shows you like most or that work best, you can then plan your schedule and trips around them. Look for opportunities to book multiple out-of-town shows in the same region or along the way on your road trip.