10 Tips on Selling At Art Fairs

by Drake Fleege

I have been considering selling prints at art fairs, and am wondering if making both a financial and time commitment to this venue would provide a good income stream.

The one variable that is most difficult to quantify is the potential sales that might be generated from each show.

Though my research is still a work-in-progress, I am having difficulty finding a justifiable first year return on the initial investment.

Here is my market research thus far.

Preliminary Initial 1st Year Investment Budget

Flourish Trimline 10×10                                           $ 845.00

Three Panel mesh set                                                     640.00

Great Weights                                                                      80.00

Initial Inventory (15 prints)                                  3,000.00

Booth space fee (6 shows)                                            900.00

Lodging (6 shows, 1 nite/show)                                 360.00

Meals ($30 per show, 6 shows)                                  180.00

Mileage (IRS rate, 6 shows, 200 mi each)             600.00

Preliminary Initial 1st Year Investment          $6,605.00

Booth display

With most art fairs held outside, wind, dust, direct sunlight, rain and mist, are all weather events to be considered.   An enclosed booth provides the needed protection and print display area not afforded with simply a solitary table.  Of equal importance, if the booth area does not provide an attractive appearance, the people will just walk on by.  For budgetary purposes, I selected the Trimline 10×10 model from the Flourish Company, along with its Three Panel mesh set to mount the prints and Great Weights for shows that do not allow staking into the ground.

Payment Acceptance

With my on-line print sales, PayPal handles everything.  Currently I am not set up for on-site acceptance of credit cards. I have yet to research the solution or its costs.


Walking through different art shows I try to determine what might sell at each show.   In some shows, the artwork is local (especially true in the tourist areas).  Other shows appear to be far less tied to a geographic region.    For each show, my inventory would consist of a minimum 15 prints of various sizes, none less than 16 by 20.  For budgetary evaluation, I am using an average print product price of $200.  (This is not the selling price.  Without giving away exactly what I would be promoting, this is a good average budgetary figure for the way I would have the item printed and mounted.  Your figures may easily be different).

Entrance/Booth Fees

Each show typically has an entrance or booth space fee.  In my analysis thus far, I have found shows that charge $150.00 for two days to one that is $825.00 for five days.  For my evaluation, I am using a general figure of $150.00 per show, and assuming I would do six two-day shows in the summer.  (I have yet to determine which shows those might be).  The number of shows would increase, but for the purpose of this evaluation, I have placed a lower limit.

Lodging & Transportation

Unless the shows are within a reasonable driving distance to my home, there would be the additional expense of lodging.  For my evaluation, I am assuming all six shows are within 200 miles round-trip of my home, requiring one night lodging, meals and mileage.  I have used a flat rate of $60/night lodging, IRS mileage rate and daily meal rate of $15/day.  As the distance and overnights increased, so would the budget.

Evening Storage

Each night the prints would have to be removed and stored. This will require a container of some type.  Initially cardboard boxes would suffice, therefore no budget cost at this time.  It is assuming no additional cost for security.

Insurance and Sellers Permit

Often required, I have not included either for this exercise as I already have each.

My time at the show

For this exercise, I am not putting this item in the budget, though there is value and a cost associated.  It is important to consider your time and fixed expenses to determine accurately your print pricing structure.  I will be including both in my final evaluation.

Pricing Prints

As I have walked through different art shows, I find print pricing to run the gamut and agree that the higher pricing is completely justified.  With the cost of the show, transportation, amortized investment of the booth, inventory, insurance, and now also your time for two full days, selling a print for a few dollars over its raw cost will never provide a justifiable return on your investment.  Can the show support the higher pricing?   As part of my evaluation of a potential show, I walk through looking to see how many photographers are selling prints in the higher figures versus how many are on the extreme low side.  A show becomes a strong potential candidate if there are more on the upper pricing spectrum, at or higher than where I would be pricing my prints.

Preliminary Evaluation

With an optimistically low first year initial investment of $6,605.00, I would have to sell quite a few prints to cover all costs. Assuming all 15 sold at an average price of $450.00, (two prints per show, with a couple selling three) I would have all budgeted expenses covered.  However, this would not be a break-even situation, and this is not where I would be pricing my prints.  In my evaluation, I am planning a higher average selling price.  Without sales history, I would only be speculating on sales greater than 15 prints per fair season.   More print sales at a higher average selling price are required to cover other business expenses, time, and to have semblance of making money.

Since I would be seeking a greater ROI,   I have yet to make the investment of anything other than my time to research this project.  If you have made the financial investment with positive results, selling prints at art fairs, congratulations.  Please feel free to point out where my assumptions are in error.

To Learn More

Want to learn more about selling at art fairs and festivals?   The following sites provide valuable information from people who have worked the festivals and art fairs.

Read Photographer Mike Albin’s site  http://www.mikealbin.com/ and go to ‘Show Reviews’  Mike has attended many shows and festivals through the years and provides valuable insight in his show reviews.  Also, look in the “links” section for additional material and marketing articles.

Shutterbug magazine, in May 2003 ran a story titled “Selling Photography at Art Shows” It is re-published at the following web address, http://artshowphoto.com/pages/artshowphotography.htm

Flourish Company – In addition to selling show displays, canopies, etc., they also provide valuable show tips. http://www.flourish.com/index.html)  Once at their site, go to the “Ordering and More” tab, then look in the “Communities” section.

You find out more about Drake Fleege at his website: Powder Hill Photography.

If you have any experience selling at art fairs, please share your advice and experiences by leaving a comment.

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Book: Selling Your Art