Is it Better to Sell Art at Fairs, Festivals, and Shows or Online?

The way artists sell their art in person at fairs, festivals, and shows has been rapidly changing over the last 10 years. Successful full-time artists, that have been selling at these events for decades, are finding themselves at a crossroads because of this change.

Most artists see this change as a bad thing.

But is it?

Selling at Art at Art Shows

We have more choices, and opportunities then ever before to sell our art now that we can do so online. However, that also means there are more choices, and opportunities than ever before for customers to BUY art.

It’s these amazing opportunities that have changed the way art is now found, and sold.

If artists don’t take the time to understand this shift in the market, and plan their marketing strategy accordingly, then they will continue to struggle to sell their art.

This makes artists wonder: Is it better to sell art at fairs, festivals and shows, or online?

Before I answer this question, I want to take a look at how art used to sell at shows before the internet.

Selling Art Online

How Art Sold at Shows Before the Internet

Before the internet, smart phones, and computers, it was common for people who wanted artwork to shop at a local art festival or fair. These shows would typically last 1-3 days, and a lot of them were major events that gathered huge crowds from neighboring towns and cities.

People would look forward to going to these shows knowing it was the one time of year they could buy one of a kind items to decorate their homes with.

No one ever asked the artist if they could shop their art online.

They knew to buy the art that day or that weekend, because after the show ended they wouldn’t see the art again until another show, and by then the art would most likely be long gone.

There also were not many options to make or purchase prints either. Most art sold back then were original pieces. In fact, I can remember the first show I was at, in the 1980’s, where they let in photography for the first time.

The artists gasp!

They were shocked at even the thought of considering photography as fine art. Photography back then was very different then it is today too! Boy, has this category of fine art gone through some major swings in the market in the past 30 years. (That’s a whole other post for another day!)

Basically, all artists had to do back then was to make paintings, and hang them on a display rack at one of these shows, and their artwork sold. Very little thought had to go into marketing their art.

Those days are gone forever!

Tracy Lizotte Studios Selling at a Craft Fair

How to Sell Art in Today’s Market

Today artists need a marketing strategy.

Now that art can be sold at shows, and online it’s made it way too easy for customers to shop, find, and buy what they want. Customers can also buy art at popular big box stores too, such as Target, Wall-Mart, Micheals, and Home Goods. Plus, everyone now owns a smart phone that can take photos of anything they want, and can easily print it out themselves.

It may not be fine art, but it’s good enough for them to hang on their walls and decorate their homes with.

This is why artists now have to spend time figuring out a marketing strategy for selling their art. It’s something artists never had to invest much of their time doing before. It also doesn’t matter if you sell at shows or online, you need a strategy for marketing your art either way.

If you have tried to sell for any length of time at shows or online you probably have discovered it takes a lot of work. A lot of artists have tried to do both only to discover it’s the equivalent to working two full-time jobs.

So which should you choose to focus on?

I have discovered first hand there’re pros and cons to selling at both in person at shows and online.

Tracy Lizotte Studios Selling at a Show

Pros and Cons to Selling Art at Fairs, Festivals, and Shows

The atmosphere for selling in person at these events may be changing, but like I said earlier it doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as you change with it. I personally still find selling at fairs, festivals, and shows to be the BEST way to sell my art. I have had waaay more success at selling my art (both originals and prints) at these events then I do online, wholesale, and even licensing my work to major companies.

Here are the Pros and Cons to Selling at these events:

  • Pro: You get to meet your customer face to face, and build a relationship with them. These customers turn into collectors that will come back and buy from you year after year. This also includes selling to them online.
  • Pro: These shows bring out people who want to shop handmade and fine art. They are your ideal target audience that you don’t have to find yourself.
  • Pro: You get to watch shoppers look at your art. You can learn so much from watching people interact with the art in your booth! Just from watching them you can tell if they like something or not. This is valuable information to help you when building your collections. Something you cannot get online.
  • Pro: These shows are dedicated time to sell, which means the rest of your time can be spent making art. You don’t have to stop creating each day to package, ship, and fill online orders, which saves on time and money.
  • Con: You have to travel (This could be a pro if you like to travel)
  • Con: The weather can affect your sales at a show.
  • Con: There is a certain amount of physical labor involved with selling at shows. You need to be able to set up and take down your booth.

I didn’t include sale tax, travel expenses, show applications, or any other expenses in this list because I find, in the beginning, it all cost money to get your business up and running, even online.

I know a lot of people think they can sell online by building a blog and posting on social media, but the days of organic (free) reach is over. We now have to pay for advertising to find our specific audience to market our art to online. Plus, it cost money to use automation tools, run a website, and/or hire help.

It all evens out with expenses no matter which way you want to sell your art.

Selling Online with a Laptop

Pros and Cons to Selling Art Online

Building a successful business for selling your art online is possible, but not as easy as selling in person at shows.

It’s much harder to make a personally connection with a potential customer online, and it takes a lot longer to build the know, like, and trust factor needed to sell to them.

At a show you can meet, introduce yourself, explain your art, and win your customer over in a matter of minutes to make a sale. Online, you have to come up with a sales funnel that’s designed to get your customers to buy now, instead of continually putting it off indefinitely.

Here are the Pros and Cons to Selling Online:

  • Pro: You can sell in the comforts of your own home or studio.
  • Pro: You can reach a larger audience, like the whole world! (This could turn into a con if you can’t find your ideal customers, though)
  • Pro: Once you know how to put your art in front of your ideal customers you can set up customized sale funnels for them using automation tools giving you more time to paint and spending less time on the marketing.
  • Con: It’s much hard to know what your customer wants because you can’t be right there to talk to them and read their facial expressions and body language.
  • Con: You must know how to use technology and be able to set up a website, email marketing, social media, and more to be successful to sell online. NOTE: You don’t have to do everything! But, do have to figure out what online platforms will work best for you.
  • Con: You must package and ship your art costing you time and money.

Selling online will only be successful if you already know how to sell your art. You have to know what your customer wants and why they buy your art.

If you are new to selling your art, and you’re still trying to figure out what to make that sells, then selling online will be much harder. You have to know your selling points, and what strengths to market to when selling online.

Customers Shopping at an Art Show

Which is Better for Selling Art?

So which is better, selling in person at shows or online?

It really depends on your marketing strategy and the type of art you sell.

If you’re just getting started, and at the beginning of building your collections, branding yourself, and making a marketing strategy, then I say start with selling in person at shows. You can start online, but you must be really aggressive with reaching out to people for feedback, where as at shows it just happens naturally in a very short time.

Hey, if you want to know more about setting up a booth for shows read: How to Set Up an Outdoor Display Booth and List of Equipment Needed.

Bottomline You Need a Marketing Strategy

You can’t expect to put your art in a show or post it online and expect to sell. If you’re like me a solopreneur, and there is no one else helping you in your business, then I strongly suggest focusing on just one selling strategy to begin with. Choose either to sell at shows or online and go all in. If you try to do it all you will spread yourself too thin and will really struggle to build momentum.

If you want help building your marketing strategy, and more helpful tips on how to sell your art, sign up below:


 

6 thoughts on “Is it Better to Sell Art at Fairs, Festivals, and Shows or Online?

  1. I love your art! I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take the plunge (next year) and submit an application to a festival, so thanks for all of the tips you give. I paint on rocks and though I know that’s a specialized market I’ve seen several ‘rock artists’ at shows and to be honest they are very poor quality…so I’m hoping that this may take off. I’ve been giving my work away for the last 10 years. Anyway, Thanks Tracy for sharing your lovely art with the world! It surely brings a smile to my face!

    1. Hi Denise,

      I’m so happy to hear you are going to take the plunge and enter shows! Yay! You learn so much form them. Start painting your collections now. It’s good to hear you like what you make. That will shine through when you talk to your customers. You will sell them for sure! Everything you need to know is studying what you conversation is like with your customers. Us artist sometimes get too caught up in what others create, but that has no affect on us except our confidence. What matters is your conversation with the people who like your art. Put all your energy into them!

  2. Hi Tracy,
    Thank you for this helpful post. I have only tried online marketing and it is up-hill, I agree that it is hard. I have now put my art on a virtual art gallery, and got a website going – both selling prints as I do digital art. Will see how it works out. Tried for over a year to sell digital downloads of my art on known platform, but it did not worked in my case. Others seem to do well! Trial and error.

    I have thought of art festivals etc. The idea seems overwhelming to me, perhaps I need to just go for it! Try it out so I can compare as to what works for me, as I am just starting…relatively speaking.

    Roxana

    1. Hi Roxana,

      I think it’s all overwhelming in the beginning! You have to take it one step at a time. Do what you are most passionate about. Test things, and then take what you learned and be strategic. I’m going to put together a Start up Guide to Selling Your Art in the form of a Free mini course in the near future. Keep an eye out for it because I think you will find it very helpful!

  3. Thank you for this! I have just opened an Etsy shop but I’m now wondering if it was the right decision for me. Everything I’m reading about being successful online involves tons of social media work on Instagram and Pinterest. I am not an IG user at all, so reading all the ins and outs of building followers sounds like darn near a full-time job! I had a shop on Etsy around 8 years ago and did very little “marketing” (paid for an ad now and then), and made enough sales to be fairly happy. Now it seems like you are forced to spend a lot on featured ads to even be noticed.

    I think I like the idea of just happily doing my art, building up stock, then setting up shop at a fair to see how much I can sell. Repeat as necessary. Seems more pragmatic to me, even though I somewhat cringe at the idea that there will be people who will take a look, turn up their nose, and keep walking. But I think I could handle that a bit better than hours and hours of social media work.

    Sorry for the ramble, just thinking aloud. Again, thanks for the blog post, it’s got me thinking. 🙂

    1. Hi Ann,

      I have tried many ways of selling my art and the festivals are by far my favorite way to go for all the reasons you mentioned. You will be pleasantly surprised at how nice people can be in person, and it’s the best motivator to keep going forward. You are welcome to ramble anytime to me! I understand, and need to do the same all the time. I’m going to put together a Start up Guide to Selling Your Art in the form of a Free mini course in the near future. Keep an eye out for it because I think you will find it very helpful!

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