It only takes one bad show.
A couple of weeks ago I started a blog post (and, sorry, it’s been a while since I last wrote) that talked about my ups and downs in the art fair biz. A year ago things were bad enough that I was almost ready to quit. The summer of 2012 continued a trend of dismal shows where I sold a bunch of fridge magnets and maybe one photo each day. I was barely earning enough to order a pizza after a long show, let alone cover the booth fee. It was discouraging.
Weather didn’t seem to matter. Hot days, cool days, sunny days, and rainy days — but mostly days with few customers. Luckily those long days gave me plenty of time to think, to observe my art fair neighbors, chat with customers and would-be customers, and generally to figure things out. And I did.
I returned to old favorite subject — neon signs — and this time found a winning combination. My prints on metal were a hit from the get-go, and my season turned around that fall. The holiday shows went well, and the spring and summer of 2013 even better. I was on a roll.
Until recently. Unexpectedly I had a bad show. For the first time in almost a year, I didn’t sell enough to cover the booth fee. And suddenly all those bad feelings were back.
It’s one thing to have a bad show when you’re doing twenty or thirty shows a year. Then it’s just a blip. But I participate in maybe a dozen shows in any given year, so every weekend counts.
This was a show that I’ve done for five or six years now, and I’ve always been happy to return. Set-up can be a little tricky and parking is a challenge and I was never quite sure I was connecting with the customers. But it’s a lovely low-key show in a beautiful park with talented artists and crafters and the early September weather can be beautiful. (I won’t name the show out of fairness to the organizers. They do a great job and my experience has nothing to do with the event itself or the people who run it.)
I’ve written before that it’s not always about the money. And I still believe that. So I’m trying really hard to set aside the doubts and think about what I can take away from this experience. And there are a few things. First, I had some engaging conversations about my project to save memories of the Circle Cinema and to find a new home for its fabulous retro sign. Second, it’s a good thing I listened to the voice inside my head that told me to made some prints of this photo of Regina’s Pizza the night before; reactions to this photo were among the bright spots at the show.
But, finally, I realized than this show just isn’t right for me. Maybe it’s the setting or the geography or a dynamic harder to define. And plenty of my fellow vendors had very successful days. But something isn’t working for me and there’s no point in hanging onto a show just because I’ve done it before. Time to reassess and move on. Better days await.