Ask Craz! vol. 2

Check out Ask Craz vol. 1

Say HERRO to my advice blog post series called “Ask Craz!”

The art business world can be vast and pretty daunting! That’s why I like to share my advice in my blog posts on larger topics like follower numbers, shipping commissions, selling in artist alleys, and more! From time to time, there are some questions I get that are a little smaller and — although they may not fill an entire blog post on their own — groups of them will!

Every Ask Craz! post will consist of 3 or so questions along with my answers. If you have a question about art or art business that you’d like me to answer for a future post, feel free to submit your question to me on the contact page or via social media! The more questions I get, the more I’ll be posting more “Ask Craz!” posts to the series!

Today’s edition of Ask Craz: Art “Fur” Normies

Question: I was on your Facebook page and noticed photos from gallery shows and a street festival. I was wondering if you have any advice on getting into those little gallery pop up things and the street fairs. How well received is furry art at these festivals?

Answer: To be honest, there’s a reason (more like a lot of reasons) why I’ve been doing so many furry cons and no art festivals in 2018! My fantasy and realistic animal art does middling at best at those shows and galleries. I’m skeptical if anthropomorphic animal art would do any better. I have had some positive experiences at art festivals but it’s much more work for a lot less joy.

I have only done one gallery event where both I and the gallery host were both novices. I was approached by a friend of my husband to display my art at a newly opened community space in a less traveled part of my city. Turnout was minimal and I made no sales due to location. Maybe a different gallery would change my opinion but I enjoy conventions too much to want to pursue more of these personally.

In terms of shopping at festivals, most are free admission or a small donation any persons wishing to attend. Due to the low barrier to entry, you get a lot of half-hearted shoppers, people walking through just to chat, gawk, or spend their money on junk food. Conversely, as a vendor, you often pay up to 3x as much as a furry convention dealer table. I am lucky if I make back the $300+ I paid to apply and sell. (Yes, you read correctly. There are often application fees in addition to booth fees.) And I rarely profit or break even due to all the expenses and lack of customer activity at these outdoor festivals.

Festivals are typically one or two days, while conventions are three. (On the rare side, Three Rivers Arts festival is over a week long and offer cost breakdowns for vendors wanting to sell less than the full duration of the festival.) But generally, festivals are brief and I have to wrangle a tent and endure the summer heat. At furry conventions, attendees are there for animal art, bring more money to spend, and I make far more than I ever could in art shows. Conventions are far better for me to socialize with fellow vendors and enjoy the festivities after the den closes; festival times coincide with the sales day and many vendors just want to go home and collapse after the sales day is done.

When at festivals, I try to talk to my neighbors outside the 10ft x 10ft confines of the booth but it isn’t as easy as leaning a few feet to your left or right to chat with a neighboring furry den dealer. From what I have heard from a number of veteran art festival vendors, their sales have declined even at well-attended art festivals over the years. This is not to say all art festivals are terrible for all vendors. Certain vendors do very well! A niche style or subject matter can mean profit and fame or spell doom; a lot of these are trial and error experiences balanced with a consistent and dominant presence in areas where you are well received. For instance, photographers who print high resolution nature photos on high quality materials en masse and sell at as many festivals as possible have a following and keep growing in popularity. It’s just generally more difficult to stand out as a painter, jewelry maker, or woodcarver. The economy and demographics of different geographical regions certainly have an effect on whether people feel comfortable spending money on items that serve no other purpose than being pretty.

I have found in a very short time that conventions are where the money, fun, and respect for artists reside. People are usually crowded at the front of my table at conventions, making it rain cash, and making me smile as they talk to me about my work. Meanwhile I struggle to keep myself from getting bored and feeling defeated at art festivals. Cons don’t have tens of thousands of attendees like art festivals but the percentage of attendees who appreciate and admire animals like you do (and have money to spend on your work) is much greater! There is a chance you could do some amazing work and get a local following but I have found that it’s much less fun, more expensive, more stressful, and a lot less rewarding. It’s the “in real life” version of my post about follower numbers: more people doesn’t always mean more profits.

My Trimline tent decked out and ready for an outdoor show in Rochester, NY

There are some indoor festivals but most are outside and you will want to cover your booth space for shade from the elements and a place to hang your work. Booth structures themselves are expensive but a necessary expense if you want them to hold paintings like mine (I spent $1500 for a used Trimline tent with mesh walls and french door) and especially if you want them to withstand the winds/rains; my Trimline is a tank in stormy weather! Fellow art festival friends of mine purchased a new tent, set it up, and within 24 hours, it had flipped and was bent beyond repair. It was a much cheaper and lighter build than my tent and illustrated to me why I made the right choice for the long haul. These disasters can be much worse if they tackle your neighbor’s tent in the process. Many vendors invest in insurance plans to protect themselves financially; whether they are the victim of a renegade tent or are responsible in loss or damage of another vendor’s work.

In terms of the artwork you can sell, many art festivals restrict categories; something that hasn’t been a problem for vendors in the furry cons. These category restrictions mean I was only able to select “graphics” and “painting” to cover my digital and traditional works. I wouldn’t be able to sell my merchandise like shirts, pins, and lanyards. Shirts count as apparel, pins count as jewelry, etc. This means my income is limited to people who want printed products (like prints, coloring books, and greeting cards) or original illustrations. Conventions are a great place for people to commission their favorite artists for custom artwork. I’ve found that people at art festivals rarely want to commission artists. People have requested art to be made (which lead me to create original artwork without a buyer) and very rarely, furries in the area have commissioned me for a badge at festivals.

When your booth is set up to display paintings on walls but people are speed-walking outside your tent, 10-20% of them will actually stop and look. Festival goers that pass by my tent usually have knickknacks for their yard or large ornate mirrors in hand; a great percentage of them aren’t there for animal appreciators like us.

I was thankful to sell this illustration of two wolves at an art festival. The purchaser was going to college and insisted that she needed to own an original; not a print. 

When you do get people to look at your work, you get some of the worst interactions. I find it funny that furries think furries are bad… Truly, “normies” have shown me their worst side to me more often than furries terms of art appreciation. Unlike conventions, people who expect cheap products that meet their specifications on the spot are far more prevalent at festivals. Many ask for art of a specific animal but walk away at the mention of “custom artwork for commission.” One true story that sums up the festival scene for me is an interaction I had with a festival goer that enjoyed my work but said they didn’t have wall-space. To which I said “I have greeting cards!” and they responded “I don’t send cards any more. All my friends are dead.” Just a miserable time.

I have had a handful of festival goers that truly love my work and insist on buying an original painting from me. One of these instances was a young girl that was preparing to go to college and was searching for artwork for their new living space. Her parents suggested the cheaper option to her (i.e. buying a print) but she insisted that she needed to own an original. The rarity of this level of passion made it even more impactful. Conventions can be like shooting fish in a barrel while festivals are more like finding a diamond in the rough. On a few instances, I have made fans in the local art scene and even made a few furry friends at festivals!

With outdoor shows, you could find yourself hoping that the planets align in order to bring out the shoppers. When the weather is nice, it’s a toss-up whether people will be there; they may have other fun ideas for the day. But when the weather is awful (or even when it’s only expected to be bad but ends up being really nice), hardly anyone shows up. There are some brutally cold springtime festivals in my area and brain-meltingly hot summer festivals. Conventions have their share of air conditioner issues but I’ll take those over the best day at a festival.

This was the first painting I sold at my first outdoor show to a young family.

Some festivals are hosted in neighborhoods that have supported them for decades. Some neighborhoods, however, are not so welcoming. I had my tent structurally vandalized in a show in Buffalo, NY. Many people in these areas may not like the event and choose to lash out. They don’t realize we artists own or rent these tents nor do they realize how expensive they are. Maybe they don’t care. An attack like that — especially after a dismal and costly show — certainly doesn’t make me want to go back. So I guess if they don’t want me there, it worked. But the festival will live on and continue to fill booth spaces with other artists who may endure the same attacks on their property.

With all this said, how does one get into these art events? If I were to pursue more galleries, I would produce and send out promotional postcards that would display my best work, contain my website and contact info. With the help of the internet, it’s fairly easy to locate local galleries, browse their sites to get their addresses and contact information. For festivals, I tend to stick to the Christmas shopping season (where there are less expensive indoor festivals and more people looking to buy things for their loved ones!) Just keep your eyes peeled — check out ads in the local news publications — for local independent events, scope them out, and see if you think you’d be an appropriate fit. Talk to vendors who sell at the festival and see how they feel about the organization that runs the event. Event organizers are usually looking for new artists to join the festivities so ask one about the application process and where to follow for event announcements!

As for the street-style festivals, if you read all this and still think you want to take on the challenging, expensive, and sometimes dismal festival events, many of them have websites where you can apply. Just search for arts festivals in your city or nearby towns. You may be able to join local artisan groups on Facebook and ask them about their experiences with different galleries and shows. Some festivals channel their applications through which makes applying easier and streamlined. Most art shows in the summer seek applications in late winter or early spring. So if you wanted to take a stab at it, you can start building out your 2019 calendar now!

Have a question you’d like me to answer and share on a future Ask Craz post?
Feel free to submit your question to me on the contact page!

If you found this post informative, feel free to share on social media!
If you have experience or suggestions to share, I would appreciate your comments below!

Much LORF!

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