Saturday, January 3, 2009

applying for art fairs

Do you participate in art fairs? I've been selling my work in shows since 1993. Things are different but still the same. Applying for shows still takes the same type of thinking and careful preparation, no matter what type of show or if it is an electronic application or paper.

My first time selling jewelry was at a flea market in my home town. I remember how exciting it was to get the letter that I was accepted! (I'm sure anyone with 10 bucks could get in, but hey, it was my first show!)
I drove there in the Suburban and set up a table with a cloth on it and an easel with pieces pinned to a big board. I had some pendants strung on leather and lanyards for sunglasses. Well, the wind blew a lot and it was easy to see the easel was a real bad idea. I sold a few things but nothing all that great, and when I went to drive home, the emergency brake on the Suburban stuck, so I drove home with it stuck (this was before cell phones, and gee, it was only 6 miles, so I figured I could drive home like that since I couldn't call and ask my husband if it was ok) Well. The brake had to be repaired (ooops!) and hmmmm I think I made a grand total of $40.00, but I was hooked, beginning to apply as much as I could to craft fairs and art fairs, hoping for entry in the better shows.
At the time, I would take pictures with our home camera and take a zillion pictures, take them in to be developed and then also had to do the same with slide film. It was horrid expensive to try to get three good pictures of jewelry and very frustrating. There were many shows I was turned down from and then some I got in to.
You learn as you go, and pictures truly are key in entering shows.
In the years of applying for shows, I learned that pictures are THE most important thing about applying for the jewelry category. So ok, good work is important too, but no one can see that good work without a good picture.
With digital photography, pictures in applications are better and better. You can have the best jewelry in the world, but if the pictures aren't good, you can forget about getting into any show.
And I have been in shows with some people with the absolute worst work and wondered 'how did they get in?' and figure, no doubt, they had great pictures.

There are tricks and tips to photos and I am no expert but will try to share some of my findings.

I did try having pictures done professionally a few times and they were never what I wanted. Two expensive ventures were deep disappointments. One with a photographer who just threw my work on a matte board any which way and took pics with his very expensive giant camera. One piece was just a beautiful work of handwoven off loom beadwork and he even had put it upside down to take it's picture. I paid him quite a bit for that work. This was before digital and he handed me the film to be developed. Another time, I went in with the jewelry and helped set it up. (another professional photographer) and again took the film to be developed. That time was 'ok' but cropping was bad and you could see all kinds of lint on the displays even though we cleaned meticulously for lint. There was a lot more background in those pictures than jewelry and that was sad because he had a giant lens on that camera and the tripod and lighting, but the pics weren't 'right'.
Even a professional jewelry photographer who took wonderful pictures didn't have exactly what I wanted. My fault on that one. He felt my three slides should be themed and connect and he picked through my work to get what he thought was best. One picture was of a simple piece that really took no technique. It was just an accessory to my better pieces, and I felt getting a picture of that was a waste of my money. Another was a close up of a pendant and it seemed to 'hang there' with nothing to hang on! It needed a good chain, and a good handmade chain would have been the best choice. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. ;-) And I learned that when taking pictures for shows, you need pieces with every element 'right'.
Having slides done with him was a good experience, and I learned a lot from it, one thing though was that I shouldn't settle on having a really nice picture taken of a piece I'm not real excited about. His point that the work should connect though, was a real learning experience. I used the pictures for a year for juried shows and didn't get into all of them, but that is not the picture's fault. That's when I learned. You need pieces that photograph well also. Pieces that are full of personality and technique. Do everything you can to make your work as well made as possible. Do you have a toggle on that piece? How can you find a unique toggle that could make your work stand out from others?

So my first rule for photography is to have pieces that reflect my artistic personality. Pieces that are fun, that have as many handmade elements as possible. I try to have a piece no one else has made and if it's really awesome, it's no one else 'could' make because the elements would be all made by me. Maybe some silver casting or PMC along with my glass work.

Jewelry categories are very competitive and you have to stand out.
The jury committee has maybe a minute or two to look at your slides and you want to be memorable.

I am not in every show I apply to. When it's a good show, there may be 200 jewelry artists applying for 7 slots. A promoter told me that! Amazing, yet not surprising. So I try not to take it to heart when I am turned down. Just determine to do better.

If your work has handmade elements, you can think/hope your slides stand above slides of jewelry that is strung with no handmade elements.

I could write about pictures for art shows every day for a week and will hopefully as time allows, tell more about jewelry photography and applying for shows.
That's my goal for this week. Have pieces ready for my show applications. I have been procrastinating, but in some ways, I am thinking. Mulling over what to have put together, and how it will photograph. Looking on the internet at good art shows and the pictures they have from their jewelry artists. I ask myself, 'what is it about this artist's work that the jury liked?"

Try it. It's a good exercise. Then get out your most unique pieces and take some pictures.


Joanne said...

Your photo at the top of your post is so pretty, the turquoise beads remind me of summer! I never realized, as I walk art fairs/craft shows, that the artist has to apply for space! To think that even obtaining space is competitive. Kudos to you for the efforts you put into your art, enjoyed browsing here.

rosebud101 said...

This makes so much sense to me. Thank you for sharing your experiences.