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Applying to Craft Shows

How to apply to art and craft shows - simple pointers that will make your show application stand out. For beginning and early career artists and those that need to brush up on their application proceedures. This how-to apply to shows article is short and to-the-point.

Applying To Craft Shows

your show application is important - almost as important as your work

your show application is important - almost as important as your work


Applying To Craft Shows

Often when I work with early-career artists and crafters we spend a lot of time working through the idea of selling directly to the public through craft shows, markets and events. The first step - the one that trips up a lot of people - is the application. This step can be intimidating to a lot of creatives.

I know why,

Applying to shows is like a mix of sorority rush and meeting your new in-laws. You never know what to wear and there is a good chance you'll think they are talking about your hairdo or your shoes as soon as you leave the room. Every artist feels this way but really, you shouldn't. At least, I think you shouldn't.

I’ve worked with many artists and creatives over the years who have successfully gotten into shows and been waitlisted or turned down for shows they wanted. I’ve applied to shows myself and been accepted - and not - for different reasons. The acceptances all stem from getting a few things RIGHT;

Choose the RIGHT show
Get your application RIGHT
Act RIGHT when you get there

Read on for my ideas on how to get right with craft shows.

Chose the RIGHT show - Juried VS. Unjuried

Unjuried Shows are pay-and-play events. 

Pay your booth registration and you’re in. 

Benefit: you’ll gain valuable experience and may even make some sales. 

The Down Side: because the shows are unjuried there may be a guy selling collectible, imported Bobble-Heads right next door to you. The Up Side, you can get in. If you are a beginner at shows you may want to try doing some unjuried shows first. 

Juried Shows are more selective. 

The juries try very hard to create a cohesive, appealing show for their customers and they do that by saying no to some applicants. 

Juried shows require you to submit images of your work, a listing of previous shows and often a small, non-refundable fee. 

the RIGHT show

So-how do you know the show is right for you? It takes a lot of research and thinking.

·        Research-what is the feel of the show? Study the show website, talk to other artists, and visit the show if possible. Does it feel well-run, happy and busy or disorganized, chaotic and confusing? Are people buying from the vendors or are they busier drinking/riding rides/watching bands?

·        Research-how many artists return to the show each time? Is the show 100% rejuried? Are vendors allowed to return if they wish and the only juried spaces go to the empty spots? Does the show have very few returning vendors?

·        Research the location. If the show is a six-hour drive from your house, you must consider travel time and cost of gas. If you can't stay with a friend you'll have to find a hotel you can afford. These costs must be added into the show costs.

·        Think-how will my work look next to the other artists who were in the previous edition of this show? If the show is filled with quirky, moderne housewares with humorous designs and bright colors it just might not be the place for your dark, steampunk-style goggle collection. Likewise, if your traditional pearl-crystal-and-sterling designs don't sell well at a show with a very edgy, gothic look you would not be surprised. The very best artists know their customer and know what their customer wants. They don't waste their time applying to shows where their work wouldn’t sell.

·        Think-how many designers are already selling in my category in this show? There are absolutely trends in the art and craft industry and if your work is in a category that is trending right now,   realize that the show may have so many similar vendors applying that your work will really have to stand out to be accepted. 

·        Think-am I really ready for a show? You need a cohesive body of work with a strong viewpoint and a ‘look’. If the first five terms you’d use to describe your work are ‘eclectic’, ‘assorted’, ‘mixed-bag’, ‘something-for-everyone’ and ‘hodge-podge’ then you, my dear, are not really ready for a show. 

You are having fun.

You are making a lot of things. 

You are being creative. 

You are not in business. Yet. Get back into your studio and create a cohesive body of work. Show it to friends. Share it on social media. Edit and rework and edit and refine. THEN think about shows.

Get Your Application RIGHT

Take GREAT photos.  No ifs, ands or buts. You have to have really, really good photos. Half-good won't help you and it will hurt you. Blurry? nope. Dark? nope. Too busy with a million props and bad models? Nope. You may also want to have some photos tailored to the specific show. Good photos help the jury see your work in the way that they want to see it. Props, lighting and background can all be adjusted to fit the aesthetic of a specific show.  Consider a collage of multiple photos unless that is specifically prohibited in the application rules; it will allow the jurors to get a feel for the theme of your work.  

Fill out your application COMPLETELY. Seriously, don't leave any blanks. There are many shows that will automatically disqualify you for a blank question here or there. If you haven't done any shows, write 'None' and don't leave a blank space.
If it's a paper application -and they still exist- fill it out legibly all in one color of ink. Reserve the cutsy margin art for your sketchbook or customizable Vans shoes. Juries don't want to try to decipher your handwriting or be distracted (annoyed!) by your doodles. Obviously, this is moot if the application is on-line. Not moot -the part about fill the application out completely. Read the question and answer it, give them the information they ask for.

Be serious. Don't answer the questions with questions, or philosophical drivel, or rambling MFA-thesis statements. Know your own work and be able to write about it, consisely and clearly. 

Don't lie. They just might check to see if you participated in those three prestigious shows you listed on your application. Don't list shows that haven't announced vendors yet, either. It looks like you are psychic OR like you are lying. 

Pay the fee with a smile and crossed fingers..Most good shows won't accept your application without a small fee of some kind. This fee keeps the show organizers from being overwhelmed with semi-pro applicants who are turned off by paying $20-50 to apply. It also allows them to recoup some of the costs of paying (or at the very least feeding) their show jury. Don't sweat this fee if you don't get in. Consider it a cost of business and just roll on down the road. 

Check your email. I cannot tell you the number of show vendors who missed payment deadlines for shows they got into because the didn’t check their email. A show runner will NOT slide into your DMs to chase you down about doing their show. Use an email address you plan to check reqularly and then CHECK IT. If you get in, pay the fees by the day they are due.

Don't take it personally. If your work is not chosen it was not because the jury committee sat in a dimly-lit room and talked trash about your application, your work and your personal hygiene while drinking vodka and mocking your taste in music.

Really, they didn't choose your work because they didn't think it would fit into the show. It doesn't fit their aesthetic. Reasons I have heard for voting down good work include:

  • This artist has never done a show this big (meaning we don't think they are ready)

  • This work is too vintage/street/modern/steampunk/retro/whatever (meaning it's not the 'look' we want)

  • This work is too pricey (meaning we don't think it will sell at our show)

  • This work is too cheap (meaning we think this artist is a beginner and may have quality issues)

  • This work is too familiar/too much like someone else's (meaning we already have all the work like this we want in our show)

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Do try again to get into a show. Don't use the same photos year after year. Don't submit the exact same work. Do rewrite the application and adjust it to bring it up to date.  

If at third you don't succeed, then move on. That's right, three strikes and they are out of luck. Find another show. Your work does not appeal to that jury. It's okay. It's not about you, it's all about them. 

Once you get in - Act RIGHT

How are you going to behave? Remember, if you don't act RIGHT you may just be asked to leave before the show even begins.

What?! Really, it happens.

If you are really heinous you just might be blacklisted from a show. Every show promoter I know can tell you of at least one really difficult artist who can never seem to get into the same show two years in a row. She's rude, she's a Diva, she's loud and annoying and somehow...she never repeats a show. Don't let that be you.  

Bring the merch you said you'd bring
This is a number one pet-peeve from every show-operator I know. Artists who jury in with belts and wallets and show up with monogrammed pet bowls. Artists who try to sneak in their friend's work. Artists who try to sneak in stuff they bought, and did not make. Any of these could and probably should have you boxing your stuff right back up before the show even opens.

Follow all the show rules
No foolin'. If it says 'no recorded music' don't bring your boom box and JT mix CD.
If you are supposed to drape your table to the ground, well, drape that table!
If you are not supposed to protrude out into the aisle then don't. No mannequin holding your handmade aprons, no funny blow-up dog wearing a hand-woven dog collar. No. 

Be nice to customers
This should go without saying but somehow it does not. Leave your attitude and crabby voice at the door. Be cheerful. Be friendly. Be happy to see the customers.

Be nice to other vendors
No rude commentary on your neighbor's monogrammed toilet paper holders. No complaints about their customers standing in front of your booth. No stealing their office supplies OR their merchandise.

Be nice to the show promoters OR Don't be a Diva
If there is a problem, be nice in complaining about it and understand that the promoter really does want you to have a good show. They are selling the show space; you are their customer.  Complaining loudly and rudely if your electricity does not work won't get it fixed faster and just might get you 'black-listed' from the show.  And don't talk bad about the other vendors or the promoters to ANYONE! Really, if you think the show is a podunk show, why did you apply? If those customers walking the aisles are dressed badly or have weird haircuts you don't need to tweet that. 

Be a professional
For me this includes NOT sitting in your booth, NOT eating in your booth and NOT talking on the phone/tweeting/texting all day. It means greeting everyone, keeping social visits to a minimum and dressing nicely. Yeah, I know I"m old fashioned and yeah, I know it is hard to stand all day in a show booth but really, you can* do it. Your customers will move on down the aisle if they stop by and you are munching on a big sub sandwich, chatting with a friend on the phone and painting your nails. If you instagram unflattering pictures and negative commentary about the customers SOMEONE will read it and it might get back to the show promoters.

Clean up after yourself and don't leave trash behind
This should also be obvious. Your booth rental fee + a slow show does not = the right to leave a crazy mess in the space. Be neat. 

 Write a thank you-publicly!
A few positive tweets or IG posts about the show, a nice facebook or blog post, a sweet little social media something-something. All will remind the show promoters that you were a decent human never hurts to be polite!

*if you have a physical disability that prevents you from standing, by all means do what you must. Being ‘really hung over’ is not a physical disability, TBH.