Life Lessons Learned in Selling my Photography as Art
May 18, 2021
I started hanging my work in local galleries and public spaces many years ago, but it wasn't until I officially formed my current business and started selling my work at art festivals in 2011 that I truly began to understand the opening statement.
I remember my excitement entering that first art festival in my hometown. I had an inexpensive canopy that had been bought on Craigslist, some homemade display walls, and a collection of framed work from my gallery and coffee shop appearances along with some new metal prints. And, of course, high hopes for a big weekend.
I ended up doing pretty well too. At least pretty well for my standards at that time. I finished the weekend having sold over $1000 of my own art, and that felt really good. It was more money from my artwork in a single weekend than I had made from gallery appearances for many years prior. I thought to myself that I had really found the ticket. At the conclusion of that festival, I promptly applied and got accepted into two more for the summer.
The next one, in a fairly affluent area, was a sure bet to be just as good or better than my first, or so I thought. About midway through Saturday of that second festival, which was set up in an asphalt parking lot in the heat of July, with no customers walking through, I had the realization that perhaps it was not simply as easy as just getting myself accepted into an art festival and watching the money come in. Not all festivals are created equal.
The third festival that year was on a beautiful September weekend. The weather was much nicer, with slightly better sales, but still not sufficient to make a profit. But at this point I had already formed an LLC, gotten business insurance, a sales tax license, bought a canopy, spent money having work printed, and bought a utility trailer to transport my stuff. I was in too deep to stop now. So, I licked my wounds, regrouped, and the following spring began planning the summer shows I would apply for.
And thus began my career selling my work as art. It’s been a wild ride. Both gratifying and frustrating, and ultimately humbling. Here are some lessons I have learned along the way.