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Why You Fail to Sell Your Art at Festivals and Fairs


Get ready to change everything you currently believe about selling your art.


Unsuccessful at selling your artwork at fairs and festivals? Here's why.


First of all: Congratulations! You combed the internet carefully choosing between many dozens of shows. You sent in several applications and one of the finest art festivals in the nation accepted you. You now can list this among your great career accomplishments. Bravo!

You race to add it to your website instantly (don't miss that step!) and to share it with the world of social media and, of course, your email subscribers. Your acceptance to this highly rated and deeply juried fine arts festival (with its thousands of attendees) tells your collectors and colleagues that you are noteworthy. You have the approval. Again, congratulations!

Now the real work begins.

You embark on the relentlessly winding path of decisions, list making, online researching, and hand wringing. You take a deep breath. This immersion into the "small stuff" can be brutal.

It will require an investment in so much more time, effort, and money than you remember from previous events. That's because we enter the fog of application acceptance and never really want to question, too deeply, whether it's worth it. We tell ourselves, "Last season was off. It was just a bad year – a lot of people had poor shows."

As you jump back and forth in your mind wondering, and worrying about sales, you second-guess everything. You start third and fourth guessing. You wonder about price points: should you have some cheaper items? Do you have enough new work? What will work best in that area/market? Should you take commissions? Should you bring the big pieces? Should you have a show special deal, and what might that be?

You do the math and hope to sell at least $xx to cover your expenses. You look back at previous events and know you need to make more sales at this one – or else!

There's an elephant in the room.

You don't want to think about it, but you will admit to friends and family, "I really hate the selling part." Therefore, while you are preparing to sell in a physical sense, you are avoiding the weak link you know is holding you back. You don't want to deal with the money, actually ask for the sale or be in any way considered a salesperson.

You double-down in your mind to make sure you aren't appearing to your potential collector as a salesy, sleazy, deal-makin' salesperson. You move the pendulum to the opposite end. You console yourself with the mantra, "My work sells itself", or worse, you tell yourself, "If they want it, if it's meant to be, they will be back."

By adapting this laissez-faire attitude, you are losing sales, shortchanging your art, and most damaging of all – not getting your art into appreciative homes.


Art Nurtures the Creative Soul


It's so much easier to bridge that gap when you understand that you are truly loved, admired, and even somewhat idolized by most people who are not artists. In the 9-5 world, your collectors are living vicariously in your artful world. They adore you and love every moment that they gaze at your work in their homes.

You are not selling a mattress or a vacuum cleaner. In fact, you are not “selling” anything.


You are not selling art. You are giving collectors the exclusive rights to a lifetime of personal enjoyment.


Selling your art should be like recommending your favorite restaurant.

We all become perfect "salespeople" when we enthusiastically list a myriad of reasons why we think someone should read a book, see a movie, or eat at our favorite restaurant. We all have an instinctive desire to share good things with others. If a rainbow appears in the sky, you would instantly shout to all who can hear, "Look, it's a rainbow!"

I call this phenomenon the sharing gene. It's in everyone's DNA. So sharing your art must become as natural as sharing all that is good and brings good to the recipient of your sharing. It's virtually a responsibility.

To help you tap into your sharing gene, start with immersing yourself in my Five E's of Selling:

Empathy – The ability to put yourself in their shoes and actually walk around. It's always all about them. What do they want? What is important to them?

Enthusiasm – The infectious attitude that draws in their interest and fuels desire. You must also acknowledge and feed their enthusiasm, too.

Encouragement – Your art is a powerful rainbow forming in the distance – one that can last a lifetime! Encouraging ownership is encouraging years of profound "rainbow" moments. Encourage them to share their feelings, too.

Elasticity – Be flexible. Feel the ebb and flow of the engagement, but be ready to snap back into your Selling Purpose. Stretch your imagination and the buyer's too.

Emergency! – It is always an emergency! If you are not creating a sense of urgency, you are saying this is not important to you. Moreover, you are saying you don't care about the outcome for them.

I share this list of "E's" because I love being an artist and making an impact, and I love knowing other artists have made this transition and sold more art.

Furthermore, I love the impact that purchasing art has on the buyer. In the end, you need to own three things:

  1. Your perspective as a creative is valuable to society.
  2. Your creations are important to everyone who is affected by your art.
  3. Your collectors are deserving of your devotion to help them find and purchase art from you at your next event.

It seems that we all learn something new every day as small business owners in the age of the internet. Now it is time to learn the most important thing of all: how to sell your art face-to-face to further sustain your career and bring endless joy to collectors.

It's the polar-opposite of a vicious circle. It's closing the loop on the love that only an art purchase can perpetuate and inspire.


Mckenna HallettMckenna Hallett of is a frequent guest blogger, motivational speaker, and selling coach. Her recent publication, "The E's of Selling Art System" is getting rave reviews from artists, especially the flash cards – some of which are in this article. Learn more here.

Carolyn EdlundThis article is courtesy of
Carolyn Edlund, founder of Artsy Shark, is a business writer, speaker and consultant for artists. She is the Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute, presenting at art business workshops throughout the United States. Carolyn works with artists every day in strategy sessions designed to help them structure their businesses, set and reach their goals. Find out more about scheduling your own business consultation with Carolyn here: window