Buying at art festivals and craft fairs


This seemed like an appropriate time of year for me to re-publish my article about what to look for when your goal is to purchase real handmade gifts for the holidays. Enjoy! and beware! 

This article is written for all of you folks who like to attend art festivals because you enjoy handmade art and like to support artists.

Art festivals are a lot of fun for attendees. They used to be kind of few and far between but now it seems that just about every weekend you can find an art and or craft festival somewhere. September and October seem to be prime months for art festivals with people returning from summer vacations out to enjoy the cooler weather.

From the artists side, art festivals are a great way to connect with an audience. It's a lot of fun to chat with people about your work, go to new places and meet other artists. On the downside, exhibiting at art festivals is a lot of work and can be very costly.

The artist or crafts person makes all of the work and has to pack it up in order to safely transport it to the festival. Many artists travel a lot of miles to get to different shows. The costs include wear and tear on the vehicle, gas, tolls, food, lodging and booth fees which can range anywhere from $50-$500 depending on the show.

Once they arrive, the artist will spend hours setting their booth up to make it presentable and inviting for the attendees. Once that's completed the artists will sit and wait and hope. Every art festival is a crap shoot that the artist will go home with a profit for all of his or her hard work and investment.

There is a big problem at these shows plaguing legitimate artists who create their own work by hand, be it craft or fine art. In the trade, the problem is called buy/sell.

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Generally unknown to the buying public, promoters of many art and craft shows, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, accept booth fees and admit people into the show who buy their wares from China or some other ready-made source and bring it to an art festival to sell and pass it off as their own. 

These people's products are generally priced much lower than items in the same medium being presented by a legitimate crafts person or fine artist because they are buying it cheaply and have no labor involved except getting to the show. Take a jeweler/glass artist for instance, who is making dichroic glass pieces by hand. All of the costs associated with making their work are much higher than cheap knockoffs that can be bought in China. Most people of the buying public don't understand the difference and only see that the buy/sell item looks somewhat similar and is much less expensive.

The same can be said for two dimensional art where photographs or paintings might look like original art but are also knock offs from China. An instance of this might be the digital pictures that have an image that creates a letter.  If you attend many shows you'll see that either gazillions of people are sitting behind their computers making the same exact thing or that they are probably coming from China.

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This issue is one of several reasons that I have chosen to stop selling my work at art festivals. It's a problem that is ongoing and many promoters are failing to address it, even though they say in their literature that artists are entering a "juried" show.

Legitimate artists cannot compete with these buy/sell people if the promoters won't police their shows and the public is largely unaware.  If you attend the shows because you really like authentic handmade things and you like art and you want to support artists, here is what you can do to help.

If you go to a booth and you're looking at jewelry or a painting or whatever, ask the person about the processes that they use to make their pieces. Ask what kind of links they use in their silver bracelets or how they make their diachronic glass and what kind of a kiln do they use and how long does it take? Ask if they use acrylic paint or oil? That thick paint on there, how is it applied? Is there a coating on the painting? Do they work from photographs, on site or use a model? Did they travel to all those places (like the Eiffel tower) used as letters in all of their photos to get the shot? You get the idea. 

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If you mostly get a deer in the headlights look or a lot of stammering or what sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, chances are pretty good that they didn't make what they're trying to sell to you. Maybe it's important to you that you are getting a genuine unique, well crafted piece of art. Maybe price is your bottom line and you are happy to go home with something that may show up on the shelves at Walmart if it isn't there already.  

Either way, it's ok, but buying from real artists at these things is really important to us, because without the support of the public, we may go the way of the dinosaurs.