I did my homework before signing up, I visited the show when they held it in the spring. I saw several artists exhibiting there whose work I really like. Their feedback about the show was generally positive. The weather during that spring show was chilly and windy, but the crowd was full and I saw lots of buying. One artist said she had also done the fall show several times, and it was even better than the spring show. Based on these comments, I signed up.
This is a good quality show, even though it's small. My intention for this Hourly Earnings Project is not to compare good shows with bad shows. I think the pointlessness of that is obvious. This post is meant to compare small shows with big shows.
There are lots of differences between the process of doing a small show vs. a big show. The scale of everything is very different. A small show takes much less planning and heavy lifting. The hours are usually shorter. Not to mention, it's a lot cheaper to do a small show. During the show, I often felt like I was just relaxing in a beautiful park. When it was over, I wasn't even very tired (unlike after Artscape when I felt like a cooked noodle).
So is it better to spend my effort selling at a big show or a little show? I added up the hours I spent on all the same tasks as before. I subtracted all the same expenses from my sales total as I did before. And at the little show, I made $16.66 per hour.
Ugh!! That stinks!
Remember how I said I felt like I was relaxing in a park? That's because there were no customers around. I chatted with several other artists who had done this fall show before, and they were baffled by the sparse attendance. With the exception of a painter who sold a few high-ticket works, everybody else I talked to had a bad show.
We'll probably never know exactly why this year was much different than previous years. The art was of good quality, the weather was sparkling, and the troubled economy is not a new factor anymore.
My conclusion, which is based on doing many small shows in the past and not just this one, is that small shows are far riskier than big shows. Even when they look promising, they don't have enough presence to draw crowds consistently. I'm generalizing of course, I do know of a small show that is a real gem and very consistent, so there are some exceptions. But that's rare!
And I'm not saying that big shows are always good. Some of them are overpriced and overproduced. I'm saying that if you put your brain into choosing carefully, a big show that is well-established and expertly-produced has more substantial qualities. Such as credibility, momentum, and high expectations. Small shows have nice qualities like friendliness and good intentions, maybe that's meaningful to other artists. But to those of us who are trying to earn a livable income, those things don't have much value.
Maybe another way to put it is "anything worth doing takes a lot of hard work." I will no longer be tempted by shows because they look easy or cheap. The ones that are worthwhile will require more of me. These investments will only pay me back if I exercise good judgement. I shouldn't rely on luck. Success at a small show is way too dependent on luck.