How do you determine if you’ve had a good show?

Is it just about the money?

Years ago, when I started doing shows, the director of a big show said to me thoughtfully, “You are someone who measures your success in many ways besides just money.”

She’s right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Money is important. Critical. And I love money as much as the next person.

Money gives you access to certain kinds of choices in life. Money isn’t everything, but it can be a nice thing. A very nice thing….

But some success is not about money.

For me, there other ways to determine a “good show.”
Here are some ways I measure my success:

Did I make enough money? (and enough money to do WHAT?)

I do want sales at a show. I want good sales. No–make that great sales. I want people to see my work as desirable and valuable. I want them to feel that exchanging their precious time they’ve spent working and being paid, is worth my precious time and creativity. That transaction–trading time/resources for time/resources, using money as a measuring stick–is what selling is all about.What’s it worth to you?

So the money is important, because when I come home from a show, I can measure how important my work was to the audience at that show. And that measure helps me determine whether that show is a good venue for my work or not.

I felt frustrated while I was there. To be told your work is powerful, incredible, even more beautiful and compelling “in person” is very cool. But as I walked by the beamers and Lexi in the parking lot to the hall every morning, I found it hard to believe people really couldn’t afford $55 for a pair of my earrings.

I think something else is holding people back from buying my work. I haven’t figured out what that is yet. Wrong show? (It was a hugely respected and recommended show. What happened??) Wrong time? (I think people need to buy my work for themselves first. Then come back another year to buy it as presents for others.) Wrong coast? (Go west, girl….) I dunno.

So here’s the pattern of my life right now: These new shows provide me enough money to recoup my investment, pay down my business debt a little–but not enough to lock me into doing that show again. Just enough money to keep me going, not enough to keep me going down this particular path.

I feel gently shepherded into figuring out a different way to do this. Maybe more shows is not that way.

Who did I meet? What did people say?

I met a woman with Native American heritage on both sides of her family, who fell in love with my work. She said it reminded her of her culture in spirit, but definitely did not trespass on it. Definitely something different going on! That’s important for me to know.

And she said, “When I look at these pieces, I feel such peace. They are peaceful works.” When she said this, a thrill went through my heart. I can sense another “new story” coming through….

I met Loretta Lam, a polymer clay artist and faithful reader. She also said something I needed to hear. I’d told her I worry that when people see how crabby and un-hero-like I am in real life, they’ll quit reading my blog. “…you should rest easy. You are exactly like your writing. Charming, funny, real. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to release your inner self to cyberspace….” Thank you, Loretta!

I also met jewelry designer Jill Schwartz who is as delightful as her jewelry. I can’t get into her site, but here is a picture of some of her designs. One of the few things I bought at the show was a pair of her new earrings.

What did I learn?

Craftspeople are amazing people.

I’m humbled by how brave and hardworking these people are. They slog these booths and boxes of product from show to show, in old vans and funky trucks, like large wheeled turtles, constantly on the move looking for a good show. It’s getting harder, and yet they don’t give up. They talk constantly, sharing suggestions (“That might be a good show for you!”), experiences and resources.

It is such hard work, and fired by such incredible passion underneath. From the silliest sachet to the most beautiful silver jewelry, from recycled sail cloth bags to handmade Santas, every single vendor believes in their product and loves their work.

I am humbled by their determination. I am proud to be part of such a community.

I’m also blown away by how much they want me to figure this out. They genuinely respect my work and what I’m trying to do, and they want me to succeed. I feel like the hero in a storybook, battling my demons and monsters, and they cheer me on. Not all of their suggestions are on target. In fact, some of their suggestions are downright odd. But I’m always deeply moved by their good intentions.

People have incredible things to say about my work.

And the things they say inspire me to keep on doing it.

I need this feedback loop from my audience, even if shows are not the most lucrative way to get it. As soon as I find another way of connecting–web sales, more gallery representation, public speaking, writing a book–the show mode will fade away.

One artist said, “I checked out the artist list before the show to check out my ‘competition.’ Yours was the only work I found utterly intriguing–I had to come down and see it in person!” When I asked her whether it measured up, she said thoughtfully, “It’s even more amazing, though different. Polymer doesn’t translate well to photography. Your work is beautiful on-line, but it has a more academic nature there–like real museum-quality artifacts. In person, it’s still beautiful and has quality–but it’s also…..accessible. Richer. Warmer. More human. Even playful. Yet even more powerful…”


What is my next step?

It’s time to do that PR thing, targeting a western audience and an audience that can be inspired and motivated by my journey. Part of their support will always be collecting my art.

But there will be ways to get my work out there, too–speaking engagements? A book? I think I have another book in me, but not a craft book. It might indeed be a book on booth design. Or another kind of book altogether. Perhaps something to encourage people to start their own artistic journeys.

Blogging has been excellent preparation for that–daily practice, working through what I have to offer and what I want to say.

Anything else?

Oh, and I also learned I can put up a booth in four hours. And break down in two. I would have said that was utterly impossible six months ago. That was important for me to learn. Already, as I face the challenges of my next show and setting up yet a different booth (6’x15′??!!) I feel myself feeling relaxed instead of panicked. Challenged instead of overwhelmed.

So was it a good show?

I know what I think. What do you think?

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

11 thoughts on “WAS IT A GOOD SHOW?”

  1. I agree – shows can be financially successful and/or emotionally ‘successful’ – filling that void of personal contact with other artists/artisans and an appreciative public, that we need since we are often locked away in our studios creating.

    With your last show, you got your work ‘out there’ to a different audience and the sole act of this type of PR can reward you in sales further down the track. Providing you made enough to cover your costs it certainly wasn’t a “bad” show!

    I don’t know what the answer is either, but if you work it out, do let us know! There are so many of us on a similar journey. Not all of us will make it – passion and dedication must surely help though!


  2. Wow. Sounds like a good learning experience, if not a good show.

    What sales avenues might you try instead of shows? Wholesale shows? Online sales? Gallery shows?

    Ooo, there’s a store in Chicago that might be a good fit for you. I’ll email you.



  3. Thank you Annette–I agree, some retail shows are important for meeting our “end users.” I’ll be sure to share my “lessons learned” with you.

    I totally agree, passion and dedication helps! :^)

    I’m way ahead of you, Elaine. I’ve done wholesale shows such as Buyers Market of American Craft (Philadelphia) for seven years, and the American Craft Council (ACC-Baltimore) wholesale/retail show last year and the new American Craft Retailers Expo (wholesale) this year.

    I’ve done national exhibits for ten years, and the prestigious League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair for nine years (which continues to be a solid show with a loyal following for me.)

    These smaller local and regional fairs actually felt like a huge step BACKWARD for me. But friends convinced me I should give them one last try before “heading west”.

    I’m hoping the lessons I’ve learned from them may help me leap FORWARD again soon. :^)

    Thank you for your store recommendation. I’m already represented by two fine stores in Chicago and Winnetka–Material Possessions, which carry my sculptures.

    But let me know if the store you’re thinking of would be interested in my jewelry–that could be helpful! :^)


  4. I’ve been doing a lot more shows in the past 6 months, and I have had some good ones, and a lot of bad ones. You made a lot of poignant points, and I believe you are correct.

    When I don’t have good shows, I look for something different to count as the positive. It could be a contact such as a photographer for a magazine, a boutique owner in need of jewelry that results in sales later on, or meeting a fashion designer that wants jewelry for a show (all of these have happened to me). The best is making a new friend for life, and I’ve had that happen as well.

    What we do is tough. It’s tough to lug around the items for your display, and it’s tough to enter a show with a sunny fresh outlook. It’s easy to get jaded. That’s why those silver linings are so important to us!

    Thanks for the post!


  5. It seems that things have changed a great deal since I did shows in the ’80’s. I was doing glass and did 30-35 shows a year in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.
    Twenty years later- I am trying to get back into shows.
    From what you have said, the people have not changed. We were more of a family. The first thing I did after setting up my booth was see who was there.
    Numbers count. If there are people there I have a better chance of selling. I know that sounds dumb but it’s true.
    Just because someone else sells well doesn’t mean I will. Many times people will buy a coffee mug (seen as useful)before they will spend the same amount on jewelry(selfish).
    It took at least a year of talking to other artists to find out where the ‘good’ shows were.
    I am very interested in keeping up with this thread. I am not very good at marketing. My EX was the salesperson.


  6. Bobbie, thank you so much for your perspective. You are so right about your “craft show criteria”. There are so many variables about why one person will have a great show and the person next to them will have a terrible show. I catch myself trying to figure everything out, then realize I may NEVER figure it out!

    I THINK what may have happened at this show (besides low attendance) is this: At my big retail show, people tended to start out by buying for THEMSELVES. The next year, as they got compliments on it, they came back to buy MORE for a) themselves and b) for gifts. It’s almost like it’s so personal and powerful, they weren’t sure how someone else would like it. It’s POSSIBLE the buyers from this show would come back next year and be emboldened to collect more.

    If I’m right, that would be awesome! :^)


  7. Robyn, I’ve got my webmeister working on it! I think some people DO subscribe or get an RSS feed, but I’m not sure of the mechanics.

    Thank you for asking, and I’ll do my best to find a way to make that option available. :^)


  8. Hello again, Robyn. I found out how you can subscribe to my blog! At the top of the right hand column, right under my name, is a little square orange icon. Click that, and you will have an RSS feed to my blog!
    I *wondered* what that was for!! :^)


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