There is nothing more frustrating than getting rejected from something with little idea as to why. But just like when you sent out a bunch of applications for college and didn't get custom feedback on improvement, craft shows with their hundreds and thousands of applications also don't have time. Today on the blog we get the next best thing! #ahasmembers Makers Collective, which puts on the market Indie Craft Parade, who is giving you insight into how their brains work when processing applications. And truthfully, how a lot of craft show juries work. So soak up this knowledge and start making your upcoming applications amazing.
Every June for the past six years, our team and our jury members review hundreds and hundreds of artist applications. We often wish we could share some advice with makers about how to really look your best in an application. We’re so excited that The Academy of Handmade is giving us an opportunity to do exactly that – and just in time for show season.
Here are the top five things you need to know.
1. Good photography is a requirement.
With the quality of photos our phone cameras can take, there’s no excuse for having blurry images or quickly snapped shots that don’t do your product justice. Pay attention to lighting and your backdrop (go ahead and iron that wrinkled tablecloth, or just remove it!). If you're shooting with your phone, there are lots of great apps that you can use to edit your photos, but don't over-filter! Keep the colors true and the product in focus. (Our favorite photo editing apps are VSCO and ColorStory.)
Indie Craft Parade applications are judged anonymously, so product photos are what the Jury use to determine the quality of your work. If you make a hard-to-photograph product, find someone who has experience shooting that kind of item and hire them (or barter!) to take good photos that really showcase your pieces.
2. Pay attention to all of the details.
Your application indicates the level of quality we can expect from you. If an application is completed haphazardly — the description full of typos or instructions ignored — this reflects poorly on your work. Take an extra minute to re-read what you’re submitting and make sure you uploaded the right photos in the correct orientation. Even if you apply for shows all the time, each one has unique stipulations, so always read the application instructions (and fine print) thoroughly. This extra attention will help convey that you truly care about what you do.
3. A cohesive product line and branding make you look like a pro.
As the maker movement has grown, shows like ours have become more and more competitive, making a unified brand more important than ever. We like to see a cohesive aesthetic that ties all of your work together. This is especially important if you make a wide variety of products or if your work spans multiple mediums and categories. Emphasize the cohesion of your work by shooting photos in a manner that unifies them, whether that's a similar background or style.
The branding and packaging of your goods doesn't need to be fancy or even professionally produced (although it never hurts to have an expert work on your logo and packaging design). However, adding modern, unique branding will help make your work memorable. For makers of consumable goods (soap, candles, artisan food, etc.), your branding and packaging may be the primary deciding factor for the jury if they cannot physically experience the product.
4. Show off what makes you different.
You want your work to stand out from other applications, especially if you're entering a highly competitive category (like our To Wear category). Our best advice is to show the jury something they haven't seen before. An item made with an unexpected material or color is going to catch the jury's eye a lot quicker than something they've seen a hundred times before. This is where it really helps to understand what similar artists are doing, so that you can be sure your application will look different. If you’re afraid your product may get overlooked, consider other ways you can innovate, maybe with interesting packaging or a unique photography style.
5. Grow with us.
For repeat applicants, we take note of the progression of your work from years past. We want to see that your work has evolved (hint: don't submit the same exact photos you did last year!). This doesn't mean that your body of work is expected to be be completely new each year, just that you should be continuing to refine, create, improve, and innovate.
For many attendees, shopping with friends at Indie Craft Parade has become an annual tradition, so when a familiar artist is offering something fresh, it gives people a good excuse to be repeat customers.
The final piece of insider advice we can share is this: remember that each show you apply for is unique and has a slightly different audience with different buying habits and tastes. That show should understand their market better than anyone else, so trust their judgment.
There have been times we declined an artist’s work, not because of poor quality, but because it wasn’t a good fit for Indie Craft Parade. Maybe the price point was too high for our festival, or the style of pieces a little too traditional for our audience. If you’re told that your work isn’t a good fit for a particular event, try to remember that it's for your benefit. There’s nothing worse than preparing for a show for months, only to show up and make two sales. Our biggest job as organizers is to make sure that our artists leave Indie Craft Parade with plenty of sales and new customers. This means we have to know our market and what is (and isn't) a good fit.
If your work doesn't make it into a show, don't be afraid to ask why. The answer may give you better insight into your audience and the perception of your work, as well as shedding light on new ways you can grow. The best shows you can participate in are going to do everything they can to make sure you’re successful at their event!
The 2016 Indie Craft Parade will take place September 16-18 in Greenville, SC. Artist applications are open to Southern US artists from June 1-20. Visit indiecraftparade.com for more details.
If you liked this post, you might want to read this post which talks about if craft shows are right for you.