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Is that Holiday Art sale a good opportunity?

posted in: Arty-nomics | 0

Ok, let me just clarify something right up front.  This post isn’t about how terrible art events exploit poor underappreciated artists.  This post is about math, and some tools that i have made for all of you to help do useful math.

Artists – do NOT faint!  The math is all tucked away in a spreadsheet calculator.

Many of us are beginning to notice a variety of calls for art and artists for Holiday markets, small works exhibit (perfect for gifting) and other events.  Often these events involve an entry fee or jury fee, a commission charged on work sold, and price or size limits on the work that can be exhibited and sold.  Some venues, such as Art Associations, Art groups posing as non-collecting museums and other alternative venues will also require that you become a member and pay a membership fee.

Often the venues hosting these events are capable of generating only tepid Art sales.  In contrast a few may be great at selling a significant portion of the art.

Here’s the challenge for artists. These sales and events are often focused on either small format works, “affordable” works (as defined by non-art buyers), or a combination of affordability and small size.  Sometimes  there is a set price limit, often under $300, sometimes even under $100 or less.   In other cases there may be no set price limit.   However in the history of the venue works over some limit just don’t find buyers in the venue (again, typically a low number such as $150 – $200).  Still other events place size limits on pieces that effectively limit what the artist can charge in that venue and have a reasonable chance of selling the art piece.

The artist is faced with trying to manage a tight price ceiling, a limited selection of finished pieces that can meet the size requirements (and / or price requirements) and a mixture of commission and fees.  How can an artist gauge whether one of these events is a great opportunity?  Is it a …

chance to sell and profit from a few smaller works …


a chance to lose some fees?


a chance to sell some art and STILL lose money?


I cannot wave a magic wand and give you an answer for the event you may be considering.  I CAN give you a handy dandy tool to calculate your share of the retail price of your art, your share once the application, membership, and other upfront fees are subtracted, and your gross profit once cost of materials is factored in.  You can also spread the upfront fees over the number of works you expect to sell, or over the number actually sold.   Neat, right?


I have put together a spreadsheet that calculates some basic stuff artists need to evaluate fares, sales, markets, and other events.  The formula fields are locked so you cannot accidentally change them (no worries!). There is a tutorial that will walk you through the things you might want to input for a typical “Small Works” sale.  You can download everything you need below.  Use the post comments for suggestions, questions … or if you get a result that surprises you!

Here is the walk through for a “Small Works” art sale in pdf format

Example 2 small works holiday fair

Here is the calculator tool, set up with the values from the walk through – it is spreadsheet in Excel format

commissioncalculator Small works holiday fair example

And here is the calculator tool, set up for the walk through in Excel 97 format (might be more compatible with older computers.

exc97 commissioncalculator Small works holiday fair example


I have repeated the walkthrough tutorial below.  You can look before you click.  Happy calculating!

Example 2 – Price and Profit Calculation

The small works Juried Holiday fair or market

Right around every major gifting holiday there are invariably calls for artists to participate in Holiday markets, Special Exhibits and other events focused on art gifts. Often these events are juried and charge jury fees that cover a small number of works for consideration. In many cases there are also limits on the retail prices of pieces accepted into the event, designed for gift giving. A commission is also typical.

These events can have high traffic, lots of attention and decent numbers of sales. However it can be tricky for an artist to balance costs and potential profits in order to not lose money.

Let’s look at how the calculator can be used to help decide whether a holiday small works event is a good risk for an artist.

In the examples below we assume that the holiday event has the following features:

  1. A $ 35 jury fee. This fee allows three works submitted for consideration
  2. A 35 % commission
  3. A maximum retail price of $ 100.00

comm calc venue patrams notes for small work holiday fair

These values reflect some typical and well-known events in and around the Boston area.

If you want to follow along and try your own parameters, please feel free to pull up your spreadsheet and add the values as we go. You can tweak them later to compare your own local fairs and events.

commission and retail sheet Add commission rate here


commission and retail sheet Add fees here


commission and retail sheetproratefees here

  1. The commission rate of 35 is input in cell G2 “Percent commission”
  2. The jury fee – again 35 – is input in cell G3 “Hanging fees and other fees” Note that the percent sign and dollar sign are not input – just the number values.
  3. Since the event allows up to three pieces submitted for jurying a “3” is entered in cell G4 “Number of Artworks hung”.


Entering “3” in G4 “Number of Artworks hung” will spread the jury fee over all three pieces. Each piece will have an extra $11.67 (35/3) subtracted from its calculated profit. The calculated profits estimate a situation where all three pieces submitted to the jury are accepted into the exhibit AND sold at the artist’s retail price.

We can tweak the spreadsheet to look at different sales situations later.


  1. Once the numbers for the venue or event have been entered, the artist goes to the top calculator to find artist’s share and gross profit. In this case the retail prices are already more or less set by the price limit for the event.

comm calc arytist share for small work holiday fair notes


  1. The artist lists the three small affordable works by inputting the titles in Column A “Artwork Name” and the retail prices in Column B “Retail Price” (rows 7,8,9). Two pieces are priced right at the $100 limit for the event. Just to ensure that something sells and gets buyer attention, the artist lists the third piece below the event limit at $75.


  1. Looking at the calculator, if cost of goods is not factored in, the artist will receive:


  1. $65 for the two $100 pieces and
  2. just over $48 for the $75 piece.          Not too shabby.


However, the artist also paid a $35 fee up front. If all three pieces are sold, that $35 jury fee amounts to $11.67 subtracted from the artist’s share of each of the three pieces. The artist’s gross profits before costs of materials are actually:

  1. $53.33 for each $100 piece and
  2. $37.08 for the $75 piece (assuming the event doesn’t discount the pieces).

comm example small format holiday shop no COG added notes




  1. The artist also has a reasonable estimate of cost of goods – canvas, paint, framing, and other materials.   These costs are input for each piece in Column F “Cost to Produce Artwork” ( rows 7,8,9).

comm calc add COG notes small work holiday fair



  1. Now Column G “Your gross profit” shows the profit per piece with commission, fees and costs of materials factored in ASSUMING that all 3 pieces sell.

comm example small format holiday shop W COG added

The artist’s profits are

  1. $18.33 for each $100 piece and
  2. $7.08 for the $75 piece.

That’s pretty close to the bone!





  1. Even in a great event, most artists do not sell all of the work they submit for jurying. What does the profit picture look like if only one piece sells? That depends a bit on which piece sells – a $100 piece or the $75 piece.
  2. We can see the profit picture for each piece if it is the ONLY piece sold by inputting a “1” in Cell G4. Now the full $35 jury fee is subtracted from each piece. This spreadsheet calculation is shown in the picture below

comm example small format holiday shop W COG sell only one notes


If the artist sells

  1. one of the $100 pieces – and nothing else – he or she LOSES $ 5.
  2. If the $ 75 piece is the only one sold, the artist LOSES $16.25


The spreadsheet with these example values can be downloaded if you  Click to download Small Works holiday Fair spreadsheet


Are your local Holiday art sale events offering you a good opportunity? Or are the artists paying too much to sell their work? Input the commission rate, jury fees + additional fees, numbers of pieces, prices etc. for a few of your local opportunities – and see if they really ARE opportunities!