Plan Your Next Season Tips for Finding the Best Show for You

August 2023, by Scott Obernberger

The fall season is here and with it are not just some of my best shows but also the task of working on next year’s schedule. It may seem early to start, but as they always say, “The early potter gets the show!” 

What goes into planning your season? How do you schedule the shows on your calendar in relation to the production schedule you need to keep in anticipation of the shows and other sales opportunities? 

This issue’s column is about planning — planning what shows to apply for, planning a show schedule, and planning a production schedule that allows you to satisfy your customers’ needs, all while maximizing your business opportunities. 

She Blinded Me With Science 

How do you go about picking the best shows? Is there a science to it? Is it a knack? Do you research possible shows and the towns they are in or just talk to other artists? 

There are many ways to determine which shows will be best for you, and there is never only one right way to do it. What works for one artist will not work for everyone. 

What is certain, however, is that the best way to improve your odds of having a successful show season is to take some time to set your goals and priorities, research your options, and make the most informed decision possible. 

For those who have never done a show before, you need to start by setting your geographical zone — how far do you want to travel? Set the maximum distance you are willing to go from home and research only the shows within that zone. There are always going to be exceptions, but it makes no sense looking at shows 300 miles outside your comfort zone. 

Once you set your travel limits, use some of the many resources available to find shows held within your travel range. Sunshine Artist lists and reviews many shows across the country for you to consider when making your selections. 

Pull back issues and reviews on the Sunshine Artist website, and discover what artists said the last few years. If a show consistently ranks high and is given good reviews by fellow artists, it is a good indicator that the quality of the show is consistent and that a good review is not just an aberration. 

Use the internet. Show application sites like list shows chronologically and are nationwide. They provide a good start to build a schedule. Additionally, simple searches such as “Louisville art shows” help you find which options are available for you in the places where you are willing to travel. 

But do not stop there. Research the demographics of the cities you are considering. See if they have an arts scene and if there is a significant gallery presence. 

Check what the average household income is and how many people are in the metropolitan area. You are not just picking an art show — you are selecting a community where people are most likely to buy your art. 

Strong community support for the arts demonstrates an appreciation for what we do. Solid finances in a community indicates expendable income and the ability to purchase art. All of these factors — well-reviewed shows, community support for the arts, and a financial ability to make purchases — are important when making your selections. 

For those of us who’ve been doing this awhile, we have established connections with certain shows or promoters we have found to be profitable. Those are the shows we try to keep on our calendar every year, and then we schedule the rest of our season around them. 

It is important to remember that, as scary as it might be, it can be beneficial to take a break from a show for a year or two, since market saturation can occur. Keep track of your sales from year to year and compare them — are the numbers still going up from one year to the next, or have they flatlined or begun to go down? Watch the trends and use the data to make the best decision for you and your business. 

To all the seasoned veterans, researching show reviews and communities is not just for the newbie. I have been doing shows for more than 15 years, and I still read reviews and research my various options. Though I cannot promise scientific certainty, taking the time to research your options increases your odds of putting together a successful show schedule. 

Time Is on My Side 

Scheduling is never easy. What makes it easier is setting parameters. Choosing a geographic region and shows and communities that have potential are not the only parameters we need to establish to have a successful show season. 

The most important question, after you establish your geographic zone, is how many shows do you want to participate in? There is a limit to what we can accomplish. 

While all of us like to think there is a never-ending well of time, deep down, we know that is not the case. We are only able to accomplish so much, so we must set our priorities. 

Unless you are one of those lucky artists who can continue to create while on the road (like jewelers — no, I am not bitter), every show you schedule takes you out of the studio and away from production. 

Time is a finite resource and is ultimately the most valuable one of all. Schedule only as many shows as you think you can handle. 

There is the old saying, “We all rise to the level of our incompetence.” Figure out what your limit is and set a firm rule not to exceed it, no matter how tempting. 

When setting your limit, remember you must factor in the time it takes to make what you sell. If you are on the road all the time selling, you are making it awfully hard on yourself to keep up with production. 

For some, the solution is to limit shows to one or two per month. For others, there is a production season when there are no shows and then a show season where they are all bunched together. Each of us needs to find what works best for us. 

I have found that sitting down with a calendar and mapping out the coming year is worthwhile. It helps me plan my production times and my art show road trips. 

Write out what you want to do chronologically and see how everything fits together. Try to group shows geographically as best you can to minimize travel time and costs. 

It is easy to fall into the trap of “I can do one more show” or “this opportunity is too good to pass up.” Figure out what you can achieve realistically, and do not be afraid to set your limit. You and your customers will be much happier if you only promise what you can accomplish. 

Jar of Hearts 

As I have mentioned before, it is important to keep good records of how you do at shows. I know many of us are not inclined to keep lots of data. This is important, though.  

Track how you do at shows so you know which weekends are great and which ones you should start looking to replace. This is business; you cannot let it become personal. 

We all make friends along the way, and none of us wants to hurt someone. But if you want to build a successful business, you must also make decisions based on data. 

When tracking how you do at a show, don’t just look at the overall sales number. That is just one piece of information. 

Also look at what your costs were for the show — booth fee, hotel, food, parking, travel costs, etc. Once you add up your expenses and subtract the total from your sales, then subtract the cost of your materials. Now you have your net profit. 

But wait — there’s more! Factor in the time it took to get to the show, set up, staff the booth, tear down, and drive home. This time needs to be factored into your costs as well. 

If doing a particular show takes four days out of your schedule, ask yourself how much product you could have made during that time. Figure out if the net profit you made justifies the amount of time you were away from production. 

These are just a few ways to analyze the value of your shows and determine what is best for your schedule. Do not be afraid to experiment with other methods of analysis. The important thing is to get yourself thinking about each show and how it fits into the big picture of your business. 

Happy Trails 

Now it is time for me to return to working on my schedule, filling out applications, and getting busy with production. I hope everyone is having a great season, and good luck as you map out next year! 

Scott Obernberger runs Twice Baked Pottery in Jefferson Wisconsin. The former attorney discusses his creative journey and the lessons he learns along the way in this column for Sunshine Artist. Learn more about Scott and his business at