Recently I attended my first art show, which took place in Ottawa, IL. All in all it was a fantastic experience and certainly a good starting point. As you'd imagine, a lot of preparation went into the event, a lot of time spent over the fire and hammering away on the the anvil. That said, deciding what to make prior to the show should have been given more time than I allowed and it is a lesson I am happy to have learned early on at a (somewhat) local event.
Online and word-of-mouth sales had been slow but steady leading up to the show, the majority of which were fire pokers. Naturally, knowing that since the pokers sold best in those situations, I thought they'd sell best at a show. I put that vast majority of my time making pokers... Didn't sell a single one. Had plenty of people look at them, comment on them (thankfully mostly compliments), but ultimately I ended up with all of them still in my possession. What did sell, and why it sold, made a lot of sense after the fact, but I was a bit ignorant of the whole art show approach going into it.
It doesn't matter how pride-inspiring or impressive you think your work is if it is too big or too expensive to justify an impulse purchase. People plan, or at least go into a show thinking, that they may buy a painting or some nice decoration. I do not think they go to an art show and anticipate seeing a blacksmith. A number of my items may have been truly different or unique compared to the other artists, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing, they were still outside of what people could quickly decide on buying. What sold were key chains and pendants. Things I made because I had a few extra minutes here and there and was running low on stock for heavier projects. I couldn't make these items fast enough.
What the people wanted was something unique, yes, but also something they could easily carry and wouldn't burden their wallet. They could wear these things or just slide them into their pocket and walk away, having purchased something that will always be one-of-a-kind but not feeling too bad about spending too much money on something that may be nice to look at, but may not get a lot of use.
Variety is the spice of life and all that, in this case variety allowed me to see what people were interested in and learn that, even though it may be a craft show, people are still often governed by whims. Have those large projects, have those time-consuming but chest-swelling works of passion, but also have those items that may not fill you with a sense of accomplishment but fills your customers with a since of owning something crafted, something genuine, something they can more easily afford, and something they can show off and say, "This was made by a blacksmith."
Oh, and make miniature swords.