By Christine Pentecost—
I thought long and hard before I did my first art show. I was afraid to give it a try, afraid of failure, afraid of not being good enough. To actually set up a display and sell face to face was a daunting thought.
But when an friend contacted me one day and said she couldn’t do a local show and would I like to have her spot, it took about five seconds to say “yes”! I was excited about it, but very apprehensive. Nevertheless, it was a success! I had lots of sales, and lots of fun, despite having an extremely basic display. Four years have passed since then. I’ve done lots of shows and learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve grown tremendously as a photographer and artist. I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you.
A web search (see Resources below) is the first step. Look for local art shows and art fairs that fit well with your product. If you’re a photographer selling large format photography, you might not do well in a small town show. Then again, you might because you never know what customers will spend when a piece touches their heart. So enter anyway; it’ll give you a good feel for “show business” without having to invest in the tools of the trade, so to speak.
For me, getting the proper setup and display was a bit of trial and error. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money in the beginning, but I also wanted things to look professional. I found the best thing is to go to as many arts and crafts shows as I could– to see what other people were doing, and to ask questions. I found most artists to be very open about sharing their display information and art show experiences with me. I also got a lot of ideas about what I liked and what I didn’t like about display setups.
If you’re just starting out and the show is indoors, you’ll only need a few portable tables and table cloths. As a photographer, I needed some easels and other items to be able to display my work; I found those at my local craft and thrift stores. If you are selling hanging artwork, such as photos, you’ll need some type of panel display. While I now use Pro-Panels (see Resources below), I started out using wire closet shelving.
You may also want to consider acquiring some lighting because electricity is not usually provided or, if it is, it may be pricey. Lighting can make a huge difference, especially if you’re selling wall art. You can find small, rechargeable or battery-operated clip-on lights that will make your space look inviting and that don’t require power cords.
Again, a web search for art show displays will give you many different ideas. For my tables, I bought a set of inexpensive bed risers for each table. This not only raises your displayed art work for easier viewing, but also keeps everything out of reach of curious toddlers. And, because my tables are high, I use a director’s chair to sit in.
Make sure to have a sign on display that gives the name of your business and contact information. Business cards are also a “must” so have plenty of them on hand. I keep them higher up (for some reason, kids love to collect them), close to where I’m sitting, as people often request them when they don’t see them which gives me an opening to ask if there’s something they’re interested in or if I can customize something for them.
I find that potential customers stand at least 10 feet away before they decide if they want to approach, so it’s important to make sure your art work is visible and not lying flat. I recommend printing your price tags, versus hand-written, for a more professional appearance. Also, make sure everything is clearly priced. I’ve walked away from more than one booth without buying when I can’t find a price. If you’re doing a show around a holiday, think about having some seasonal decoration on display to give your space a more festive appearance.
How to price something can be tough, but I generally determine my cost and then multiple that by at least 2.5. That allows me to make a profit and cover my booth expenses. To give change for cash payments, I have about $65 or so in small bills, which I keep in a fanny pack around my waist. I also have a credit card reader for my phone. If you are offered a personal check (and choose to accept it) note the customer’s driver’s license number (or just snap a photo of it).
Finally, make sure you have bags for your customers to carry their purchases in. I buy a pack of paper lunch bags from the grocery store for my smaller products, and larger sized bags at my local craft store or online. And don’t forget to bring plenty of water for yourself; you’ll be doing a lot of talking, especially if several customers are viewing your work at once.
When you’ve decided if you like selling on the show circuit, it’ll be time to think about buying a tent. I found a used E-Z UP (see Resources below) on Craigslist which is the standard 10×10-foot show size. Plan on spending about $350 for one that will last and be easy to put up and take down. Figure another $200 or so for tables and display equipment. And then there will be entry fees; they can run anywhere from $40 to $350 depending on the popularity of the show. However, most of your outlay will be tax deductible business expenses: tents and display equipment, fuel to get to shows and whatever lodging you might need if they are some distance from where you live.
Now I know you’ll want to know what kind of money you have the potential to make. I’ve averaged anywhere from $500 for three hours (at Farmer’s and Craft shows) to thousands per day at longer, high end shows (which run two days or more) as I became more aware of which shows drew customers who’d be likely to buy my work. Craft shows are at the low end; juried shows are on the high end. So what’s a juried show?
A juried show is one where you are required to submit samples of your work, and a jury of people will make the decision as to whether or not you are accepted. Most juried shows ask for 4-5 images of your work, and a booth shot. The presentation of how you submit your images to these juried shows is important. You have to think creatively in your presentation! The photos you submit are the only things the jury has to assess your work.
Submit one strong body of consistent work– a similar theme with a similar presentation. Five different landscape photos similarly framed will present better than five completely different themed photos with five completely different frames. However, if you get rejected, which I have a lot, don’t take it personally. Rejection is what got me thinking about how I could improve. No one starts at the top, and certainly not in a juried art show.
Non-juried shows are arts and crafts shows that usually have general guidelines of what they will accept and as long as you fit within their category and pay the entrance fee, you’ll get in. Not every show can be a success, so it’s important to choose wisely to make sure your product fits within the guidelines of the show. For example, in the Christmas holiday shows, I tend to sell a lot more lower-priced items, as they are being purchased as gifts. As such, I tend to focus my holiday shows more on gift giving items versus larger and more expensive items.
As you prepare for your art show, it’s wise to have a checklist of everything you think you’ll need. I keep mine on my computer and add to it regularly. Forgetting your credit card reader or your cash is never a good way to start a show!
Finally, make sure you interact with your customers. They attend these shows because they want to buy a work of art, so it might as well be yours. I have found that customers enjoy hearing the story behind a photo that I’ve captured. The more I share that story and interact with them, the more likely they’ll buy from me.
If you sit in your booth, reading a book or surfing the internet, shoppers are likely to pass you by because you’re not encouraging engagement. The whole purpose of your being there is to sell your work! Keep your eyes on the passing crowd and smile a lot. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when someone is willing to pay for what you created. So go to it!
About The Author
Christine Pentecost is a Red River Pro who uses Red River Papers for all her work which includes photographs, murals, images-on-tile and cards. She has exhibited at more than 40 juried and unjuried art fairs.
To find art shows and fairs near you, Google: Art Shows or Art Fairs and click on Shows (or Fairs) Near Me.
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Last updated: April 17, 2019