Go out and visit as many different shows as possible. Visit ALL the local ones, no matter how small, plus as many farther-away ones as financially possible. Eventually you can use ArtFairSourceBook to find the best shows. Don’t bother when starting out, you won’t get into them anyway.
Visiting a show, look at everything: the quality of the art, the number of shoppers, how many of them seem to be buying, how happy or busy the artists seem to be. Talk to the artists, especially the ones who are showing work similar to yours. Go on the last day of a multi-day show, so the artists know how well they did. “I’m thinking about doing this show next year, how was it for you?” is a good opener. There are a few grouches, but most artists are happy to share info. It’s how they started too.
Take notes on displays, tents, everything. Ask people where they got their stuff. Read everything available about doing shows. Figure out how to apply. Many shows use Zapplication.org, so set up an account there. Get all the necessary equipment – tent, display system, boxes for your work. Start with small local shows (make your beginner mistakes there) and work your way up into the better shows.
Finding the shows where your work sells is trial-and-error. You pretty much have to try them all and just see how it goes. Drop the duds and keep the gems. Keep careful track of all of your show-related expenses. You might have a few more sales at an “away” show but if the hotel costs eat it all then it’s not worthwhile. It takes a few years to find the gems. Some shows are so hard to get into you’ll probably take a few years just to figure out how to get in.
Have a mailing list signup sheet out at all times. Your list is your key to success, so work it.
This is your time to sell your work. Do not make it easy for family and friends to stay for long periods of time. Leave chairs at home. Bring a bar stool or diector’s chair for you alone.
Knowing a particular show or festival’s market audience and product range has proven one of the most important aspects of a show’s personal success. Ideally, I try and accept shows where there is a proven history of high traffic volume and greater incomes and/or tourism.
I have found the most important criteria, however, is the range and price point of the artwork at the show. If a show is mostly lower craft, I typically do not sell well since I cannot compete with a far lower price point. The show visitors also tend to be more concerned with bargains and getting a good price rather than the quality of the work. If there is a broad range of artwork in style, media and price, I tend to do fairly well. These shows also seem to attract the more art savvy clientele. It is not always just about the sheer traffic volume, but whether or not they are truly there to enjoy and purchase art.
Knowing your audience at an art festival is a key factor in determining your success. I try to find festival’s where the audience is there to celebrate the arts and not so much into the party scene.
The neighbor booth at one festival last summer, sold completely out of everything during the first day of the festival. I figure he sold $20,000 worth of art in just a few hours! He sat in a chair at an empty table for the remaining two days, handing out business cards! He clearly had done his research had artwork priced correctly and a product that everybody found interesting. People were lined up to buy his stuff, it was truly amazing.
Additionally, I think it is important to make your booth look professional and gallery-like. Don’t hang everything you have ever produced in your booth, be selective and choose pieces that will draw people in. When possible, demonstrating your art process in the booth always gets attention. I found that it is better to keep your business cards behind the table and hand them out only when someone needs the information. Too often customers will take a business card and say, I’ll be looking at your website and get back to you. Unfortunately, they don’t.
A few days ago I put up an article meant to give artists information on how to prepare and sell at small art shows based on some of my experiences. You can read it at http://www.bobestrin.com/artshow.htm .
As a veteran art festival attendee/artist, I have found that looking and sounding as professional as possible is a must at any mid-to high end show. It is so easy for buyers to look down their noses at a display that screams: “I don’t know what I’m doing!” Be tasteful–be neat–don’t overcrowd your booth, or attend a show when you have only five things to display (unless they are huge). Dress well. Smell good, but not overpowering. Don’t eat while at your booth. Otherwise, smile and enjoy the people and the experience. I love art festivals!
I started at smaller events, luckily I took pictures of my booth because when I applied for larger events they requested images of your booth setup. Here are my recommendations;
*I go with my husband and young daughter, we’re a small family and don’t always have a sitter for her. We work together, setting up, taking down and established a rule that only one person at a time in the booth and no eating inside the booth.
* When I setup, I step out of the booth to check the key areas where people will first see my booth and hang my best work there.
* Listen to the comments, you can learn alot from it, my first year someone came in and said “Oh the pink lady!”, this was huge feedback that I needed to expand my color palette. Since then I’ve created series of works with exciting new colors.
* At the end of the day, we analyze what went well, what didn’t and adjust.
* If possible, try to get the same spot every year, people that follow you will look for you there.
* Be freindly, have a positive attitude and it’s OK not to give your artwork away!
* I don’t sell notecards because people will look for the least expensive item.
* Have a sense of humor, no matter how tired, sick, frustrated or hot you are, customers will pick it up quickly, first impression is everything!
* My last show I had a cast on my leg, it was a good icebreaker…so, good luck and break a leg!
Most people are gracious and complimentary, but be ready to roll with a few punches…..
A few points of etiquette for artists going to art shows to scope it out. The artists are there to sell art, not to talk with other artists. Ask them briefly and politely if you can contact them after the show, and write
down their email. When a customer sees someone engaged in conversation they may have the intention of coming back, but if something else catches their eye, and they can’t quite remember where that booth was …. Get the picture? Don’t be the reason that a hard working artist loses a potential sale or a valuable contact. It can cost 6-700 or more to do a show when you include jurying fees, booth fees, possible vehicle rental – not to mention hotels, food, maintenance on your booth equipment, and so on. When I have only 8 hrs to make the most of a sale, no, I don’t want to discuss where I get my frames or where did I get that canopy or replacement parts for my panels. I just don’t have the time, sorry. And at the end of a show I’m dead tired and have to take it all down and pack it up so I can unload it all back home. At a recent show, I sold pretty well, all things considered economically. The guy next to me sold nothing. He’d tell you it was a lousy show and don’t bother. I’d say it was OK. All you’ve learned is that people’s tastes vary, quality of work varies, pricing varies, salesmanship varies and they are all independent of the quality of the show. The best approach, I think, is to spend a long time at a show and be the observant fly on the wall. Watch the traffic. See how many bags are being carried. Note if there’s distracting entertainment or other side shows that pull people away from the art. See how people’s work is priced and how it compares to yours. You’re going to learn most of what you need to know that way, I think.
I second the comment about not overcrowding your display. It should not look, as one fellow-artist put it, “like you are showing everything you ever made”. I am a jeweler, and my colleagues are often guilty of overfilling their cases. Hard as it may be to leave a set-up looking spare, it creates the space necessary for the browser to focus on individual pieces. It looks sleeker, more confident and professional, and less like a rummage sale!
I would also say that it helps a LOT to share a story with shoppers. Describe how or why you made what you made, in brief, unusual terms. This story gets people invested in you and your art, making them more likely to buy, and to remember you. And they pass this story on to others. An example– “I call this piece ‘Cross Country’– I was cross-country skiing when I came across this scene. I always carry a sketchbook with me, so I stood there on my skis and drew it. Then I went home and created this piece”. Many times, people go away, and come back with another person, show them the piece and repeat the story. Most people have no clue how an artist works, and they enjoy the glimpse into the process.
A quick question to those who recommended not eating in the booth – which brings up the issue of the need for occasionally relieving ones self as well – I’m guessing that ideally one has an assistant or helper in order to pull this off? Leaving the booth un-personed seems like asking for trouble….and if one has an assistant and one is only supposed to be the only one in the booth…well then what, please?
Make sure that your booth is not a dead end space. Leave a way for people to circulate without feeling trapped. This will also aid the traffic flow (and the air flow) in your space.
Place eye-catching, important art where the viewer can see it at first glance while approaching your booth.
Try not to answer a compliment with “thank you”. It psychologically ends the conversation or transaction. Say that you appreciate the compliment or you are glad that they like it. Also it is one of your favorite pieces or did you notice the ______________ I painted in the background? Say thank you when they are finished or have purchased something.
Great advice Joy, everyone should have the ability to process credit cards and Square makes it easy –http://www.squareup.com
A packing checklist with everything from panels to bandaids minimizes forgotten items when you get to your site. I also like to have a visual inventory with a thumbnail image of the work, title, price & tax (This is especially helpful for those helping with sales).
**Last but not least, STAY HYDRATED (I learned the hard way- dehydration is worse than the port-a-potties!).
It would be nice to have family or friends to help out, but some of us do this alone. It’s not too bad.
Regarding bathroom breaks: Official booth-sitters from the show are never around when you need them, so I just let my nearest neighbor know where I’m going and make it as short a trip as possible. (Your neighbor can then let people in your booth know you’ll be right back.) Admittedly, with my big paintings I don’t worry about theft the way a jeweler does.
As for eating, you have to eat and you have to be at your booth. But you don’t have to eat inside it! I usually duck behind my booth or sit at the side and unobtrusively grab a bite when traffic is light. There’s always a quiet moment here and there. (Baby wipes, by the way, make for easy cleanup.)
Bottom line, you gotta stay hydrated and you gotta eat. People understand.
No matter what, stay positive. Smile! I like to have a couple of pieces from that area where I am showing as the eye catcher. I like to hang a recent award in (8 x 10) a place where a browser can see it. I try not to sit down and try to be eye level with the buyer. A tall seat can be the best investment when it’s a more than one day show. I move work around for the second day. It looks like things were sold. A returning customer might need to ask where the piece they liked is now. Try not to be negative about the weather. I had one of my very best shows in the pouring rain in Bar Harbor! I often use that as an example when I hear negative comments from artists as well as customers!
I don’t sell at fairs, but wondered how reliable Squareup was for being able to take credit cards with a smart phone. The device itself is not expensive, but is there a service? Also, how do artists handle it when people dispute a charge? I have a friend who sells antiques on ebay; she says every so often she ships a piece with a return receipt required, and gets the receipt back signed…then the buyer disputes it and says they never got the item. Their CC co removes the money from the seller’s account and poof, she is out the antique and the money plus the shipping, and someone got a free antique. How do you prevent that sort of thing?