20 Things I've Learned From 20 Years Of Doing Art Fairs
A Few Things To Consider, When Considering Doing Art Fairs.
This lens will deal with some of the more important aspects to consider when doing art fairs. This is not all things of course, just the ones which are most noteworthy to myself.
The art fair circuit while fun and profitable is also grueling and a lot of hard work. Addressing the points listed below should help to ease some of the stress and discomforts from doing this type of event.
I'm Speaking From ExperienceIn case you're wondering I have been doing art fairs as a major part of my income for the past 10 years or so. We usually do somewhere between 12 and 20 events per year, both indoor and out. Before that I usually did 1 or 2 a year, you know . . . like . . . for fun. Actually I grew up doing a similar type event with my mother so it's probably closer to 30 years of doing them. But let's not quibble over reality, shall we.
The first 10 Things are about people and selling.
The following 10 Things deal with travel and tents.
All copyrights are retained by the artist,
Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery.
The artwork or content in this lens may not be used or reproduced, either
in part or in whole, without the express written consent from the artist.
About The Author Of 20 Things In 20 Years Of Doing Art Fairs
Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery
My name is Mona Majorowicz I am a professional artist who has been making my living selling my work for some time now. I have been in the art and framing industry for over 20 years. I am an animal artist, (meaning I paint critters) who works primarily in Oil Pastel or Water Soluble Pencil.
I own and operate Wild Faces Gallery with my husband Mike in a small rural town in Iowa. There we sell my original artwork and prints, as well as do quality custom framing and offer Giclee printing for other artists as well as for ourselves
Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.
1. People Lie At Art Fairs
Too Much Praise Usually Means No Sale
Well maybe not "lie" exactly, but don't get your hopes up when someone says "I'll be back." Unlike Arnie, once someone utters those three little words there is a 99.9725% chance (not a real statistic) they won't. That's not to say they don't mean well. I've come to the conclusion it is a combination of guilt (over not buying) and wanting to show they really do like what you do without giving you money.
Similarly, Beware of too much praise. The more gushing praise a person gives you is in direct relation to the likelihood of them not buying something.
2. People Are Generally Honest At Art Fairs
For The Most Part, Bad Checks And Theivery Are Rare At Art Fairs (unless you're a jeweler)
(Okay, I just couldn't help myself there.) What I mean is most people aren't looking to steal from you (though I'm sure some jewelers may disagree with me on this one.) In all the thousands of checks I've taken in the past decade or so, I've only had one bad one.
Making Sure The Art Fair Cash You Take In Is Real - Counterfeit Money Detector Pens
I usually keep a few of these pens around. Following with the People Are Honest Thing I've yet to find a bad bill but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Folks may be unaware that they are passing on counterfeit money.
Oddly enough, I tend to only check $50 and $100 even though I believe $20 are the denomination most often counterfeited.
3. Be Nice To Your Art Fair Neighbors
A Weekend Art Fair Is A Surprisingly Long Time
A 3 or 4 day weekend is a long time to be annoyed at someone when you can't walk away from them for the next couple of days.
Similarly be courteous during load-in and especially load-out. We are all tired. hot sweaty and want nothing more than to start that 6 hour journey home before another second passes. The real measure of how nice a person you are is if you can keep from throwing a tantrum because someone is holding up your ability to do just that.
4. Be Gracious And Grateful To Everyone While Doing Art Fairs
You Never Really Know Who May Make That "Big" Purchase
Treat your $20 sales like you would your $200 or $2000 sales. Often times it's the multitude of small sales that will get you to your goal. Also relationships with patrons are sometimes built from smaller sales first.
5. The Art Fair S-Rule
Why Good Lighting Is Important At An Art Fair
Shiny . . . urm . . ."Stuff" Sells. When doing an indoor event use lots of lighting. Pay the electrical fee (whatever the cost) and bring lots and lots of lights. It makes a huge difference.
Trust me on this.
A Few More Chair Options
6. Be Attentive (and remain so) While Working The Art Fair - This Is Harder Than It Sounds
Being attentive is easy at the beginning of the art fair. Someone walks in your tent you pop up and smile. But after 3 days, your inclination to stand up every time someone ealks into your tent is greatly diminished.
What helps with this is using a tall directors chair. It allows you to remain seated while still being at eye level with your customer. Sometimes we use the shorter chairs, which of course work fine. But seriously after you've stood up and sat down hundreds (if not thousands of times) over the weekend you'll really feel it in the legs. If you don't want the work out. Get a taller chair.
7. Be Agreeable With Art Fair Patrons
Arguing With Art Fair Patrons Is A No Win Situation
Being affirmative is a sales technique that at first I had to think about but now is just part of how I relate with people naturally. This means that when talking with people I often nod my head in subtle agreement, smile and encourage conversation. This builds repore.
Also, if the time comes when someone says something you painted (or whatever) is wrong. Arguing with them is a losing proposition. If your wrong (and they know it or they think that they know it) trying to convince them otherwise, will only make them think less of you. And if you're right, you will make them look bad (or feel stupid) and they'll still not like you.
Listen to them, say nothing, and smile.
8. Be Available To Art Fair Patrons, But Don't Hover
Greet Your Art Fair Patron, Offer Assistance, Then Get Out Of The Way.
Customers are wiley prey and they don't like to feel trapped into talking with you. Or worse yet, buying something. If possible don't stand in or at the front of your booth. Just outside near the opening is good.
At the events we do, often we split the display unit creating a doorway through to the back where we sit. They can find me easily and yet I'm not in their personal space.
So after you greet them and offer assistance, give them a little room to look around and then approach you. I'm not a fan of the hard sell.
At the other end of this is don't ignore them or your booth.
Don't Read A Book Or Magazine
Don't Talk On The Phone or Text Incessantly
Don't Play On Your Laptop
Don't Spend All Your Time Chatting Up Your Neighbor.
9. The Key To Selling At Art Fairs Is . . .
The Answer May Surprise You
The key to selling is to ask questions about your patron and then listen. You might be surprised how few people want to know about you, your work and your process (your dog, your in-laws, your favorite color . . . um yeah, you get the idea.) despite them having asked you something about it.
Keep your answers brief and direct the conversation back to them by asking about their likes or what they find interesting in the work.
For me this comes usually in the form of asking whether they have horses, (if commenting on the horse art) since horse art is a huge part of my overall artwork sales. And since I love horses and am knowledgeable about them conversation flows easily and naturally from the one simple question.
10. The Key To Sales At Art Fairs Is . . .
Hint: It's Also The Spice Of Life
Variety of products (for me this is images as well as sizes offered) and price points. My artwork sells between $2.79 for a single art card up to $2500 for an original painting. With a myriad of options in between. I sell canvas prints, limited edition giclee' prints, smaller open edition collectible prints and notecards. Depending on the event I am doing I select price point appropriate art to take along. My artwork is offered both framed and unframed to maximize sales potentials.
A Note About Framing Nice quality framing costs more but the framed artwork is what attracts people to your booth and gets them to look through shrinkwrap bins. Poor artwork presentation will cost you sales.
11. If The Art Fair Allows Prior Day Set-up, Do It.
Time Management Is An Important Art Fair Skill
This saves you a great deal of time the following morning. Most events allow vehicles to unload for a limited amount of time prior to opening. Plus by doing the bulk of the work the previous day you won't be all sweaty and funky looking (and smelling) for the day of sales ahead of you.
I usually don't hang any work though. Not so much for fear of theft. More so weather and vagrants.
12. Be Ready For The Early Art Fair Shoppers
A Good Art Fair May Have Hundreds If Not Thousands Of Early Shoppers
If the event begins at 10 am be done setting up by 9am at the latest. Whenever an art fair has been around for a couple of decades expect early shoppers as they have learned how to beat the heat and the crowds
13. Vans Are Better Than Trailers When Hauling Art Fair Product
When Selecting Your Art Fair Van Size And Shape Matter
Driving and maneuvering a large van is easier than using a trailer. No matter how big the van or how small the trailer.
Most art fairs allow you to drive to your booth location (or at least get somewhat close to the spot so you don't have to haul your work too far. You can maneuver your van through a tight alley of tents and other artist vehicles easier than a trailer. I have seen tents get drug apart, backed into and vehicles loose mirrors and get scratched.
Not to mention nothing will tork off your neighbor more than you completely blocking off access to their booth with your trailer while YOU unload. Because even the largest van is smaller than a small vehicle with small trailer in tow.
14. Outdoor Art Fairs Are More Profitable Than Indoor Art Fairs.
An Illogical But True Art Fair Fact
This is illogical, but despite the fact that indoor events are climate controlled, usually superior artwork jurying and on the whole a more classy look, they never pull in the huge crowds. My best indoor event nets me about the same as a mediocre outdoor event.
Note: This may have something to do with my part of the continent. I only do events in the Midwest so I can't really say if this holds true universally.
15. Carry Your Money On Your Person At All Times During The Art Fair - Preferably Never Use A Cash Box
Always carry your money on your person. I generally use the totally unfashionable fanny pack. Cash boxes are easy to snatch when your back is turned. In a pinch your pockets are still a better option than a cash box.
16. The Best Way To Secure Your Art Fair Tent Is . . .
Dog Stakes (corkscrew style) are the best way to secure your tent on grass. Straight stakes and weights will do in a pinch. But they aren't nearly as secure Straight stakes will pull right out with any wind so are really kinda useless.
As for securing your tent while on pavement, you really have to rely on weights. We actually use tractor weights which are large flat plates that we put in each corner of the tent. They weigh around 80# each. In Omaha where wind is almost always a factor they offer free sandbags and we put an additional 300-400# of those on as well.
A weight professional system that works similarly to our tractor weights are Happy Feet tent weights. I know many artists who use them (as well as the artist who created them) and I think they are the best solution, particularly for the EZ Up variety tent.
Weights should never be hung from (as in, dangling in space) an EZ Up style tent. They will sway in the wind and pull on the tent joints which will make it collapse.
DO NOT USE: water or milk jugs filled, barbells or your display or artwork.as weights to stabilize your tent.
The Best Way To Secure Your Art Fair Tent On Grass - Use Corkscrew Dogstakes For Your Art Fair Tent
Minimally You'll need 4 of these one for each corner. Though 6 is a good idea and we usually have 8 to 10 along.
We Bring Extra Because:
Sometimes we put up a separate tent or awning
Sometimes it's stormy or really windy so we use more
On rare occasion they break when the ground is too hard.
The Best Way To Secure Your Tent On Pavement Is With Weights - Use Only Real Tent Weights For Securing Your Art Fair Tent On Pavement
On pavement you have to use actual weight to tie down your tent.
17. Bad Weather And Art Fairs Go Hand In Hand
Rain is not the enemy at art fairs, wind is.
Getting rained on is not as bad as you might think. Be prepared because it will happen. And Packing up soggy is particularly annoying (yes, I've done so many times.)
But wind is the stuff of nightmares. It may rip up your tent and toss it away possibly trashing your neighbors as well. Also I've been to a few event where the tents stayed put but the trees dropped large branches. The overall effect is the same. Total destruction. So by comparison, a little rain is no big deal as long as it's falling softly and not driven by wind.
Rain Ponchos - A Really Good Idea To Pack Some - You Know . . . Just In Case
18. NEVER Remain In Your Art Fair Tent During A Thunderstorm.
An Art Fair Is Just A Field Of Lightning Rods
Your average art fair tent is just a 10 x 10 lightening rod. Also if the storm is without lightening but has high winds, abandon the tent instead of trying to hold it down.
We did an event in Omaha one year that had straight lines winds exceeding 100mph. Some folks opted to hang onto their tents instead of seeking shelter in the tornado shelters provided. Some people were fine and others, not so much. One woman while trying to hold down her tent broke her arm and still lost her tent.
19. What Your Mamma Taught You Holds True For Art Fairs As Well
Free is Good, But Good Manners Are Better
When someone offers you some free thing, always say "yes." and more importantly "Thank you." This is usually water or donuts. You may not want it now but later you may not be able to pop away for something.
Following this train of thought be sure to bring snacks (nothing too messy,) water (or diet Coke. I like to keep myself on a Caffeine drip the entire event) and lots and lots of ice.
Keeping Yourself Fed And Hydrated While Working The Art Fair - Coolers & Water For Your Art Fair Needs.
The big coolers are really nice to ensure you will always have cold water to drink and there's room for fruit and snacks for the entire day. However make sure you have enough room in your vehicle for hauling it. Wheels are BIG a plus. The smaller coolers are nice when space is at a premium.
20. And Last And Most Importantly In Regards To Preventing Me From Being Crabby The Entire Art Fair . . .
Always request the top floor of the hotel you're staying at.
At the end of the day, climbing all those stairs is a pain. But not as big a pain as having people stomping around overhead all night long. In a like manner, avoid hotels with wedding parties, birthday parties, swim parties, well let's just say avoid parties of any kind.
One year we stayed at a hotel that was also the hotel of choice for some cheerleader camp. There was squealing and screaming and stopping and slamming of doors well into the wee hours. Their enthusiasm quits being cute about 2 am.
A Few Items To Help You Get A Good Nights Sleep, So you'll Have A Good Day At The Art Fair - Ear Plugs and Sleep Aids
We tend to keep some Tylenol pm when traveling. Frankly after a day of hauling and toting and working the booth, we are usually achy, and may well have a headache if it was really hot out all day. The sleep aid is helpful for quieting all the usual door slamming and stomping that goes on in hotels.