Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Hey all, Been an illustrator for years, but decided to try the "art fair scene" for the first time this summer, jumping in with four expensive, high-traffic shows. I created all new work (7 pieces in these photos from Gold Coast in Chicago, and am working on another 5 for a show next weekend). 

I was pleased with the balance of comments: 80% complimented the work, while the remainder seemed to enjoy the booth and setting. I admit it's a pretty strong theme, but I hope I haven't over-accessorized to the point that it would overpower the art. Based on sales, I suspect it was good mix that gave buyers a hint of a residential setting, while letting the artwork take center stage. That lovely skyline certainly didn't hurt. 

I have 3 more shows coming up: a 10x20 spot, a 10x10 on a corner, and another 10x10 (most likely mid-row) so there'll be some editing and changes for each. Opinions are welcome, you guys are the experts!

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Not so much spunky, but more of a sarcastic SOB. I had to point out my name to get his butt out of my chair. I know that kindness and sympathy does work on occasion to get sales, but the guy was a loafer and not a buyer. You also run the risk of patrons assuming the person in a chair like yours could be the artist, and that could kill a few sales.

This reminded of a show I did a few years ago where we had set our chairs up across from our booth, as was the custom here.  We then got busy, but I noticed a man had sat his kids in our chairs to eat their ice cream. They were young kids and left puddles of melted ice cream all over the chairs! What a mess!

I love this!!! I think it's spectacular. I would definitely be drawn to it. The chair, as someone said below, might invite people to just sit down and hang out but the whole booth is simply gorgeous. Well done! (I'm new to this whole thing myself - having had just one show and about to participate in my second in a few weeks.)

Thanks Kathleen, appreciate that. 

Good luck to you in a few weeks, our second show ever is tomorrow, with another two in quick succession after that. Baptism by fire, I suppose - but I'll be able to look back at the end of September and decide if this is the method we want to pursue for selling my art. It's certainly way more fun than the anonymity of Etsy... but also a lot more work: countless trips in a 20 mile radius picking up prints, frames, bubble wrap, and then a few sleepless nights hunched over the kitchen island assembling it all.

Still beats the heck out of a 9 to 5 in a cubicle - but these shows require more mental and physical stamina than I think most fairgoers realize.

Would love to see your results when you get another show under your belt, do start a thread!

thanks brad! I took your advice and started a discussion! :)

Hi all,

Had my second show this weekend: the Port Clinton Art Festival (blended with Taste of Highland Park) outside of Chicago. We had mixed weather, with rain Friday night after setting up, clearing up late Saturday morning, but remaining "spitty" throughout the day which kept crowds way down. 

They were there in full force on Sunday, though. Like Gold Coast back in June, my booth seemed to attract both browsers and buyers, perhaps lending a bit of evidence to the notion that what makes a booth successful for customers may differ from the criteria that wins over jurors.

Attaching a couple shots from this show. I tried to keep "stuff" limited, with most accessories serving as print bins, a sign-in table, and the tower held notecards and postcards with my website, etc.

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I'm new to this art fair as well and would not have a clue to what to do to enter a juried event.   I did spend a few years doing visual merchandising for a retail store with no restrictions on how I did it or what I used. I love making up a story to go along with the 'merchandise' (I worked in a family owned store that sold equestrian items from saddles to fly spray with some Barbour, and Ralph Lauren type items). I like how you are displaying your pieces, it helps me visualize how to hang and give an impression of why I would want the piece, it's got a good vibe. I love staging and I'm sure I too get a bit carried off with the story. One time I staged a garden walk for the store. It was in a barn and I set up a garden party showcasing our housewares, I took a metal outdoor café type table with umbrella and covered it with sod as the table cloth, I used flowers for the napkins and other table setting pieces. I like your authentic feel of a time period that goes with your work. another I was in the Ralph Lauren flagship store in Chicago and though most of their displays were really cool, I had to mention to the staff (who really didn't care) that the horse bridles were either upside down, put together wrong or completely whacked. Don't be all equestrian and get the basics wrong, ha, that's also why my husband doesn't like to watch any sort of movie with horses in it, I always find the mistakes. I would have mad a good continuity editor in films! Take the advice of those with experience and use what works for you!

Good luck

What a neat work background you have, Susan! You may find that the traditional "less is more" approach is probably a better longterm bet than what we've been doing, but you're correct that using the suitcases and old radio has added a narrative that seems to get a near-universally warm reception; buyers were enthusiastic and talkative, and I feel the amount we made (on the day it didn't rain) was a great result.  

Like the advice about staging a house for sale - keeping things relatively neutral so buyers don't get hung up on things that don't matter - is still probably the best way to appeal to the widest audience.

But I think our tactic of keeping our ProPanels and carpet simple, and not clustering too much around the art itself... was successful in "hinting" at a residential setting, but in a minimally invasive way.

I am amazed that you have the energy, strength and space to bring all that extra stuff! It's about all I can do to set up the tent and hang the paintings. I can't imagine bringing an armchair. 

Thanks Carrie ~ I admit that I "stacked the deck" in my favor, by having only applied to local shows this summer. Everything fit into a rental UHaul van, and while we had to dolly everything quite a distance to the first show in downtown Chicago... the remaining three will allow for pulling right up to our spot.

This weekend is a 10x10 corner booth with 1 and a half open sides -- so we'll aim for a more stripped down, "acoustic" version of last week's big double booth. 

Yes, although I love the look (I'm a former retail merchandiser too), I also wondered about the practicality of schlepping an armchair and old floor radio (sans its innards) to shows...as great as it looks, that might get old pretty fast.  If you can keep the look in a less cumbersome way, I think you're on to something.  What has been the overall response from shoppers?

Being that they're not functional pieces, they can't qualify as practical, but I do load / unload / carry both items fairly easily. But I agree that it would likely feel like 'schlepping' after a few summers of this type of thing, especially if our shows were further from home.

I fully recognize there's a home court advantage to this, that wouldn't work for most situations.

It's impossible to say whether they've had a positive or negative effect on sales since I haven't been in a situation where the art is isolated by itself, BUT I can say that nobody only commented on the accessories. They'd spend a few minutes discussing the art, asking questions about the process -- and the "love the booth" stuff was almost always when they were leaving.

As for sales, we had around 35 transactions on Sunday (Saturday being rainy) and sold over $6K in artwork; slightly better than our best previous day at Gold Coast.


So I'm quite happy with everything so far, and will assess the effort vs. reward after our last show in another few weeks time to see what needs changed. More than anything, I've really enjoyed going on these hundreds of miniature "speed dates" talking with strangers. Very fun.

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