Trying to get ideas on inventory for a long road trip to numerous Fine Art Shows.

Medium: Photography

I shoot, print, cut my mats, mount, frame and cut my acrylic myself.

Therefore, replenishment while out on the road is not feasible.

Obviously I wont know which type of my work sells well, in advance.

Different shows and geographic locations may affect what type of pieces sell also.

I do not price my work in the thousands, therefore I must sell many pieces to be profitable.

How many pieces to bring?

I am planning on only 2 or 3 sizes. Any particular image will likely be in only one size.

If I bring many copies of the same work it is redundant, lessens value of said piece. Also if that piece is not the good seller than it takes up space.

More varied pieces / selection covers that but reduces room for repeats of good selling pieces.

If many patrons travel to the different shows, I would think having different pieces at the varied shows to be better.

I could teach someone to cut my mats and print my work however then it is no longer "my complete work".

How many prints do most photogs carry with them for extended trips?

*** Categorized by size would help ***

How many extra frames to carry? The frames are the worst problem. Bulky, prone to damage. They take up a lot of room.

I can precut many mats, and do up frames prior to the trip, then have someone overnight ship them to my location if I run low. Problems from this scenario:

1) Doing my conservation hinging & mounting in hotel rooms at night.

2) What size mats to precut as my pieces are matted to standard sizes for framing however the inner window is not. Each photo is sized (aspect ratio) dependent on what is best for that image. Hence each mat is cut for that image.

3) High costs of fast shipping.

--- I'm confident someone will state:---

A). I should try the shows, one way. Learn and change for next year. Very expensive lesson with no return travel for several months, all the expenses of the high end shows and loss of revenue due to making bad choices in advance. -- I'll learn enough with normal trial and error, research in advance is helpful.

B) I should make all my prints the same aspect ratio and size.  -- I weigh my artistic vision against profit. I'm not a martyr but vision wins out. Also the better the artistic work, hopefully that will equate to better sales.

Thanks for reading my long winded post ;-)



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  • You can have boxes shipped to the post office and they will hold for pickup. Take enough inventory for two shows and ship some additional supplies to the next art show. Use your previous sales to let you know what is going to sell and how many you will need. This is important info to know and if you haven't done enough shows to get this info, you may be in for an expensive lesson. Do enough local-ish shows to get a real sense of how much you actually sell per show.

    As you mentioned, limiting your sizes will save you a ton of effort and money. Don't think you have to provide everyone with a different option. When you are traveling, focus on the main sizes that people buy in and forget the rest. We only do 11x14 and 16x20 prints at shows. It's more than enough to make our shows profitable. Of course people come in wanting a 5x7 or 8x10, but I'm not Walmart and I can't bring everything. You can always redirect to your website and offer free shipping, etc. as an incentive.

    Consider outsourcing your mat cutting. Cutting mats is a production job and has no bearing on if an artist cut them or not. We buy our 8 ply mats at and they have been awesome. We buy them in bulk. I consider my time way to important to cut mats and they do a much better job of it than I ever could.

    In regards to your frames, shop around and make sure you are using frames that don't take up too much space. There is a big difference in having a frame that is 2" thick vs. having frames that are .75" thick. Once you multiply that difference over the entire body of your work, it can mean the difference of a lot of frames. Too many artists I've met at shows don't realize this. They try to stock lots of different frames and make them too fancy and/or specific. Many people are just going to re-frame the image anyway to go with their decor. So keep your frames thin and simple (note: they still need to look good!). I use a simple black frame from

    Lastly, I would recommend having enough supplies for two shows and sending more frames/prints/supplies to the local post office of your third show. They can hold it for pick up. If you don't need the supplies, just send it to the next show or back home.

    Hope that helps some. Here's a shot of a show I just did this past weekend in Portland Oregon. It shows the simple frames and prints I bring.




    • Lee

      Thank you for the thoughtful and informative reply.

      I drive (don't fly at all anymore) to all my venues so packing room is limited.

      The expensive lessons are something I'm trying to minimize, hence the inquiries in advance.

      I'm concerned about the costs involved in shipping large boxes to venues locations. Do you ship the work framed? My smallest framed pieces are 18" x 22" OD. I cut my own acylic glazing so I'm not too concerned with breakage. However weight and size would still add up to significant costs in shipping.


      Do you carry unassembled frames with you. Just ship the matted prints and frame them while on the road?

      I realize the cost savings in having some other company do my matting but, as I stated, my variance in window sizes makes this impractical. I may have to weigh the practicality of what I do in this area. That conflict between artistic expression VS commercial practicality. I agree on not wanting to cut my mats nor acrylic. I hate doing it. Just felt it necessary. I would be happier if I never had to do any matting nor framing. Just shoot and process.

      Your 16x20 & 11x14 prints... is that image size or mat size?

      For the higher "Fine Art Shows" I'm currently only using one style of frame. Only two sizes of frames. All are 3/4" thick, black, wood. They look a lot like yours. I am considering switching to metal frames so I can carry them in straights, precut. Then assemble as needed on the road. This way I can carry far more inventory in matted up prints. As framed pieces sell I could, back at the hotel, assemble frames and install the matted replacements I have with me. Has anyone tried it this way?

      I've been laying out significant money, time and effort in learning. That's fine. However trying one method, failing, trying another, failing and so on. Is not the most practical way to learn. Therefore I research and ask others who might know more than I.

      Doing the smaller, less "high end" art shows does not teach me what will work at the better shows. Also knowing what types of my work will move at NJ, PA etc, compared to Florida or midwest makes knowing what to inventory as well. As my father used to tell me "Practice makes perfect is WRONG... Practice makes perfect but only what you practice perfectly" If I do it wrong, I only learn I'm wrong. It takes much more to learn what is right. Thanks for showing me some things you do that are right.

      • I definitely understand your pains. I'm on my 4th different booth setup. There is always something that needs tweaking and or changing and it's so time consuming. The problem is that what works for one artist, doesn't work for another artist. Some people have big things they need to carry, others have small breakable things, etc. So it seems everyone has to learn the hard way. Also travel options change all of it. Some people have big trailers, others have station wagons with roof racks.

        Sadly, practice does make perfect when dealing with new venues and shows. Last year we did the Sausilito CA show and were escatic to get in. Then we started paying for the booth, lodging, travel, etc. and our costs were over $6000 before the show even started. I read reveiws saying that show is a good one. Other reviews said it was overrated. We had to gamble and do it. We could have lost a ton of money. We ended up having a great show and sold a ton. I heard some jewlers say it wasn't a great show. So which one was it- good or bad? It varies by person. If you haven't done these shows you are going to have a trial by fire situation. There isn't really any other way. 

        Some common things WILL save you time. Here they are:

        - Assemble as little as possible: Assembly takes time and effort. Cutting your own glazing, putting together frames, etc. takes so much time away from being a photographer/artist. The cost/benefit rarely works in your favor so try to buy common sizes in bulk. Shows are hard enough without having to go home and assemble frames after the show. Might cost you a little more, but you can more than make up for that with the time savings.

        Limit your inventory: Just like retail stores, you can't just keep eveything you have ever done on the showroom floor. Each year you should go through all your images and select only the best sellers to keep bringing to shows. Keep the other images for your website sales, etc. Never have so much product that your booth looks like a garage sale. If an image isn't selling over and over, retire it and replace with a new one that does.

        - Work in standard frame/mat/image sizes. This is a HUGE point. having images that are all different sizes means you need mats that are all different sizes. This is something I learned long ago because this one thing will cost you a massive amount of time and energy. Also, if you have weird nonstandard sizes, your customers end up mad at you because now THEY have to spend big bucks to get something framed. I have many people thank me when they are buying prints from me that are unmatted and framed once I tell them it's all standard sizing and they can just go to micheals and pick a frame/mat off the shelf.

        As I'm sketching up ideas for new paintings, I make sure to stick to these sizes for the original painting (so I can frame it easily). And then I know how that will break down into prints. My print size of the image is 11x14 and 16x20. I can mat those or sell them for less unmatted.

        Here are the basic sizes for frames and mats:

        Frame 22 x 28 :

        - Art Size(with mat)

        14x22 16x20 18x24

        Frame 18x24:

        - Art Size (with mat)

        11x17 12x18 13x19

        Frame 16x20:

        - Art Size (with mat)

        12x16 , 11x14

        Frame 11x14:

        8x10 8.5x11 10x15 11x14

        - Art Size (with mat)

        7x10 7x10 8x10 8x12 8x11

        Frame 8.5x11:

        - Art Size(with mat)


        (note: even though I'm showing all these different image sizes, I ONLY stock two sizes- for my work that was the 11x14 and 16x20 size. Your setup might warrant different sizes, but I suggest keeping the range to MAXIMUM of three sizes. This will have you thousands of dollars and many hours over your career).

        • Lee

          On the point of not spending my time assembling frames at night after shows...

          What solution do you employ?

          If I'm on an extended road trip. Going from show to show. As I sell my framed pieces. I need to restock my display walls. What do you suggest?

          Back at the hotel...

          A) assemble more frames and put my matted pieces in them?

          B) Carry assembled frames with me and put the matted pieces in them?

          C) Carry assembled frames with the pieces already installed in them?

          One of the reasons I was going with assembling my own frames, while on the road, was due to space / packing concerns. Less space needed for straight frames sides, precut, than for assembled frames.  I can stack many more matted prints in one bin as well as glazings, without frames. Also less concern with damage to the frames. I do not use a trailer. My space with tent, lighting, weights, panels, print racks, inventory etc is very tight. Difference of what I can pack is very important.

          This is why I'm leaning toward changing from wood frames to the metal.

          • I don't think that you need to be too concerned with returning customers not seeing enough new stuff in your booth, at least not right away.

            Generally, customers who see me later may or may not buy, but when they return to the same show, second or third year, it is often to buy another similar piece. They don't expect a lot of new. I often direct them to what is new, but that is usually not what they are after.

            Of course, eventually you will have new items as your work keeps evolving.

  • I've been selling my photography for a year and a half. Tomorrow is my biggest show yet. It seems critical to do local farmer's markets or art fairs at first to find out what sells, to get your stories locked and loaded when people come in to visit, and to work out the nuances of packing and moving the wares. I am also in a state run Artreprenure program that works on marketing and branding and general business practices.

    Good luck

    • Steve

      I'm going to try to find if they have a program like yours in my states.

      I've tried doing some of the local farmers markets and art fairs. I'm pretty proficient at my packing and moving, set up and break down system. Always room for improvement.

      The idea of learning what sells at these venues, I don't see that beneficial as price points, sizes, types of pieces ie how artistic, eclectic, locally relevant may be vastly different to what I'll find at the higher end "fine art shows". Especially in other areas such as Florida the midwest etc.

      I have sold a little in small, local venues. however these are not the patrons coming to high end art fairs with (hopefully) plenty of money and a desire to acquire fine art. Many at these events have looked at my work and said I need to be in galleries and high end shows.

      I've been told customers in the midwest want a different art than customers in the northeast. But what those midwest customers want I do not know. It would be great to find out prior to doing those shows. I'm still trying to find out just what the customers in the northeast want.

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