Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Art Fairs

An email from Betty C. asks: “My gallery sales are down and I’ve been wondering about doing something I have never wanted to do: participate in a local art ‘festival’ for lack of a better word. It is part sale, part summer fair, and I have always thought these kind of events were inappropriate for me. But I need to increase my sales. Any tips about what to expect or how to maximize my experience?”
After decades of teaching, blogging and writing about the business of the visual arts, I am lucky to have a very large mailing list that is now an excellent resource for me. The artists on my list provide me with rich insights into many aspects of a visual arts career that are outside my experience. In response to forwarding Bettys’ email, within twenty-four hours I received a lot of tips:
  • Keep a 3-ring binder of images of your other work—sold and unsold. I have gotten commissions for images this way. Also, people like to look through it.
  •  Keep your table or booth really simple and clean. Keep back-up inventory in your car and get it when you need it. Too much looks messy, uninviting and unprofessional.
  •  Don’t be afraid of stock piling work. I had a nice clean, professional-looking table at a fair last year, but the guy beside me recently sold his work like crazy, unframed and unmated off a table.
  •  I use a Digital Photo frame on my table. It features a slide show of most of my work.
  •  I get far greater interest in my booth if I am working while I am at the fair/sale. People ask me questions and stay longer and often that can lead to a sale. Besides, I am more comfortable painting than just standing there watching them and making them feel uncomfortable.
  • I just read about “square.” It's a system that lets you accept credit cards with your smart phone. (
  • A fellow painter told me to leave a couple of spaces empty to make it look like I had sales and apparently it makes people think they should “buy now.” Instead, I decided to put a “sold” sticker on a couple of pieces and then someone came up to me and asked, “Do you have another one like that sold one?” I didn’t know what to do!
  • Have LOTS of promotional material ready - with your website on everything and hand it to everyone who will take it. 
Set up an easel and at least look as though you’re creating. 
Be ready with your stories...the longer folks are engaged and looking at your work the more likely they'll buy. 

  • Have an extra folding stool (or two) for a person to use while deciding which of several paintings to buy and be ready to rearrange things so they can focus on those paintings.
  • Smile CONSTANTLY even if you haven't sold a single thing; you can never know which visitor might go home and contact you later!
  •   This year I am teaming up with two other artists with whom I get along and who are using very different styles or media. We can give each other break and we are better at promoting each other than ourselves.
  •   Be prepared to be tough with organizers. I got a lousy location assigned to me and I was resentful given that I registered early and paid the same fee as everyone else. I asked how I came to be where I was and did not like the explanation. I HATED being a [expletive deleted], but it got me a better location. And thank goodness I was there early enough to become aware of the problem in time to fix it.
  • Try not to respond to any compliment by saying, “Thank you”. It ends the conversation. Instead, ask them a question or lead them into a discussion you think they might enjoy. Don’t say, ”Thank you,” until they leave or buy.
  • A note about proper behavior at these events. My biggest gripe is often other artists. When I am at an event like this, I am there to sell, not talk to other artists. When other artists engage me, I give them my card and ask them to contact me later because I want to catch the eye, mind and ears of my customers.
  • (This was forwarded to me from an unidentified blog.) “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.”
  • Sometimes people ask you the dumbest questions imaginable. You have to remember to always take the high road with every response. I often reply simply and politely, and then ask if its their first time at an art fair and if I can answer any questions they might have about choosing art. That may not lead to a sale, but I get them on my mailing list and who knows what will happen down the line.

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