Friday, September 24, 2010

4 Lessons Learned From Two Art Shows

Okay, first off I will acknowledge (and warn you) that I have only sold at two art festivals so far.  But since they were the same show, one year apart, they taught me a lot.  I worked with Callie Badorrek, my partner in crime, chatting, and art shows.  Read on and see if any of these can be applied to your booth:

1. Have A Variety Of Prices

The first year, I had a few items under $20, a few items under $50, and a lot of items in the $50-150 range.  Guess which sold the best?  You got it: the under $20 items.  Next best were the items under $50, but I still sold some more expensive items.  Make sure you have something for everyone, with more items in the range that people want to pay.  But how do you know which range that is?  This leads us to the next point…

2. Research The Show’s Customers

Some shows typically attract serious art buyers who are looking to spend $1000 on that great artwork for their new house or their personal collection.  Some shows attract mostly casual browsers out for a day of fun but not averse to buying a trinket or birthday/holiday/wedding present.  There are two ways to figure this out.

  1. Ask other artists at the show.  You can either attend the show a year in advance and strike up some conversations with artists, or email/call an artist who you know has done the show before.  If neither option is available to you, your only recourse is:
  2. Do the show. You may not get it right the first time, but you will learn a heck of a lot about what people are looking for.  Utilize Tip #1 and bring a variety of work with a range of prices.  Don’t expect success in the first year, and don’t give up if you do poorly.

I learned from my first year that most people at this particular show are casual browsers, families or couples out for a nice art-filled day.  So for the second year, I brought work that would appeal to them and left most of my expensive stuff at home.

3. Dress Your Booth For Success

If you can’t get people into your booth, your carefully selected artwork and range of prices aren’t going to do you much good.  Here’s how to make your booth stand out:

  1. Get a banner professionally made.  Seriously, this is the #1 best thing you can do for your booth display.  Our booth is named “Curious Creatures”, and we have a large, bold sign with our name and some graphics.  We watched people see our sign, slow their steps, and pull their friends toward our tent.  They remembered us, too; our husbands heard people talking about our booth by name as they wandered the art show.
    Make sure the banner is intriguing.  If your name doesn’t tell them much, add something that does, like “Beautiful Landscape Photos” or “Unique and Creative Glass Jewelry”.  You can design an inexpensive, good quality banner at
  1. Keep your color palette quiet to let your work shine.  Don’t go for flashy patterned tablecloths.  Our booth has medium grey panels for walls, and our shelves are painted grey too.  It is a color that works for us, since we have light and dark pieces.  Any shade of grey is good, but creams and browns often work well too.  Choosing a different color can give your booth personality, but don’t mix a lot of loud hues.  The jeweler next to us this year had grey weathered wood and a lovely purple he used in the bottom paneling and the cards each piece of jewelry hung from.
  2. Have a couple of eye-catching masterpieces to draw people in.  You might not sell these pieces, but they are worth having because they draw customers like flies to honey.  Once people get into the booth, they may see something they just have to take home. If you make jewelry or other small items, put out a nice big potted plant at the entrance, or a blown-up photo of your work.

4. Constantly Evaluate Your Artwork

It doesn’t matter how inexpensive it is, no one is going to buy an ugly or poorly-made piece of art.  If something isn’t selling, take a hard look at it.  Is it overpriced?  Is the quality less-than-desirable?  If you aren’t proud of each piece in it, you need to do some pruning.  Try to look at it objectively, or get a trusted friend/colleague to give you feedback.  Ask this question.  Your work might not yet be at the level it needs to sell well at shows.  My own work improved a lot in a year; I looked back on my booth photos from last year and was astonished at the work I’d thought good enough to put out.

There’s a lot to figure out when you participate in an art show, and it’s impossible to get it all right at once. What other lessons have you learned about art shows? Add your advice in the comments!

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