MAKING YOUR ART SHOW A SUCCESS
by Joelle Steele
There are all kinds of art shows and art exhibitions. Whether you are showing your works at an art gallery or a co-op art event or craft fair, you will want to be prepared and ready to sell your art. Here are some helpful, detailed tips.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT VENUE
Before you can sell your work in a gallery or at an art show, you need to find the shows that are right for you. Every venue caters to a different type of art. You will have to decide what you can sell at the various kinds of venues open to you. For example, art galleries can accommodate larger works on canvas, heavy bronze sculptures, and any sizeable wall-hangings. Co-op art fairs generally accommodate smaller (and often less expensive) items such as matted or framed watercolors and photographs, small works on canvas, jewelry, pottery, cards, and anything else that can be easily carried away by the buyer.
Do your homework, and do it well in advance of the time of year you want to exhibit, because art galleries and art shows need to plan ahead, often several months at a time. Find the various venues that will work best for you and contact the directors to get detailed information. In particular, find out how much space you're getting for the fee, and do some math to figure out how much product you need to bring to sustain the space and to sell enough to pay for the fee and make a profit.
Most booth spaces are quite small — 10' x 10' — and if you sell only small jewelry-sized items, you might instead want to share that booth (if it is allowed). And, if you're only renting a space and have to provide a tent or canopy, that is another expense to consider. Some art fairs will rent you a tent, but if you're doing this on a regular basis, it may be better for you to invest in one of your own. They range in price from about $50 to $350, and you want to buy the best if you're doing this regularly. You might also want to invest in a small hand-truck to cart your stuff to and from your vehicle.
If you are traveling to another city, county, or state, check legal regulations for that area to be sure that you can legally sell there and collect sales tax if necessary. In most cases, the show host will be able to answer this question for you, but it pays to go right to the licensing source in that area to be sure.
Another issue to consider is travel to a location you have not visited previously or one that is far away from where you live. If you have to make a two-hour trip to a show, leave the day before, and stay overnight. Sometimes set-up is the day before the show anyway. Even if it isn't, come a day early, and arrive early enough in the day to allow yourself time to find the venue. This advice applies even if you know the way by heart. There is always the possibility of something going wrong along the way that could make you late — a flat tire, slow traffic, a detour, bad weather, etc.
SIGN A CONTRACT
Every reputable art gallery or art show host should offer you a contract that outlines in detail who is responsible for what and how monies are managed. The contract should clearly state where the show is; the size of the booth; the cost to the seller; when the show is being held; if electricity is provided (and what you need to tap into it); deadlines for hanging and removing your work; what happens if you have to cancel; what art pieces are to be displayed; any restrictions on displaying or hanging your work; what the asking prices are going to be for each piece; any expenses that the gallery or the artist is responsible for; and, if applicable, the percentage that the gallery or host will receive as a commission from the sale of the artist's work.
It's not enough to just put the date of the shows on your calendar. You also have to set some other deadlines for yourself to ensure that you are ready when the time comes. If you are having prints or giclées made, mark the dates when you have to get the originals done and to the printer, pick them up from the printer, and package them for sale. If you have canvases that need to be signed and varnished, mark the dates to do these things on your calendar. If there's matting or framing to be done, set some dates for it. Always leave yourself plenty of time in case someone is late with delivery or in case you have an illness or family emergency that delays you.
Most galleries and art shows do a certain amount of publicity for the show itself, but you have to do some publicity for yourself. Send out press releases to newspapers in the town where the art show is going to be held. You will probably have to send the press releases about two to four weeks in advance of the event. Be sure to reference your Web site in the press release, and be sure your Web site has photos of your current work that you will be selling at the show.
Assemble a mailing list of any people who have ever expressed an interest in your work or any galleries or agents you want to come and see your work. Include family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers too. About two weeks before your first show, send them an E-mail or an attractive postcard inviting them to come and see your work, where, and when. You can list more than one upcoming show in the E-mail or on the postcard.
If you are going to be at a street fair or other type of co-op art show, be sure that you have a sign that everyone can clearly see and read. Bring plenty of business cards and brochures or flyers. Put them out in a nice display rack (you can buy them at your local office supply store). Be thinking of the future by having people who come to your booth or show sign a guest book. Ask for their name and the option of an E-mail address or a mailing address so that you can notify them about future shows.
HAVE ENOUGH PRODUCT
Your art is a product as soon as you decide to sell it. And you must have sufficient product to sell. In some cases, you will have only one-of-a-kind items such as oils or acrylics on canvas. But, you may decide to have smaller giclées made of some of your originals. This can dramatically increase your inventory, the amount of product you have to sell. Likewise, you may have blank greeting cards with reproductions of your watercolors or photographs on them — yet another way to create more product. The worst case scenario is that you have more than you can sell. But that isn't so bad, because it means you will have product to sell at your next show!
Don't put out all your work at once. It's too difficult for most people to shop in overly crowded booths with an overwhelming amount of stuff everywhere. Display only your best samples of work and see how it goes. Leave some of your stuff in big storage containers that you can set under your table or leave in your car. You can always head out to the car or open a box and replenish your supplies if things are selling well.
Remember also that when you sell an item, you have to package it for the buyer so that it does not get damaged when they carry it home. How you package an item can be as simple as putting it into a recycled grocery bag or as complex as carefully wrapping it and/or boxing it.
PRICE YOUR ITEMS
The best thing you can ever do is create a price list for your items that has three different prices for each item, e.g., low or discounted, regular price, price plus packaging. You might think it's worth $15.95, but that might be too high in one city and too low in another. Be prepared to adjust your prices within a reasonable range. If things aren't selling at all in the morning of the first day, take a look around the show at what else is selling that is in any way comparable to your work, and adjust your price accordingly. There is usually a bit of a lull during lunch time, and that's a good time to re-mark some of your items. This is one of the reasons why you don't put out all your items at one time. Bring lots of price tags and stickers that already have prices written on them in different denominations so that you can apply them quickly to new items you bring out to display or to existing ones for which the price is being changed.
WHAT TO BRING
If you're going to do shows on a regular or even on a haphazard schedule, make your life a lot easier by creating a detailed checklist of things to bring. In addition to your clothes and your art, you should also bring something comfortable to sit on, some water to drink, some crackers or other munchies (a small cooler is helpful), plenty of paper and pens, antacids, aspirin, allergy pills, your regular medications (if any), tissues, sunscreen (even if you're in a tent the UV rays will get you), Band-Aids, business cards, brochures, tape, bags, wrapping material, credit card machines and slips, a cashbox, wire, S-hooks, scissors, a mirror (if you sell wearable items), and whatever else you might possibly need for the day. Bring plenty of price tags or stickers. Bring a ton of business cards and brochures/flyers. Always bring a screwdriver, a hammer, and a pair of pliers. Bring a camera to take a few snapshots of your booth during the show. Be sure you bring enough, and don't be afraid to bring too much. Make sure that everything you bring is clearly labeled with your name on it. Organize everything all neatly in a few of those big see-thru plastic containers — they are absolutely great for art shows. Stow one or two of them under the tables or return them to your vehicle while the show is on.
Bring a friend. Working a gallery or art show by yourself is pretty difficult at best. If you have a friend, a spouse, a fellow artist or craftsperson, it can be very helpful to have them on hand when you need to take a break or your booth gets busy. It's also good to have someone there to help you put up a tent, unload the car, and set up your display.
MAINTAIN YOUR SPACE
Organize your booth or selling space well in advance. Be sure there is a spot for people to write a check, a place for you to process their payment, and a place to wrap their purchase for them. Be sure all your empty containers and your containers of supplies or merchandise are stowed under tables and out of the way or are stored in your vehicle. Don't leave food sitting out anywhere. Get rid of your trash right away. Never leave your booth unattended. If you opt for going to an art show by yourself, make arrangements with a neighboring booth to watch each other's booths if you need to leave for a few moments.
WHAT TO WEAR
Besides an award-winning smile, wear comfortable shoes for standing. In fact, comfy shoes will probably make you smile! Be clean and well-groomed. Feel free to be yourself and show off your uniquely original wardrobe, but keep it professional and comfortable. Bring along a good sized purse or tote in which to keep all your personal things, and leave room for it in one of your big plastic containers under the table where you can keep an eye on it at all times. When you take a break or stop to eat, visit the restroom and wash your hands, comb your hair, and brush your teeth before you go back "duty." If you are outdoors all day, wear a hat and sunglasses, and bring a nice sweater or jacket and some gloves in case it gets chilly. A name tag with your name and your business name on it is a courtesy to shoppers. If you sell anything that is wearable, be wearing it yourself.
WHAT TO SAY
There is nothing I dislike more than going to a gallery or show where the artist or sellers ignore you completely. This is an even greater problem at art shows, where the sellers are often sitting there working on their art, oblivious to the people who come to look at what they are selling. If you ever walk around these shows, you'll see that the booths that are doing the best are the ones where the seller is standing and actively communicating with people. It only takes one person coming by and engaging you in conversation to get other people interested in you and your work. That's how you sell your art.
What you say is very important, whether you are showing in a gallery or at a street fair. Never make the mistake of thinking that your art will speak for you. It won't. That's your job. Be ready to answer questions, point out sale items, and tell people how you did it or what it is made of. Speak up, because art shows can get pretty noisy. Have some pre-planned answers to the most commonly asked questions, such as how you got interested in making glass jewelry or what the inspiration is behind your painting or how long it takes you to make one of your wall hangings. You can also explain any special tricks of the trade that you developed to make your work look better or last longer, etc.
One other thing: talking is great, but you should also learn to shake hands. A handshake should always be nothing more than a firm squeeze or "hand hug" and a single shake. Don't ever make it a drawn-out bone-crusher, especially since you might have older buyers with arthritis or a small woman with a delicate hand.
GET PREPARED AGAIN!
When the show is over, you'll be exhausted, but hopefully you will have made some sales and some connections with future buyers. When you've put everything away, sit down and evaluate how you did. Look at your finances and try to get a handle on what sold best and what didn't sell at all. Think about what you can do better at the next show. Make a good list of what you need to improve on so that you don't forget by the time you're preparing for that show. Remember that your first shows might not go as well as you expected, but they will run more smoothly and become more profitable with time and experience. Put each show behind you and start getting prepared for the next one with more great things to sell and a streamlined way to sell them.
This article last updated: 09/19/2013.