Over the past year I did a few arts festivals with the jewelry studio I worked for, and now I’m starting to think about applying to some of them as an artist myself.  Having done some already will give me a bit of an edge, I feel…each time we do another craft fair, we learn more, and the whole process gets easier.

Ahh, the smell of art commerce is in the air!

I’m hardly an expert, but I’ve picked some tips up from other people we’ve met at these fairs who are experts.  Based on my experience, and what I’ve heard from other artists, this is what I would advise…

Research first.  Look through resources like Zapplication, Festival Net, FairsAndFestivals.net, your local arts organizations, and the events section of your local paper, to see what’s going on in your area.  See what the application costs are.  If there’s a jury fee (meaning you pay JUST to be considered, regardless of whether or not you get in), I would say skip it for now…that means they get TONS of applicants and are trying to weed some out, so stick to smaller shows when you’re starting out.  But small shouldn’t mean cheap or cheesy – make sure it’s a festival where there will be other fine artists, and not just small, chintzy trinkets.  Unless you sell small trinkets, and if you do, that’s cool, I’m not judging!  Find a show whose character matches your art, in other words.

If you have the chance to walk through a show before applying to it, take note: are people actually buying, or just looking?  Which booths attract the most people?  What’s the prevailing style – would your style fit in, or be redundant because there’s so much else like it?  Or is it too different from all the other booths, and people wouldn’t know what to make of it?

Get help!  Get your significant other, close friend, or sibling to help run your booth, or ask on Facebook if any of your friends want to help.  It’ll be a cool experience for them, you can get to know them better if you’re not already close, and you can either pay them in trade, pay by buying them lunch and a drink afterwards, or whatever hourly wage you can afford (at a previous show we paid a show helper $10/hour, and she did 8 hours of work altogether, but the $80 was worth it to have an extra set of hands, seriously).  Especially if you have a tent (ugh, those can be a PITA to set up), heavy gallery walls or any other large booth accoutrements, or if your artwork is heavy…and having an extra person around means you can go take breaks or get each other water and food, although many shows have runners to help you out with that.

If you bring a friend or your spouse, though, don’t let the frustration of the show get to you and then take it out on them – I’ve seen this happen before, and couples fighting as they man a booth reeeeeeally drives away customers.  This should be a fun occasion, you shouldn’t get too wound up or take it too seriously.  It’s an art festival, not a caged deathmatch.

Stuff you’ll want to get: Display walls to hang your paintings on (the Pro Panels set is a good kit, I’ve heard…or look at places that sell store fixtures, one 2×6′ metal grid wall tends to be $20 or so), a print rack (Framing Supplies has the cheapest ones of these), a method for writing out receipts, price tags of some kind, TONS of business cards or quarter-page fliers (have them on your table, but also give one to EVERYONE who shows even a remote interest!), a Square card reader (this is so easy, there’s really no excuse to not take credit/debit cards anymore), battery-operated lights (in case electricity isn’t available or costs extra), and a dolly or some kind of carrying case on wheels (trust me…you might have to park far from your booth, and wheels will save your back).  Expect $100 – $300 or more to spend on your display elements and supplies, and factor that on top of your festival application fee (although these are a one-time cost, and if you do multiple festivals and make sales they’ll eventually pay for themselves).

Then add $120 for a less-fancy tent, if a tent is required (and upwards of a grand for a fancy-schmancy tent with all the bells and whistles, but for your first show, don’t do that).  Don’t rent it from the show, buy it from Costco – sometimes at the shows they’ll charge you over $100 just to rent a tent, so you might as well just buy it, and you can sell it to another artist if you don’t end up doing more shows.  But you will.  They’re kinda addictive.

Dress up your booth!  Paint yourself a sign – this is important so people know who you are and will recognize your name later.  If you’re using tables, drape them in colorful scarves or table runners, or just buy some fabric in cool patterns and throw that on your table.  Levels, levels, levels – use gallery walls in addition to tables, or racks, and use boxes or shelves to give yourself levels on your table (get plain wood boxes at Michael’s or – super cheap – grab some of those free flat rate boxes from the post office, and drape cloth over that, and tada, instant levels).  Most shows will provide you with one free table, so use it – put a tabletop easel on your table, arrange notecards in an artful fashion, whatever.  If you just have gallery walls, put them in a fun arrangement – create a mini-gallery that people can walk through.

You can see lots of craft fair display inspiration on Pinterest, so take those ideas and make them your own – your booth should reflect your art style.  Make it inviting.  Make people stop and look – if they don’t, how will they buy your art?  Make it so people can’t just walk by, so they feel drawn to your booth.  This is the fun part!

Have a range of price points.  Don’t just sell originals – that’ll get your booth passed over because people who aren’t looking for big-ticket items will just keep walkin’.  Have a mix of prints with originals, and have mini-prints for an even lower price point.  I discovered that Costco will print 5×7″ prints for 39 cents, so you don’t even have to do it on your own printer and use tons of costly ink!  Places like Office Depot will also print on any paper you like, too, and for not much money – I once got 50 prints on specialty paper for $6.

Figure out other small items that you can put your art on, and get creative: do you want to make magnets, or mount your prints to a wooden or tin base to make ornaments, or have greeting cards printed?  Look up services that print Instagram photos on magnets or coasters and make up some of those with your art (Foxgram has magnets, and Instathis is nice for coasters, but pricier).  Start small: make 5-10 of a new item, try it out at a show, and if it sells, make more!

From Ambrosiagirl – tutorial here.  Imagine your art on these!  I want one already.

It’s very likely that you’ll make the bulk of your money on little pieces, and maybe one or two people will buy your originals – but that’s good, because your art is still going out into the world, into the homes of people who love it!

Use shows to develop your fan base.  Just put out an email signup list with a pen, start it out with a couple fake addresses first (just so people don’t feel like the Lone Ranger when they’re the first to sign up), and voila, the list will fill up over the day.  It’s magic!  Have your website address on your business cards, and your Facebook address (please tell me you have one for your art…right?).  Tell buyers about your Etsy, any other online storefronts, and any galleries or shows you’ll be in.  Anyone who is interested enough to stop at your booth and ask you questions should get a business card or leaflet, and of course anyone who buys should too.

And then…next time you have a show, let your fans know!  At our last show, the people who made the most sales were the ones who brought their own fanbase.  Even if people don’t buy right away, the more they see your art, the more it percolates through their mind…it may take seeing you at a few shows before they buy something, so be patient.  These shows are about establishing your presence as much as they are about selling.

Talk to other vendors!  Most artists are really nice and willing to help out beginners.  After all, we all love talking about ourselves and how we got where we are, right?  Especially people who have similar products or style to yours – see how their sales are going, and ask what other shows they do, so you can find out where else to apply.

Because sometimes, unfortunately, you just have to resign yourself to the fact that…

Sometimes it’s just not your show.   You might have a beautiful booth setup, everything well-displayed, a big crowd…and still not sell much.  Maybe it’s a younger, college-kid crowd, and they’re looking for little pieces of jewelry and wearables, so they don’t want to buy a piece of art, because there’s not room in their dorm and they don’t have the money for it.  Then you could have the most awe-inspiring paintings, and not sell a one.  Or maybe people are looking for whatever the regional art style is, and there always is one…here in Arizona it’s desert scenes or turquoise or anything that looks Native American, in Florida it’s beach or bayou landscapes with egrets, and so forth.  And if you do something different, people might just not go for it, and that’s not about you, it’s that they’re just not your crowd.  This is where it’s a good idea to ask people whose work you like about what shows they do.

It’s okay to sit.  Trust me, you’ll want to…but if you can, bring a taller chair to sit on, so that you’re closer to eye-level with customers, so you don’t have to get up to talk to them.  Sounds weird, but if you’re sitting on a shorter chair, and then you have to get up to talk to people, it can seem too forward and they might flee.

This one‘s a bit spendy, but isn’t it swanky?  Doesn’t this chair say, “yo, I’m in charge here, buy my art”?

On a related note, don’t sell too hard.  Don’t immediately give everyone a sales pitch as soon as they walk up – say hello to people who stop at your booth, but take your cues from them.  If they ask, have answers ready.  But you don’t want to seem like you have this slick, canned sales pitch that you give to everyone, and you don’t want to bombard them with information they don’t want – sometimes people want to browse on their own, pick something out, and buy it without any assistance.  You know how annoying it is when you go to buy clothes and a sales person is tailing you and constantly offering help or pointing out discounts?  Yeah, don’t do that.

But do be friendly!  Tell the stories behind your art if people are interested.  Tell people what type of materials you use, what made you want to be an artist, why you chose a particular subject matter, and your life story if they seem interested.  Put a personal touch on it, don’t be a used car salesman.

And then…take a day off afterwards.  Don’t worry about your next show just yet, don’t dissect your sales figures…the day after the show, just take a bubble bath.  Seriously, do it.  Your feet will thank you.