This article has information for new artists interested in selling art at smaller local art shows, art festivals or craft shows. While it is written from a fine art photographer's point of view, many of my suggestions will relate to other art mediums and also to more experienced artists.
For photography, what sells in the smaller shows are mostly the matted prints or small framed prints if you offer them. You should have some larger pieces of framed art on the walls to attract people to your booth area. It is a good idea to have items of different price points. In some shows where many of the visitors are younger, you may sell items mostly in the under $20.00 range. On a slow sale day, it is nice to sell even a low cost item every once in a while to keep your spirits up. In general, you will not over the long term make a decent return unless you sell some more expensive items even if those items sell in smaller quantities.
About two years ago, I started showing and offering wrapped canvas prints as an option. While I have not sold many wrapped canvas prints at art shows since most of my works hanging on the walls are in traditional glass frames, I have received many purchases off of my web site for canvas prints. Read my article on printing photography on canvas for the fine art photographer for more information. Canvas prints make a nice presentation that the customers seem to like. It is also convenient for the customer since they are light and come ready to hang on the wall with no additional framing needed. Many full time art show photographers show their work on canvas so I feel they must be selling them. I let my customers know if they are interested in a larger print that I offer a wrapped canvas option.
As far as which subject matter sells the best, it really varies widely. Most photographers have a variety of local landscapes taken in locations near the area or State of the art shows or exhibits that they do. Landscapes are usually visually appealing to a greater audience and perhaps easier to sell than some more artistic photography. I show Southwest landscapes since that is the area I am in and landscapes are what Interior Designers seem to want for their corporate customers.
I also try to show my unique vision of a variety of other subjects that interest me that separates my work from other local photographers. I enjoy taking photos of old rusty cars or transportation related themes as well as photographing interesting objects from the past. Each artist should find his or her own style and try to be unique. Customers can recognize the passion you put into your work and see your style which attracts them to the artwork. This customer connection to the artist leads to sales.
Knowing which artwork of yours sells is something that only personal experience can tell you and can vary depending on the area that you show. I have also found that some of my images are very hot and sell well for a while and then just drop off dramatically. I tend to sell out of those images, replace them with newer images and then 1 to 2 years later, bring them back for a new audience that has not seem them before.
Greeting the Customer / Customer Interaction:
If a customer enters your booth area or has been looking for a minute, greet them with your own personal statement. This initial greeting will vary with every artist and said along with a smile and eye contact is just a method of letting the customer know that you recognize their presence and you are open to assist them if needed. I vary my statements but could be "Hello", "Welcome to my gallery" or “Let me know if you have any questions”. Some customers want interaction from the artist and some want their space.
I live near the town of Scottsdale, AZ were many higher end galleries are grouped together in a single area. When I enter these galleries they seem to greet me with something like "How is your day going" or "Are you visiting from out of town". For me, it is not no much what they say but the warm pleasant attitude they seem to have while saying it. They usually let me know that they can help me if I have any questions.
If a customer is looking at a particular art piece for an extended time, I may tell them a short story about the art piece. It is not only the art piece they are interested in but also the connection to the artist. This artist connection is something art patrons can get at an art show that they may not get at a gallery. It is really a fine art to read the needs for an individual customer and how much interaction they want with the artist.
I feel it is better to always have a happy or more positive attitude when dealing with customers even if you are tired and at the end of a long day. Part of the customer experience is the joy of the purchase. They would be more likely to purchase from an artist that they have a good feeling about since the artist is connected to the artwork they are bringing home.
It also does not hurt to smile a lot as the lady in the photo is doing.
Many times, customer’s ask you what I would consider silly questions such as did you take all these photographs or are these paintings (not my art medium). In most cases, they are unfamiliar on how to approach the artist and are just starting a dialog with you. It is best to answer their question which can lead to a continued conversation with this customer.
On occasion, you will run into a rude customer. It is best not to deal with this in a negative way as this could turn off other customers in your booth. I just move on to a different customer and eventually the rude customer leaves. For the most part, the customers are very nice and often compliment your artwork.
When I do art shows and set up my 10 x 10 canopy, I noticed that customers are hesitant to crossing over the "hidden line" on the edge of your canopies main entry side. They tend to look at my art on the walls from a distance or print racks at the edge of my booth area. If you make the customer feel at ease and comfortable to cross that outside line into your booth, then you are doing something right.
General Art Show Notes:
The initial costs for getting set up to show at art fairs can be substantial. If you decide to stop doing art shows, your equipment such as tent and walls can be sold to other artists.
Doing art shows is hard work. It does help with setup, sales and takedown if you have another person with you but many artists do it themselves. It is not for everyone.
It can be frustrating if you go the whole day and sell nothing or very little which happens often. Selling at art shows can also be fun. I enjoy talking to the customers and sometimes they need to see you at a few shows before they purchase from you.
It is best to learn about the art show market, how well your art sells and practice you’re selling skills on smaller local art shows before going to the more expensive art shows competing with seasoned full time art show professionals. This can save you money during your learning curve.
Many art shows have volunteer sitters who will sit in your booth for a short time so you can take a short break. They usually will not sell your items, but will watch your booth.
The artists must be at the art show for the entire show at most all art shows.
Keep your cash on you and not store it in a cash box or hiding place unless it is just change.
While you should sit in your chair to rest sometimes, it is best to stand if you can during the busy times.
Having people in your booth, brings more people to your booth.
Special security precautions are needed for artists who sell jewelry not only during show hours but in your setting up, packing up, transportation and hotel room. You would never leave jewelry in your tent overnight even if the other artists leave up there art.
My customers also let me know which of my pieces are more popular by their comments as well as by purchasing. If I want to bring in new artwork, I have a good idea of which pieces I should discontinue. If a piece of artwork has not sold yet, but seems popular, I will keep it around longer.
It is important to pack your artwork carefully. You should expect to damage or ruin some of your more fragile pieces every once in a while. This loss is just part of the art field. It is worth the extra time in packing up and the additional cost of soft packing material in the long term to remove some of this damage risk. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right box, container or packing material for your specific inventory.
Frames are generally brought home from the store or framer and just hung on the wall. In this situation, they do not have time to get damaged. At art shows, they travel and are handled much more. They are also out in the elements at outdoor art shows with wind, sun and being hung against harder surfaces. If you are not careful, the packing and unpacking will eventually damage some of your art. Most of my damage is on the frames and I take special care packing these items in specific.
Many artists pack their smaller art and art supplies in plastic bins. Since the tops and bottoms are flat, you can easily stack them and transport them in bulk by a hand truck. They are also water resistant and can add protection in bad weather.
At first it will take a much longer time packing your vehicle for the art show, setting up and packing up again. Over time this will get much faster. You will learn how to fit the items into your vehicle more efficiently and in which order to remove the items for a faster setup.
In your first few art show setups, give yourself at least two - three hours to setup until you get the hang of it. One you have already decided how your display layout will look, it will take less time. You may need to try many different layouts until you settle on one that works best.
It is best to be set up on-time, but the detailed arranging can be done during the start of the show. You do not want to have your vehicle next to your tent still unloading when the customers are arriving at the opening. Many customers come before the official opening times to beat the crowds and the heat. These may be more serious buyers and if you are already set up, they will find you.
It is a good idea to have a list of items you will need and review it as you are packing your vehicle. I tend to leave an important item at home every once in a while and it is not so easy to run to the store or go home once you arrive and are setting up. If you are missing a common item, ask some of the other artists if you can borrow the item and return it when you are done. I tend to borrow from my art show supplies box such as a calculator, tape or scissors and not bring them back and realize this when I need them at an art show. I now try to have extra of these items in my home and try not to borrow from my art supplies box.
One thing to consider is looking over the artist application to see if it says how close your vehicle will be to your specific art location for unloading during setup and loading after the show. Many times you can park right near your canopy and other times it is much further. If you need to carry the art supplies far, you should bring a hand truck or other device. Sometimes you can park right next to your art location during setup and then move your vehicle before the art show starting time to the parking lot or designated artist parking area.
Sometimes the distance is too far from the permanent parking area. I sometimes drive as close as I can to my art location, temporarily park for 5-10 minutes and quickly unload my art show supplies, or at least the heavy stuff, on a flat area such as on a lawn or on the sidewalk near the road. I then park in the designated paring area and this cuts down the distance that I have to transport my art show supplies to my assigned canopy location.
The take down will be much faster than the setup. If I bring walls and framed art, I will start taking down those items and pack them about a half hour before the show ends. This saves much of the packing time while much of my other artwork is still being shown on tables and print racks for customers to purchase.
Once the show is over, I feel it is easier to pack up all the remaining art supplies at one time and place them in piles. It is easier for me to pack my vehicle at once since it generally gets packed in a specific order and I have everything ready to go.
I wait until about 15 minutes after the show ends and customers are no longer around to drive my car slowly to the closest area to your booth.
It is generally frowned upon to start taking down your booth and leave before the end of the show. This may not get you invited back again.
In showing art, a good idea to keep in mind is that you are setting up a little gallery at the art show as if you were at an indoor retail gallery. Presentation is always important in the art world.
I recommend going to some small local art shows or the larger ones in your area to check out how other artist are doing things in your same art medium. It takes time to get a good layout and it will improve with experience.
The placement of your art and related display areas is also very important. Careful consideration should be given on where you place your tables, shelves, print racks, walls and other items. Many people will walk down the row of booths and you need to give them a reason to stop and look for a few seconds to determine if they want to stay longer.
The booth display pictured on the right, has a very nice jewelry display. Notice the use of grid wall on the left and the fancy table cloth to add elegance. The great use of space by utilizing stacking of the jewelry displays on many different levels. For selling jewelry, you need a mirror.
You want to have enough artwork along the walking path to attract their attention and then explore more inside your booth area to examine more of your product. If your booth gets crowded, a design that takes into consideration of customer flow of traffic can help.
Even if most of your sales are not the larger framed art, you should still show it to attract people to your booth. Catch their eye and give them a reason to stop and enter your booth. Most people will walk pass most booths and this is normal. They may only be interested in certain things.
Keep your booth area clean at all times and not so overcrowded with merchandise, sometimes more is not always better. When you design your booth layout, do not have spaces that the customer may feel restricted in. The customer should always feel that they have an easy way out.
If their is space between the different booths, you can display your art on the outward side walls giving you much more display space for artwork that can be displayed on a wall.
Do not have artwork on the ground that is normally displayed on a wall. I see many artists do this at our local First Fridays event.
Many times at smaller art shows, the artists set up displays 1'-3' out in front of their assigned 10' x 10' booth area. The problem with this is that the customers need to move 2'-4' further away from the general traffic path when viewing your next door neighbor's booth. This makes it harder for them to see their art and more likely to just pass on to the next booth. If your booths are right next to each other, I recommend that you keep within your assigned 10' x10' area. If the booths are spread out, you may be able to stick out a little and not disturb the next tents traffic flow.
Another item that many artists have in there booth is a larger wall sign or banner with the company name on it.
I find that you really need to price all your items. The price labels also need to be larger than you think would be needed. It seems that many people just cannot find the price even if it is right in front of them. You do not want customers to walk away because they do not see the price and do not want to ask.
I have seen some artist not price the more expensive framed or original paintings displayed on the walls. Like any other business, different business owners make different decisions based on their own experiences.
For artwork that has a title card you have room to display more than the price such as the artwork title, medium and size. I feel that if the artwork is not the original, you should state that on the title card that it is a print or other term you wish to use.
I see most artists do not use a name tag but they seem to wear them if the art show supplies them. I feel the artist should always wear a name tag. The customer is not only buying art but also part of the experience is meeting with the artists and the forming of an emotional bond beyond just the artwork.
Often customers ask me if I am the artist even if I am the only person in the booth. If you have more than one person in the booth and one is not the artists, then I feel it is even more important to have name tags. Also if your booth is crowded and someone wants to ask the artist a question or make a purchase, they may not be able to tell the artist from anyone else in the booth.
Many times customer sees my name on my name tag, relates it to my signature on the artwork and seem to be surprised that the artist is in front of them. I am not really sure why this happens so often. Perhaps they are so used to purchasing items made in factories or faraway places that it does not occur to them that some items are still made by hand and sold by the maker.
Purchase of art show supplies:
This will vary with your art medium. I usually purchase items off of the web since specialty items are not often available locally. On-line purchases can often give you a better selection and at a lower cost. You usually do not have to pay sales tax and shipping costs are usually reasonable. At many places, shipping can be free or discounted if you purchase enough.
When ordering on-line, you do require a longer lead time to receive the merchandise. If the product is important to your business and not available locally, you need to make sure you order before you run out.
It is also nice to find a local store to purchase smaller items you often run out of or need to replace on a regular basis. I find many items I need at local hardware stores, local art stores or general purpose stores such as Wal-Mart or Costco.
Sign up for the email mailing lists of stores you buy frequently from. Many times you will receive coupons for 40 to 50% off one item such as with Michaels or other merchandise or shipping discounts that can add up in savings.
Jerry's Artarama: www.jerrysartarama.com General art supplies having physical stores and also on-line.
Dick Blick: www.dickblick.com Large art supply store.
Hobby Lobby – Local, good discount coupons
Michael Crafts – Local, good discount coupons
Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, Costco
Some shows will be at night and lighting is required. Many times, new artist do not think to bring lighting and show their artwork in the dark or with a flashlight. If a show is going on after sunset, you should ask if they will be providing electricity. If they do provide electricity, ask them if there will an additional charge.
You will need to bring lights, a power bar and extra extension cords. I also bring extra bulbs in case one breaks. Many smaller shows do not supply electricity. Most shows will not allow generators since they make a lot of noise.
I have a simple system for power that consists of a Marine battery $70, a battery charger $45, a 400 watt power converter with 2 plugs (12 volt battery to 120 volt plugs) $45, lights and a set of CFL bulbs. The compact flash bulbs put out 60w of light but use about 15w of power. One charged marine battery will run 6-10 lights the whole night but you do need to remember to charge the battery before the show. I also find lights with an arm that has a large clip on the end useful and they are only about $10.00 each. You can attach these to many areas of the tent on the bars and point them to light up specific areas. All these items can be found at Wal-Mart.
When choosing CFL bulbs, you now have the choice of selecting bulbs with the color temperature that your art looks best at. Some CFL bulbs put out light similar to regular incandescent bulbs with others looking more warm or daylight balanced. Another choice for a light that puts out good bright light with low power consumption is LCD bulbs, but they are costly.
I have seen so many different lighting methods from ineffective Christmas lights, flashlights and candles to well designed lighting arrangements. I suggest you check out some night time local art shows and see what other artists are doing. If your booth is lit well and other booths near you are not lit as well, the customers may be more attracted to your booth like moths to a flame.
Note: If you have an art show related question for an artist at an art show, the artists are usually very helpful and will share their experience with you. If they have a customer, you should let them help the customer before continuing your questions with them.
Many artists have been very creative in making walls from scratch. I have seen them made from attaching doors together to using pegboard and hinges. Sometimes you can look for artist selling their walls or other art supplies when upgrading or no longer doing art show. This can save you money and if your walls are still in good condition, you may be able to sell them for close to what you paid for them used.
Some common wall options:
Grid Wall: Inexpensive, heavy, hard to setup, be aware of the length to make sure they fit in your vehicle, come in various lengths and colors such as chrome, white and black. Many artist just starting out at art shows use grid walls. They will not break, so you can sell them to another artist if you later upgrade to another wall system. You can usually find these used or at a place that sells store fixtures.
Graphic display panels:
Come in two pieces so fit well in vehicle, light in weight, can cover with a cloth for a more professional look and comes with floor base hardware to support the walls. About $90 a panel.
These are carpeted walls, what professional art show artist use, flexible in setup,
durable, cleanable, stable, come in a variant of colors and expensive.
Have a high resale value for used ones.
Armstrong Product Panels:
These are also carpeted walls similar to Propanels that many professional art show artist use.
Most all art shows require white tents. I do not recommend getting a colored tent. Many of these colored tents are really light weight designed more for sun shading and not art shows.
The most common tent found at smaller art shows and many larger art shows is made by EZ-up. They are quick to put up and take down which is a major advantage. I feel they are fine for the small or occasional weekend art show. They will not hold up as well in bad weather as the better tents will. I have seen cheap or EZ-up tents crushed by overnight storms. An EZup is shown below and a starter tent for someone with simpler needs is shown to the left.
The EZ-up tents have been on sale for about $200 - $250 lately. I do not recommend you buy a tent from Costco or Sam’s club. There are different quality levels of EZ-up type tents.
I started out with an EZup Encore II tent and still use it. The weather is usually good here in Arizona and I do not run into a lot of bad weather. I mostly worry about wind. You will not get the same protection from an EZ-up than from a higher end tent from wind and rain but they are much less expensive.
I highly recommend bringing weights or stakes were permitted to hold down your tent during days with wind. If you leave your tent up overnight, you must weight down your tent or it may not be there in the morning. Some people make their own weights or you can buy some from a store. I feel you need at least 35 lbs or more on each corner. You can use adjustable truck straps to attach the weights to the tent. A set of four straps can be found at Wal-Mart.
On grass you can also use Dog stakes (corkscrew type to hold down tent).
You want your tent to come with sides. I like the ones that have zippers. It may also come with a storage bag and a sun shield. Pay attention to the Denier number of the tent top. The higher the Denier number, the better. Since shipping is expensive, compare prices based on the total tent and shipping costs since some stores include shipping in the price.
Some on-line stores that sell tents for reasonable prices:
One thing bad weather such as cold, rain or wind will do is lower the number of people who visit the art show. This will most likely lead to lower sales. On a multiple day show, you can only hope that the weather will be nice on the next day.
You really need to check the weather for the art show date. It is really a good idea to have tent weights in your vehicle even if it is not windy at the start of the show. You can always bring them out if needed for one day shows. For multiple day shows, you need weights or tent stakes. Attaching your walls to your tent will give you additional weight on windy days.
While I have weights, when I know I will be setting my tent up on grass or dirt, I usually just bring four long tent stakes and a hammer. I buy these metal tent stakes at Walmart and they fit through the holes at the base of my tent legs. The tent stakes do not take much room so I always have them with me even if I decide not to use them.
Some smaller items to have in your art supply box for weather are some rope, extra long zip or cable ties which are available from Home Depot in bulk and a few different length bungee cords. Sometimes you have items such as trees or a bench next to your tent that you can anchor on to if necessary.
You can also always bring a few white tent side walls even if you do not plan to use them. The walls can also be used to block the sun from hitting you directly and reduce your sun exposure or in case of rain. If you have artwork hanging on only the inside walls, placing a white side wall up also presents a less distracting background if you have your art hanging on walls you can see through.
On numerous art shows I have heard walls from nearby tents fall over due to wind and you hear glass from frames breaking. This happens more often than you would think. It is best to attach your walls to the tent with cable ties or have sections of the walls bent on an angle to give support. Falling walls can be a liability to yourself or your customers and nobody likes to pick up glass and have artwork damaged.
The first time this happened to me when I first started showing, I lost seven frames and most of the mats and photos inside the frames where cut by the glass. I learned my lesson and am now very careful on this issue.
In case of rain, move your artwork closer to the center of the tent and put up your walls. You can never have too many extra clips and they come in handy to quickly putting up walls. Be sure to watch for accumulation of water on the lower tent roof corners and use a broom or other object to push up on the inside of the roof from inside and let the water fall off the sides. If lighting is in the area, you may think you want to stay dry under your tent, but you should also consider that your tent may also be a big metal lighting rod and an alternate shelter location may be prudent.
I store and transport most of my art in large plastic tubs with tops which are water resistant. You can put the art back in the tubs during a large downpour if needed. If you feel it may rain, be very windy or storm overnight you will need to determine which items in your booth you want to store in your vehicle and bring home for the night. If overnight bad weather is possible, keep everything off of the ground. If you have boxes, artwork or supplies stored under your table during show hours, place them on top of your tables overnight with a waterproof tarp over them and secured with clips.
If you pack your tent while still wet, when you get it home take it out and open it up to let it dry. This will prevent mildew from forming on the fabric.
One thing I heard of often but have never seen anyone using is placing foam swim noodles in the roof corners of EZup tents to "bend up" the tent corners if you have rain. This would reduce water gathering which could lead to leaking or collapsing of your tent overnight. I could not find a photo of this but I think the noodles are bent into an arch for this purpose. The noodles can be purchased inexpensively at many local stores when needed.
One thing I do is purchase a waterproof spray used to put on camping tents and is available at sporting goods stores. This can be sprayed on your tent roof with a few extra coats on the roof seams. Artist may want to have an emergency disposable camping poncho or rain coat, also available at sporting goods stores, in your supplies box or bring a regular rain jacket when it looks like rain.
How to find art shows:
Look for shows being marketed to the public, go to them and check them out to see if they look like they are any good. Find out who to talk to so when the next show comes, you are on the artist notification list. Sometimes you just see them while driving and can stop to check them out and talk to the organizer.
Ask your artist friends which shows they do and have good sales at.
Read the artist section on Craigslist in the city closest to you and also in other more distant cities in your selling areas to find smaller local art shows.
Search on-line for local art shows.
Join art clubs that put on local art shows that you can participate in.
The magazine Sunshine Artists list many festival locations around the nation. Once you get the magazine for a year or longer you will have accumulated many of the better art festival names, locations and times.
This will list more shows than you could possibly participate in. The number of shows that will be right for you may be based on costs, distance, attendance or if your art may be specially suited for that show if it is theme orientated.
Also, sometimes art can sell at non art related events such as “Home Tours”. In general, art shows that are mixed with other events such as music events are not usually good as art only events but some festivals can be good if they bring in a good crowd.
Over time, you will get re-invited to art shows you have done before.
What to charge for your art:
This is a really tricky subject but you should price to make a profit. Take into consideration your costs beyond just your material costs, gas and art show fees. The artist has a lot of overhead and should be compensated for his time and talent.
When setting your prices, a lot depends on a variety of factors such as:
How you value your time
Quality of your art
What the competition charges for similar artwork in your area
What your art work has actually sold for in the past
If you are more well known, the demand for your work
Some shows are geared for higher priced artwork and with small local shows this may not be true. Also the show's customer attendance, demographics and location play a roll. Different artists have many different theories of what pricing strategy works best and it comes with experience.
Many photographers seem to charge by size of the image and not how difficult or costly the image was to take or time it took to produce. The price can vary based on other factors such as the associated costs of how the photograph is framed or printed on special paper or canvas.
Many painters charge by the square inch but this can vary widely between different artists. Even the same artist may have a different cost per square inch for an acrylic abstract, an acrylic detailed painting and another cost structure for their oil paintings or watercolors.
(Photo to right) You will notice carpeted Pro Panel walls, large title card labels with easy to see prices and a sign stating which credit cards are accepted. This booth also has a work desk for taking orders. I recommend hanging title cards at least 1 inch from the framed or canvas art work. This prevents the shadow from the above artwork from falling on the title card making it harder to read some of the printed information.
Some people feel you must keep your art prices the same everywhere you sell. Other artists may adjust prices to fit different shows or areas were artist costs may be higher. I feel that you should be flexible. If you have a gallery nearby that represents your art in the area of the art show; then your prices should be the same as the gallery for that art show.
To me the bottom line is that if your art is not selling; you need to lower your prices to where it will sell at a price you are comfortable with. If you are selling a lot, you can try to raise your prices until you are losing sales. You will eventually set a balance that both the artist and customers are happy with. With the economy being poor over the last few years, many people have been buying less art. This can effect what people will currently pay for the same art they may of been happy to pay more for 5 years ago.
I do not recommend lowering your prices to compete with other artists that are really undervaluing their art. This is a no win situation and you cannot compete on price with someone who does not mind selling for little over the cost of his materials and not based on the total costs of running a business.
This is a good article by Mike Albinon how to determine your real costs of producing your art so you can better figure out how much you need to charge for your art to make a profit: Pricing your artwork
Customers like to get a discount:
I find you encourage and get additional sales if you mark your items such as matted artwork with a single price and then a discounted price for multiple purchases. An example would be a matted print price for $79.00 or two for $149.00. You can also do this on small items such as note cards $5.00 or two for $9.00.
Some customers are afraid to ask you for a lower price. If they are looking at a piece for a while trying to make a decision to purchase it, I usually offer them a discount such as a set amount or a percentage discount. Many of my sales are when I offer a discount. I sometimes think I should raise my prices and then offer all my customers a discount.
If the item cost $79.00, I may say “I can offer you that art piece for $69.00” or “I can give you a 15% discount on that print". If the customer is looking closely at two prints to determine which one they would like to purchase, I may say that “I can offer you a 15% discount on the second print”. Sometimes they purchase both prints. Unless the discount for multiple purchases is printed and displayed at the booth, I do not have a set discount I offer and pretty much make it up based on my mood at the time.
Some artists do not barter or give price discounts to the customer and that works for them. I do not usually barter, such as when a customer actually asks for a specific lower price. I will offer a set discount without the customer asking if I feel they are hesitant to purchase a piece of my art and I think price is an issue for them.
Every once in a while I get called by Interior Designers for a larger multiple piece order and I think they expect a discount and I give them one. Even though I feel my prices are reasonable, in the middle range of what other similar work sells for. Due to the economy, I have been also giving 10% discounts for larger orders from individuals. I may try in the future to offer them an extra print of their choice instead of a monetary discount. This may be of greater value to the customer and cost me less than the monetary discount in the end.
In life, I like to think that I am competing against myself to always make myself better or become a better artist. In the art show business, you have a concentration of many other businesses in your same art medium as close as 20' away. Many art shows have a higher percentage of booths that sell jewelry and photography. There is much more competition in these art mediums but I am sure everyone feel the same way about their own art medium. It helps if your art is of a higher quality, unique and you have a good presentation. In art medium’s that have more competition, the customers are more likely to be more sensitive on pricing.
It is my viewpoint that much of the purchasing decision for the customer comes down to price. They may love your art and even tell you so but it still comes down to price. It makes me sad sometimes that a customer that really likes one of my images such as small matted print of a reasonably price range of $39-$49 and still think it is more than they want to spend. They then purchase a similar sized print that they may not like as much from someone else because they are selling it for only $20.00.
I feel that if you are going to display or hang the art on your wall for ten years, the small amount of difference in price should not be as big as a factor, but it is. I cannot compete, and do not even try, with those that do not value their art to price it appropriately and who do not care if they make a profit based on the real costs of running even a small business.
For art shows that do not take into consideration limiting the number of artist of the same medium, I tend not to go back for future shows. I figure that there are only so many people that will purchase in my art medium of photography. If 20% of the artists at this show are selling in your medium, then those dollars need to spread out to more artists making it much more difficult to have a good sales day. Another factor is how many customers attend the art show; more customers can support more artists of the same medium.
Some art shows are more of fund raising events for local art clubs and they may have more artist booths than the number of customers that they bring in can support. You generally do not know how many booths they are planning on in advance and if they do this, I just do not come back since most of the artists sell very little.
How important are credit cards?
I say that if you do many art shows or if you sell items for more than customers usually carry around, you should take credit cards. You can also take checks, I do not hear of many cases were checks are not good. If you take a check, it is a good idea to take down the customer’s phone number and check their ID.
I have used Propay in the past, www.propay.com, and I enter my orders over the internet the next day. You can also enter over the phone for larger orders if you want. Propay has no monthly fees and costs about $90.00 a year with a $3000.00 a month charge cap. It also has a more basic plan and a higher plan based on your sales needs. I feel Propay offers a good alternative to the more expensive credit card merchant accounts for lower volume art sellers. Propay has a small credit card reader device (not smart phone related) that will scan credit cards and save the data to later load into your computer. They also have a card reader that will work with your smart phone.
Recently, numerous companies have come out with small credit card readers that attach to many smart phones and the Ipad. I think that this is the way of the future for someone doing a limited number of art shows. One example, shown in photo to left, is the "Square" at www.squareup.com. The Square is what I see most people use and has reasonable percentage fees.
If you only take cash, bring extra small bills and change. Some merchant accounts that charge a monthly fee allow you to temporary turn off your account if you sell seasonally saving you money on your off months.
If you take credit cards, be sure to place a sign such as Visa/Master Card/AMX logo on your table or wall in plain sight.
Bring art show notes to the art show:
Usually each art show sends you a packet of information that may list the artist show rules, show times, location of show, setup instruction and other information such as parking or a map showing your tent location. It is a good idea to print this off and bring it with you.
It is also a good idea to find out before the show date, if you can park at the tent location and unload your vehicle. It takes longer if you need to carry your items a further distance and you may want to bring a wheeled carrier. Many art show packets show you were to park after you set up but do not mention if you can park next to or closer to your tent area during the setup. If you can setup faster, you may not have to arrive as early.
Some personal items that you may want to bring to the art show are water, lunch, snacks, hat, sun tan lotion and a small cooler. Many times, food is not available, unhealthy or overpriced at art shows so you should bring some just in case.
I usually carry Scotch and duct tape, extra paper to make labels, scissors, pliers, lots of extra clamps, screw drivers, first aid kit, pens, pencil, marker, small hammer, hanging hooks for artwork, long plastic ties, business cards and holder, extra cash and coins for change, Windex, paper towels or towel, dust cloth, change of clothes, aspirin, order book, calculator, folding table, print racks, labels, table cloth, tent, walls, weights, chair and credit card device, forms and signs saying I take credit cards. If lighting is needed, bring those supplies. Also a sign up book to collect email addresses for future marketing.
Here are some lists of things to bring to art shows below. Many of these lists are long for use in 3 day shows while on the road and some items are particular to specific art mediums. It is good to review which items apply to your needs and make your own list to review when packing. When you need something at an art show and do not have it, it's a good time to add that item to your list.
Clear bags - www.clearbags.com; These are the clear plastic sleeves that go over matted prints and come in a variety of sizes for most needs. To be cost effective, you usually need to buy in quantitys of 100. You can purchase smaller quantities of clear bags at Frame Destinations. I recommend the bags called "Protective Closure" which are the ones with the adhesive strip on the bag. I do not recommend the bags with the adhesive strip on the flap because the print will stick to the flap when pulling out the print.
Jerry’s Artarama - www.jerrysartarama.com; ATG Gun and double stick tape, print racks and many more art show items as well as artist supplies.
Note Jerry’s Artarama has storefronts around the US but has a much larger selection on-line and may be less expensive to order on-line with quantity purchase for reduced shipping costs. Get on email list for many discount offers.
A special note on print racks, you do not want the type that comes to a V point at the bottom as this damages the prints. The print racks with a flat base are much better on this and also hold more prints.
I prefer the 6’ tables or 4' tables that fold in the center which are both available at Wal-Mart. These "Fold in half" tables take up less space and fit better in the vehicle. Most every artist places a fitted table cloth over the table for a more professional look. Many use the standard black but others choose different colors. When you have a table cloth, this allows you to hide your boxes, supplies, lunch and other items under the table for a more professional clean look. When purchasing a fitted table cloth, check your table's width, length and height to match against available table cloths sizes.
Many artists have multiple tables since they may lay their art flat. Many artists layer the art items on the tables at different levels. Much depends on what you are selling.
Art Show Magazines:
Sunshine artist - www.sunshineartist.com This magazine is the main magazine used by the professional outdoor art show artist and includes show location information as well as articles of interest to the art show artist.
Professional Artist (formally art calendar) - www.artcalendar.com This magazine is for professional artist with good art business articles but geared mostly for painters.
Submitting to art shows:
Each art show’s application is a little different. Many of juried shows will ask you to send in contact information, medium description as well as samples of your work. It is best to read the application carefully and give them the information and digital files in the requested format and size. You do not want to give someone at the show a reason to disqualify you over a technical issue. At your smaller local art shows, if you missed the deadline give them a call or email. They may have unfilled spaces available and accept you.
Most art show applications have a small fee associated with it. If you do not get into a show, you do not get this application fee back. Sometimes when you do not get in, it has more to do with too many artists applying in your same art medium and not always about your art quality. For the smaller local shows, you usually have a good chance of getting in. These shows usually have small application fees and less expensive art show fees such as $35 - $65 for a day or slightly more for a two day show.
For the larger shows, even ones locally that have many professional artists from other States can be much more difficult to get into, especially for the first time. The application fee will be larger and the art show fees may be up to $550.00 for a three day show but will bring a much larger and qualified crowd. The process of selecting the right images for the jury and the quality of your booth shot is much more complicated for the larger shows than for the small local shows that this article is about.
How I determine which art pieces to show:
For my photography, I produce more pieces than I can show. Because of this, I try to reduce the number of even finished pieces down to what I think is just my best work. To do this, I place new photographs on Flickr and see what the viewer response is. I also ask my friends which ones they like to reduce my selections even more. Eventually these selected new images are displayed in my booth to be seen by the customer. In the end, the customers select which prints will be popular. The images that do not get as much a positive response or sales as the others get moved to the back of the print bin. These prints are eventually removed and replaced with new images. The most popular selling images have a long life and the remaining prints end up in storage. I usually remove the old print and replace with a new print image allowing me to reuse the mat. By adding a new Clear Bag, the image presentation looks new.
With some other art medium that are not reproducible as photography, you should display all your art pieces since so much time might have been put into their production. In this case, I would rotate the artwork you have at different shows since it may not fit all in your booth at once. If a show has a particular theme or location associated with it, you may want to bring artwork that best matches the customers that may come to that event.
Sometimes it is difficult for the artist to tell what will be popular with the public. The artist is sometimes more emotionally attached to a particular piece due to a related experience during creation. The customer will see the artwork based on their own experience and emotional response. I do not show any artwork that I am not happy with, but when selling art, with limited wall space, you need to display the artwork that has a history of selling on your display booth walls. I leave some of my more personal pieces for art exhibits or the print rack.
Now after I said that, I would like to point out that I see some artist fill the majority of there wall space with the same art pieces for 3, 4 or more years in the same general area or at the same art shows. For me this could give the customer the feeling that the artist is no longer producing new work or perhaps feel that they can past by this artist booth since they may have nothing new. I suppose that this is a personal decision that needs to be made by the artist.
I reserve my limited wall space to images that will draw attention to my booth and have customers stop and look longer instead of just walking by. Sometimes these images are not the best sellers but do draw the customer's attention. Your walls should include artwork that has sold in the past. I also hang a few newer pieces so that visitors that attend my exhibits repeatedly see that I am still producing new work.
Who are the buying customers?
One thing I picked up is that people who are on vacation or traveling seem to be more likely to purchase art. They like to bring back something to remember their trip or purchase artwork in a style not available where they live.
Younger people are more likely to purchase items under 20 or 50 dollars. Seniors who may have downsized their homes or already have their wall space filled with art are less likely to buy. Many people in Arizona come for the winter and are in smaller homes with little wall space but will buy art to bring home with them.
My average buyer is between 30 and 55 years old and both men and woman evenly. With artwork that hangs on the wall, it is sometimes a harder sale since both husband and wife need to approve and their tastes are not always the same. With items geared more to one sex or small enough to store in a drawer such as jewelry, you do not have this problem as much.
Many customers may buy a new print from you once a year if they see you at an art show and are basically collecting your work. Let your repeat customers know when you have an art show or are part of a local exhibit.
Specific for photography or when selling prints:
I sometimes print new images in the smaller sizes, mat them and place them in the print rack. I then see what the customer response is. If a specific art piece gets a good response or sells in the smaller size, I then print that image up in a larger size.
You do not want to make 2 or 10 of the same images and size with the idea that if you sell one you have a replacement so you do not run out. Start off with one or one of the same images in two sizes to see if it is popular with the customers. If you have a selected group of photographs that sell more often, then I would have a spare replacement print for just those images. For full time traveling artist, you need to have more duplicate prints.
If the customer is looking for a smaller or larger print of a photograph they see, let them know you can custom print it for them and mail them the print. In this situation, I charge a reasonable shipping cost. Many people traveling do not want to carry larger artwork with them. If they live out of State and you mail it to them, you do not need to charge sales tax which makes up for the additional shipping costs. You just cannot keep every image in stock of all sizes. The availability to print on demand and this mailing option is how I handle this. Larger prints can be rolled up in a tube for mailing and do not need to be mailed flat.
On special orders sometimes custom packing and mailing can be time consuming and expensive for larger flat prints. If the customer is local, I find it more convenient to make an appointment and just drop it off at their house. The customers do not seem to mind and still pay a delivery fee that is equivalent or less than any shipping costs.
How many different sizes for matted prints: The general rule is that you do not want the sizes to be too close to each other or the customer will most likely select the lower cost smaller size. For photography, the size usually refers to the outside mat size and not the print image size. Popular mat sizes are 8x10, 11x14 and 16x20 or 18x24 and larger. If you sell note cards, you may not sell many 8x10 matted prints since the note cards are cheaper and may be close in size.
If a customer wants to only purchase the larger matted print they see in a frame. I am happy to remove the frame and sell them the matted print only. Many customers know they can frame it themselves at a lower cost or they may prefer another frame color or style. Take the money for the sale and then let the customer know to come back a little later and you will have the matted print ready for them to pick up. It helps to have a few Clear Bags of various sizes for this purpose since most shopping bags are not designed or will fit large flat art items.
Sometimes when I exhibit my art in alternate gallery locations such as a coffee house or other business, I may have two different prices on a framed art title card, one price for the artwork framed and a lower price for non-framed. I am in the job of selling art, not frames and I try to be flexible when it comes to trying to meet the customer's needs.
For matted prints which could include photography or other mediums such as matted watercolors or prints of paintings, I try to keep the outside mat size to a standard frame size. If they buy a print for $70.00, they may be upset if they need to spend another $135.00 on a custom frame at twice the price of a standard frame. As a selling feature, I often inform the customers that my mats are a standard size and this gives them the option to purchase a less expensive ready-made frame instead of a custom frame.
If you get a higher priced custom order or commission such as a painting or photograph at an art show, collect at least 50% at the show and then get the remaining amount before you deliver the finished art to the customer. With the exception of corporate buyers, I no longer send out the artwork to individuals unless I get the final payment first. You may be tempted to start on a special customer request for your artwork or print the artwork before you receive the initial 50% deposit if they are sending it to you later, but I suggest you do not. Sometimes customers change their mind and you may be spending money and time on a custom order that has been cancelled. I sometimes take the deposit by credit card or Pay Pal using my web site and then request the remainder by check if possible.
Gail Peck Says: "Talent is almost the least of it. To consistently sell you have to have images that people can relate to emotionally. Although Iím not the most talented photographer out there, Iíve sold from the very first day because people like what I do. They care very little about the qualities that most photographers stress over. What you need is a winning personality that can engage well with the buying public. One young man who has wonderful images sells very little because he lacks conversational skills. I canít stress this enough!!!"
Read more at: Selling art at art festivals
This is a very informative article on how to sell photography at art shows that is geared more to larger professional art shows but has good advice that would also pertain to artist doing smaller local art shows": How to sell photography at art shows
Marketing / Promotion:
It is a fact that art generally does not sell itself. You may find that places that sell your art for you do not do as well as when you are in front of your customers as an artist selling yourself. Part of selling art is promotion that can be approached from many ways at once.
When at an art show, have an email sign up list for visitors to fill out. When you have a new art show or any art related event in that area, send out a simple email blast inviting them. Many artist design and send out on a regular basis a more sophisticated newsletter with this information included in it. Many artist use a reasonably priced bulk email company such as www.icontact.com or www.constantcontact.com to send out these emails. One nice thing about these services is that you can have separate email lists under different titles and you can target only those lists you want to for a specific event. Also, the customer can easily unsubscribe from your email list automatically without any extra work on the artist side.
For my art exhibits, I create postcards or print off 4x6 prints, as shown in the photo, and leave them around in local businesses close to the exhibit. These locations are mainly art or photography related and customers pick them up. The remaining prints are placed at the exhibit as a fancy business card for those attending to take home. I find the 4x6 prints on sale to be cost effective on smaller quantities versus 500 or 1000 postcards. This can also be done for art shows with the option of mailing them to past customers.
I found signing up with www.fineartamerica.com and entering your event in the event calendar, which is also free, has great benefits and is available on a national level. If your event is selected, they will mention your event such as an art show in their email newsletter to a great number of customers with an art interest. These customers are targeted to the general location of the event along with a link to a web page with additional event detail. I am really surprised that more artist do not take advantage of this free service, but now you know about it and you can with a little effort. Once you spend the initial time to figure how to enter an event, all your future events will only take about 10 minutes to submit.
When more serious art collectors see your art work at different events such as art shows, displaying at galleries, public art events, solo shows and group shows around your area they may be more likely to purchase some of your art at art shows. I feel all of this promotion adds up to give you more credibility as an artist. I feel collectors would rather buy art from an artist that they feel will be around in 5 to 10 years more than someone they see on and off for a year and then disappears from the art scene.
My theory is that even if you live in a very populated and spread out area such as I do near Phoenix, AZ, the number of people that visit art shows is a much smaller number. These people will visit many art shows as something they enjoy to do and not just to look for art to purchase. They will get around and if you do enough shows or other type of public exhibits, even in different areas, they will start to recognize your art work. It is something like print ads were some customers need to see your product (art work) numerous times before they make a purchase.
One thing I do is numerous public art exhibits. While I like to show my newer work mostly, for larger exhibits of my art, I always include a few older classic images that I have shown at shows in the past. I do this so people who may not remember your name may remember one of the older images if they liked it. They will then realize that this is an artist they have seen before and that this is new work from you that they have not seen. This is part of my need to see your work numerous times to get credibility to some collectors plus who doesn't like to show their classics.
I feel that every artist today should have a web site or web presence. You can put your art on-line at many sites such as www.fineartamerica.com and many more without needing to know much about computers. If you do not know how to create high quality digital files of your art, you can have someone scan or photograph your art that will be used to upload to these sites. Many of these on-line galleries sites will even make a print from your submitted digital file and fulfill the order by sending the print directly to the customer for you.
There are many of these art related web site galleries around and many are free to display your art. Others may be free but charge you a fee if you sell any art. Some of the more sophisticated sights may charge a monthly fee, just to display, depending on how many art images you have on your own personal gallery. These sights may look more like your own individual web site and not just one more artist grouped into a large group of artists. There are many choices to choose from and no reason you cannot select more than one.
If you can manage your own web site or pay someone to do this for you, it is always best to have your own web site for flexibility and customization for your specific needs. When you sell off of your own web site, you do not need to share a commission. Most commercial web sites are geared to selling original artwork or a photography print of one size. They do not handle multiple sized prints which is best for photography or painters wanting to sell prints besides the originals. With your own customized web site, you can display multiple prints sizes and prices such as I do here on my own web site using a drop down menu.
Another advantage of having your own web site or multiple gallery web sites is that many on-line gallery web sites have been going out of business and all your hard work setting them up is then gone. For this reason, always keep a copy of all your digital art files on your computer for later use. I have my art on my own web site www.bobestrin.com and also on a variety of other on-line gallery sites that bring in additional views of my art work. On some of these other websites that may have only 3 -10 images shown, I then list my own personal web site for customers to visit to view additional art images.
Artist can use their web site to market future art shows. I have a specific web page on my site just for this. I list the event, date, hours, address and show web site and contact information if available. This information, if done in advance, can be picked up by search engines. Recently, I have started to send out tweets in Twitter about my art show events as well as other art related events and new images. With Twitter you have a limited number of words you can use so I give a link to my web site's www.bobestrin.com/shows.htm page to show more detail information about the art event if they are interested. While I do not use Facebook myself, if you do this can also be a powerful marketing tool to promote your art and events.
The web site is also a good place for customers to look up more information on you as an artist. I have a page that shows articles that have been written on my art, a page that lists my past exhibitions and a page that lists an artist statement / bio and general information about the artist. I tend to think of my web site as an on-line resume / portfolio and not just for selling my artwork.
My experience is that web sites will not bring in sales that often but when they come in; tend to be much larger orders. A web site is also a good place for Interior Designers to find you as well as an on-line portfolio for people to review that may want to exhibit your art. A web site has many benefits beyond its sales potential.
For photography, many customers want to know the location of the subject matter. For most artworks I find that the title and price are always needed with size as an option.
For painters, as a customer, I prefer a label that says if it is an original or print/Giclee especially if if the painting is printed on canvas or framed. It also is nice to know the more specific painting type such as watercolor, acrylic or oil since not everyone is as knowledgeable as the artist.
Many artists place a printed page of information about themselves such as an artist statement or bio and a small artist head shot on the back of the matted artwork.
Customers seem to like this as I see them turning over the matted prints looking at the additional information. Here is a link of a sample bio for back of art Sample Bio in Word format.
I place a business card in the packaging of every order I sell. I also have a stamp with my name and web site that goes on the back of each matted or framed print. If they wish to order another piece of art in the future, I try to make it easy for them to find me. My web site is also my name and will come up on top during a web search of my name.
Limited Editions / Certificate of Authenticity / Signing of Prints:
This is up to the artist to decide whether to do this and to define what they want their definition of a limited edition is since many artists do it differently. A few of the larger nationally known art shows require limited edition prints to participate in that specific art show.
Some artists are very sensitive on this subject and either are very for it or very against it. I just chose not to do it anymore.
I personally do not think it is a good idea and worth the paperwork for most artists to keep track of for photography for the art show market. I have never had a customer tell me he was not going to purchase a piece because it was not a limited edition. To me it is more of a gallery marketing thing and since photography prints can now be duplicated with exactly the same quality when printed in bulk or at a later date, I am not sure it applies to the original reason for limited edition printing.
If you sell photography to more of a serious collectors market, I can see a benefit to selling limited edition prints in smaller editions. Some photographers limit there editions to 10 or 15 prints. Many times these smaller edition prints are much more expensive to purchase and may be each individually hand done such as in a darkroom or using an alternative photography process.
When I first started out I did have selected prints marked as LE of 100, 150 or 250. When reality hit and I saw that even if I had a popular print, it may only sell 5 to 15 times over many years, I decided that it was not for me. I have seen artist put very high LE numbers such as 1000 or higher and I wonder if it is really limited at those numbers. You should always stick to what your limited edition agreement was in your printed statement for those artworks sold under a limited edition agreement.
Some artists do place a sheet called a Certificate of Authenticity on the back of matted or framed prints. In addition to the artist name and contact information, the certificate may also give print information specific to that print such as art title, size, special type of paper it was printed on, ink used along with the artist signature. These are similar to what would be on a limited edition certificate without any edition size listed. Some artists print these out on fancier certificate colored paper with nice borders that adds a personal touch and value to the artwork.
I have recently visited numerous indoor group photography exhibits that do not have the artist sign the front of the prints or mats so that no visible artist signature displays. The artist name does display on the accompanying art title card. While the artist may sign the back of the print, if I did this I would probably also include a paper Certificate of Authenticity so some signature can be seen even if it is only attached to the back of the frame. I personally do not understand this trend, since if I ask a customer if they would like this print with an artist signature on the mat or not I would think close to 100% of customers would want the signature. Because of this trend, I actually started to additionally sign the back of the photographic print, in the white border area, with an archival thin line pen. In the future if someone re-mats the print, my signature is still associated with the print with the idea that I personally approved this print and this is not a later reprint. What's next, are the painters no longer going to paint their signature on their art.
Licensing / Sales Tax:
Most cities want you to pay for a tax license even if you only do business in their town for a few days a year. This license varies per city but is in the $50 - $70 range a year. You would fill out the paperwork and send a check to the city on a monthly basis. If you have no sales for that city that month, you still need to send in the paperwork with a zeros sales number. Once you have been doing this for a year or two, the city may let you fill out the paperwork on a quarterly basis for small sales amounts.
Some cities do special arrangements with small art shows so you do not have to pay for a whole year’s license for a one-time event. Most towns have temporary event permits that cost less than a yearly license that will last the duration of the art show. If you wish to do a single show in a town, call the town and inquire about a special fair license, its costs and how long it lasts.
I would like to do a single or a few local art shows in different cities in my area but I do not find that it is worth it to do paperwork for a year and perhaps pay $50-60 a year per city in fees for doing 2 shows that may be only cost $50.00 to participate in with low sales possibilities. I feel that I need to just pick one or two cities per year and stick to shows in those areas. When I show in galleries or art exhibits in other cities, that business collect the sales tax for me and I do not need to have a city license for each of those cities. This allows me to exhibit and sell my art in a wider area without the need for multiple business or tax license's.