Packing, setting up and take down for art shows

Packing Carefully:

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 to pack the more fragile art items more carefully. Determining the proper packing materials specific for your art will in the long term reduce 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 rain.  If you are not careful, the packing and unpacking will eventually damage some of your more fragile 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.

I recommend that you purchase a more sturdy or quality plastic container with a top such as the ones made by Rubbermaid. I have found that the less art show supplies bin expensive plastic containers can not take the abuse of art shows packing and unpacking and will eventually crack. The clear containers are convenient so you can see what is inside them but usually are much thinner plastic. The bin to the right that I use will fit many 16×20 matted prints perfectly and is available at Lowe’s Model # 131957 Blue Hawk 27-gallon tote (Click on for link for container).

When packing my vehicle, I usually put the larger less fragile flat items such as tables or print bins in first on the bottom. I leave the more fragile items for the top, such as the boxes containing my frames, so no weight is on them. The plastic container or storage box leaves a flat top in which you can place other art items on or stack another plastic container.

Sometimes with smaller vehicles there is a tradeoff on how much packing material you use to pack you artwork. Extra packing material for some items does take up more space, but sometimes you do not have any choice. Frames, pottery, larger glass items or other fragile or breakable art needs to be packed well. In addition, all very expensive art should be packed well.

Setting Up:

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.

California Pier

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.I do not recommend doing a few art shows and then decide to stop doing them because they are too much work and setting up your tent and booth is hard. It is a lot of work setting up but it does get easier and faster once you have a routine and know where everything goes.

If the art show allows you to set up the day before the show starts, take advantage of this option if you can. You can put up your tent, your tent walls, your art walls, tables, print racks, display cases and other materials as part of your art show setup. Depending of your art or craft medium, you may be able to leave some of your product in the tent, but make sure they offer some security the night before the first day of the art show if you do this.

The morning of the first selling day, you can arrive early and just need to bring your product and other materials not setup previously. One thing you need to be careful of is not to bring too many things over two days and then find out it will not fit in your vehicle when you take down your show on the final day. One advantage of setting up part of your tent the previous day is you will be less stressed and not as tired when the art show starts and you are talking to your customers.

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.

Usually each art show sends you an art show information packet 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.

After setting up, while you may be tempted to park right close to the art show, since those spots are available before the show starts, I suggest that you leave those closer spaces for the customers. Many times the art show requires the artist to park in an artist designated parking area.

The art show information packet, which you should print out and bring to the show, will have much of the set up information. Sometimes it shows a map with your space number located on it. If it does not, then when you get to the show location look for a check in table or the person who is running the art show to find where your location is.

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 while setting up, 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 that I bring to the shows.

One thing to consider is looking over the artist show information packet 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 tent 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. If you have done this show before, you probably know how close you can park. If you know that you will need to carry your art show items far, you should come earlier since setup will take a longer time for this show.

It is always easier to carry items with a hand truck and if you do not have really heavy items you can get away with a less expensive $35 – $50 folding hand truck that folds flat and take up very little room in your vehicle.

Hand Trucks:

Different hand truck models can be found at your local hardware stores were you have the advantage of seeing them in person. Some different models can be seen online at Amazon (Hand truck samples). If space is not as much as a concern, I recommend (Platform trucks Samples).

Additional models can be seen online at Walmart (hand truck samples).

The first model pictured above is interesting if space is an issue since it folds very flat with even the wheels folding in (see video).

Take down:

Delicate Arch








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 in print racks or on tables

is still being shown for customers to purchase. If your display depends on the walls, a steady stream of customers are still around, or this is a major art show, then you should leave your display as is until the end of the art show.

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.

If customers are still walking around at the end of the show, I usually wait until about 15 minutes after the show ends to drive my car slowly to the closest area to my booth.

Many artist drive in and park near their tents just as the show ends.
When you park, make sure you leave room when you can for other artist to drive by to get to their locations.

It is generally frowned upon to start taking down your tent / booth and leave before the end of the show.  In larger or juried art shows, this could lead to you not getting invited back again. If it is a local non juried small art/craft show and numerous other artists are packing it up, then you can usually leave early also. You can always ask the promoter if you can leave early if others are. You should just carry your supplied to your parked car and not bring your car to the booth area blocking the customer paths or other artist booths.

I am mentioning this since I saw this today, someone drove their car in and parked in front of their tent about 15 minutes before the art show ended. Some customers were still walking around and it is a big safety hazard as well as blocking customers from reaching other artist. In this case, the person supervising the art show noticed this and the car was removed.


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