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Last Saturday, I was an exhibitor at my first 21st century craft show/art fair. Although I sold things in the craft shows of the 1990s, I hadn’t sold anything in person since the turn of the century. Also, I had never sold paintings on canvas at a show. You can read about my 1990s craft show experience here.
Changing from Crafts to Art
Before covid, I painted mailboxes, watering cans, and flower pots, and spent lots of time creating projects for the Love My Little Cottage Blog. In early 2021 a friend and I decided to read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Going through the exercises in the book unlocked several hidden desires. One of them was a longing for a Lowcountry style home with a painter’s studio. We sold the little cottage we’d lived in for twenty-five years and moved into Our New Charleston Style Home in November of 2021. We finished my art studio in mid february, and I haven’t stopped painting since.
I Never Thought I Would Do a Craft Show/Art Fair Again
Setting up a display for an arts and crafts fair is hard work. You have to load everything up and drive to the location of the show. There are no refunds for bad weather and no guarantee that you will get sales. There is also the cost of the tent, display materials, and booth fee. In most cases you also need a current business license. So why would I or anyone else go to all that trouble in today’s world of online markets?
Why Should Anyone be an Exhibitor at a Craft Show/Art Fair?
- Craft shows are fun and exciting. They are like game day for an athlete.
- You get to display all of your work in one place and hopefully sell some of it.
- Customers give immediate feedback on your work through their purchases, comments, and reactions.
- Newbies can learn a lot just by observing the displays of veteran vendors.
- If you have business cards or brochures, you may get orders after the show.
- The people in your community and surrounding areas will know that you do what you do.
- You will have a chance to meet other artists/crafters that you can collaborate with in the future.
- Shoppers walk around with the items they purchase. This gives you a chance to see what people want and what they are buying from other artists/vendors.
Getting Ready for the Show
Visiting Other Craft Shows Beforehand
After I paid the fee for the show, my daughter and I went to the S.L.A.M. (Savannah Local Artist’s Market) show in Savannah, Georgia to see how other artists were displaying their paintings. Since I had never done a show with paintings, I wasn’t exactly sure how to hang them from my new EZ UP ES100S Commercial Tent (This tent comes with the sides, has a center front zipper, and a place to attach a banner on top). I read a few articles online, but felt like seeing things firsthand would be best.
Another thing to consider when buying a tent are weights to hold it in place when the wind picks up. I bought a pack of 4 five pound weights that attach to each tent pole. Also, TrimLine craft/business tents are considered to be the best, but spending $1800 for a tent was out of the question for me.
Painting Displays for Craft Shows/Art fairs
The two types of displays we saw were fabric panels and metal grid panels. The fabric panels were too expensive for a beginner like me. Another option I read about online were mesh wire panels, but they were even more costly than the fabric panels. So I bought three 2′ by 6′ metal grid panels like the one shown in the upper right photo.
Another thing I observed was that artists attached hanging wire to the back of each painting, then hung them from s hooks or curtain hooks on the metal grids.
Adding Hangers and Wire to My Paintings
Using the Drill
In the past, I’ve tried without success to use a drill. However, I was determined to learn how to add D hangers and wire to my paintings. I asked my husband to leave the drill and bits out for me the night before. I ran into difficulty and had to Facetime my dad. First, I couldn’t figure out how to put in a different drill bit. Then, I didn’t know how to get the drill to go counter clockwise to get the bit out of the wood. Everything worked out okay in the end. Now I know how to add hardware to my paintings all by myself.
*Note- I like the D ring picture hangers and vinyl coated stainless steel picture wire the best.
Packing My Merchandise
After adding hardware and hangers, I placed bubble wrap over each painting and packed them into suitcases with wheels or boxes. My watering cans, mailboxes, and flower pots were bulky and took up lots of room in our Dodge Journey, so in the future I will exclude the mailboxes and flower pots. I ordered smaller, vertical watering cans to take to the next show.
Finally, it Was Time for the Show
We put up the tent and set up the tables. I hung the paintings according to size from S hooks on the metal grids. My husband used 3 zip ties to hang the big paintings from the cross bars on the tent. I was ready with a cash box filled with $100 in change, a Square Reader to ring up purchases made by debit and credit cards, and a painted flower pot loaded with business postcards. Luckily, it was a only a one day show. Before I knew it, it was showtime!
During the Show
From 10 am to 5 pm I sold 5 paintings. I sold one large painting and 4 small ones. I made enough to cover my costs plus $50. Although I wish I’d sold 10 paintings instead of 5, I was happy with my first show. In the picture above, you can see my Preppy Donut Painting “showstopper” on the easel. A showstopper is an attention-getting piece designed to lure people into your booth. Basically, it’s a conversation piece. Some people thought it was a painting of a Big Mac. One guy took a picture of it and called his wife to see if he could buy it. She said “No.” Nearly every group that walked by made a comment about that painting. If you decide to do a show or fair, don’t forget the showstopper!
What Was Right
- I liked my tent and the weights I bought for the corners.
- The grid walls were heavy, and added additional weight to kept the tent in place when the wind picked up.
- I’m so glad I had picture hangers on my paintings. Everyone commented on the quality of the gallery wrapped canvas and hangers.
- Having plenty of paintings (I had around 40) to choose from was a good thing.
- The Square Reader was a must-have, because 4 out of 5 people paid with a debit card.
- It was a very busy, well-attended show, and worth the money.
- The way we packed the pictures was effective in protecting them. Only 3 paintings needed slight touch-ups after the show.
What Went Wrong
- My tablecloths did not coordinate together, and were too bright.
- Next time I will group paintings together by color and subject matter.
- My business sign kept blowing over. I plan to buy a banner to attach to the front of the tent in the future.
- My display would look better if I put items at the outside edges of the tent, rather than having people walk into the tent to see the merchandise.
- Instead of using individual price tags that blew away I will have one sign with the prices for the paintings according to size.
- I want to print professional looking labels with a title and my business name and phone number to go on the back of the paintings.
- I will consider where and who I am painting for when preparing for the next show.
The Next Show
I am praying for the right place to do my next show. So far, I’ve painted a 12″ by 12″ palmetto tree and oyster. I can’t wait to paint for fall and Christmas shows as well.
I hope you enjoyed reading about My First 21st Century Craft Show/Art Fair! If you have any art/craft show tips, leave them for the rest of us in the comments.
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