I’ll be starting a blog series that does a (hopefully) exhaustive breakdown of everything you need to know for an Art Fair/Craft Fair setup. I participated in my very first show this past weekend and I took many measures to document as much as I could during the weeks leading up to the show and the event itself.
Although my experience may not apply 100% to what you will encounter, I believe I have a good understanding of the basics. As a new artist (I have only been selling my artwork for just over 1-1/2 years online at this point), I can tell you with confidence that in-person meetings are 10 times more effective than online interactions. Art is a physical and tangible item. A person seeing a picture of your artwork online (through social media or your website) will not have the same impression as seeing it in person. Especially if you create large work, textured work, or have very detailed work, a phone screen will never show all the subtle nuances and details.
Now with that introduction out of the way, here are my top tips for a complete beginner to fairs!
- Do your research!
Research potential venues you might be interested in applying. Check out the average attendance, demographic, costs, and range of goods sold. Your art may not fit in with a show due to the price point, subject, or medium. And that is ok. There are dozens of fairs held annually – but it is completely on you to find the one that will fit what you offer.
- Attend fairs in person
Online pictures can only show you so much. Spend a weekend driving out to a fair in your area. Walk through the fair and observe what is popular and how the crowds interact with booths. Pretend you’re an anthropologist for a day and see if there are parts of successful booths you can implement in your own display.
It also never hurts to ask. If you spot a good setup, ask the vendor where they sourced their display items (of course time your conversation when they’re not busy with customers). One good lead will save you hours of mindlessly browsing Amazon and avoid the disappointment of purchasing a low-quality product that will fail after 1-2 uses.
And I should mention that you don’t need to visit art fairs. I attended a German Christmas Market in December, which gave me plenty of great leads for my display in January. (More on my fair revelations will be covered in another post.)
- Grab a buddy (or two!)
You WILL need a buddy to handle the stress and rough patches during the days leading up to the fair, and during the event itself. Planning for an event this large will require you to have a support system when things turn south. To keep yourself on track, have your buddy be part of your accountability system. Your buddy can be your sibling, a partner, or your parent – just someone who can ground you when the amount of work will seem overwhelming.
- Do a dry-run
A dry-run is time where you do a complete set-up and break-down of your booth. Ideally this time is at least a few weeks prior to the event so you can pick up any last-minute items that come up. Remember to write down how long it takes to do each task and organize your items into boxes so that you have accounted for every single item. Take pictures of your setup once you’re happy with the decorations to use as a guide for the event.
After you have done one dry-run, you can then work backwards to figure out how early you will need to leave to set up for the show, and anticipate how long it will take for you to go back home.
- Get organized!
It will be impossible to keep track of every item in your head. If you’re the kind of person who is the “Type B” personality, you’re going to need to get used to working as a “Type A” for at least a few weeks. I was working from 3 separate lists during the week leading up to the show. List 1 was my master packing list – every box and bag had an inventory sheet. List 2 was my master task list. List 3 was my daily task list. Every evening, I would move items from List 2 into List 3 and print a daily task list for the next day.
Trust me. You will need lists.
- Plan for the worst
The favorite saying of an old teacher of mine was “Hope is not a Plan”. You need to plan for the worst-case scenario in order to sleep well at night. Things like bringing extra lightbulbs, having a sufficiently long extension cord, and packing a portable charger for your phone to process credit card payments are just a few of the dozen scenarios that may present themselves. If any of these items come up, the best way to deal with them is knowing you’ve already anticipated these events happening and you have the solutions at hand.
Does this all seem like a lot? The answer will probably be a yes from the majority of people.
Is all this effort worth it? That answer depends on you, how much you’ve prepared, and how you interact with your customers. One weekend has the potential to reach thousands of real people who may be interested in what you can offer.
My next topic will cover the basics of applying as a vendor and the paperwork that accompanies it. Part 2 will be up in the next week.
Have any tips you’d like to share? Comment below!