I took the plunge in 2022 and did my first art fair with over 100 artists, at Goodwood Racecourse. It felt like a big leap as previously I had only done small local craft/art events as being an introvert I find ‘putting myself out there’ a scary experience. However, I knew if I wanted to get my work seen by more people I had to take the leap.
The fair involved a set-up day on the Friday, with a Private Viewing in the evening, followed by two full days open to the public on the Saturday & Sunday, with the breakdown after the fair finished on the Sunday.
Once I’d decided to apply and had been accepted, I needed to be sure I had enough pieces of art to show. I’d built up a fairly good collection but realized I needed some statement pieces which would hopefully stop people and encourage them to start asking questions. So I started on my largest piece ever, creating a close up of a tiger (50 x 70cm) & framing it with non-reflective glass to really show it off. I followed this with other pieces at 50 x 50cm, so together with my existing smaller pieces (30 x 30cm and 24 x 30cm) I had a range of sizes at different price points.
I ordered my frames well in advance and then spent two whole weeks framing everything in time for the big event. It can be stressful framing larger pieces and storage space becomes an issue as you create more work.
I have previous experience in 3D software, so decided to create a scale model of my stand to work out my hanging plan. It was great to be able to visualize my art together and see which pieces worked best next to one another. This will save you hours on the set-up day.
The stand itself was 1 x 3 x 1 m in total – one of the largest sizes available and with hindsight I would probably recommend a smaller size stand for your 1st time, not only to save a bit of money but because I found I overdid it on the art front. I know the saying Less is More and looking back I feel I had too much on show at the same time. Going forward I’d cut down the number of art works so it looks less overcrowded.
Making sure you have clear labels for each artwork is vital, including the price. You’d be surprised how many visitors can feel uncomfortable asking the price of the piece and they may even wander off without checking – which is a lost opportunity.
As the fair drew closer I needed to think about marketing. I spread the news far and wide using my website, e-newsletter, social media and local venues to advertise it. I should have tried to get some free local press coverage but to be honest I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.
Once my stand was designed, I was worried about fitting it all in the car. I did a dry run of packing it all to be sure everything would fit. I discovered we needed both cars and thankfully my husband was happy to help out.
A week before the fair my Tiger artwork sold – if you remember this was to be my showstopper on my stand and thankfully the buyer was happy for me to still show it, albeit with a sold sticker on it. I was very grateful as I was out of time to paint something else. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, as arriving at the fair to set up I discovered that some pastel dust had dislodged and was now sitting on the mount (even with a gutter mount underneath). I’m guessing this happened on the journey as several roads were quite bumpy. Thankfully my husband had a cunning plan, and I used one of my postcards in the corner of the frame to hide the pastel dust and added a sold sticker to it, disaster averted. After the fair I had to reframe it with a new mount before delivering it to my client. My painting now lives in its beautiful new home only about 3 miles away from me.
Setting up took almost all day and was exhausting. This meant there was no time to drive back home and get changed for the Private Viewing that evening. Thankfully I’d planned ahead, and we both got changed into smarter outfits in the toilets! How glamorous.
The show itself was well attended and I made lots of new friends with my fellow exhibitors. We are still in touch and sharing tips and tricks.
After the show ended on the Sunday, it was then time to break everything down. A couple of hours later the cars were packed and we were ready to head home. It is tiring doing art fairs, so be sure not to book lots in your diary for the next day.
I found it useful to write down my experience afterwards – what I felt I did well, any mistakes I made, and what I could do better next time. All in all, it was a great experience and not as scary as I had imagined.
I’ve listed below a summary of what to think about if you’re going to do your own art fair – and I’m sure you’ll be able to think of things to add.
Tips for 1st Timers
Which Art Fair to Pick
- Before picking a particular art fair plan ahead and visit it the year before so you can gauge the standard of work etc and if you think it will be a good fit for you.
- Think about the location and any extra costs if you’ll need overnight accommodation etc.
- What is the local demographic in this location and does it fit with your offering.
- How many stands will there be and what is the overall layout like.
- If you know someone who has exhibited at a particular fair you’re interested in, pick their brains to see how they found it, in particular how good the organisers and promotion were.
- Choose your stand by trying to work out the flow of visitors around the exhibition space. If you know they will be coming from just one direction place your stand-out piece so it’s one of the first things they’ll see.
- Big art fairs are not cheap. Some fairs will allow you to take a larger stand but share it with another artist, thereby halving your costs.
Logistics, Prep and Set-Up
- Read the contract carefully so you know exactly what’s allowed and expected of you – and then read it again just to be sure.
- Plan your stand to scale beforehand.
- Think about storage that can double up as display (space is always more limited than you imagine).
- Package your work securely and think about the weight of items and how you’ll get them from your car to your stand. Enlist some help if you can.
- Allow plenty of time to hang your artwork – it takes a lot longer than you think.
- Keep your stand tidy (no coats, bags etc hanging around)
- Think about security for your bag, wallet, payment machine etc
- Less is more !
Live Painting on your Stand
- If it’s allowed this is a great way to get people to watch your process and makes breaking the ice with them so much easier.
- If the art fair doesn’t allow live painting, think about having a ½ finished piece on show – again this is an easy way to get into conversations with people.
Lists, Lists & More Lists
- Keeping track of everything is important and will save you time.
- If your artwork is wrapped up, label each package so you can find it easily when it comes to setting up your stand.
- Have a checklist of everything you’ll need for the event.
- Keep all the critical items (payment machine, screws, blue tack, labels, chargers, spirit level etc) in one bag. It will save you a lot of time searching for things.
- Be sure to have read the instructions well before the art fair as to how work should be hung. No two art fairs are the same. Some allow hanging systems, others specify screws etc so make sure you have a fully charged drill, step ladder etc.
Food & Drink
- Most art fairs have a catered offering for exhibitors and visitors, but you’ll pay a premium. If you can, take your food and drink with you but avoid eating on your stand as it will put people off.
Meet and Greet
- Talk to everyone, customers, other stall holders, event organisers – for an introvert this is a tall order, but it will pay off. If you need to take a comfort break and you’re doing an art fair on your own, most stall holders either side of you will be happy to cover for you whilst you’re away from your stand.
- Smile – by the end of the weekend your cheeks should be aching.
- Avoid sitting as much as possible, standing up makes you look more approachable and engaged and don’t cross your arms.
- Talk about your work, what inspires you and how it’s made.
- Don’t be over pushy – if they seem receptive you could try asking them about the current artwork they have at home. This can get the conversation going without going straight into a sales pitch – you’ll both feel more comfortable.
- Put prices on all your artwork.
- Have a range of sizes/price points.
- If you sell prints as well as originals, make sure they are easily accessible in a print browser.
- Be sure to have a good supply of business cards.
- Have a small notebook and if you have someone whose interested in a piece but not ready to commit, take their details so you can email them an image of the piece with details of size, price etc – doing follow ups is important and could result in a sale.
- Look to grow your email list for your newsletter. I make up small forms (tailored to each art fair/event) asking for their name & email address – being sure to include information on how their data will be used. Keep a record of these forms (scan them or take photos) so you have a note of where they gave their consent.
Success at an Art Fair
- Think of the art fair as a marketing opportunity.
- At my first fair I only sold a few prints, not enough to cover my costs. However, it’s often not about sales at the event and more about what happens afterwards. I have had people get in touch re commissions several months later so don’t be disheartened if you feel the sales were not what you’d hoped for.
Last but Not Least
- Wear comfortable shoes, your feet will thank you.
As you can see, I’m no expert. I have three art fairs booked for 2023 and I’m sure I’ll continue learning something new at each one. So, if you’re going to take the plunge into the art fair world, I hope this helps a little and good luck.