"It is terrifying to think of what a commodity art has become." Audrey Flack

Outdoor Art Fairs
© 2002 Nita Leland

Recently a young artist asked me for suggestions on equipment and supplies for exhibiting at art fairs and exhibitions. I haven't done such shows for several years, but last week I ran across a checklist I once made to help me pack for them. Here are the essentials to get started:

  1. First of all, send postcards to your mailing list inviting them to visit you at your booth, clearly stating the dates and times of the show.

  2. Display stands and hardware. For your first shows make simple A-frame boards hinged at the top or sides. The side-hinged style sets up like open books so you can use all sides for your display. Two sets can be arranged in an X or a Z form. Have 1/4" pegboard cut so your hinged boards fold and fit in your car or van. Don't spend a lot of money on these boards. If you make outdoor shows a regular thing, invest in a professional setup. For the pegboard stands, have a plentiful supply of pegboard hooks to hold your artwork. Make or commission a professional-looking name-sign to hang prominently on your display.

  3. Browse bins. Use milk crates for small artwork and cardboard boxes big enough for your matted paintings or prints. Cover the boxes with wood-grain Contact paper. Set the bins on a card table or folding work table.

  4. Tool box. Be sure you have pliers, screwdrivers and framing essentials in case a spring clip pops out or a picture wire breaks. Include masking tape, duct tape, magic markers, price tags, pens and pencils.

  5. Use part of your work table to set up your sales materials. Have receipt books, change, tax charts, calculator, business cards, brochures, workshop schedules and inventory list on the table and keep them organized. Have an open guestbook/mailing list for your visitors to sign in. Under the table have wrapping materials and bags for sold artwork. Use a tablecloth to keep the storage area hidden.

  6. Heavy plastic drop cloths should be adequate to cover your display quickly if a storm blows up. Your work should also be protected from dust and fingerprints by shrink wrap.

  7. Personal comfort: folding chair (2); layered clothing, sunshade or hat, comfortable shoes; bug spray, sun block, sun glasses; simple first aid: aspirin, tissues, bandaids, ointment, hand wipes; lots of drinking water, LUNCH!, litter bag

  8. For demos: Your easel and art materials. Don't start a painting from scratch. Bring something in progress that you can work on in spite of distractions.

  9. Take clip-on lamps and extension cords in case the show has to move indoors.

  10. Packing up: Leave the area cleaner than it was when you arrived and thank the exhibition sponsors. They have a difficult job!

  11. Send postcards to the visitors in your guest book thanking them for visiting you at your booth. If you know it, tell them the dates and times of your next show.

Booth ettiquette: Don't hide at the back of your booth with your nose in a book or a frown on your face. Greet show visitors as they approach your booth. Step aside to give them room to enter your space. Make a friendly comment about the show, then ask if they are looking for anything in particular. Tell them to ask if they need help, then leave them alone to browse. Don't bug the visitors, but if they look puzzled or interested in something, it doesn't hurt to approach and ask how they're doing. If they seem likely to buy, don't be afraid to sell! I've heard artists say they don't like to sell because they might make someone buy something they don't like. I seriously doubt that. A few friendly words from the artist may encourage customers to do what they already have half way decided to do. Just relax and keep smiling--and have fun. You will have good shows and bad shows, but this probably has little to do with the quality of your work. The weather, the location of your booth, the advertising or lack thereof also affect sales to a very great degree. Quantity is another important factor--the more choices you give your visitors, the more likely they are to buy.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if I've left something important out.

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