I have been keeping notes of my experiences, both bad and good, to try and improve my experience each time I do a fair. These include tips on how to prepare for a fair and how to navigate it as it is happening.
These days, Art Fairs have become important venues for artists to promote their work to a larger audience. I consider art fairs as an important step in the evolution of a successful art studio business. What is hard to find, however, is a good source of information for the artist about how fairs work and how to best navigate them.
#1. Art Fairs are Promotion and Marketing
It is extremely important to understand. While we all hope for big sales when we do an art fair, we need to actively play the longer game of getting potential clients into your marketing sphere. Whether it is email or instagram, getting people connected to your work is a major first step and art fairs are full of art enthusiasts who are potential buyers. Fairs are often a way for interior designers and art consultants to be introduced to your work. These are key industry professionals that are looking at your work for various projects and are not likely to buy anything at the fair. they are, however, likely to contact you later about commissions. Be sure to make it easy to join your list or follow you on Instagram.
#2. Know Your Art Fair
I advise artists to never enroll in a fair that they haven’t attended as a visitor. Each art fair is a bit different and it is important to have a clear idea of whether a fair is a good fit for you.
Go to a fair with the intention of talking to artists and attendees and getting answers to a few basic questions. What is the quality of the art and the artists? Is the fair well curated and consistent in quality. Are the artists emerging, mid career, or established. Who is attending the fair? Are they younger or older. How many attendees seem “art literate”. What type of art are people buying?
Where is the fair and how does that affect the sales?
Consider sizes, prices, subjects, and colors. For example; A fair in NYC that attracts a lot of younger enthusiasts shoaled lead you to consider this: younger people have less disposable income and smaller apartments with less wall space. This means they are more likely to buy small work at lower price points and fewer large, expensive pieces.
#3. Pre-design your Install
Make a mock up of you booth walls and do a layout of how you want your booth to look. Be sure to adhere to measurements and sizes to get a good sense of spacing. This is important to visualize because you don’t want to have to much space (under-hang) or to little space (over-hang) between the artwork. Your art needs space to breath and allow the viewer to experience it. A booth with too much extra space means you could have gotten a smaller booth. A booth with too much work hung too close can look cluttered and too much like a supermarket. It is always okay to have a few extra pieces hidden away that you can rotate in for fun or use to fill an empty space if something sells.
#4. Run the Numbers
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what your total cost is going to be and if you have the ability to finance your fair experience. Things you need to add up include the cost of the fair, packing materials, transport to and from the venue, labor cost for an assistant to help hang the work, printing costs for cards or brochures, and the daily cost for feeding yourself and/or your assistant. And while I started with the tip that Fairs are mostly marketing and promotion, You should make sure that you have enough work to sell so you could potentially cover your costs. So if your total spending is $5000, make sure that you would walk away with a least that much if you sold all of your work.
#5. Have Work of Various Sizes
I think this is helpful for sales because smaller size works (or even prints) are less of a commitment for someone who has seen your work for the first time and likes it but isn’t ready to make a large financial expenditure. People also have different size walls so will gravitate toward a size that fits their space.
#6 Keep Control of your Packing Materials
Often, fairs will allow you to store crates and packing materials somewhere onsite. The caveat here is that you cannot start packing your artwork until they bring your packing materials to you. That can mean a lot of waiting around if your stuff is stored behind a lot of other peoples stuff. If you can, try and keep control of your own stuff so you don’t have to wait. If you have wooden crates on wheels, this might be harder to do. If you have cardboard and bulbs wrap it becomes more important. If your cardboard boxes are not clearly labeled as yours, they will be used by someone else. Same with bubble wrap and foam. Fair load outs are chaotic free for alls.
#7 Make Yourself Easy to Follow
Remember, fairs are marketing and promotion so make sure that people can sign up to join your mailing list or follow you on Instagram. I find the QR codes to be an amazing tool for getting people connected to you. If the code is hanging in your booth and clearly labeled, it is easy for people to check out your Instagram feed and follow you. Anytime I interact with someone about my art, I encourage them to follow me as that is the best way to see what I am doing. Fewer people want to give out their email but have a book for them to sign if they wish.
#8 Don’t Rush Load Out
The instinct at the end of the fair is to 'GTFO' as quickly as possible. Take a deep breath and resist that. I have seen more breakage happen during load out because people are rushing. I always prefer taking my time and putting artwork directly into its box/crate when taking it off the wall. There is a tendency to take things down and lean them against the wall until your boxes arrive. I think this is an invitation for disaster. Putting the work directly into the box avoids that vulnerable step. If you are in a fair with galleries, take some time to observe how the gallery staff is handling the artwork. Their care for the art is indicative of their professionalism and respect.