How to sell art at an outdoor festival – Part 1

How to sell art at an outdoor festival – Part 1

I know I’ve had a short break from my list of paintings; last week was a veritable whirlwind of prep for the Ashland Strawberry Faire!  This is the second time I’ve worked at this faire after having worked at other various conventions and craft shows, and I have to say I’ve learned a lot!  If you’re thinking about selling your work, or if you just want to hear about my mistakes, this post is my experience selling art at an outdoor craft show.

Set up at the Ashland Strawberry Faire

Before the show:

Preparation starts before you even sign up!  I’ve learned that you have to try to get a table or a booth as soon as possible to avoid paying extra, or missing out on the good spots.  I missed the “early registration” window this year, so I ended up paying $25 more than I could have if I’d signed up just a week earlier.

Before I sign up for a new show, I always try to find out if there is anyone else selling the same type of work as me.  I don’t want to sell the same thing that plenty of others are selling, because it puts us in competition with each other and lowers the value of our work to our buyers.  If I find out that someone else is selling paintings, I do some research to find out how similar their work is to mine.  Then, if I feel as though we’re too similar, I try to differentiate my work as much as possible.  I’ve never felt as though I was in direct competition with any other artist yet, but if that turned out to be the case, I would rather distance myself by getting a booth that’s far away(if the event is big enough), or skipping the event altogether.

Often, shows will also let you request certain spots.  Scan the event map, if there is one, or try to talk to someone who knows where the good spots are.  If you’re looking at a map, try to visualize where the flow of traffic will be.  I neglected to request a specific booth number last year, so I ended up at the very end of the faire, near the porta-potties!  Although my bladder and my small children were happy about that, there were far fewer people coming all the way down the lane to look at my art.  This year, I remembered to request a specific booth.  Since I was already late to sign up, I didn’t get the one that I asked for, but it was much closer to the center of the action than I got last year.  Plus, I ended up in a (relatively)cool, shady spot, with plenty of space behind the booth for chairs and supplies.  Since I enjoyed this faire, I’m going to put next year’s registration date in my calendar, so I can get the early-bird discount AND my new favorite spot!

I had plenty of paintings ready to sell, but I needed a way to display them in a way that looked professional and clean.  You can buy grid panel walls that come with hangers to hold paintings, but they’re around $50 for each two-foot-wide panel!  I’m not a “starving artist”, but I don’t have that kind of money to throw around!  So we had to get creative.  After thinking through many different options, my husband built me a set of sturdy display shelves for my paintings out of four simple wire shelves, some two-by-fours, and some bolts.  And the result was perfect!  The paintings simply sat on the “lip” of the underside of the shelves, with clear fishing line tied across the row of paintings so the wind wouldn’t knock them over.  It was a nice-looking solution, that cost less than a quarter of the store-bought shelving!

art shelves

In the weeks before the faire, I also had prints made of some of my drawings.  When selling original art, the bulk of your sales nearly always come from large pieces, even if you sell only a few, but I wanted to have some less expensive options available as well.  Getting quality prints done of my paintings is prohibitively expensive, at least for now, but drawings are much easier to scan and reproduce.  A good drawing also usually takes me much longer to do than a painting, which makes original drawings much harder for me to part with.


The days before the faire, I made my list of inventory and gathered everything I needed for my booth.  Before this year’s event, I had a usual routine of making a mad dash to get everything together the night before(or, in a few sorry cases, the morning of!).  I always ended up sweaty and exhausted before the show even started!  But I think I’ve finally stumbled on the secret weapon: Lists!  I listed everything I needed weeks in advance, and updated them constantly.  This may not be big news to more organized folk, but I felt as though I was the first caveman to discover fire.  By time the event rolled around, it was a simple task to gather together the items left on my list.  Boom, done!  Lists: Make them early, make them often.

We were allowed to set up the night before, so we brought our canopy, shelves, and table, and put everything together in our space.  I had gotten everything I needed ready throughout the past couple weeks, so I was able to get to bed early enough for a good night’s sleep.  And since we had done the heavy lifting the night before, setting up was much more relaxed!

After months of painting, weeks of preparation, blood, sweat, and tears, it was finally time for the big show!  I went into my booth with a case full of paintings and a spring in my step, but even the best plans can’t prepare you for everything.  Facebook “likes” are one thing, but I was about to put it all out there, for the whole world to see.  I was nervous…What if nobody showed up, or worse… what if nobody liked my work?

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Friday!

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