About a year ago, I decided to take my art out into the world, face-to-face with the general public at a local convention.
The opportunity popped up to reserve a cheap Artist’s Alley table and I jumped at the chance.
I was excited!
The only problem was; I had never done a convention before. I was totally unprepared.
I found very few sources online for artist/vendor first-time prep, so that’s why I am writing this blog post.
Just a heads up, I’ve only done a few events so far, and this article will probably be updated as I learn the hard way (by trying things out!) So, with that in mind, please take what you find useful and leave the rest! If you find a way to improve upon these tips, please let me know, comment below or shoot me a message on Instagram or Twitter.
FIRST Things to Consider
- What type of items will you offer?
- What type of display(s) will you need?
- How much room will you have to work with?
- How do you want the public to interact with your art?
- Will you be drawing live at your table?
Take a look at my setup from the May 2022 Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market:
You can see that I have a varied selection of items, they are:
- 11×14 Acrylic Paintings
- 11×14 Art Prints
- 5×7 Art Prints
- Books & Notebooks
- Coffee Mugs
- Pins, Buttons, & Stickers
- Original Misc. Drawings on Paper
HOW TO DISPLAY ALL THIS JUNK?
My first thought was to the large paintings and prints. I knew that I wanted a tall backdrop and some method to hang the art. I also wanted space for a big banner at the top, something to grab people’s attention!
Note: I am listing only items that I personally purchased and used from Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Additionally, I will link to other useful services that I have personally employed.
- I found this photographer’s backdrop stand on Amazon that is very lightweight and adjustable in width and height. It also comes with a carrying case.
- This fabric to drape over the backdrop
- This wire photo hanging system for my paintings and prints
- I designed a custom banner and had it printed by UPrinting.com (Let me know if you’re interested in what went into designing the banner.)
My next thought was to the items on the table itself.
When you arrive you’ll probably find something like this, a bare 2 foot by 6 foot table. You’ll need to jazz it up somehow.
- Tablecloth (Often the venue doesn’t provide)
- Wire Magazine Rack for prints, postcards, books, etc.
- Acrylic Display Shelves, 2-tier and 3-tier.
- Easel for books/art.
As for the art itself, I wanted the larger prints to be presented in sleeves with backers, and the paintings to be framed. It looks a little more professional, in my opinion.
With your art framed and bagged, you should consider how to safely transport it. I reused the boxes that the prints and frames came in, just making sure to use extra bubble wrap.
Next question was how will customers take purchased items with them? A lot of times they have a reusable bag already, but just in case, I got myself a supply of various paper bags.
I also wanted to use this opportunity with the bags to add my own branding. I had a custom stamp made with my logo, found an ink pad, and hand stamped each bag. It resulted in a more DIY look which I really dig.
ACCEPTING PAYMENTS & MONEY THINGS
One of the most intimidating prospects of this whole art business thing was the idea of accepting payments from customers. Luckily, technology these days has made it super simple! And I think giving your customers more ways to pay is worth it.
First thing you need is cash to make change. I think you probably don’t want to have too much cash on you, but maybe $100 in 1’s, 5’s, 10’s, and 20’s should be a good start. I purchased a unique/badass fanny pack from Etsy to store all the money. I never let it out of my sight.
Next, having a Venmo and/or Paypal is very useful. Make a printout of each of your account’s QR codes and your usernames to make it easy for customers to scan and pay.
Lastly, you can also accept Credit Card payments via the Square reader. You can receive a free card reader that can be hooked up to your smartphone for use with the Square app. There is a small fee for each transaction.
Some thoughts on Loading In and Setting Up
With most things in life, I’m usually late. But I try to get to the convention load-in as early as I can. I don’t want to annoy the hosts and I’m less stressed if I can beat the lines.
Definitely try to find the FAQ on the event’s website or expect a detailed email with all the instructions on what you need to do for that particular event, the rules and policies, etc.
For load-in I acquired this folding hand truck to cart the two large storage bins that hold all my art and supplies. Depending on the venue, you might need to bring your own chairs and I recommend this lightweight folding camping chair.
It’s probably good to be as organized as possible so that you’re not scrambling like a headless chicken trying to set up before the venue opens its doors. One idea I need to implement is a list of the items in each container, and also how they are arranged (for putting things back later.) This will be especially helpful if you have a lot of different types of items and if you have someone else assisting you.
Some more useful items to consider
- A Notebook
- Blank Paper
- Sharpie Markers
- Duct Tape
- Invisible Tape
Another helpful thing that I still need to get is a small step ladder. Once the backdrop is set at 8 feet high, it’s a little difficult for me to make any adjustments to the banner and picture hanging system.
I’m not an expert on merchandising, but I would think making things stand up vertical would be a good way to allow customers to see them more easily.
I have found however, stacking my books flat on the table, opening one on an easel, and encouraging customers to flip through the books is a good way to go. I also periodically change which pages are displayed, just in case it catches the eye of a repeat passerby.
I am still experimenting with what to display in the magazine rack. Lately I have been putting the one-off originals along with the 5×7 prints on the rack. It’s still not a great system, when I want people to peruse the originals. Maybe I’ll need to put them in a binder.
Another thing to consider is how you will display your prices. I decided to keep things simple and printed out a price list that I have framed on the table. For big ticket items like paintings, I have individual price stickers.
LET THE FUN BEGIN!
Now you have all your items in place and you’re sitting, eagerly awaiting the hordes of customers that will devour your fantastic art. They begin to trickle in. Some might look at you and your table briefly and continue on, some might breeze on by without a glance.
Don’t get discouraged!
Sooner or later someone who is genuinely interested and enthusiastic about your work will show up and you’ll have a nice little chat, maybe make a new connection, a new friend, maybe even make a sale, and BOOM! you’re hooked on this whole thing.
I’m still not sure how to handle the social aspect of these events. I’m usually a very quiet, shy person, but I always try to smile and say hello to everyone who happens by. I’m not sure everyone wants to talk or even be acknowledged however, so you have to go with the flow. Maybe you’ll want to bring a book or an art pad so you have something to occupy yourself in the quiet moments.
I think it might be a good idea to have something free you can give out to the folks who peruse your table and especially for your customers after you make a sale. I have two-sided art postcards that I give away, the back side also has my name and a QR code that will bring people to my website.
If at all possible, try to bring a friend, partner, or spouse with you, it’s always good to have backup when nature calls or you need a lunch break. If not, you might have to rely on your convention neighbors to keep an eye on your stuff while you step away. Keep your badass fanny pack with you at all times!
Another idea, if you want to keep your costs low, split the table fees with another artist friend (if the event allows of course) and you can back each other up the whole day.
So far in my experience, the conventions have opened to the public at 10AM and went until 5PM. One day can be exhausting enough, but sometimes you might have to do it two or three days in a row! So pace yourself, stay hydrated, bring some snacks, make sure you eat lunch.
In the end try to have fun, make some new friends, and show the world what you do and how passionate you are.
If I can do it, YOU can do it!