One Year Later: 5 Tips for New Artists This Festival Season

Top: New setup as of January 2019. Bottom: First setup May 2018

So the Callanwolde Artist Market is over, and I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to submit some of my work for their gallery showing later this year. We’ll see how that goes. I felt less prepared than I should have been, but that’s the case with any new show. This being my second year going to shows in May, I’ve learned a lot that I can take forward to make me more effective at displaying and talking about my art. So what have I learned? Here are the top five lessons (in no particular order) gained this year that I wish I’d known before going on the art festival circuit.

Reduce Travel Inventory

You may think, like I did, that you need at least ten prints in multiple sizes of every piece of artwork you’ve got in your Etsy store. While it is good to have variety, it can overwhelm buyers if they see ten copies of the same print while browsing. Keep extras under the table and replace them later. This creates rarity and makes it easier for the customer to see what you’re selling. It also makes travel easier.

Calculate Pricing

I was balls at pricing when I started, but i did have a heads up because of all the conventions, and subsequently dealer’s rooms, I’d visited in cosplay. Do your research and figure out how much to price items. For originals, make sure you calculate to factor in your own hourly rate. As a fellow artist told me last weekend, if they won’t buy it at $150 then why not price accurately instead of undercutting yourself? It can take time for the right buyer t find you work, so be patient and don’t lower your prices just to make a quick buck. You’ll regret it!

Select Items Accordingly

I thought that i needed to bring everything I had for every festival, and while this does make for an eclectic collection, it can also make the booth look disorganized and overwhelming. Bring a few key originals that you think suits the festival theme or location, then bring smaller, more portable items. This reduces the strain on your back and the stress of transporting all of your most expensive items at once.

Have Range

At the Callanwolde, I made a big mistake the first day: I brought only my high ticket items and none of the smaller stuff. As a result, zero sales. We brought the smaller things (prints, stickers, jewelry) the final day and broke even. The lesson: bring a range of prices for every budget. It can make the difference between breaking even and failure.

Display is Everything

We learned our lesson this past weekend and brought lighting. People were able to see the artwork and take notice. if you can add lighting, do it. It draws attention and helps passerby see what you want them to focus on. Also, plain backdrops are best. Keep your space simple so the artwork stands out.

I still have a lot to learn, but I can already see how far I’ve come in a year. I hope you can somehow benefit from my experience (or lack thereof!). If you’re new to art festivals, welcome and best of luck! If you’re an experienced seller, what advice would you give?

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2 thoughts on “One Year Later: 5 Tips for New Artists This Festival Season

  1. Get a cart. The rock n’ roller is fantastic and has off-road capabilities. 90% of the events I do allow vehicles in the vendor area, but the other 10% can be killer. For the display, it’s a good idea to remember that your booth is a mobile boutique and make it look like it. I don’t do fine art events, so it doesn’t matter as much, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to stand out in the crowd of artists. Smalls are essential. Have some big dollar items to draw people in, but most people are looking for stuff under the $20 range for gifts. Diversity is also important. Not everyone wants the same thing, so having choices is good. Price your work for what it is actually worth. There’s a formula I use: (cost of materials+cost of labor) x 2 = wholesale; wholesale x 2 = retail. Personally, if I have a product that doesn’t sell at retail, I discontinue it. Interestingly enough, some product won’t move if people feel the price is too low. Weird how that works, but some of my stuff has a 600-1200% mark-up (rather than 400%), because that’s the price it sells best at. Get a good canopy with walls (for rain and multi-day events) and weights. I live in an area where winds can get over 50 mph, so this is key. I have seen canopies collapse in seconds from weather. Network, network, network. Make friends with other vendors. They are the best source of info for local events and stores/galleries. I’m sure there’s other things I’m forgetting; this is just off the top of my head.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! This is all great advice! We invested in a good quality tent and weights early so that’s one problem we solved. We use heavy grates to hold up pieces, so there display has height. I want to do more with that, but I’ve seen artists lay their pieces in wet grass because they had no table space — it’s cringe.

      Pricing is so difficult! Right now, I charge by the square inch, so for an 8.5 x 11″ piece I multiply width times height, add cost of materials, then round up for labor. I know I’m undercharging too. I’m still trying to get the courage to charge at real value.

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