My name is Barney Davey, Here are my best tips and observations from my experiences exhibiting and selling show space in hundreds of fine art trade shows, home furnishing shows, and interior design shows during my career that began in 1988 .
Now, you gain the benefit of my collected wisdom, practical advice and observations from decades of experience. Here is a mix of suggestions, no-nos, and observations to help you to be more successful selling art at shows.
Some shows give you pipe and drape and you can rent walls. Others give you hard walls as part of the booth. Whatever you get, you have to make the best of it to make the best look to help you sell art at shows.
You have just a few seconds to give an impression of your work and yourself. Your booth needs to look like you care about your artwork and you came to do business and take the opportunity to be there seriously. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun time and be jovial, just make sure your booth looks as professional as it can.
For many, the best thing you can do is setup the booth in advance at home—at least draft it out if you lack the space or equipment to mount a replica. When you are done give it the white glove look to notice and make improvements. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do better. Refuse to believe that can't. Kick it up a notch or two.
The amount of stuff you have in your booth is critical. How many times have you seen a booth that looks like a poorly run flea market? You know the kind that has stuff crammed into every space. This is not the way to impress a potential buyer. If you wonder why you are not getting the best price on your work and this in any way resembles how you set up your booth, you have a partial answer.
The reverse problem is the booth looks empty. That begs the question of what’s going on here? Unless it is the last hours of a successful show and you are clearing inventory to avoid shipping it home, you want your booth to be well stocked, and organized. Give thought to how you present your work. Is there a flow to what the viewer is seeing? Or, are they finding a jumble of things that makes it hard for them to connect with your work?
It's All About Your Buyers
You have to keep thinking about your buyers. Put yourself in their shoes. They know nothing about you. They are being bombarded with information—visual and otherwise. Seeing so much work in one place is daunting. There are all kinds of people wandering around. Often entertainment and music playing. You are attempting to break through the noise and clutter they are experiencing. Finding an eye-pleasing, well-organized space is almost like a respite from the chaos around them. Think of your booth as a resort. Make it an inviting place for shoppers.
Your ambiance will, of course, vary with the type of art you have, who you are, and what vibe you want to give. Presenting serene landscapes is one environment, while images of sensual models on hot motorcycles are quite another. Cater to your crowd, but keep it classy and organized no matter what the motif and message you are sending.
Cohesiveness & Clarity.
You may have the talent and interest to create art in a bunch of genres. While this is a blessing for your creative self, it is a huge curse for the businessperson in you that has to run the show and get paid for the effort. You cannot be all things to all people.
You went to the great expense of buying the booth space, creating the art to fill it, preparing for and traveling to the show, and more. Don’t blow it by setting a space that looks like the art was made by 12 different people. Settle in on what are your best images within a genre and mine that mother lode. You can always come back another time, or go to another show and display that polar opposite side of your creativity.
A word of caution here. I would sometimes sell ad space, or show space to an artist or publisher and when I first got to see their work, I was astounded. It was not why you might think. It was because all the work looked similar. I know I just told you to have cohesiveness and clarity. That does not mean loading your booth with 100 originals of the same subject, or in the same palette. You can have variety and still have cohesiveness in your art.
In graphic design, white or negative space is critical. I mentioned how clutter is a show killer, so is a lack of access to a booth. One of the worst things you can do is put a table in front of your booth. NEVER do that. It sends a strong visual message that you are attempting to create a barrier between the buyer and you.
You want an inviting environment as much as possible. Blocking the entry is not helpful. I realize there is a delicate balance between wanting to have enough product to display and keeping the amount of negative space to an appealing amount. I would tend to push it towards more space. Just a tad more than makes you comfortable is likely to have the exact opposite effect on potential buyers.
These are generalities because art sizes are all over the place from tiny pieces of jewelry to massive pieces of chainsawed sculpture and everything in between. If you keep the perspective of your visitor enjoyment and visual pleasure, you will tend to make the right decision more often.
How you look affects your potential buyer’s assessment of you and your art. It also affects your self-confidence and esteem. You want to look professional. It sends a message to the customer that you care about yourself and your art. This does not mean dressing to the nines. Some shows are outdoors in weather from hot and dry to wet and cold. You should be wearing attire appropriate for the venue. It should be comfortable to help you stay in the moment during those long show hours.
What you are wearing should be fresh, not wrinkled, old or tattered. It’s all part of the same thing, which is the booth visitor experience. Within a few brief seconds, they are already making assumptions about you, your booth and your art. Your clothing and personal appearance art part of that quick assessment.
Besides wearing appropriate attire, you should make sure your personal appearance is as good as it can be. Your hair is neatly combed or brushed. You don’t have food sticking in your teeth. The whole idea is to look successful. Confidence begets confidence. People naturally gravitate to those who appear successful and confident. Whether you internally feel confident is not the issue. It is about outwardly portraying confidence. Just that single trait of showing confidence will help you sell more art.
Have you become bitter, cynical or lazy about putting out effort to sell art at shows? Don’t feel alone, there are many people just like you. If this is you, and you know if it is, then you have to face up to the fact that your attitude is feeding a vicious cycle.
I can tell you countless times where I would see someone in a booth, usually in the far corner, or even behind the booth in a personal space, acting bored out of their skulls. Wow! That really encouraged me to want to engage them. Many times, I would come in with a chipper, cheerful attitude hoping some of it would wear off on them. Sadly, it often had the opposite effect of making the sullen even more gloomy.
If your dog just died, or your spouse just ran off with your best friend, you have a legitimate reason for your sour outlook. Short of some kind of personal disaster, you owe it to yourself to shake off the bad attitude and get with the program. Put it in perspective. You are only there at the show for few hours out of your life. You have made a significant investment in time, money, product and effort to be there. Take some deep breaths. Listen to some happy music. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but feel sunny and positive when I listen to Blue Sky by The Allman Brothers.
While you may not have control over the circumstances that have put you in a foul mood, you have full control over how you choose to react to those situations. Your mind over matter power is off the charts. Learning how to put your negative feelings in check and work towards presenting a confident, if not happy demeanor, makes your art shine. It makes you more attractive. It will sell more art.
There is more to learn. To read Part Two, use the link below.
As the subject line suggests, there are more parts to this series on how to sell more art at shows. Use the Next Post link below to read it.