The Art Fair Experience
Imagine filling a nice big balloon with air. With each breath it gets bigger and more taut; soon it will stretch to its full potential. Now, instead of tying it off, let it go and watch as it zips across the room until it collapses onto the floor, limp and lifeless.
Okay, I was being a bit dramatic comparing myself to a balloon. I suppose I could have just written that I worked my butt off, rose to the occasion and then, once it was over, crashed like there was no tomorrow. Such drama in my writing today!
The fair was a success. Mainly because I survived it. Between the weeks of preparation and the actual event, I was bleary-eyed by the time it was over. We arrived on Saturday morning at 9:15 AM driving separate cars bursting with props and artwork. It took 2.5 hours to set up, and by the time we were done people were already starting to arrive even though the fair itself wasn’t scheduled to begin for another hour or so. At 9:15 PM, exactly twelve hours later we were heading back home.
The streets were filled with booths that sold everything from bonsai trees to fine jewelry to makers of clothing out of alpaca fiber. I was sandwiched between a non-profit booth and a woman who makes wind chimes from wine bottles.
What I liked about the experience:
1. Most importantly – that I did it. More on that later.
2. I was happy with the way my tent looked. It does take a lot of time to put up the grid walls but they are incredibly versatile and it’s so easy to hang nearly anything I want from them. I used cute thrift store baskets to hold business cards as well as my note cards, and bought grid hooks to hold the different varieties of art magnets I had for sale. Here’s the final set-up, complete with a pair of heavy-weight grommited window curtains that I found from Target for $1.86 EACH. I couldn’t believe it, either.
Here is a view from the inside. The little hanging plant you see came from IKEA and was already complete with hooks, so it gave a bit of warmth to the tent. See the bunch of flowers in the lower corner of the tent? More on those later…
3. This particular fair wasn’t really an art fair. Anyone with a booth was encouraged to enter so I had no worries about my work being juried or denied entry. The fee was low so I didn’t have to worry about selling a high dollar painting in order to recoup my entry fee. That took the pressure off.
4. My husband and I worked great together. In fact, he took care of the business end 90% of the time and encouraged me to walk (my back was not happy that day) which I did every couple of hours. I really enjoyed stopping at other artists booths and talking to them.
Things that were challenging:
1. Back to the flowers in the above photo. In the lower left corner of the tent was the gutter to the street. As soon as my tent walls went down, the stench of urine was overwhelming – as in, ‘Oh my gosh, people are going to think that I urinate all over my art before I sell it,’ kind of smell. I panicked. Craig was one step ahead of me, found a roll of bubble wrap and crammed it into the gutter as much as he could. The plastic along with the breeze knocked down the smell about 90%, but when the air was still, I could smell it. Ugh! Hopefully no one else noticed. Oh, and the flowers? I had intended on using them as decoration around the top of the tent but since the bubble wrap was so noticeable, I bunched them together and covered the stuffed gutter as much as I could.
2. The day was super long. I snapped this photo of us with 4 hours left before we could begin tearing down.
We look like the lights are on, but nobody’s home, don’t we? When I get super tired, you can see it in my eyes right away. Trust me, I looked much brighter than this earlier in the day! lol
3. Representing myself was harder than I thought it was going to be, even as the day progressed. Because it was my first fair in well over 10 years I was more than rusty. It’s easy to become reclusive when you work by yourself all day long. Most people would be happy to have an opportunity to connect with people after being isolated but I tend to go in the opposite direction. The less people I see, the less comfortable I am being with people – especially in this type of environment where I am front and center. I hate to acknowledge this, but I had no clue how to engage with potential customers. When they approached me I was cordial, I smiled and was genuinely happy to speak to them. But initiating conversation myself? I was horrible at it. This is definitely something that I need to seriously work on.
In the end, I found the day to be a great experience. I was grateful to have family and friends come out to support me, I met some really nice people and had some very good feedback regarding my work (one customer said that he’d been to nearly all the art fairs in the area this summer and the quality of my work was the best he’d seen. What a compliment! I could have happily packed up and gone home right there and then with words like that.
and…I made just enough money to cover the cost of the tent and the grid walls.
Thank you for your words of support last week during my freak-out post. Positive thoughts and encouragement is always good medicine for someone venturing out into the unknown. As always, I’m very grateful for each of you. Have a great Monday, everyone.