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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do I want to do fairs and markets as an artist?

For most artists, the step to actually paying the rent by what you create, is a large one, I started out, by doing markets and fairs, selling direct, and I love it. It is not for everyone, I think if you get cold shivers just thinking about having a stall at a fair, then no...... indirect sales through shops and galleries is maybe more for you.
This post is some pretty basic advice points on how to find fairs and markets and
how to make the most of them. Sorry if some of the advice seems very obvious,
I have gone back in time to when I started and tried to remember what I would have liked to know. To me, point 7) can never to be too overstated!!

1) Direct sales (thicker skin required): find out what is available in your area, most markets, fairs etc will be advertised in local newspapers, fair organisers wants stall holders and love handmade stuff as it lifts the general air of the market/fair.
Churches, LIONS, and other organisations like schools for example, regularly holds fairs.
2) Prepare an e-mail with a small presentation, remember to not clogg up someones inbox, of your work and yourself, pdf format is excellent, to be sent to fair/market organisers.
3) Visit the fair/market yourself, find someone who sells something very different to you and chat them up, get some hands on info on the way this fair works... invaluable.
4) Costs of stalls, if you sell cards, obviously you need to find a fair where you stand a chance of making money, making some of your card designs, be they watercolor or printmaking or collage, into wall hangings can up the money quite quickly.
5) Smaller items sell faster than bigger things, this sounds pretty obvious, and yet, I have seen many artists bring only big canvases, and then be disappointed when they did not even recoup their money. Make something small, it is easy to buy, easy to carry away, tiny canvases/prints/collages/drawings can be an introduction to your work. Small pieces at more affordable prices, I always think of as "bread and butter", and they open the door to future sales of larger, in my case, prints.
6) To me, the most important point: pricing, if you are unknown, then you can not charge as someone well known, that's just the way it is, even though what you sell is art, to apply some logic can help a lot..... what does my costs + my time + 50% profit on top, come to, put yourself in the shoes of a buyer, it is too much... does it sound too little? To price your work right is very difficult and very important.
7) Look professional : have change, have bags, have a nice display, and above all, tell people you are the artist. I find that most people love meeting the artist, you should and can take advantage of that. Be frank, tell people, "this is my first fair and I am a bit nervous", never underestimate the kindness of people in making sales..... oouch , that sounds cynical, and I don't mean it at all like that, but to make a purchase, some, maybe most people, have to have a reason, sometimes you being honest can make for that reason!
8) Never, ever, ever, give a discount on your work, ever..... you have to be confident that your work is worth what you are asking, if you are not, then why should the buyer be. I always, have signs that tells people, 1 print at this price, 2 prints at that price...... that is not discounting, that's encouraging sales. If someone buys well, then give them a present, reward them for buying well.
If someone asks for a discount, tell them that your prices are good, and that your work is worth this price, be firm, no waffling...... and then, even though they only buy a small print, give them a post card as a present. I find that a great way of me saying thank you for buying from me at my prices, and the buyer feels that you were not rock hard, but happy to make a sale, good feelings all round.
9) A mailing list book is a given for any sales outing you are on, never miss an opportunity to add to your mailing list..... so you can tell customers where you are going to be in the future.
10) Make contacts, you are not just at the fair or market to sell, talk to people, I have met many shop owners and even the gallery I work with through fairs. The owner of very successful Red Sea Gallery that represents me in Singapore and Brisbane, came to a Christmas market with his then pregnant wife, they bought some prints from me, and then went to have a coffee, sitting over their coffee they noticed how busy my stall was, and after a while, Chris, came over again and introduced himself and asked if I was interested in coming by the gallery to have a chat with him.... you can guess my reaction! 8 years later we have a very mutually rewarding relation ship, I no longer sell my prints with Chris, but 2m x 2m paintings! So TALK to people, don't hide behind a book or a sketch pad (although bringing work along, tells people you are the artist and can open a conversation) TALK to people (you get the point by now:o)
Did I forget something, and you have experience as well from doing direct sales, please leave a comment! Take care and enjoy your Sunday!


  1. Great post, Mariann! Lots of very helpful advice - a lot of which I could have used last November when I did my first little craft fair/exhibition.
    One other thing - think carefully about how you present your items. Have a cloth/backdrop; consider containers/baskets, shelves (small or large that fold to be portable); if you sell items that need to stand up (I sell books, some of these should stand up to be seen), then find a good way to support them. Are your items available to be touched/picked up/felt, or should they only be looked at through a cellphane wrapper/picture glass etc? You can only sell to customers if they come to your stall - you need to draw them to you, by presenting it very well.
    The Etsy Bookbinding Team (BEST) has a blog, where a series of posts recently gave some really helpful advice about presentation and stalls. It was aimed at book-selling, but could apply to so many other artists. Do go take a look (is that ok Mariann - I don't mean to "plug" our blog, just to show where to find some ideas?).

  2. Mariann, I'm curious, what is your experience about framed vs unframed work at fairs and markets ? I usually show framed works together with matted, unframed ones and the unframed works seem to sell better.

  3. Very informative post. I have done a few craft fairs, made a few sales but have mostly been disappointed. I think I was fairly closely following your suggestions too, but that's the way it goes. I decided I liked giving my work away just as much so I do.

  4. I like the artwork, that could work as a funky deckchair!