I’ve been painting for a long time, oven ten years. I’ve done comissions and murials but none of that quite compares to the experience I have gained working at art festivals. I was thinking about everything that I had learned and thought about when it came to art and doing festivals. If anyone is thinking of doing a festival they might find what I have below helpful.
1) A good tent is worth the price. I started doing the Marietta Artists Market with a simple easy-up tent I purchased from Wal-Mart. The tent has never done me wrong and I think I got a great little easy up for what I paid. However, when I transistioned from the smaller, one day art festival to the larger 2-3 day festivals I learned that I was lucky when I did the Roswell Art Festival in 2012 and there was no heavy rain or “bad” weather for my little tent to try to survive. I did not purchase my larger, expensive tent right away because I had to learn if my work would sell successfully, so I do encourage artists to start with the easy up. You can start with the larger tent and if things don’t go well I see that they resell well on Craigs list and places like that. The bigger tent I purchased does require more time and effort to set it up but I think that it’s worth it. Overall, between both setup and take down I spend about 45 minutes more but I can hang more of my work and unless a tornado hits, me and my work will be safe and dry. Knowing that does put my mind at ease. People have asked me on several occasions where I purchased my tent. It’s from www.flourish.com and I do recommend them. The guys that designed my tent did art shows themselves so they have a pretty good understanding of what a vendor is looking for. Expensive but if you take care of it I’ve heard of people having their tent for 20+ years. A website that helped educate me on art festivals before I started doing them is this one–http://www.squidoo.com/20thingfrom20years. The woman who wrote those articles is Mona Majorowicz and though her articles have a lot of ads in them I got a *ton* of insight from her. I don’t like learning things the hard way and because of her I didn’t have to.
2) Have a range of prices for your work. This is somewhat up for debate. Sometimes people only have about $10-20 to spend on art and not $2-5,000 for an original oil painting. Some artists only bring their large, original, pieces. If they do three festivals and the booth fees are $600 but they sell only one piece for $4,000… well, obviously they made profit but they have a small percentage of people capable of purchasing their work. This can be confusing to a new artist who is showing their work at festivals because they may not sell anything for two festivals and feel discouraged and wonder how the other artists do it. I have learned that artists with those price ranges accept that they may sell nothing for 1-5 festivals, but that when they do sell the profit is worth it. Sometimes they sell multiple pieces every time. For me, I have found that featuring smaller, affordable prints, etc, allows people who aren’t necessarily collectors to also enjoy my work. I find that when I don’t sell a large, original piece that often my smaller, accessible items will cover my festival costs. Some artists may argue that having those small, accessible items encourages the buyer to not purchase the original (why purchase the original when there is an inexpensive print I could buy instead?). I don’t find that to be true. Someone who wants to buy an original piece of work is usually set on making that sort of purchase and won’t settle for a print when they find something they like.
3) Don’t get into a hurry. Don’t get scared of the weather. The few times that artwork has been damaged during a festival has been because of me being in a hurry to pack up. Adding a few minutes to set up and take down is helpful for two reasons. 1) Less likely to damage your work 2) Less likely to feel stressed out. When I try to hurry I get stressed out. Sometimes I see vendors get a little rude/cranky with each other at setup and breakdown time and I think it’s just because their stressed. Give yourself enough time for both and don’t allow yourself to think in terms of trying to rush. Sometimes I see vendors pack up at festivals where it is raining and this has ALWAYS CONFUSED me. Why are you going to pack up DURING the rain? I suppose they figure the rain means no customers (which I also have not found to be true) and that they better pack up and go. It seems like packing up in the rain discourages customers from the festival and can damage your stuff. I’ve got no answer to the logic behind why some people do that an not wait for the weather to pass… it’s an all-around bad idea.
4) Pack Food. I usually do end up buying some festival food here and there because they sometimes have some interesting stuff… but that can get expensive! Plus, sitting in your booth you will find that you get extraordinarily hungry and tired even though all you are doing is sitting there. I try to pack healthy snacks so when I have the urge to graze that it isn’t exclusively on cinnamon rolls and fried foods. With Georgia being as hot and humid as it is I never regret the amount of water, etc, that I have packed for festivals.
Those have been my major insights for this year. I am sure next year I will have all new ones but those were the most significant things I have learned as an artist doing festivals for the first time. As I create more and more work I am preparing myself to apply to different art galleries, which I am sure will also be a completely different experience.
Thanks to those that have supported me, been a helpful friend, relative, or a patron of my work. My first year doing art festivals has gone over well and I think I am fortunate to feel that way.