Some Things I Learned About Selling Art at an Art Fair

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This one’s for you, Dawn!

Well, it’s for anybody who sells art, or wants to sell art, at an art fair.

Lots of money has been made by artists selling advice to other artists about selling at art fairs and art shows. There are some great books and CDs out there explaining the rules of selling. I want to let you know that they’re not rules but guidelines.

I’m going to go through some of my favorites, and give you my opinion about each one.

How much art should you show?

I’ve read that there’s a magic number, somewhere between 10 and 15 pieces. You don’t want to look like you create more art than you can sell, but you don’t want your space to be sparsely stocked.

In a 10′ X 10′ booth, fifteen 16X20 paintings will look empty. In a 6’X6′ booth, it might look OK.

I had about 25 paintings in my booth, and I feel it looked good. Most were medium sized, some were small, two were big. There was enough there that people could linger and gaze, but not be overwhelmed. It was a good body of my work.

If you have small to medium sized paintings, I think you can display 20 or more. Bring backup in case you sell lots! Don’t bring anything too old.

Greeting and Talking with Customers

I’ve learned two lines of thought on this:

1)Greet and Retreat:  When a customer walks into your booth, you should greet her with a short, friendly welcome. “Good morning!” “Hi, how are you?” “Good afternoon, ladies.” “Hello, Sir.”  Then, you should retreat. Hush. Be quiet. Turn you attention from the customer to some small, mundane task like straightening the art, finding your pen, getting a drink, etc. Until they ask questions.Then start selling.

2) Talk, talk, talk: If there’s someone in your booth, strike up a conversation. Ask where they’re from. How was the ride in? See where the conversation goes. Find common ground and use that to sell. Tell a story about your art.

I’ve tried both approaches. I like the greet and retreat approach. But once a customer starts talking back to me, I carry on the conversation with zeal. Rarely, I talk them into buying something. Often I talk my customers right out of the booth! I noticed that the more a customer talks, the less likely they are to buy.

I had a customer who walked into my booth and chatted me up before grabbing a painting and buying it. I had another customer who barely responded to my greeting, then wondered quietly around my booth and bought something. I didn’t have to sell to either of them!

Just be nice, friendly, and for the love of God, smile!

Where to Stand?

Stand in the back. I think it’s very important not to park yourself in front of your tent. You look like a guardian. Many people don’t want the attention, and don’t like the perceived pressure of walking past the artist to get to the art. So stand in the back. Get out of the way.

I liked to walk out of my booth to get some air and check the crowd. I discovered that when I walked back into the booth, I was behind the customer, like I was stalking prey. That makes people nervous, and may even startle them. Try not to do that.

Standing behind a counter works, if you have one. It looks professional and safe.

Try not to sit…

Don’t Sit? But I’m tired!

I’ve seen and heard many times that sitting is bad business. There are two reasons: Less importantly, sitting looks lazy, like maybe you don’t care, or you’re bored. More importantly is that when you get up, you’re taking an aggressive action, ‘lunging’ at the customer, putting pressure on the customer by giving him too much attention before he’s ready.

I think this one is bullshit. On my second day at Art on the Rocks, I was tired! So I sat in a chair in a corner behind a rack of oil paintings, and greeted people as they came in. If I did feel the need to stand up, I did so slowly, and was sure not to move in the direction of the customer.

Guess what? Nobody cared!  It didn’t have any negative affect on my customer’s behavior towards me. In fact, maybe the customer felt ‘safer’ when I was sitting, more in control.

As long as you’re attentive to the customer, I think it’s okay to sit.

Business Cards

I don’t carry business cards. When you give a customer a business card, you’ve given them permission to walk away without making a decision. If they want your work, they should get it now.

Alternatively, I take THEIR information. I add them to my email list. As soon as I can, I email them from my website and let them know that I remember them, and that they’re on my list. I include a link to my site.

It works well, except for the guy who told me he doesn’t have internet or email. What the hell good would a business card do? I didn’t know where to go with that.

Should you take Credit Cards?

Hell yes. No question. Get a square reader and a smartphone. Even a cheap smartphone will work. It doesn’t have to be iPhone.

In closing:

Smile! Be nice, energetic, and positive. Don’t let people talk to you so much that ignore customers, but do talk to people.

I’d love to hear your opinions!

Let us all know what works for you!

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13 Comments

  1. John, One thing that bothers me when attending art fairs is when the price is not clearly marked. I’m more inclined to buy if I know the cost without having to ask.

    1. I almost completely agree! Most of my stuff was marked so people knew my general price range. My real big one didn’t have the price clearly displayed. I wanted viewers to start a conversation with me about it, then fall in love with it. I don’t know if that was right or wrong!

  2. Hi John. I really appreciate this. I got cc processing ability through etsy so I am set there. Got my paintings. Tent…lalala…

    Anyway, I bought tags that I could string so the price is hanging out in the wind. I hate when I can’t see the price. I am all over that and I was gonna have a cooler filled with cold bottled water since it will be hot and maybe that will be a good way to start a conversation and keep people looking around a little longer?

    I noticed your banner is inside your tent. I made the base for a wood sign today that I am going to paint in acrylics for my shop and I was gonna hang it from the peak of the tent on the outside..or maybe sit it on an Eisel at the entrance of the tent…do you have a banner for outside also or is inside enough?

    1. Hi, Dawn.
      I did the same thing with my tags. You can tell who is interested when they grab the tag to see the price! Water would be great. I’ve thought about that myself. People will appreciate it. Of course, definitely keep some for yourself!

      I have my one banner inside. I think it’s good to have your identification ready and visible, but not necessarily outside. When you’re famous, and people are looking for Dawn, put one outside!

      1. I am so glad you said I can put my banner inside, it will make things easier for me! Excellent….and it means I only have to make this one…

        I am a tag puller and yes, generally if. Pull a tag, I buy….you got them customers pegged don’t ya.

      2. One more question….how old is too old? The oldest I have that I would take is 8 months, but most are less than 4 months to last night…

  3. I’m very torn on the business cards!!!! I have a clip board to take people’s information…would it be better to attach a business card to a sale only. I mean, if I have them and people ask, I can’t lie and say no, but I feel like if I don’t have them with me just in case, then the world might end…and sharknado 5 won’t be released. Then what? I need a happy medium. Do you have one?

  4. My wife thinks I should have business cards. I usually listen to her, but I feel pretty strongly about this one. I used to have some, but not one person ever bought my art through a business card. Chances are, 95% ended up in the garbage right away.

    If you have them, use them! Get their contact info at the same time so it’s an exchange.You must preserve the Sharknado franchise!

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