What I learned at my first Art Show

Photo By and Courtesy of Bob Carney Photography @ deepcreekphotos.com
Photo By and Courtesy of Bob Carney Photography @ deepcreekphotos.com Copyright 2013

Earlier this month I was an exhibitor at my first arts festival, actually it was an art and wine festival. The photo above was taken by and given to me by my friend and very good photographer Bob Carney. Bob is based in Garrett County and for the past several years has photographed exhibitors and festival goers  who pose with his giant wine glass.

First, I want to thank everyone who follows and reads this blog who offered so much encouragement and support in the days leading up to my big day ( that of course would include my wonderful wife) You made a big difference. I truly appreciate everyone’s kind words and support.

On those somewhat stressful days and nights leading up to the Deep Creek Art and Wine Festival when I was wondering if I could get everything done in time, reading your comments helped push me on. Putting one’s work out there for everyone to see can be a nerve racking experience. You try to be positive and imagine how you will feel when all of your pieces on sale have been sold. Then you also have the occasional nightmare where someone walks up to your booth, looks at a few of your pictures and says “your photos really stink”

So, the next question you might have is how did it go? (please see more photos and text below)

Photo 16
The above photo, that my blog readers gave pretty good marks, was one of the most talked about photos on display in my art festival booth.

It was a lot of fun. I met so many wonderful people who stopped by my booth. I tend to be somewhat of an analytical type when it comes to these types of things, so let me share with you what I learned, what went well, and what could have done better.

First, (and this is not a bad thing) organizing and creating an artist’s booth takes a lot of work. I had read several blog posts about art festivals which really helped me prepare but there is nothing like actually doing it.


So, if you want to get involved in a art show or festival, double the lead time you think you are going to need. Inevitably things like the need for rolls of gaffer tape or twine could come up at the last minute and if you are not as fortunate as I was to have a gigantic Lowe’s a few miles away, you could be in a jam. You don’t want to wait to the last day to get a poster  printed  and then find out out the poster printing machine at your favorite photo lab it broken.

One blog post I read advised that the startup cost of typical artist booth is around $1000. I would second that, give or take a hundred dollars.
I borrowed 10×10 tent from my in-laws, 3 6 foot tall metal panels used to hang photos on, two folding tables, a chair (which I rarely sat in) and of course the art work. (I did not get the string and tape until the night before.

My thinking going in is that I wanted to have a good variety of photos but I did not want to have bins of prints that I often see at so many shows. Call it the old photo editor in me but I am a strong proponent of the concept that you are judged by your weakest picture.

Additionally, If you have 40-50 photos you are proud of it makes more sense to sell the heck out of them than to include an additional 100 images that really are not that good.

More important than an extensive variety is the idea of offering different price points on your work.

Copyright Rob Paine/Deep Creek Images

I first learned about the importance of introducing different price points into your work when I participated in the Artist Bootcamp led by Becky Sciullo.

Becky is a very talented and  successful  marketing specialist who runs seminars to teach creative types like me how to market and run their business. Any artist who has the opportunity to take this class should. For those who may live in the Western PA or Morgantown, West Virginia area, Becky will be holding one of her bootcamps  October 12 in Pittsburgh and Nov. 2 in Morgantown, W.Va.

Becky teaches that when selling art you have to offer products  at different price entry levels so everyone can get involved.  So lets say you have your best flower photo in canvas at $200. Not everyone is going to be able to afford that, but if you also have the same photo matted on a 16×20, or even included in a note card package for $5, you will end up attracting a lot more customers and perhaps if they like the work they buy later they could come back for the bigger piece.

I agree with this approach and it definitely helped my sales. However, one thing I did not do was have the same photos available at all price points.  The man walking on the dock is a perfect example. At least 4 people asked if they could buy that in notecard form and  I only had two to start with so I had to turn them away on that request. My point is you need to be consistent and offer all your photos at different price points, do not be haphazard.

I also want to give a very special shout out to the  two artists who had their booths near mine- Beth Anderson and Jessica Barnabei.  Beth and Jessica were a great help to me and gave me some great advise and support.

Beth is a very talented eco-artist, who as she says is “on a mission to live a simple life. I make pictures out of shipping pallets and other roadside finds. In other words, I make something outta nothing, ” she writes on her Web site.

Jessica creates really cool custom bracelets and charms made from recycled foil capsules from bottles of wine. Jessica’s mom was also very helpful.  I felt very fortunate to have both these friendly folks as my neighbors for my first art show. If you click on Beth and Jessica’s  names above you will be lead to their Web sites.

The most important thing you need  to do when selling your work, if it is at an art festival booth or in a gallery is  talk to people and be enthusiastic about your art. Two things I have been told I have no problem doing.  I enjoy it!

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Sometimes I have been to outdoor art shows where I see an artist sitting in a beach chair reading the sunday paper or checking the sports page rarely greeting anyone who visits the booth.  Artists need to be engaging. If  an artist is not enthusiastic enough about his/her work to want to talk to potential clients about what they create,  then why should the potential buyer be excited. Anyone who has staffed a company or volunteer group booth at a convention or fair will know exactly what I am talking about.

I also sought out photographers I respect who have festival experience for advice. The most helpful of those was Garrett County nature photographer Caroline Blizzard of Hawks Flight Studio.
Thank you Caroline.

In and outs of art festivals is a big topic to be covered in a tiny post but I have tried to cover some of the basics.

The day after the art festival I ran into a neighbor who asked me about my art and wine experience.  After we exchanged pleasantries, my neighbor, who before retiring ran a successful business, cut to the chase and asked “Would you do it again?”

” I will have to think about that,” I told her. And that thought process continues.

The best thing about being in festivals from a business standpoint is they can widen your exposure.  I did not clear a profit  on my first day, though I sold several different pieces at different prices and  met some fabulous people  and really enjoyed talking with a lot of interesting people and so in that sense it was a big success. I also met a couple of nice people who liked my work and want me to shoot their portraits and in one case photograph their wedding. Somethings I am really looking forward to.

I received some terrific feedback and everyone who came to my booth, whether they bought something or not, spent a  good deal of time looking at my art.

There were roughly 3 dozen artist booths at the festival. I was thrilled that  100-200 people stopped by my booth and even more honored that some of those folks purchased a canvas print, or mounted 11×14, photo note card or even a photo magnet.

One really cool thing I used for the first time at the show was a Square connected to my iPhone. Square when hooked up to a iPhone can quickly process client credit card payments. It is an amazing apparatus.

So, if you are thinking about taking the plunge and selling your work in a public place, as the Nike ad says, “just do it.” Expect your first time out to be a learning experience, relax and have fun. Start prepping early and understand even after you have considered all the contingencies, you may miss something or go without, but that is why its called experience.

All in all, I had a pretty good day. Oh, and nobody told me my work stinks.

PS- If you have any questions on what I did or did not cover, please leave a comment below. If you have suggestions or tips on running a successful art show booth, please feel free to share your ideas with everybody.

14 responses to “What I learned at my first Art Show”

  1. You should your flower work is among the best I have seen. I bet your work would sell like hot cakes at a home and garden or flower show in addition to more general art festivals. Everyone loves flowers
    You could do some cool things with shirts, handbags and note cards for starters.


  2. Well done Rob, those shows are a real challenge! I don’t do them any more as I just don’t have the space to store all the prints/canvases and display boards. It’s lovely being able to chat to people face to face about your work. I often found that profit would actually come later on from commissions that you take on the day, like the wedding you’re going to shoot. Love that GIANT wine glass you’ve got there 😉


  3. Congratulations on your show! I love the dock photo and the fox. Our town has a couple of huge art festivals every year and I used to attend Festival of the Masters at Disney when we lived down that way. Being polite to browsers is huge. Sometimes there is art I really admire and might even buy but if the artist/photographer is rude or ignores me, I don’t buy it. I used to let them know I enjoyed their work, but so many seemed to have the “buy it or get out” attitude I stopped doing that. Now I stand at a distance, scan, and move on. The one exception is a small festival of sorts that a local church puts on where an old motel is used as artists studios. They have food trucks, music, a relaxed atmosphere, and almost everyone is friendly.

    You might consider doing a calendar as well. I’m sure you’d have no trouble hitting all the seasons. Calendars are affordable, beautiful, and practical as well. Hits all bases.


    • HI Cynthia, Thanks for sharing that. The festival I was at was rather laid back too. I have run into booths at other festivals where the people running it fit the bill your described and I just did not understand it. I think selling anything is all about forming relationships and finding out what people would like to put on their wall. I truly enjoy talking to people (I was a photojournalist for 20 something years). The calendar is a great idea! Thank you!


  4. Lots of good points, thank you, but perhaps having a friend or family member to mind your booth while you take a toilet break or snack, is also a must have on an all-day event.

    I used to have stalls at craft markets about 25 years ago (before I took up photography 3 years ago) and having items that had a good range in price was one of my good selling points. I had tiny items that children could buy with their pocket money (as well as much higher priced items for adults to buy as gifts or for themselves).


Please feel free to leave a reply. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughtful feedback, Rob

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