When I first started working full time as an artist one of the things I was most looking forward to was selling at community festivals in the fall. There are so many things I love about the fall season and one of them is how towns and businesses start to hold events that gather everyone together before winter snows us in. As an artist I enjoy getting to share my work with others, especially in person, so I can engage in conversation with people. I love walking down busy streets and speaking with others about their crafts and I wanted to be one of those people badly.
But, as with most things, my dreams had to come to terms with a dose of reality before I could actually achieve them. The reality is festivals are hard ass work. They require a lot of upfront costs, weeks upon weeks of planning and don’t always reap the rewards we wish.
If that sounds sad, it’s not! Dreams and goals are wonderful things, but all the best ones require work. Whenever I have these moments of goals meeting reality I think of this quote by Marie Curie:
“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.”
Progressing my career as an artist has definitely not been swift or easy, but it’s been rewarding and preparing for festivals is one part of the progress I’ve worked for. In this post I’m going to discuss the steps I go through to prepare for fall festivals (although this could apply to any festival at anytime of the year honestly).
To start off, I’d like to say that I didn’t attend any festivals as a vendor for the first two years. I went to A LOT of them, spoke with the artists there and took notes, but the truth was I wouldn’t have done well without putting in the work to better myself as an artist. Before putting yourself out there to try and sell, you need to know exactly what it is you’re selling, and it can’t just be “art”. It needs to be your art. All business, even personal art business, need a sense of “branding”. You need to be confident in your style of art and get past the stage where you judge everything you create against other artists. I encourage you to read my post on embracing your own artistic style if you think you’re still in that phase. This is a lot of hard work on it’s own that requires a lot of self discipline, so don’t stress about getting into those festivals before working on this part of the journey.
Now, once you feel prepared to try and sell your art at a festival, here are the steps (with tips included) I recommend going through!
Look for festivals one or two seasons BEFORE when you want to sell and do the research.
I’m a fall/spring festival person because my summer schedule doesn’t allow for too many free weekends, but that means I spend the summer applying for festivals that I want to attend. When I’m looking for fall festivals, I search in the summer and when I’m looking for spring festivals, I look over the fall/winter. You want to apply as early as possible because all festivals have a vendor limit, and they may also not need a lot of artists. Unless it is an arts and crafts only festival (meaning only people selling crafts and art, and not handing out information about their insurance company, will have booths) they may say they only want three to four people selling art.
You also need to research what the festival is about to determine if it is a good fit for you. Just because an event holder says they’ll let you in, doesn’t mean you’ll find a good crowd for buying art. See what other types of vendors will be there and look for photos/social media pages regarding the past year’s festival. You’ll get an idea right away if this is an event you might be able to sell at.
Keep in mind that many art exclusive festivals are judged shows as well which means submitting your best artwork to them before being accepted to participate as a vendor at the festival. These are some of the much harder ones to get into so I suggest giving some of the other events a try first while you get your festival bearings.
Have a detailed budget set for yourself before applying.
Once you know which festivals you’d like to be in, set a budget for how much money you’re willing to spend. Almost all festivals will have a registration fee and those will add up quickly if you’re trying to get into lots of show. This is just one of the many upfront costs you’ll be handling before the actual show, so it isn’t a bad idea to set up an overall “show budget”. There will be a section later on detailing what the common supplies are for a festival show.
Decide what pieces you want to sell and if you need to make more art. Then pick out which ones will be made into prints.
Once you’ve been accepted as a vendor it is important to decide early on which of your pieces you want to sell. This is where your earlier research will come in handy again. For example, if you’re selling at a festival that is held for say, a dog rescue, then odds are many of the people attending love dogs and will have dogs with them. If you have any art then depicting dogs it is a very good idea to bring those pieces with you and if you don’t, I’d consider creating a few “show specific” creations to try and sell. It is always important to anticipate the type of audience attending an event. This will increase your odds of selling.
After selecting what art you’re going to bring with you to sell, I recommend getting prints made of some pieces (or all if you can afford it) because remember when I talked about goals meeting reality? Prints are a reality for artists and it can be an expensive one.
But the truth is, unless you’re under valuing your art and selling it for a very low price, many people can’t afford original pieces of art. By only selling originals, you eliminate a good portion of potential customers who might love your work, but didn’t budget dropping $100+ at the festival on one item. Prints might be costly upfront, but they’re a better avenue for making money. Keep in mind prints don’t lose value. If you don’t sell them at one festival, bring them to the next or offer them in an online store.
(A detailed post on the pros/cons and world of prints is coming from me soon!)
Create as wide a price range as possible.
Prints will help with this, but if your print budget is low there are other ways to create a price range.
One thing I like to do is put originals in nice frames which will allow you to charge a little (or a lot depending on the frame) more for your piece. If you’re a watercolor artist like me, finding old frames and refurbishing them is a great way to present your paintings. It not only makes them look more professional, but gives customers a way to envision the piece in their own home.
The second thing I normally do is paint on scrap paper. When I’m cutting paper down to size, I save all the “odds and ends” to create small unique pieces (geared toward the festival I’m attending next normally) which I can sell for $3 to $5. The leaf paintings throughout this post are ones I’ve created for a festival I’m attending in October. This is a great idea for people who have a limited budget for prints. They also make great conversation pieces for customers, because each one will be unique.
Supplies, supplies, supplies.
Since we’re talking about the upfront cost of prints, it’s time a good time to slide into the last part of our conversation: the supplies you’ll need which is another upfront cost. Some of this does get easier over time because they are one time purchases. You won’t always need to buy an EZ Up tent or tables and chairs. Once you’ve purchased them (or borrowed from family which is a great option) it’ll be many years (hopefully) before you need to replace them.
The first step though, is deciding what you want your booth to look like. Some artists hang their art up and don’t have any tables, others use only tables. Plus, there is many ways to hang art up in the tent. This is the number one reason why I recommend visiting festivals before joining one yourself, so you can see the million set up options. You can also always Google art booth setups, but going in person allows you to pick the brain of the person who set it up.
Once you know what you want your booth to look like you need to get the necessary supplies. This is the time to utilize that budget again and start calling family and friends. I’ve used tons of things supplied by family to help cut down the upfront costs and keep my booth looking fresh (really wish I had a good picture of it now). Here is a breakdown of the items I bring to every festival:
- a 10 x 10 foot EZ Up Tent (10 x 10 is what almost all festivals will have available for vendor spaces, but always check first)
- one six foot table and table cloth
- wooden crates to hold prints
- two chairs to sit in
- detailed inventory list of all the items I’ve brought (I mark these off as they’re purchased)
- iPad (plus charger) and PayPal card reader to swipe cards
- $115 broken down into 2 $20 bills, 4 $10 bills, 5 $5 bills, and 10 $1 bills for change.
- apron to carry money
- boards to hang framed paintings on
- hooks for hanging frames
- bags for people to carry purchased prints or art in
- paper and tape to wrap any framed pieces that are purchased
- paper receipt book for those who pay in cash (you can buy these at any office supply store)
- watercolor care sheets for people who purchases original pieces
- decorations for tent
- bottled water (your throat will die after talking to so many people)
- LOTS AND LOTS OF BUSINESS CARDS
- and of course my framed pieces and the prints
And that, is a insight into preparing to sell at a festival! There are lots of things I didn’t touch base on enough (such as wrapping prints and getting a card reader) so if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments section below! If you’re a seasoned festival professional with extra tips or advice to provide, share those as well!