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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

119: Lessons Learned Running An Art Booth

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Howdy! I started selling art at local First Friday events about a year ago. More recently I've also tabled at First Saturday events and I'm debating joining a Tuesday event. That's more of a farmer's market than one meant for selling art, so might not be the best fit, but may as well try. The more the merrier, right?

Starting out, I didn't want to spend a ton of money on tabling events because I didn't know if my work would sell. To organize differently priced art pieces, I used one decorated box originally purchased for that purpose, a wooden box meant to hold wine bottles, and plastic wall hooks. Initially, I priced solely by scale and medium, to keep things simple. There wasn't so much to sell that my table felt cluttered, and the differently priced works were spaced enough apart for the designation to be obvious. For pricing signage, I used post-its. I attached the wall hooks to the front of my table and hung the oil paintings from them. Immediately several paintings fell off and I haven't attempted hanging them from the table since. One oil painting was displayed on the easel and thus far, that's been working well. The wind hasn't blown that over yet. First Friday Art Loops take place in the evening, and while I brought lamps and a battery for that first one, they died. Since then, I've switched to the more energy efficient LED lamps.

When I began, it was October, so the weather was mild and dry. I got away with not having a tent. For ages, I went without. If it rained, I simply contacted the folks hosting First Friday to let them know I wouldn't be participating. May was very hot, however, and I bought a 10ft-10ft tent for June. This is also around the time I ran to the dollar store for a bunch of small chalkboards to use as price signs. This entire time, I've offered Paypal, Venmo, and Cashapp, as well as physical cash, for payment options. Only twice have I lost a sale for not offering a credit card option. The 4G/5G struggles at First Friday and I imagine that would be a more awkward delay with me connecting the swiper to a stranger's credit card than them waiting for their own screen to load. The way I handle pricing has shifted as I've built up my stock. Nowadays I take hours and effort slightly more into account than medium and scale. There is a greater variety of medium and scale than there was a year ago and I only have so much table to work with. I don't want so many prices as to be confusing.

Regarding the tent, I've tried and failed to set it up myself enough times where now I'll wait until my husband can help, both for putting it up and taking it down. It's not impossible to do alone but it's very awkward, and I hate making a spectacle of myself. Plus, it's slightly wider than those of my peers, and if a tent limb is sticking out, which they do while in the process of taking the whole thing down, they run the risk of wacking somebody or something—a risk that is mitigated when, thanks to my husband's assistance, they're barely in the air for a moment, and hardly waving about.

By my second First Friday, I started bringing bags, specifically the re-usable H-E-B bags because I'd accumulated a ton, having lived in Austin for a few years, where re-usable bags were mandatory. Only recently have I purchased bulk bags that don't carry the logo of a corporation, and only because I finally ran out of the H-E-B bags.

I switched from metal folding chairs to nylon folding chairs because they're more comfortable. They also have pockets which is nice. The only downside is they're shorter. I've also purchased more organizational boxes for the table.

Getting everything set up is an ordeal every First Friday because the roads are closed by the time my husband's workday has concluded, and he can tow me and all my supplies to the event. It takes us, mostly him, many trips to get everything from the car to the designated art booth area. The actual set up has gotten easier, and faster, with practice. Fitting everything into our tiny Corolla means being very organized before leaving the house. It also means limiting what supplies we can add. I'm not getting walls for my tent, to feature oil paintings on, partially because oil paintings are a bit out of budget for the average art fair buyer but also because I can't fit those walls in the car. I did finally insist on purchasing a cart to more easily transport supplies from the car to the art booth, literally a year from my first art fair. Learning is learning even if it isn't quick!

I'm still getting a feeling for how much small talk is too much and what fun facts, about the art, should be shared. Personally, I'm a quiet shopper. I have no desire to be approached by a shopkeeper, but other people aren't me. As an incredibly awkward person whose real life social interactions are limited to regular contact with my husband, the occasional conversations with dog park regulars, and small talk with the grocery store clerks—I'm doing my best.

Going forward, I plan to get either another LED lamp for the table or LED lights that I can arrange around the tent. It would be nice to have my logo big and bold on the table, but it's not an imminent goal, and in the same line, maybe someday I'll get a card scanner. As I'm trying out different events for selling art, I am paying attention to how much profit I make versus how much each event costs. Tabling art festivals is not free. Once the cost outweighs how much I'm making, it's time to leave that event behind. Once can be a fluke. But twice in a row? Going to have to give that a pass. And it's a shame, not to take part in an event for artists, but this is a business and unnecessary expenses must be cut.

Some artists have explained they treats festivals more like a solo show, because their tent is a little gallery space where they can showcase their art to an audience. And if I had the means to showcase many of my oil paintings, I might share that view. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned space limitations, I'm taking a more profit-based approach to prioritizing events.

Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

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