67: First Time Selling Art at a Festival
Updated: Jun 8
Hi! Yesterday was First Friday, which is when local artists and artisans sell at little booths downtown. I've never done this before and figure this post might be helpful to others in explaining how the process went for me.
First I went to the event website. They had a form for applying for a booth space but this form was intended for performers, which I am not. I searched event key words in local Facebook groups until I found someone promoting the First Friday event to artists, about a year ago. Their post had a link to a separate organization specifically for local artists who wish to sell at First Friday and similar events. Their site had a form. I filled it out and submitted it by their stated deadline. Within the week I was approved to have a booth space in the festival. I confirmed I was still interested and the organizer sent me a follow-up email requesting the booth fee ($40). They warned that in the event of a cancellation due to weather or unforeseen events, that the fee was nonrefundable since it went towards those who organized the event. Their time & effort deserved compensation. I found this agreeable and paid the fee online.
The booth space did not come with a table or a tent. I already had a foldable plastic table that would fit within the allotted 10x10ft space, but I did buy two folding chairs (so my husband could hang out with me). The organizer encouraged painting/creating live, so I also intended to bring a smaller folding table for me to paint on, and an easel, to display some larger work. Being a casual art festival, I only planned to bring a few 16x20 oil paintings. While those are the scale and medium I'm most accustomed to, I sell those for $250-$400, and that's not the ideal price point for a casual art festival. I bought 4 hooks to hang them from the front of my folding table the day of. I intended to mostly sell watercolors instead. My watercolors are framed 8x10 inchers (that's the cheapest and easiest size to frame. I recommend working in it) and hand-matted 5.75x7.75 inchers (Very difficult to find frames for. I would never buy a sketchbook with that size paper, again.). Each batch went into a box. I designed and ordered business cards from Vistaprint about three weeks in advance so there would be time to fix them if there were printing problems. The cards came in a convenient box of the appropriate size. I printed the QR code for my Venmo, Paypal, and Cashapp, to make payments easier. I also got cash back so I could give change if folks paid cash.
The week of the event, I received an email with a map of the festival, broken down into booth spaces, and a chart dictating which space was mine. I also received a schedule of the event stating when the street would be closed, when and where to pick up my booth permit. I arrived slightly after street closing and my husband parked us across the street from the barrier. We walked to the store with the permits, and picked mine up. This part was confusing. There were permits in an envelope out front, by the front door of the store, and not enough space beside them to really pick through the lot without slightly blocking the door. After a moment of paging through them, searching for the number of my space since they didn't feature names, I stepped inside to make sure I was looking at the correct permits. I was not. the ones for artists and artisans were inside, being distributed by an organizer. Permit in hand, we carried the booth equipment from the car, to the allotted space, over several trips. My husband did most of the carrying while I set up.
I did not request electricity nor lighting in advance. I also did not bring a tent, because if it rained, there would be no buyers anyway and that'd be that. My setup consisted of the big folding table, two boxes atop it, wherein the watercolors sat, an easel beside the table, four hooks on the front of the table, where oil paintings hung, our two folding chairs behind the table, and my little folding table to watercolor comfortably on. Between the boxes of watercolors was a specially framed recent watercolor, a wood burning, and four old tattoo flash designs, framed. There was also the small box of business cards and the QR codes for payment in a frame. I kept the permit in the corner. I also had a light (which later became two lights after my husband ran home for a second one) and a large battery to keep them, and my phone, charged.
I was off to a slow start. The reason I sold in October was because a lot of my work are Inktober pieces, meaning Halloween themed. The event started at 5ish and the (generally older, straight laced) passersby coming through weren't expressing much interest in my spooky work. After this picture was taken, I adjusted the small watercolors so they were standing against the back of the box, for visibility, and I took some watercolors out of the other box and placed them in front of it. That minor change correlated with more folks stopping by my table.
I did genuinely try to watercolor and interact with passersby but I cant multitask so watercoloring live died early on. My husband stuck around for company a bit in the beginning. He was worried his presence was discouraging sales though so he took off after an hour. I don't think his presence hurt sales, so much as edgier folks (who my work tends to appeal to) started coming out a little later in the evening. Still, from then on out, he only swung around between customers and mostly wandered the festival. Despite being dead the first hour. business picked up for me after 6ish and over the course of the night, I sold 14 pieces. If my math is right, I made $310 after spending only $40 for the booth rental. Not sure what I paid for the chairs and hooks but both will be used in the future so I'll call that an investment.
One hiccup was my battery died around 9pm, and the event ended at 10pm. Luckily, a lovely lady a table away saw my mishap and lent me two lanterns for the rest of the night. One of my original lights was a simple desk lamp using an old-school power-hungry lightbulb, and the other original was one of the new fangled ring lights which is more energy efficient. The plan is to purchase a second ring light and use the two of those next time, hopefully not draining the battery so quickly. Next time should be in December as, unfortunately I have other stuff going on next First Friday.
Another problem was the spotty 4G/5G and struggling wifi. The event offered free wifi without a password but it couldn't handle how many folks were there. Some buyers were fighting with their phones to load for 5+ minutes. One young person left because I don't take cards. Afterwards, I discussed getting a Square Reader for next time, with my husband, but he said it would have the same issues loading as the other digital payment methods. I guess those Square Readers rely on wifi too, and as the lack thereof only lost me one customer, I probably won't bother to get it. I don't know yet. I also was slow to give back change because I had to dig the correct wallet out of an overpacked bag of watercolor supplies I wont be bringing next time.
Passersby were mostly friendly. One lady remarked at my oil paintings that she "doesn't get it" and another poked fun of how I say "Howdy," (which is fair. I'm from New York, Florida, and Maine, so I don't say anything right) but everyone else was super nice. And I honestly got along well with the greeting-mocker once I established that I don't go to the local college (that she doesn't much like). I'm listing these interactions, not to call anybody out, but to explain that yes, putting art out in public is sometimes going to result in overhearing criticism. That's something you have to go into art events being aware of. I do have awful social anxiety, but thanks to frequent crit sessions in college, I'm relatively open to receiving negative feedback about my art and treating that as a learning experience as opposed to an insult. Not much I can do about how I speak other than work on listening to how other pronounce things.
As for talking to customers, I mostly supplied background for what inspired which piece. Some were old tattoo flash, some were painted while backpacking through Europe, and a bunch were Inktober word prompts. I mentioned that I generally sell my oil paintings out of a gallery in Austin. I might make bookmarks next time. My $10 little painting sold much better than my $40 paintings, and I could sell bookmarks for even cheaper. There were inquiries about how often I do wood burning so I plan to get back into that before December.
Not bad for my first time running an art booth. I hope any of this was informative! Thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!
06/08/2013 Updates: I applied again in November of 2022 but never heard back. I assumed I must have made a mistake in my application, but then later in the month, learned that others hadn't received emails either. I participated in May of 2023 and that went well. It would be wise for me to invest in shade, beyond a floppy hat, and a water bowl for passersby dogs going forward. I applied to participate in June, didn't hear back, sent a follow-up email, which I didn't hear back from either. There is a new person running Art Loop 979 now and I'm aware they were due to give birth in late May/early June so either life events, or perhaps email issues, are likely the cause. I've just now applied to participate in July. We'll see how it goes.