My first “art fair” season wrapped up with the close of Philomath Open Studios a couple of weeks ago. You might think I would have a couple of months of downtime, but no, it’s actually time to start applying for art fairs for next year. It is a break from preparing work, but it’s not a break from the business of it.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking stock of this year of events and summarizing what I’ve learned. If you are just getting in to this world, you might be interested too…
I always thought if I could get more of my work together in front of people, if they could really see a range of what I create, I could connect to an audience and my sales would be better. That proved to be true. A 10×10 booth is a fantastic way to show off enough work to catch the eyes of the people who might love it. For the events where I didn’t have a booth and didn’t have as much space to show, my sales weren’t as good. There are definitely other factors playing into it than space, but I believe having a cohesive space really helps.
I agonized at the beginning about whether or not to spend the money on the booth I really wanted, because it was a big investment and a risk. I am so very glad I did! The tent and display worked beautifully, looked professional and met my needs. I can set it up and take it down by myself, one of my main criteria, yet it’s sturdy and weatherproof enough I don’t have to worry about the safety of my work.
Now that I’ve made this investment, in future years I can play around with my display knowing I’ve got a solid framework to design around. I also know that the booth, this space that is all mine, is one of my best allies in selling my work. It’s my personal gallery. I need to figure out the best use of the space for presenting my work.
Managing that much work — at least 24 large framed pieces, at least 100 matted prints and hundreds of greeting cards for every show — gave me the opportunity to learn a few things about managing inventory.
First, I learned that I need to ruthlessly standardize on sizes. I had mostly square pieces but threw in a few rectangular ones too. Since I have at least three sizes of each shape (framed, large matted and small matted), it’s twice the work to find solutions for storage, transport, packaging and display. It would so much easier to standardize on one format and display them well. Next year, I will focus on square only, which is my primary format, and leave the rectangles at home.
Second, keeping an inventory is vital. My system used simple tables in an excel spreadsheet which listed my stock for each image in each size. I wasn’t able to track exactly which images/sizes sold as I went along, things got too hectic in the booth, so I would do a quick inventory of remaining work at the end of a show. From there I could analyze how much, what format, and which images sold for each show and for the year.
Being able to look at which images sold the best was huge. Now I know my best sellers, which I want to always have in stock, plus extras in my back stock. There are some images which will sell out in every format in every show. I also know which images will not sell in any format. It’s eye opening to get a view of my work this way. Some of my favorite images didn’t sell at all! But no matter how much I love them, there’s no point in dragging the artwork around with me in the future, just for my own edification. I will ruthlessly prune the list of works I showed this year, to make room for new pieces. Thankfully, my tracking tells me which to cut and it’s not a gut decision.
You might ask, has knowing what sells influenced what I create? No, not yet. I create what I create, and then I see what happens with it. I’m not so sophisticated to be able to create a specific type of work.
My art business is a connected system, between the fairs, classes and writing, and everything works together to form a cohesive whole. By doing art fairs, I was able to fill more spaces in my workshops. By doing workshops, I get people interested in my art and following my writing. Once I have my book published, I can see that’s going to feed into the fairs and workshops and vice versa.
I didn’t really expect the synergy between all of these different aspects of my business, but now that I’m in it, it makes sense. All of these things are connected to my art. And when other people connect in to one aspect, they are exposed to the rest. It’s an interconnected system.
So the best thing this year for promoting workshops and increasing attendance? Yeah, art fairs. Who knew.
There is one other aspect about connection to comment on here… The selling of art is really about connection. I don’t mean “connections,” as in who you know, although that can play into it too. I mean human connection, one person to another. If people connect with me about my art, we start to form a relationship and they get to know me a little, and that makes the art they already like more meaningful. I want to do things which increase this connection.
So I’ve learned how connection matters, in more ways than one.
I’m taking what I learned and looking at what I want to do next year. Really thinking about how I want to proceed, how I want to change things up, and what I want to keep. It’s a grand experiment, which suits me just fine. I like the idea of trying new things, learning and improving every year.
It was a successful year for me. Not just in the sales, but in the knowledge I’ve gained. I tried something new and learned from it.
It’s time to get those applications for next year in. I hope to see you at an art fair next summer.