There’s a certain bohemian appeal to selling your art at an outdoor festival: traveling around the country, setting up your tent and tearing it down, meeting new people, and establishing friendships with other artists. But there’s nothing bohemian about how you need to present your work to the public.
“No artwork—even masterpieces by Monet or van Gogh—will sell itself,” says John Weidenhammer, acrylic artist and board member of the California-based LaQuinta Arts Foundation. “Of the three things that are important in representing yourself at an outdoor show, your artwork counts for only about 10 percent. Your ability to close the sale counts for 20-30 percent and the remaining 60-70 percent is your presentation.”
The tough part about presentation is that you have only a few seconds to get passersby to take a closer look at your booth before they move on. “So first, you need to make your booth attractive,” says Amy Detwiler, editor of Sunshine Artist, a magazine dedicated to shows and festivals. “Once a customer has entered your booth you can talk about your paintings, share your inspirations and make the sale.”
A canopy: When most artists begin their display design, they start here. You don’t have to have a canopy, but it may come in handy on rainy days or to protect your art from the sun. There are different styles and colors available, but for continuity most shows allow only white. Besides, other colors can change the appearance of your work.
Walls: Many artists use specially designed panels to hang their artwork. These panels are flexible in that they allow you to configure your space in a variety of ways. The typical shape is a “U,” with walls on three sides, allowing customers to see everything as they walk by and look in.
Artwork: “There are different opinions about how much work to have in a booth,” says Detwiler. “My research shows that an empty booth is the kiss of death. Customers would rather see a bit of variety.”
How many paintings you can display at once depends on how large your paintings are. Weidenhammer’s work is large, so he typically displays five or six, and no more than eight paintings. For someone who paints smaller, a good number would be 10 to 15 paintings.
If you have more paintings than you can fit in your display, you can take photographs of those paintings and place them in a portfolio or notebook to show customers what you have back in the van. Be sure to restock as needed.
A good arrangement: There are also different schools of thought on how to display your art on the walls of your booth. According to Weidenhammer, you should always hang your artwork at eye level so viewers don’t have to crane their necks or stoop down to see it.
Taking things one step further, Detwiler says it’s good to have “power points” and odd-numbered groupings. “The power point in a booth is the direct, straight-back-against-the-back-wall spot,” she says, and you should hang a stand-out painting here. “This may be a piece you don’t expect to sell, but that’s OK. Once you’ve got your customers in the booth, they’re going to take a look around.
Lighting: You may think you won’t need any artificial lighting at a show taking place outdoors during the day. This is usually true, but additional lights can make your booth more appealing. “People are going to be drawn to a bright booth,” says Detwiler.
Extra lighting makes a difference for Sausalito, California, artist Eric Johnson by cutting out the glare from sunlight. He uses clip-on lights with 75- to 150-watt halogen bulbs, depending on his space. If you decide to try adding lighting to your outdoor booth setup, you may want to use halogen rather than incandescent lighting because the latter has a yellow cast.
Booth size: You don’t always have to rely on a 10×10-foot space at festivals. Whenever she can, for example, Jan Dorer of Michigan buys two booth spaces to provide a more gallery-like setting. “People can see my art better because the opening to my booth is bigger and more comfortable,” she says. “I like corner booths, as well. They allow me to set up my display so people can come in at one angle and go through it.”
Tying things together: Cohesiveness in a festival booth is important because it helps show off the art in a more organized fashion. “Artists can make their art look good by framing all the paintings in the same way,” says Ronda Mills, an art festival promoter with West Coast Artists. “For example, you can pick a light wood to frame all your art, or use all white mounts with black frames. This ties the whole display together and keeps it from looking cluttered.”
Another method for adding color to your display is to carpet your booth. Dorer and Johnson roll out a carpet whenever they can. Whether it’s to add a “homey” feel or just spruce up an otherwise ugly setting like a parking garage, it gives off a clean, sharp look.
Keeping it neat: You’d probably be embarrassed if someone were to come to your home and you hadn’t dusted, vacuumed or straightened up beforehand. Your booth is no different. You don’t want a potential customer’s eye to be distracted by the wrong thing, be it a credit card sign or a piece of litter.
It may seem as though there’s a lot to keep in mind when setting up an art display. But just like making art, assembling a booth will become second nature the more you do it.
Noted watermedia artist Catherine Anderson is a contributing editor to Watercolor Magic magazine and the author of Basic Watercolor Answer Book (North Light Books). To see more of her work, visit www.catherineanderson.net.