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My First Festival Booth Experience

On July 8th, I participated in the Portland International Muslim Cultural Festival as a vendor, selling my paintings and jewelry. It was a great day, very well organized, and unlike most festivals, the organization that put this festival together (the Muslim Educational Trust) offered not just the 10′ x 10′ space for the $100 application fee, but they also put together the booth canopy AND gave us one 8′ table plus 2 chairs! It was really an amazing deal, and the turnout to the park was great. I met so many interesting people, including the man who served as president of my alma mater, The American University in Cairo, while I was studying there. Overall, I can’t wait for their next event, as I will definitely plan to go.

I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned while preparing for the event, as well as at the event itself. I’m generally a rather organized person, which I’m told is uncommon for an artist (but i refuse to believe that!) so I love lists. Crossing something off a list just comes with its own special feeling of accomplishment, and more importantly: it helps me make sure I’m not forgetting anything important before the festival. Here are some of the things that were on my list that I found most useful, in case you too need some guidance on things to do before your first fair:

  • Design and print business cards. I printed only 100 which cost around $30 from Office Max (would have been cheaper to buy them on vistaprint if I’d printed them way in advance)
  • Design and print a business banner. I made mine a 16×30 canvas with grommets, and it was perfect. Larger would have been nice but I didn’t want to invest too much money upfront. That costs around $24 at OfficeMax, including grommets
  • (potentially) Register your business or trade name/”DBA” (doing business as) if you already have a business. That cost around $5 to add the trade name. Registering an LLC from scratch, however, cost me around $240 but i’d already done that part in February.
  • Add all artwork to your website because once it’s sold, it’s gone.
  • Make sure you have high resolution images of each art piece so you can make prints later if you want to
  • Bring a notebook for people to sign up to your newsletter (if you don’t have one, get one!)
  • Get Square (or any other payment processing card reader) to accept credit cards. Who carries cash anymore?
  • Print price cards for each piece, and figure out how to attach them to the paintings without damaging them.
  • Figure out how to display the art (For paintings – gridwall panels? Small book stands? Crates to make different levels? laying flat? Peg board? For Jewelry – lay flat? Velvet stands? Boxes?)
  • Buy packing material and bags to give art or jewelry in.
  • Create all your social accounts (facebook page, twitter, instagram, youtube… etc.)
  • Try all intended displays at home before the festival.
  • If it’s outdoors and the fair is lax enough to not require a tent, get ohne anyway. They vary in prioce from an $80 walmart one, to $2-300 for a really good one with walls. The latter is the type they usually require at big art fairs.

I also learned a few things this time, and I hope to keep those in mind for next time.

  • It’s hard to sell art at a fair that isn’t specifically for art. Most people do not buy a $300 painting on a whim. So choose your audience and what kind of fair to participate in.
  • Being authentic when someone is interested in your art or approaches you about doing another art festival is really important. That’s how I found a buyer for my “It’s Raining Pride” painting. I spoke about what the painting meant to me, when I made it, and why, and that resonated with my customer.
  • People love cheaper things at a fair, so either price it affordably, or make smaller art works that people can still enjoy without dropping big bucks on your items. If your cheapest item is $100, that’s probably not in the impulse buy category, so people would have to be actively looking for art (such as at an art fair) to want to buy your stuff.
  • Make sure you add signs for the cheaper stuff so people who are looking for a deal know where to look. I sold a lot of $5 necklaces to people who would otherwise not have spent any money on my booth.
  • That I way under-price my jewelry, and that sometimes this is not a good thing. Some people will walk away when they see that low price because they suspect you’re up to no good, when in fact you’re just not entirely sure how to price things, so you tried to make it affordable. So, decide on pricing, but make sure you keep backup pricing cards to keep it flexible enough so you can change the price if you find that the response is ‘it’s too expensive’ or ‘wow, only $19?! this can’t be real’
  • The wind is a factor you should really take into account. If i didn’t have a pegboard that my sister rented for me as a gift, It would have been very difficult to be successful with my paintings in this fair. Prepare to bring plenty of tape, and maybe a few sand weights if you can get those in advance.
  • That it’s hard to remember everything. So don’t beat yourself up about mistakes. I forgot to bring out the notebook and encourage people to sign up to my mailing list, for example, but it’s okay. There’s always next time!
  • For the packing material, make sure it is easy to deal with when you’ve finished a sale, so you don’t make the person wait forever while you wrestle with your bubble wrap pieces and tape. I ended up giving a buyer one of my hand made felt painting protectors because it was too difficult to put bubble wrap and protective paper on the canvas with how windy the day was. Now I think I should make more of those felt protectors and just take those with me instead of bothering with bubble wrap!

All in all, it was a great experience. I learned so much, and I can’t wait to use the money I made to invest in making more art and jewelry for my next festival!