Keys to successful art shows: Have fun

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Art fairs and art shows can be great or totally boring. What makes the difference? You do.

Many artists don’t like to hear that, but it’s true.

When I was a Guest at Dragon*Con 2007, I visited the”Walk of Fame” to see a few friends and buy some autographed photos.

One of the busiest booths in the room belonged to James and Oliver Phelps, who portray the Weasley twins in the Harry Potter movies. In fact, fans were waiting in a line that went fromtheir booth to the door on the opposite side of the hall.

That line was so huge, it was so difficult to walk across the room to get to other booths. Several other celebrities weren’t happy… and weren’t selling many photos. They saw themselves as competing with the Phelps brothers.

What not to do

I approached one celebrity in the room, whose photo was on my “must buy” list.

I said hello. He looked at me somewhat sourly, and didn’t say anything. Well, that could be part of his marketing, since his onscreen character is scathingly sarcastic at times.

I asked for an autographed photo and paid for it. “Are you having fun?” I asked.

“As much fun as you can have sitting in a chair all day,” he replied with some annoyance.

“But isn’t this great, with so many fans and such great costumes to look at?”

“I suppose so,” he sighed.

I wished him a good day and walked off.

Figuring that I should give him a second chance, I returned to his booth the next day. His demeanor hadn’t changed, and no one was buying his photos.

What to do, instead

Throughout the convention, I kept hearing about Marc Singer. People raved & raved about him, talked about what a great person he is, how they’d have to see what he’s doing in films and on TV, and so on.

Why? It’s simple: He greeted people with a smile. Even though his booth was in a hard-to-find corner, he stepped out from behind the table, shook hands with people and cheerfully posed for photos. He clearly cares about the fans. (He’s an excellent artist as well.)

Even on the train to the airport, I was still overhearing conversations about how great Marc Singer is. With over a hundred big-name movie celebs in attendance, that says a lot.

How this applies to you

When I have a space at an art show or an arts & crafts fair, I sell the most–and win the most awards at the show–when I set up an easel or a work area… and work.

I position myself so that visitors can see what I’m working on, but they also see me in profile as I work. (In other words, I don’t turn my back to them.)

I chat with people as they walk by. I shake hands. I hand them a flyer or some freebie that has my website info on it, and a list of galleries and shops that feature my work. If I’m teaching, I mention my next gig. (Art shows are about PR as much as sales.) And, I continue to work.

People like to be able to say, “I bought her art, and I saw her working on something new. It was so interesting to see…”

You don’t have to create art at the show or fair. However, do something (smile, hand out something free…) that makes it easy for guests to interact with you.

In other words…

People buy your art, not just because it’s “pretty” or “interesting,” but because of the energy that’s in it. As an artist, you need to convey that energy personally, as well. That’s what confirms the importance of owning your art and having it in their home or workplace.

Put great, attractive energy into your art, and into how you present yourself.

The quality of your energy–and how accessible it is to others–is key. Decide to have a great time, no matter what, when you’re at an art fair or show. That’s what Marc Singer did.

No matter how frantic you are to sell, don’t get “needy” about it. (Needy people don’t get dates and don’t remain in relationships for very long. It’s the same in every context: That “needy” energy isn’t attractive. It’s a sucking black hole rather than an effusive and dazzling energy that people want to take home.)

Treat an art fair or show as if it’s a party and you’re there to meet very cool people. Be the life of the party, and you’ll win fans and customers.

” Your needs will be met once you can find a way of projecting energy and fulfilling someone else’s need.” — Stuart Wilde

“Making art is a lot about just seeing what happens if you put some energy into something.” — Kiki Smith

“In the end it all comes down to enthusiasm.” — Stuart Wilde

2 thoughts on “Keys to successful art shows: Have fun”

  1. I have found this to be very true. My wife and I often have the chance to attend the same shows, we work in very different mediums. We have always looked at booth rent at shows as advertising. And it is very cheap advertising. We often seem to sell, but for us the point is to advertise. To that end we play the whole thing up and make it very ‘theatrical’, that makes it fun for the visitors and us. So great article, and I do know that it our attitude makes a difference.

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