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Participating in Artisan Fairs

by Tina Shoys

I remember a few years ago when I entered my first artisan fair. I was so nervous, and I had no idea what to expect. I was (and still am) the only mosaic artist in the fair and was unsure how my art would be received in a small town known for oil, acrylic, and watercolor painters, and many other more well-known art forms. So, I packed up my car and plunged in head-first. What I learned was you need to figure out beforehand how you're going to display your art in a small space (usually 8x8 or 8x10)so it shows well. With mosaics, that usually includes good lighting which isn't always available in your display space.
I bought a small clip-on light and bring an extension cord with me to help keep things bright. I also purchased a metal 5-shelf stand which can hold smaller works of art. It doesn't take up much room but holds several pieces on each shelf. Room is important in those small areas. If you can afford your own screen to hang wall art, mirrors, and such from, that's good. Same for an outdoor tent if you plan to be outside. My artisan fairs, so far, have all been inside where a tent isn't needed. What else? Oh, when you do artisan or craft fairs, you need to be able to pack your mosaics safely so nothing gets broken. It helps to have sturdy boxes, or even better, plastic bins that will hold things in place so they don't slide around in your trunk or the back seat. I'm amazed sometimes how much I can fit into my Volvo sedan! Some places provide tables and chairs, some don't, so it's important to get that question answered beforehand. And sometimes they will rent table covers and skirts (which hide space under the tables where you can store your boxes and bins), but you can also buy your own and avoid that extra rental expenses. Black tablecloths will do the job. Get them large enough to cover an 8' table with some drape on the sides, and the drape on the front sufficient to reach the floor.
For your display, almost anything you like that can add some height is good. I bought several metal stands to hold my work, and they can be placed on top of a wooden crate or some other stable object to get a variety of heights which makes your display more interesting visually. I'm able to use two metal stands together to hold some of my larger pieces, such as vintage windows.
It took a while for me to establish a following of sorts. I have been a participant in local craft fairs now for about 4 years and people know me, know my work, and I find I do much more in sales now than before. I've also learned along the way what kinds of things our local residents are more prone to purchase and the price range they seem to prefer.
Doing artisan/craft fairs is a lot of work and it sometimes seems like the payoff is too little to make it worth it, but I would recommend you stay with it, build your reputation, let your local residents get to know you, experiment with your inventory to find what works in your area, and most importantly, HAVE FUN! I have met some wonderful people, both fellow artists and customers, and have had some commissions come my way because someone met me at a fair. I plan to keep doing them locally while I'm still able. You never know what might come your way just getting yourself "out there".
Tina Shoys is a beloved member of the PieceMaker group. Be sure to check out her page here to find out more about her!