I set off for the Bath Art Fair with very low expectations.
I knew that it would be a well run event in a good location, but in today’s political and economic uncertainties I have noticed people being cautious about how they spend any spare cash on things that could be considered a luxury.
I planned as well as I could to put on a good show, but decided I would focus my efforts on the marketing side of things. I was determined to stay positive whether I had sales or not and engage with people in conversations so that I could raise awareness of courses I offer at Double Elephant Print Workshop and other services such as editioning , one-to-one tuition and mentoring.
To help with this I had some new postcards made highlighting that these services could be done at Double Elephant or in at your own studio. I was pleased with how this was going and gathered some new people for my mailing list too. In deed I was having such a jolly time chatting with people that it took me quite a while to realise that the sales were also gradually adding up in an encouraging way too.
In the end I had sold enough artwork to cover all of my not inconsiderable costs and made a modest profit. If profit making was my main aim, the two and a half days of the art fair would have looked like a poor show. But there is so much more to be gained in taking part in such events even in these difficult times. This is far better target marketing that I could have hoped to achieve by spending a similar amount on a colour advert in a magazine. Plus there are possibilities of after sales, people interested in courses and my other services, that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. For some people there are also the possibilities of commissions and gallery interest as well as reaching new people and growing your social media reach.
I have taken part in a number of different art and craft fairs now and have learnt that you have to consider very carefully what you prepare and take with you for what can be very different situation. What I take to a craft fair might be different to what I take to an art fair. And whether it is a table-top situation or a shell scheme makes a very big difference. What seems to work for me is to have things in a variety of price points. At Bath, I sold a couple of framed pieces off the walls, one piece from the large browser, three from the medium browser, three from the small browser and about 30 greeting cards (the cards alone covered the petrol and parking costs plus helper’s train journey).
How you set up your stand and engage with people is also another skills set to be understood. I’ve had to take on board that not everyone is going to be the slighted bit interested in my work and what I do. If someone is really interested in bright geometric abstract artwork, it is better that they move on quickly to make space for someone who might be interested in printmaking and the ecology of Devon environments. Little things I have had to work on is to try and ask people open questions rather than things that only need a yes or no for an answer and making sure that I don’t fold my arms across myself in a closed defensive way.
When I spot someone looking like they might be interested I usually make a simple comment to let them know that I’m there if they have questions and back off so that I’m a little way away but easily summoned if they would like to chat. But the main thing is to relax and enjoy yourself. Moods and atmosphere are contagious. This is why I go round to my neighbouring artists and offer little treats such as mini-eggs if they start to look a bit down, tired or despondent – especially in the mid afternoon slump. It’s lovely seeing how such a small thing can really perk people up.
It can be very tiring trying to remain upbeat all day, especially if you’ve only had nibbles and teasers and not been able to complete a proper sale.
One of the encouraging things about the Bath Fair was how supportive the artists were of each other. There were real celebrations at the sight of some serious large artwork going to the wrapping station as an encouragement for all – rather than being jealous that it wasn’t their own.
Some people, perhaps well established with a loyal following, or happen to create artwork with a board appeal, might sell like hot cakes. Some people’s artwork is more niche and needs to wait for the right customer to come along at the right moment. But there are always some people who are not only faced with the prospect of not covering their costs, but might not have sold at all.
One quality artist there that I know from previous art fairs confesses to having gone through 6 art fairs without making a single sale, only to then sell £6,000 worth at the next fair. That feeling when you’ve made your first sale is such a boost and you then start looking forward to a few red spots developing into a rash. I swear sales are contagious!