🎪 my first art fair season

Reflections on my first few times selling at art markets — all different venues and organizers with varying rules and practices. It was a great learning experience, and I think I’m going to keep doing markets for a little while. My setup isn’t perfect, but it’s come a long way in three tries!

How it started

I always thought it’d be cool to sell my work at a street fair, and I imagined doing this my senior year of college in Worcester. I lived pretty close to Elm Park, which is adjacent to the annual art festival StART on the Street, and I imagined rolling my wares out by hand truck from my apartment. Unfortunately, my senior year was 2021. No StART on the Street. (I did apply to StART at the Station in 2019 and was rejected!)

So I applied in 2022 on a whim. No high hopes, wasn’t even living in Worcester anymore.

[ when a woman ] [ mother earth ] [ fire protection ]
The three works I submitted with my application.

I opened the acceptance email a couple weeks late — I was pretty excited, but also concerned. No experience, and this market was outdoors, no tents provided. I volunteered in 2019, so I figured I'd at least have some help for setup. I did practice putting up the tent alone (once) and hanging up my walls, but I definitely wasn't prepared as I could have been despite spending many hours on tent design, thinking about furniture, pricing, and inventory.

[ photos of setup sketch and practice ]

stART on the Street
11-6 Sunday 18 September 2022
[ photos of actual setup ]

+ things that went well

  • 🎯 I did it! I sold things and made back the $150 vendor fee and then some. I also learned a lot about what it takes to sell art at a market, and that those skills are not so far out of reach for me.
  • 🎪 booth layout. I was happy with the overall design of my booth and the materials I had acquired, including the tent itself, table cloths, banner, pegboard, and rug (which was actually a Worcester curb find from a year prior!).
  • 🚗 travel logistics. I packed the car the night before and I left early. I bought some 2+ gal jugs of water for weight before the hour drive to Worcester and was there at 8am for check in.
  • 🎭 improvisation. While I’m not thrilled that so much of the work was on the fly, I am proud that I was able to come up with and execute my ideas, such as clamping down prints with reeds and folding labels around the frames of canvases.
  • 👁 interactivity. I set my eye prints up as a guessing game, which turned out to be great for engagement and it sparked a lot of good conversations.

Δ things to change for next time

  • practice & setup time. I practiced setup. But only once and only furniture, not where I was actually hanging which piece where. Setup took around 4.5 hours when I had been allotted a little short of 3. (8am check-in, 8:15 am setup, 11am start). Tent and furniture was setup in an hour, so I was feeling good, but then the hanging of art seemed impossible, in part because I hadn’t found a good system for the reed walls or the pegboard. Breakdown was also almost an hour.
  • 🌬 wind. Art blew off walls and off tables. Multiple times, all throughout the show. Nothing was lost or significantly damaged, but the anxiety this caused was maddening. An easy solution would have been paperweights, and I would like to look into other strategies.
  • 🏷 labels. I knew I should have had clear labels, and I was intending on printing them the day before but I didn’t get around to it, and so I was handwriting things throughout the show and sticking them around my work. Labels not only inform potential customers and demonstrate transparency, they also help me talk about my work and know my pricing.
  • 💳 pos. Point of sale was a hassle — I wasn’t prepared to accept payment early on nor was I set up to package my work, despite bringing supplies for it. My hands were usually shaking when trying to do the mental math to charge someone on Square, and it seemed ironic that a major pain point was getting paid.
  • 🥣 food. The advice to not be eating in one’s booth stuck with me, but then I realized that meant I just wouldn’t be eating. I had brought overnight oats that I did eventually eat, along with some mac and cheeze from a fellow vendor, but I wasn’t happy while doing in. I later figured that I could drink so I would bring a smoothie next show.
  • 👋 me. I found that I was usually too excited to sit in the director’s chair I had brought, and that while I wanted to demo art, I couldn’t quite figure out how. I’m ok with not being incredibly salesy, but I think making art in my booth would be a good way to pass the time and draw people in.

I was incredibly tired at 7pm, which is rare in my current life where I go out to activities that time or later. I was content enough with how I did, but it seemed like a lot of work and a lot of stress and not much payoff.

Type II Fun

But then a couple days later, I was looking for another market to sign up for, and I ended up going with the Brighton Bazaar, even though I'd never been before. Some of the makers I followed on Instagram vended there, and so I figured I’d give it a shot. As part of the application, I wrote a brief intro pitch and included some images of my work.

I’m Beck, scientist by day and artist by night — or is it the other way around? I value creativity and discovery in all facets of my life, and my art reflects that with a diverse range of subjects, styles, and mediums.

For October, I will be showcasing darker work, much of which was made during inktobers of years past. Common themes include mental health, interpersonal conflict, and farmed animals. I find creating art to be a great outlet for emotions and opportunity to connect with others.

The Brighton Bazaar was indoors and close to home. I was waitlisted for a small space that wouldn’t fit much more than a 6ft table. I again sketched out my setup, and this time I actually practiced set up in my house with artwork placement.

[ photos of my sketched setup ]

The Monday before, I was notified of an opening and I confirmed by Wednesday.

Brighton Bazaar
11-6 Sunday 23 October 2022
[ photos of my setup ]

+ good

  • 🎯 profit. 📌 layout. 🚗 transport.
  • 👁 interactivity. Still good, but less so than at stART. I suspected this had something to do with the different demographics involved, not my particular setup.
  • setup time. Owing to practice and taking a picture of my setup, I had a 1:20 setup time. Breakdown was 30 minutes.
  • 🏷 labels. While I was still writing labels during the show, because I was set up in time, it didn’t feel stressful to be adding handwritten labels to pieces.

Δ for next time

  • 💳 pos. I still wasn’t ready by the time my first sale happened nor did I become very comfortable with taking sales. I keep telling myself I will add items within Square so it’s easier for me to charge, but I have not yet gotten around to it. I had also forgotten my 4.5” square envelopes for packaging prints in the car.
  • 🥤 food. I brought a smoothie. I didn’t drink it. Maybe a straw would have helped.
  • 👋 me. I still didn’t demo art, but I did at least make art during the event.

This market was much easier than my first. I’m confident that being indoors is a game changer. I still can’t believe I chose an outdoor market (where I had to supply all furniture) for my first one.

Third time's the charm?

My third market, “Winter Hassle” hosted by Hassle Flea, was my best in some ways… and not in others. I had a hard time communicating with the organizer and an even harder time parking on tight Cambridge streets. I have no setup photos for this, unfortunately, but it was pretty similar to my table and pegboard arrangement at Brighton Bazaar.

[ flyer contest]
My submission for the flyer contest.

Hassle Flea
1:30-6 Sunday 4 December 2022

+ good

  • 🎯 profit. 📌 layout. 🏷 labels. 👁 interactivity.
  • setup time. ~1:20 with no practice between Brighton Bazaar and this event.
  • 💳 pos. Mostly good! I fumbled a little bit but had a much faster and smoother experience, in large part because almost everyone paid with Venmo. I also managed to record all my sales on paper so I had a linear log at the end.

Δ for next time

  • 🚗 transport. Vendors had been told to get there on the earlier side since parking is competitive, but I didn’t realize the extent to that. I left ten minutes late, and then was waiting in line for actual entry. This was also my first market where load in was not close to one’s parked car.
  • 🪑 chair. I had ditched the chair, since I barely used it at the previous market, and it was more in the way given the limited space. Unfortunately, I was surprised when I wanted it three hours in.
  • 👆 digital interactivity. I tried to demo delirium, a rudimentary interactive art piece, but then couldn’t disable browser gestures. It seemed to draw people in for the brief while I had it running though!
  • 🖌 art demo. I would also still like to be publicly creating art for people to see, and I plan to research how people structure their setup to facilitate that.
  • 🔍 writeups. While I do now have labels, I think even more text about my inspirations and process would be appreciated by market goers and me when I am asked about a given piece. This would also include an improved eye guessing game setup, which would link my perspectives to the artwork.
  • 🍽 food. This was shorter than the other two markets, and yet I wanted food and was really wishing I had packed a PB&J sandwich.

All in all, I thought this was a very successful first season! I'm still paying off some of the things I bought, and my time definitely wasn't compensated, but it was great experience. Since I am not trying to live off of my art, I frame it as an experience that I am paying for, with the opportunity to break even and even profit.