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Art & Wine Fairs by Jen Norton

Wouldn't it be great if we could just paint all the time and actually make a living doing it? It is possible. I have been doing street art fairs for the last three years, and have met several artists (and many crafters) who do just that. While selling paintings may not fall in the "get-rich-quick" category, we artists do have a huge number of opportunities to show our work to the public that our predecessors in the Renaissance didn't have. One of these is the Outdoor Art Fair (sometimes called a Mall Show). Art Fairs allow us to present our work before thousands of people at one time. Through my experiences (and mistakes!) and by talking to other artists, I have learned some tips that may help you if you are thinking about selling your work in this way.

The reality of selling art is that you will probably spend about 10-20% of your time actually painting, and the remaining 80-90% taking care of "business". This means everything from bookkeeping to designing and writing your collateral to researching and entering juried shows, applying to galleries, and, of course, follow-up on sales and leads. This also means that to be successful, you need to be dedicated and passionate about what you're doing. Selling art is not for the lighthearted.I've never met a successful painter who fits the typical "flaky artist" mold!

The most important thing for any small business is to first define the product you will sell. Of course you're selling paintings...probably watercolor ones if you're reading this. But what makes them different from everyone else's paintings? Do you paint only one subject, have a definite style, a unique presentation? Do you only paint large pieces for hi-end collectors or do you focus on smaller, quicker pieces that may sell at a lower price point. What feelings do your paintings emote? Try to define your style in words. Many gallery owners and promoters will ask so they know your product is not something they already represent. This is not always easy, especially if, like me, you like to experiment a lot. But it is a necessary starting point that will drive the rest of your marketing decisions.

Next, try and identify your "target audience" so you can cater your mix of merchandise and marketing efforts to maximize your success. Do you want to focus on collectors only, or be visible to the general public? Do you want to offer prints, or just originals? What kinds of people tend to be drawn to your work and what other interests do they pursue? Where can you place your work so they see it? Is your work easily marketable (like graphic cat prints), or is does it reflect a more specialized segment of the market (like abstract work). When you are a vendor in a street fair, you are not just an artist.you are a 10-foot-square retail store! You will need to use that much-unused LEFT side of your brain to think realistically about how to attract the passing audience. (I'm kidding.this is actually a creative venture in itself!)

These are some initial ideas for you to work out first in order to avoid wasting time or money pursuing ventures that don't match your ultimate goal. The less energy you use pursuing the wrong things, the more time you have to PAINT and keep yourself excited about what you're doing.

We all know how expensive framing can be. It's tempting to want to haunt garage sales for cheap deals, but if you're going to sell your work commercially you should consider other options. On the other end of the spectrum, it's tempting to custom-frame each piece differently to match the art. Either of these options are great for home decoration. But they can confuse customers and create more work for you in a selling situation.

Most outdoor art fairs have between 100 and 400 exhibitors. With each space being 10 x 10 feet square, the passerby has an average of 10 seconds to walk by your booth and take notice. In that 10 seconds they need to develop a singular message about your work. This helps the consumer categorize and remember you as "the artist who paints the ________" (fill in the blank for yourself). This is an important process. It helps people subconsciously place you in their "yes, I like this artist's work" category (or the "walk on by" category, but we won't go there!). The more singular, clear and repeated your message, the more you will be remembered. In the advertising world, this is called "branding". It's an important practice for selling any product, even art. You want to create "brand recognition" in interested patrons so they think of YOU next time they need that large piece over their couch! Framing is an important part of creating that overall impression. Unless part of your product is to refurbish old frames, having one framing look helps develop your brand.

Your framing should be well-done and enhance your artwork. You want to add value to your work, but not distract the eye away from the art. Do not use colored or dark matting, except as a second mat under a white or off-white matting. People may love the art, but if the matting does not match their couch, they will pass it by. They want to be able to buy a piece and enjoy it as is as soon as they bring it home.

The key to maximizing your profits and impact is to think ahead. For outdoor selling, simpler is better. Paint in two or three preset sizes. It might be hard to get used to thinking about the finished product at the beginning of the process, but you will thank yourself later by saving both money and time. Buy frames and mattings wholesale or in bulk, if possible (you will need a resale licence for wholesale). Consider investing in a GOOD mat-cutter, foamcore cutter and framer's point gun and doing some of the labor yourself. Minimize the framing styles you use to one or two, or keep the colors and values similar (i.e. all light wood or all black). You want people to focus on the art, not the frame. If you start hearing a lot of people ask, "Can I buy that without the frame?", you know you need to rethink your framing.

Your frame choice also has to be able to withstand the bumps and scrapes of outdoor shows. No matter how careful you are, they're hard to avoid. Metal or wood with tough finishes work best. Lighter frames show fewer dings on the corners. Frame in plexiglass, especially for larger pieces. It may scratch, but it won't break, it has better UV protection, and is much lighter to cart around. The extra cost is well worth it! (Plus, competitions usually require it, so you're ready for those too.) Always use archival materials. It's not worth the cost savings to skimp here. The art collectors expect it and you will lose credibility or have unhappy customers if you don't do it.

If any of you are planning on doing Open Studios this year, consider some of this tried-and-true advice. My opinions were formed by reconsidering mistakes I have made in framing! In addition, here are a few vendors I've used that you may find useful for framing and supplies. There are many more, so ask around:

Union Ave Framing:
If you can get to the Campbell area, this is a great source for either buying frames and doing your own labor, or having the whole job done for you. Talk to Grey, the owner, and tell him I sent you. He does a lot of work for artists and you'll pay about 1/2 what you would at other frame retailers. 535 Union Ave., Campbell, CA 408-879-0112

ArtBoard West:
Any framing supply you can think of sold wholesale. You will need your resale license to do business with them, however. Also located in Campbell, CA 1-800-851-3900.

(precision-cut mats and some framing supplies) 1-800-769-5639. www.documounts.com

Tara Picture Frames: (wholesale frames, need a resale number) www.tarapf.com

American Frame: (americanframe.com)

Graphic Dimensions (pictureframes.com)

Impact Images: for clear bags for unframed art, prints or card. Clearbags.com or 1-800-233-2630.

Finally, save any large boxes that frames come in to transport your art to & from the shows. I use them with foam panels between the paintings.

Some standard equipment is needed to sell in Art and Wine Fairs. Most promoters need to see a shot of your booth as part of the jury process and expect you to have a professional setup. Don't let the list intimidate you. You can start small and work up. At the same time, the "scare-factor" you experience may give you some insight as to whether this avenue of selling is right for you.

You never know who will be your neighbor in an art show.a hat maker with lots of clutter and mirrors? A fine artist with large acrylic canvases? Your booth design must compete visually. In my first booth setup, I had wire racks that literally disappeared next to my neighboring booths with carpet-covered panels. After watching people glide by me and head nextdoor all day, I finally went over and copied the phone number off the panels. I made fabric covers for my wire racks until I sold enough art to be able to afford the carpeted ones I really wanted. You can be as altruistic as you like in creating your work, but when you decide to sell professionally, you have to step back at some point and evaluate your art as a commodity, and its relationship to the competition (It's the American way!)

Part of that consideration is in the unique qualities of your product. Another part is in the display, or merchandising, of your product. Besides framing, you need a professional-looking booth setup. Here are some of the elements of my booth:

• 10 x 10 white canopy, plus weights and side enclosures: EZ-Ups (ezup.com) are great quality, but you can also buy one at Costco for less. Plan on spending between $200-$500 for all parts.

• Display panels: Pro Panels are the carpet-covered ones I mentioned (www.propanels.com). Plan on spending about $1600 for a 10 x 10 setup. If that's a little steep to start out with, Graphic Display Systems makes the wire ones and you'll spend about half as much (1-800-848-3020). If you're handy, you can even make your own with pegboard or UV mesh over wire on wood frames. Keep in mind weight and stability in windy situations. If you're serious about doing shows, try to invest in the best panels you can. When other artists have gallery-quality booths, you don't want to appear to be of less value, unless your marketing plan focuses on low prices.

• Table with covering for storage and display. You can get a nice 4 foot table at Target.

• Banner. "Signs Here" in Los Altos did a great job on my banner, but there are many sign vendors. This is not necessary, but really helps people recognize you as they pass by.

• Hooks for hanging art. Pro Panels carries its own hanging system similar to S-hooks hung from plumbing straps (those metal strips with holes in them that you have your water heater strapped down with). Drapery hooks found in fabric stores work well on most systems too.

• Print or card racks. Cheap Joe's (1-800-227-2788) or Jerry's Catalog (1-800-U-ARTIST) have nice ones. Office supply stores also have hanging clear plastic card holders.

• Cash Box: any office supply store

• Dolly or push cart to take all this from car to setup area. You REALLY want this piece of equipment. I found the best deal at Home Depot on a dolly that converts to a pushcart.

• Receipt book.for receipts and to keep track of the 10% you owe the promoter at the end of the show!

• Mailing list guest book (don't lose those future buyers!)

• Business Cards (ModernPostcard.com for inexpensive 4-color cards, postcards or even envelopes and greeting cards for selling)

• A vehicle to put all of the above in. A van with pulled out seats is great. Or rent a truck for a weekend. I used to use two cars, with the help of my husband. Most of the time you're setting up these shows in early morning hours and having to maneuver around other vendors, so if you can make it easy on yourself, try to do so. And don't forget bungee cords. You can never have enough of those!

• Someone to help set up, buy you coffee in the morning, and give you breaks during the day (optional, but very nice to have!)

To be "a real business," you will also need:

• A business license. The fee is different in every city. San Jose is about $150/year. You will need this (or at least a fictitious name registration) to open a business checking account. Check with your city finance dept.

• A resale number www.boe.ca.gov Professional promoters require it. It's free, easy to get, and allows you to not pay sales tax on purchases meant for resale. The downside, of course, is you will have to pay sales tax each year on your sales income, but as long as you collect it and keep track of it, it's not a big deal.

• A Merchant Services account for taking credit card purchases. Trade publications like Sunshine Artist have ads for cheap accounts. Most major banks charge too much for our seasonal sales, but Nova or Regions bank are pretty affordable, and one artist told me about a free account she had at Bank of the West (I haven't verified that). Also, Costco offers its business customers a good deal on accounts. Expect to pay around 2.5% on sales and about $10 per month. Plus, you will need to buy or lease the equipment. Deals can be found on refurbished equipment by asking around. At least 60% of my sales are credit sales, so, in my humble opinion, you're crazy not to offer this option.

• Set up a business bank account (you'll need the fictitious name first) to keep all your income separate from your personal account. Use Quickbooks or other software to track your sales and expenses, and then pay yourself "personal money" when needed. You will thank yourself at tax time...simply hand a QB file to your accountant that tells him all he needs to know. It even figures out your owed sales tax for you!

This list will help you set up your best storefront. The rest is up to you. But don't let it scare you...you are taking control of how your art is sold! When someone buys your art, they are also buying a piece of you. How you greet them and how you treat them as important customers are part of the sale.

Other art-related activities you do to promote yourself are all part of the purchase. The stories you can tell about how you created your art and what it means add value. It can sound like a lot, but the art you do is totally unique to you and no one can sell it like you can. Even if a sale is not made on the first try, you have the opportunity to leave an impression so the next time they think of filling that spot over their couch, they'll think of you! We are blessed to live where we can show and sell our art, enabling us to keep creating. I believe it is worth the effort!

You've got your booth setup and you're ready to get it out of your garage and on to the streets. Now what? If you're wondering what to do with yourself between Christmas (or Hanukah) and New Year's.it might be the perfect time to plan your show schedule for next year! While many shows have spring entry deadlines, there are a few that are earlier, so it's wise to plan ahead and get on promoter's mailing lists now. Some months, like May, June and September, have so many shows you need compare and consider which ones are right for you.

Most Bay Area shows are run by a handful of promoters or by a local rotary or community group. Different shows cater to different buyers and cost different amounts to get in, so research is important. Subscribing to a publication like The Crafts Faire Guide, which lets artists rate shows and gives info on producers is well worth the money (www.craftsfairguide.com or 415.924.3259). While the Crafts Faire Guide features local and West Coast shows, Sunshine Artist magazine (www.sunshineartist.com) is another good publication for national listings, articles, advice, and industry products.

Another invaluable experience is to visit shows you might be thinking about for the future and see it through the eyes of a consumer, What kind of art is featured, how are booths designed, what kind of people seem to be attending?. Most artists are happy to share some information with you on their feelings about the show. As a painter, you may not want to be in a show that focuses on crafts (unless you are selling mostly low-priced prints), or that caters to people who are there more to drink and listen to music. In my experience, shows with over 200-250 artists are much tougher because there's so much merchandise that people can only focus on easy purchases. Buyers usually need time to talk with you and learn about your work before purhasing.

To enter a show, you usually pay three fees.a nonrefundable jury fee to enter, a booth space fee once you're accepted, and a commission on sales. Jury fees are usually $5-$30; booth fees can run from $150-$2400, depending on the show and booth size options. A typical commission is 10% of your total sales, but some shows have no commission and some have as high as 30%.

Here is a list of some of the local promoters to get you started:

• MLA Productions: www.mlaproductions.com or 831-438-4751

• PFA Festivals: www.pacificfinearts.com or 209-296-1195

• California Artists 650.348.7699

• Saratoga Rotary 408-725-2434

• Los Altos Rotary: 650-361-0733

• Hartmann Studios: www.hartmannstudios.com or 800-731-0003

• Populus Presents: 408.271.5151 They are running the new Saturday Art Markets in downtown San Jose as well as other SJ public art projects. This is a great show to get started with because the fees are low and the goal of the promoters is to let local artist rejuvenate downtown space. This is a different focus from most professional shows.

There are many more promoters and many local shows run by Parks & Rec Depts or small groups. The Craft Faire Guide lists a good number of them, or check with your Chambers of Commerce.

One last tip: Enter the shows as professionally as you would apply for a job. Each promoter wants a specific format or slides labeled in a certain way. Some want résumés or statements (use nice letterhead and check spelling!), some want nothing but the art. This can all take time, but a perfect presentation may mean the difference between getting in a show you want versus having to go for your second choice. The competition for some shows is quite high so take the time to present your work with the quality it deserves. Now there's a New Year's Resolution!