Advice for Artists Thinking about Becoming Art Vendors

In addition to my art jewelry, I work as an English teacher and a freelance technical writer. This article is part of a series discussing the business side of making art for the part time artist.

As an artisan vendor, I am asked HOW to start arts and craft vending quite frequently. My advice today is for someone who is looking to become a part-time festival and art show vendor to show his or her wares. First things first—My advice is for smaller, locally produced shows and festivals, not LARGE national shows in which most artists are professionals who travel for a living.

1. RECON! Think about your art or craft and do A LOT of recon. Attend several shows with a different “eye.” Look at what all the people (vendors, show organizers, festival goers/customers) are doing. Look at set ups and really look at what people who are making sales are doing. Look at what people who are NOT making sales are doing and try to figure out why. Look at the work of others in your field.

2. EVALUATE! You need to seriously decide if your wares are UNIQUE amongst a sea of other artists, if they are QUALITY in comparison to others in your field, and if you have a real and sustaining possibility for building a customer base. Being strategic with your art may seem difficult, but it will help you build a business around what you love. If you don’t feel your work is unique enough or to the quality of others, spend a bit of time perfecting your craft before diving in.

3. REALITY CHECK! Seriously ask yourself if you enjoy the great outdoors. If not, stop reading here. If you don’t enjoy being outside you will feel miserable as a vendor. While there are many shows indoors, I find that they are either very costly to show in or are too small (such as church bazaars and school functions). You usually need to work up to indoor shows since you need to invest a lot in your displays and lighting. The real opportunity for someone starting out is at outdoor festivals. The general setup for an outdoor show is easier and cheaper and outdoor festivals are usually well attended. I love the outdoor festival setting. The energy, music, and food are always something I look forward to.

4. NETWORK! Meet as many people as possible. Meet other vendors and listen to what they have to say. Learn from them by listening to them and observing them. DO NOT give other vendors a sales pitch. It is just plain rude. The other vendors around are like co-workers and they will be some of your greatest friends and supporters as you move into the world of vending. Your experience will be positive the more you involve yourself with other creative people and they just might help you catch your tent when it becomes air born! I have a wonderful group of friends who I met art vending. Creative people are wonderful!

5. STAY POSITIVE! I will admit I am a “glass is half full” type of person so this comes natural to me. But I see many art vendors make the fatal error of letting negativity into their booths. An art vendor is part of the feel of a festival. Your attitude towards it can help build it or keep it fun for the festival goers/customers. No one wants to enter a booth of someone who looks miserable. Case in point: At my very first festival, one of my very best friends came back to my booth fairly ticked off. She found some of the most beautiful glasswork on the planet and then she overheard the artist complaining to the neighboring vendor about how much he hated selling at festivals and how tired he was of making glass. Apparently he was one year from retirement. Her take was that she couldn’t own his work knowing how he felt about it. She didn’t want a daily reminder of the old sour puss in her living room. No one wants your art if it makes them feel bad.

6. UNDERSTAND THIS ONE THING! Art vending is a crap shoot. Some shows will make you lots of money. You WILL LOSE MONEY on some shows for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean that people don’t like your art. You have to keep those little seeds of doubt from creeping in when you have a less than stellar sales day. Keeping good track of sales at all shows and making sales charts will help you determine whether a show is right for you in long run.