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How to Sell Art at Shows – Part One


Every artist should live by these words: Never feel bad about successfully selling your creations. Never feel bad about creating art you can’t sell.

— Marc Ecko

Here are tips and observations from selling show space and attending fine art consumer and trade shows for decades. My knowledge comes from participating in fine art, home furnishing, interior design showrooms, and marts in the day. Like many artists, vendors, and exhibitors, I miss the glory days of ArtExpo New York in the Jacob Javits Center, the Decor Expo Atlanta in the Georgia World Congress Center, and the High Point Market and regional home furniture shows and design centers.  

Tips and Advice on How to Sell Art at Shows. 

In Part One, We Cover These How to Sell Art at Shows Topics:

  • Booth Appearance.
  • Inventory Management.
  • Cohesiveness and Clarity.
  • Booth White Space.
  • Your Appearance.
  • Your Attitude.

While I have exhibited at many shows, I primarily attended to mix and mingle with all my customers and as many other industry figures as I could encounter. At a typical show, I would visit the booths and showrooms of hundreds of exhibitors at a three-day show. That’s a lot of shoe leather, talking, and observing. So I did my best to take it all in and learn everything I could.

Today, I pass along collected wisdom, practical advice, and observations from decades of experience. I’ve put together a mix of suggestions, no-nos, and opinions that are certain to help you succeed in selling art at shows. Although some of this advice may seem rudimentary, I include it nevertheless because I too often encountered examples of exhibitors doing things contrary to common sense.

Booth Appearance.

Some shows give you pipe and drape, and you can rent walls. Others give you hard walls as part of the booth. Whatever you get, you have to make the best of it to make the best look to help you sell art at shows.

Make Your Booth Space Visually Appealing and Welcoming.

You have just a few seconds to give an impression of your work and yourself. Your booth needs to look like you care about your work, and you came to do business and take the opportunity to be there seriously. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun time and be jovial. Just make sure your booth looks as professional as it can.

The best thing you can do for many is set up the booth in advance at home, give it the white glove look and make improvements to kick it up a notch or two.

Inventory Management.

The amount of stuff you have in your booth is critical. How many times have you seen a booth that looks like a poorly run flea market? You know, the kind that has stuff crammed into every space. You cannot impress potential buyers this way. If you wonder why you are not getting the best price for your work and this in any way resembles how you set up your booth, you have a partial answer.

The reverse problem is the booth looks empty. That begs the question of what’s going on here? Unless it is the last hours of a successful show and clearing inventory to avoid shipping it home, you want your booth to be well-stocked and organized. Give thought to how you present your work. Is there a flow to what the viewer is seeing? Or, are they finding a jumble of things that make it hard for them to connect with your work?

Become Your Buyer to See and Feel Their Experience

You have to keep thinking about your buyers. Put yourself in their shoes. They know nothing about you and are being bombarded with sensory overload. They see so much work in one place. All kinds of people wandering around. Often entertainment and music playing. You are attempting to break through the noise and clutter they are experiencing. Finding an eye-pleasing, well-organized space is almost like a respite from the chaos around them. Think of your booth as a resort. Make it an inviting place for shoppers.

Your ambiance will, of course, vary with the type of art you have, who you are, and what vibe you want to give. Selling serene landscapes is one environment; selling images of hot chicks on hot motorcycles is another. Cater to your crowd, but keep it classy and organized no matter the motif and message you are sending.

Cohesiveness & Clarity.

You may have the talent and interest to create art in many genres. While a blessing for the creative you, it is not a way to sell art at shows.

You went to the great expense of buying the booth space, creating the art to fill it, preparing for and traveling to the show, and more. Please don’t blow it by setting a booth that looks like 12 different people made the art. Instead, settle in on your best images within a genre and mine that mother lode. Of course, you can always come back another time or go to another show and display that polar opposite side of your creativity.

A word of caution here. I would sometimes sell ad space or show space to an artist or publisher, and when I first got to see their work, I was astounded. It was not why you might think. It was because all the work looked similar. I know I just told you to have cohesiveness and clarity. That does not mean loading your booth with 100 originals of the same subject or in the same palette.

White Space.

In graphic design, white or negative space is critical. I mentioned how clutter is a show killer, and there is a lack of a booth. One of the worst things you can do is put a table in the front of your booth. NEVER do that. It sends a strong visual message that you attempt to create a barrier between you and the buyer.

You want an inviting environment as much as possible. Blocking the entry is a terrible idea. I realize a delicate balance between having enough product to display and keeping the amount of negative space to an appealing amount. I would tend to push it towards more space. Just a tad more than making you comfortable is likely to have the opposite effect on potential buyers.

These are generalities because art sizes are all over the place, from tiny pieces of jewelry to massive pieces of chainsawed sculpture and everything in between. If you keep the perspective of your visitor’s enjoyment and visual pleasure, you will make the right decision more often.

Your Appearance.

How you look affects your potential buyer’s assessment of you and your art. It also affects your self-confidence and esteem. You want to look professional. It tells the buyer that you care about yourself and your art. You don’t have to dress to the nines. Some shows are outdoors, from hot and dry to wet and cold. You should be wearing attire appropriate for the venue. It should be comfortable to help you stay in the moment during those long show hours.

What you are wearing should be fresh, not wrinkled, old, or tattered. It’s all part of the same thing: the booth visitor experience. Within a few brief seconds, they are already making assumptions about you, your booth, and your art: your clothing and personal appearance art part of that quick assessment.

Be You But Be the Best You.

Besides wearing appropriate attire, you should make sure your appearance is as good as it can be. Your hair is neatly combed or brushed. You don’t have food sticking in your teeth. The whole idea is to look successful. Confidence begets confidence. People naturally gravitate to those who appear successful and confident. Whether you feel internal like you are convinced is not the issue. It is about outwardly portraying confidence. Just showing high confidence helps you sell more art.

Your Attitude.

Have you become bitter, cynical, or lazy about putting out the effort to sell art at shows? Don’t feel alone; there are many people just like you. If this is you, and you know if it is, you have to face that your attitude feeds a vicious cycle.

I can tell you countless times when I saw someone in a booth, usually in the far corner or even behind the booth in a personal space, acting bored out of their skulls. Wow! That encouraged me to want to engage them. I would often come in with a chipper, cheerful attitude, hoping some of it would wear off on them. Sadly, it often had the opposite effect of making the sullen more sullen.

Sort Out the Real from Perceived and Work on It.

If your dog just died or your spouse ran off with your best friend, you have a legitimate reason for your gloomy outlook. Short of some personal disaster, you owe it to yourself to shake off the lousy ‘tude and get with the program. Please put it in perspective. You are only there at the show for a few hours out of your life. You have made a significant investment in time, money, product, and effort to be there. Take some deep breaths. Listen to some happy music. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but feel sunny and optimistic when listening to Blue Sky by The Allman Brothers.

While you may not have control over the circumstances that have put you in a foul mood, you have complete control over how you choose to react to those circumstances. Your mind over matter power is off the charts. Learning how to put your negative feelings in check and work towards presenting a confident, if not happy, demeanor makes your art shine. It makes you more attractive. It will sell more art.

A quick note on buying booth space:

Your organizer works hard to put on a show and hopefully earns your respect. I appreciate show management is a hard job to keep everybody happy. In these pandemic days, everything is different. So, what I’m going to tell you is something I trust you will use with good intentions. My motto for negotiations is to be informed, tough, and fair.

Booth space is nearly always negotiable. Unless the promoter has a killer sold-out show, they have wiggle room. Whether it is on the booth costs, associated costs such as drayage, electrical, booth location, or promotional extras, you should work to make sure you get the best deal for yourself. You can drive a hard bargain without being a jerk. Learn to be pleasantly persistent because the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

But Wait, There’s More.

I’ve got many more tips on how to sell art at shows for you in How to Sell Art at Shows – Part Two. Please check it out. If you found this info helpful you can help yourself to more. Click the subscribe button on the top right to ensure you get it. All the best!


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    1. Thank you so much !!! I am a new artist and I have my first exhibition next month!!!!! I am taking all the advice you are giving on this great article and I will share this with my artist friends 🙂

  1. Blue Sky is one of the best songs EVER recorded! It IS uplifting. The entire “Eat a Peach” album is a peach! Great article, Barney. Appreciate you sharing your expertise! Very helpful to an old dog learning new tricks!

    1. Thanks Tim and you’re welcome. I could not agree more about Blue Sky. I can listen and hit loop and just let it go. One of a select few I can say about that. I find it impossible to be cranky after hearing it.

    1. Many years ago, after having been doing outdoor fairs for years, we did our first indoor fair. We were floored! Our perfectly reasonable outdoor display looked like s— compared to our neighbors. This was a show that provided pipe-and-drape booth separators, but individual exhibitors were on their own for everything they put in the booth. We looked around, took note of our competition, and went to work. Finally, with further tweaking, I thought it finally looked pretty good. Then my wife started coming back to the booth with a bad case of booth envy, handing me a list of individual booths to look at. After looking and discussing, I found that it came down to that the booths on her list were much brighter-lit, more sparkly. After we got track lighting and doubled the number of fixtures we had originally used, the booth envy factor finally quieted down.
      Note that if you look at the mall galleries of a “painter of light” (who shall remain unnamed here), there is *NO* light wasted on unoccupied wall space, but several bright pin lights dedicated to each picture – THAT’S sparkly.

      1. Thanks for your insights! Sometimes you just can’t know until you experience an event, especially as a paying exhibitor at a show. In my many years selling tradeshow space, I regularly told new artists they were likely to learn more than they would earn as a first-timer. I also told them if they used what they learned it would pay off for them in spades. And, of course, I gave them all my insider knowledge because I wanted them to succeed. What was good for them ultimately was good for me, too.

  2. Thank you so much Barney for the inspiring motivating articles….I always look forward to your emails….what a great gift to receive in my email….all my shows have been on the back burner since 2012 because I’m helping my ailing elderly mom…I love to read everything you send me!!.. you get me primed and ready to explode on the market again once mom’s better!!…reading your wonderful lessons and experiences first thing in the morning with my coffee puts that extra expresso shot in my day !..yeehaw!!… 🙂 Happy Trails to You Barney!!

  3. Barney, Love taking your advice at trade shows. It has given us proven examples how to look like pros, increase sales and grab new customers. Thanks, Steve and Kay Witt, Strasburg, VA.

  4. Barney, your advice about creating a more inviting space paid off in spades today at a local art show. If I was in thje booth when someone came by, I stepped out of the way and said “I’m sorry, don’t let me block the door for you, go on in and have fun!” The booth was full all day long. Thanks again!

  5. This is the work of a genius, Barney! Thanks for sharing this piece, especially about the appearance. I’m meeting with a huge potential buyer next week and plan to dress the part, show my confidence, and be myself. I’ll let you know how I make out.

  6. Good stuff Barney I look forward to doing an Artfair, it’ll be a first for me. Which probably adds to your advice, do fairs when you really want to, rather than a “Oh Lord here we go again” attitude. Thanks again for the encouragement.

  7. Thanks for all you great articles Barney. Do you have advice (perhaps a previous post I may have missed) about how to engage visitors during a raucous “First Friday” art event? I find my social skills somewhat lacking with so much going on and so much other art to view, how can I direct attention to my work without sounding “hard sell?”

    1. Dear Priya, Make sure your booth is inviting. If the is chaos in the aisles, a booth can be a respite from the bustle. I devote a whole chapter to networking in my Guerrilla Marketing for Artistsbook. My Zen of Selling Art e-book also has suggestions and advice for how to engage customers in a conversation. The basic thing is be interested in them first, and then let the conversation come back to you.

      Learn to ask open ended questions, which will create a conversation. “Are you enjoying the show?” gets, “Yes.” While “What are you seeing at the show that interesting today?” “What brings you to the show today?” Mention something about their attire, what they might have in their hands, and ask a question about it. Work on developing a half dozen or more questions like that to rotate and trot out regularly. Be genuinely interested in the other party first, the get into your art.

  8. Hi Barney, I have listened to your excellent advise for quite awhile now. I am a sales person at heart and really enjoy people. I am the top salesperson in many of my present and past jobs, but I seem to have a problem selling my own artwork. If people linger a little while I will ask them if they know where this image was taken or what do they see in this piece of abstract art. Then I tell them and show them what others have seen in this piece and tell them that is why I love abstract,,,everyone sees something different. . It always opens the conversation. But then they leave. My son thinks that if I will just leave them alone that maybe they will buy something.

    This and the fact that four of the last five outdoor shows, we have had rain. All the shows are rain or shine events. I am getting so discouraged. So far this year, I haven’t sold more than my booth fee. Because I have sold for so long, I can be upbeat and smiling when a potential customer comes in. Should I play the oldies in my booth to keep me upbeat all the time?

    1. Suzanne, Sorry you are having a hard time selling at shows. There are so many factors. Is your art right for the show? How are your prices compared to other artists at the show? It reads like you use open ended questions to get a conversation going, but maybe you are seguing into a dissertation on your work. Whether you are passionate and eloquent might not matter if you are doing all the talking. Are you getting enough information and the are you asking them to buy. It’s a fine line between being overly aggressive and just asking for the order. Either are better than waiting for the prospect to ask to buy. Jason Horejs has an excellent book, How to Sell Art. I have an e-book, The Zen of Selling Art that has many tips on selling.

      As for the music, I would not play it if you don’t think your buyers are going to enjoy it. Better to have a single earbud going if you are not sure. All the best!

      1. Hey Barney, Well I completed another (probably my last for awhile) arts & crafts show. It did rain the night that we were setting up and the last hour of the show, but I made more than my booth fee!! Not by much, but neither did the majority of vendors. I sold note cards and a few mats. What sealed the deal was when a husband and wife came in and purchased one of my larger framed images. Someone told me that there were 40,000 people there. I doubt there was that much, but at least 1,000 came to the arts & crafts area of the park. Many of the usual vendors didn’t attend and the all the vendors around me, except the jewelry people showed very low sales compared to their normal income, at that show. Just wanted to give you an update. I will pursue the interior designers now.

        1. Thanks for your update. Sorry your results weren’t better. Outdoor shows are always a bit of a crapshoot. At least you broke even. I hope you came away with names for your mailing list. Good luck with designers. Get that market working right and it will pay off for you on a repeat basis.

  9. You just gotta love a guy who gives great advice and throws the Allman Bros. in to perk up the mood.
    Thanks, Barney, you are really helping me get the marketing end of the business together.

  10. Thanks for your clear and simple instructions on what to do and what not to do at an art show. Being a creative doesn't mean that you're a savvy salesperson and you have to be both; all advice and tricks are welcome.

  11. Yes, well said. Honoring yourself and your art honors the potential buyer and all win.
    Thank you for your thoughts.

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