Preparing for any type of art exhibition, art fair, or studio show is nerve-wracking for most artists – no matter how many times they’ve done it before! I regularly receive questions about setting up the space, choosing which art pieces to display, and how to interact with potential fans or clients who come to visit.
Well, I just returned from Artexpo New York – an art fair where both galleries and independent artists showcase and sell their work to collectors and market influencers – and it was such a fantastic learning experience. Not only did I get to meet some of my online clients in person and discover new artists, I also got to check the current pulse of the art market and preview emerging trends.
At the same time, I pick up information and notice things that can benefit YOU!
So today, I want to share three lessons I learned from the Expo about effectively showcasing your art and interacting with potential clients at a showcase event.
Less is always more
Every artist I’ve talked to struggles with deciding how many pieces of art to display. This is definitely a circumstance where fewer pieces make a bigger impact!
The best booths at the Artexpo were the ones where I could step inside and still breathe. There was plenty of white space around each piece, giving me a chance to appreciate and absorb the artwork without being distracted by other pieces.
The takeaway: It’s your artwork aesthetic that attracts visitors to your booth – but they won’t have a chance to appreciate that aesthetic if you don’t let each of your pieces make an individual statement.
There’s no need to display every piece you’ve ever made. It is far more important to display a consistent body of work so that visitors recognize your style and aesthetic later on, even after the fair is over.
It’s a good rule of thumb to maintain ⅓ of your overall wall space as white space around the artwork. So if you know how much wall space you have, you can compare that to the total coverage of the artwork you want to display, and add or drop pieces accordingly.
Engage your visitors, don’t overwhelm them
There is a fine line between engaging visitors in a conversation about your artwork and sounding desperate to make a sale.
Too many artists didn’t know when to stop talking. They offered to make the piece in other sizes, colours, or mediums, or talked about other pieces they had available – without me asking or having a chance to enjoy their artwork in the first place! It was kind, but completely overwhelming.
The takeaway: First, DO greet EVERYONE who visits your booth. Say hello, present your work and let people know what is interesting about it, but don’t ramble on and on.
I’ve mentioned before that no one wants to be the first one to buy from you. So don’t talk about what you can do for them, talk about what you have done before. This gives legitimacy to you and your work.
Finally, don’t eat or sleep at your booth. (Yes, I saw this happen!) It looks incredibly unprofessional and you just don’t know when the smell of your chili cheese fries will cause a potential client to avoid your booth altogether. Get a friend or family member to take over while you refuel or run to the bathroom.
Show genuine interest in the person you’re talking to
My best conversations were with artists who were engaging AND interested in who I was and my interests. Although I started off by asking questions about their artwork, the artist would quickly shift the conversation to me… asking who I was, where I was from, what I do, etc.
This kind of conversation isn’t nosy, it’s about learning what the person in front of you likes, dislikes, and what they’re likely to connect with. The better your emotional connection with a visitor, the more likely they are to walk away with a piece of your work, sign up for your mailing list, and continue following your progress.
I did end up buying a piece over the weekend – not because I felt pressured, but because the artist took the time to discover my interests and then left me alone to make a connection with his work.
The takeaway: If you’re using a one-size-fits-all sales pitch, your chances of connecting with the person standing in front of you is very low. After your introduction, ask them a few questions about themselves, and then leave them be. While it’s important to stay alert for any questions they might have, it’s also critical not to hover and let them commune with your work on their own terms.
Whether you’re preparing for an art fair, a group or solo show, or any other kind of exhibition, these are all good tips to keep in mind. Keep your display simple, your conversation light, and remember it’s not all about you!
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