By Aletta de Wal, Guest Blogger  - Summer art fair season is here in the northern hemisphere bringing art, wine, and traffic to a neighborhood near you.  

Lots of tents, lots of artists, lots of people browsing and lots of people at the food trucks paying $5 for a latte. 

I go to a lot of art fairs and I see a lot of great things happening.

I also see a lot of things that make me cringe. I even get embarrassed for the artist.

Luckily none of what I see is life-threatening and all of these miss-takes can be do-overs or do-betters.

For the record, I don’t believe in the fad of “failing forward” or “embracing failure”. The word failure is still highly negatively charged for most people I know. Maybe it’s just semantics but I think language is important and has an impact. So I prefer to talk about “miss-takes. “If Take 1, or Take 100 didn’t work, there are plenty more.

I’m a seasoned fair viewer and an exhibitor so I tend to see art fairs through both perspectives. After each experience, I find myself taking stock of what artists did that worked and what they could do better. (I can’t help it – I’m a coach so it’s what I do to help my clients and to learn for my own practices.)

Here are ten mistakes I’ve recently (and often) experienced first hand and what to do instead:

1.    Yawning and complaining about what a long day it’s been.

Art fairs are just plain hard work and require superhuman stamina. I’d rather not hear how tired you are. I prefer to learn more about your art and life as an artist.

Make sure that you are mentally, physically and emotionally up to the long hours, the crowds and the physical strain of working in noisy, hot/cold/ wet conditions. Or get people who are up to the challenges to help you.

2.    Towering stance with arms crossed, planted behind a three-foot counter and glaring at anyone who dared touch a piece.

I get it. The artist had worked hard to polish the wooden pieces until they gleamed. But if you are selling a hands-on kind of art and saying hands off, you are missing part of the buying process. I wanted to roll the dice on a board game I used to play as a child but I didn’t dare and I felt bad for even wanting to, so I left.

If your art can stand to be touched without damage, let folks touch – it’s part of their exploration. If your art is fragile, then make a sign asking people to ask you before they touch.

3.    Standing expressionless behind the ‘check out’ podium with the credit card machine instead of talking with viewers.

Avoiding eye contact and ignoring buying signals will lose you the sale of a reluctant buyer.  I wasn’t even reluctant. I really wanted a piece, so I talked to the artist and said I’d like to take the one on the top shelf. When she looked at me blankly I asked the price. When she told me the price, I said, “Okay. I’ll take it.” She didn’t move, so I asked if that piece was for sale. Finally, the penny dropped.

If you are going to show your art at an art fair, and your people skills are a little rusty, ask someone who has the gift of the gab to be your ‘front’ person

4.    Crowding the sole visitor in the booth.

Some booths are like a block party where everyone talks to everyone – artist and viewers alike. Then there are the ones with only one person who looks desperate to leave because the artist won’t leave them in peace to view the art. If I feel pressured to make a comment or buy something before I’m ready, I leave so I don't feel cornered.

Greet everyone as they enter your booth or display area. Give people space and let them know you’re there if they want to chat. Meanwhile watch closely for signs of interest and be ready to engage in conversation if they approach you with their eyes.

5.    Crowding the booth with too much art.

If you bring everything you’ve ever made so you can have something for everyone, you risk ‘kitchen sink’ visual overload. If my eyes are bouncing from one piece to the next, it’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Composing a booth design is best when you follow the guidelines of good art composition. Curate your display and use ‘white space” to help make your samples of your best work stand out.

6.    Creating traffic jams.

Art fair booths are like studio apartments. Too much furniture and you feel crammed in.

When you design your ‘pop-up’ display, consider how people will move through your booth, stop to reflect or talk and not feel trapped or afraid they'll knock something over if they turn too quickly.

7.    Chatting with friends instead of fans.

Having your family and friends come to support you is great as long as they don’t interfere with your main reason for being at the art fair – to get exposure for your art and build fans who may buy your art or tell others about it.

Make sure each person feels welcome, has access to you when they want it and gets your full attention when they signal that they want to chat or buy.

8.    Eating or reading in the booth.

Ladies and gentlemen – it’s show time as long as the art fair is open. Show visitors respect by being there to attend to them.

If you need a break to eat or read make sure to have a knowledgeable ‘booth sitter’ who can give you a break so you can come back fresh.

9.   Handing art to buyers without proper packaging.

You took care in making the work, packed it for transport and dusted everything when you set up the booth. Remember that piece I bought? It was heavy, made of metal and had some sharp edges. The artist wrapped one piece of tissue around it and said, “be careful.”

If you sell a piece, and it is fragile or has sharp edges, make sure you have more than tissue paper to send the piece home with a buyer. And if it’s heavy, offer to take the piece to the buyer’s car.

(A friend reminded me of a time when he wanted to buy a garden sculpture at an art fair out of state. The artists said we had to take it that day and deal with the transport ourselves. We fully expected to pay the freight. He said it was too much work. No apology. He lost a $1500 sale that day!)

10.   Forgetting your manners.

While the fair may feel like a marathon to you, each purchase is a step in the direction of you creating an audience of loyal fans and buyers.  I often get a greater show of appreciation from someone who sold me a piece for $25 than $250. That’s just wrong. I’ll be more likely to go back to the artist who appreciates my business next time.

Say please and thank you to everyone. Make them feel welcome and at home. Ask them if there is anything you can do to make their visit more enjoyable.

After each art fair, once you’ve had a chance to put your feet up, take a few minutes and write a list of ten things you did that worked and ten more that you can do better next time. That way you are your own cheering squad and you’ll do even better next time.

Let me know if you could use some help with your art fairs and I’ll share what I’ve learned. Please link to

Aletta de Wal is the author of “My Real Job is Being an Artist”, she is a successful Artist Advisor and a Certified Visual Coach.  Aletta de Wal inspires fine artists to make a better living making art in any economy. 

Aletta works with part-time, emerging and full-time artists who are serious about a career in fine arts. Aletta makes make art marketing easier and the business of art simpler. Equal parts artist, educator, and entrepreneur, Aletta has worked with over 4000 artists in groups and 400+ individually. 

Through her coaching, seminars, and books, artists in the vibrant online community learn to be focused, organized and confident in all art business matters.  Her clients agree that she inspires them to do the work to be successful, provides the detail to take specific action and supports them through the ups and downs of life as a working artist. Her website is


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