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The Setup: a post for artrepreneurs about displays

I've started this post 3 times now. I'll finish it this time, I promise. Today, I want to talk to you about setups. This post is meant for artrepreneurs and those who love us. Those people who volunteer their time to help us with an event. We love you, we honor you, we value you, we'll talk about y'all in another post. What we're talking about today is event setup. Specifically, my event setup. Why talk about this? Because this is a space for artrepreneurs to go and feel seen, heard and acknowledged. And yes, having a perfectly curated Instagram page is cool, and yes, it is totally awesome to have a banging website (like this one), but the in- person sales at events can often be super challenging, especially if your setup is whack.

Before I get to the details of event prep, let me say that even when I had a full time job, this schedule was pretty much the same. I didn't have any kids then, and even though my partner and her sons live with me now,  the boys are all over the age of 15, so they don't need constant supervision, which saves me time and energy that many of you may not have. I'm saying this to say, this schedule I'm about to discuss works for me. You can and must create a schedule that works exclusively for you. I don't know your life. But I do know having a solid event prep routine, or even the skeleton of one, puts you in a better position for success at an event. 

Most of my events happen on the weekend, a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This works best with my partner's schedule and honestly, with mine too. So on the MONDAY before an event on say a Saturday or Sunday, I take inventory. I look at what I have in the following categories and decide if I'll have enough time to complete more pieces by the THURSDAY before the event. The categories are:

  • raw surfaces (canvases, journals, and boxes) because i have to have something to paint on
  • paint (I keep a running list of what's low and when I replaced it so even if I can't readily see a tube of paint, I know what's in it or if it's in the trash)
  • varnish (I varnish all my pieces before they're sold for longevity, and try to give it at least 48 hours to cure before an event. My house is really dry, so varnish cures much quicker than it did in my last apartment.)
  • paintings/ journals/ boxes (How many do I have? How many do I want to take? Is there enough variety?)

Because I'm an intuitive artist, and paint pretty much every day, I don't usually have an issue with having "nothing" to take because I'm always creating something. But if there was anything missing from the list, this is the day I start working on filling those gaps. 

Sometimes I have an issue with knowing what to take where. So on TUESDAY, I sit down and research the event to figure out what the attendees would want based on the theme of the event, and then structure my list of what goes around that idea. That often means laying everything out on the floor and picking from there, which is a bit more time consuming, but it works out well. 

By WEDNESDAY, I'm varnishing everything that's ready to be varnished and resting because the final creative push is coming, plus the event, and I don't want to burn out. I use a spray varnish for my pieces pretty exclusively because acrylic pours can be finicky, and may react (even when dry) to a poured-on varnish in ways that make me want to snatch my eyelashes out.

On THURSDAY, I'm painting journals because they take less time to dry and I can do a stack of them in about 6 hours. Thursday is the day I make the attempt to do my product tags, journal inserts, and pricing so on Friday I don't have to do anything but take a final inventory, check the varnish, make sure everything is signed and get things loaded in my car. The price tags are printed on white paper that I glue on black card stock with a yellow card stock accent to match my brand colors.  

Let me take a minute to talk about product tags. I used to hate the idea of product tags (price tags) because I thought it was too much like a retail situation to have a tag on a painting at an event. I was being stupid. I was an absolute goof. I was also walking in fear and self doubt. I thought if I charged what the art was worth people would look at it, scoff, tell me how worthless it was, and walk off. Fear is a whole ass liar. Anyway, it takes a few hours because I make most of my stuff by hand, but the price tags help a lot for a few reasons. First, they show people that you care about your art because each piece has a name. Second, they make clear what the price of a piece is,so people can make informed decisions. Third, but definitely not last, they give people a chance to really enjoy your art without feeling like you're begging or pressed about sales, even if you are. Because let's be real, most events aren't free. You have to pay the fees for a space, sometimes for a space and a table/chairs, electricity, gas to get there, supplies to create, et cetera. And we're not even going to get into the minutiae of the costs of your electricity, water bill, WiFi, et cetera that go into your creative process. So being there means you want to make money, even if it's just to recoup your vendor fee. This helps. Tag your art. 

On FRIDAY night, no matter what's happening, I pack my car. I luckily live in an area that makes it okay for my art to be in my car overnight, but before I moved here, I definitely didn't do that. Now, it saves me time and energy and gives me a few minutes the day of (if the event has an early call time), just in case Starbucks is packed. 

Now let's talk about the setup itself. I'm an intuitive artist, and I denied that for a while. But since I made the decision to be serious about my art and my processes and the business  of my art, I take that fact into consideration with my setup. Which means I don't just put my art up any old kind of way. I try to get to the event early enough to survey the entire event space, and regardless of whether or not I get to pick where I am set up, I figure out how to structure my display so people will be able to see something eye catching from every possible angle. 

 

 

This is where the intuitiveness comes in. My art decides how it is set up. I have a few basic definitive rules, like the number of easels, and using crates to add height and dimension for smaller items, but as far as where everything goes, that's up to the art. This can be annoying to people who help me with events because they'll set things up for me and I'll come behind and undo/redo what they've done. It's not that I don't appreciate the help, but these pieces are like my babies, I know them intimately, so I know where they'd be best suited. There are times when I'm foggy on a specific placement, and that's when another set of eyes are necessary because they don't "know" my pieces like that, and can be objective and see it from the perspective of a potential buyer. If I'm doing it alone, I walk away from the setup and out of the room if possible, and then walk back in, looking at the whole display as if I were someone who'd never seen any of this before. That helps me catch misplaced art and fine tune the display. 

 When setting up, here's a few things I do. Now, you are not obligated to listen to shit I say about art. I'm not an expert on selling your art, but I'm pretty good at selling mine, for what it's worth. 

  • Balance colors. If I have dark pieces on the left side of the display, I put dark pieces on the right side. Same thing for height. It creates continuity and draws people in. They'll read the display like a sentence, which is what I want. 
  • Anchor the table with non canvas items. I paint on canvases as small as 4x4 and as large as 40x40, but I also paint on journals and boxes. I usually place those items in the center of the table because, following the sentence metaphor, they serve as a semicolon, breaking up the display and keeping things interesting. If you don't do other surfaces, don't worry, you can break up your display in a similar way by arranging your smaller pieces in the center to give the same effect. The point is for the customer to look at as much of what you have to offer as possible, increasing their interest and potential purchase. 

  • Use as much non table space as possible. I use larger display easels for big pieces or to stack smaller pieces, increasing my display size and the surface area covered by my art. What this does is allows me to draw people in to the display. This is especially helpful if my display area is small, or if I don't have viable wall space. The floor easels add another few feet of display space. 

 

 

From start to finish, the set up time takes about 30-45 minutes depending on how much I bring and how much space I have. This does not include unloading the car or placing tags on everything. Just putting thing on a display surface or on an easel. Once it's done, I take pictures for documentation and color balance, and get ready to make money. 

I hope this was helpful. If you have questions or tips you'd like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. 

Peace. 

 


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