4 Things I Learned Selling at Outdoor Art Festivals and Shows

“No need to Google what Award of Merit means, it means “Supreme Kick-Assness”.” 

    I know we aren’t there yet, but we will have Shows and Festivals again.  They may not look like they did before, but we will get there. In the meantime, here are a few things that I found to be either a challenge, or invaluable.

1) Plan for Bad Weather

“The Cat Hair Sweater Sculpture booth…It’s gone!”

    When we (Mom and I) started doing Art Festivals and Shows it was winter.  In South Florida that means sunny skies with a light breeze and highs in the upper 70’s.  With a few Perfect weather shows under our belts we began to feel a bit cocky about our set up.  I guess Mother Nature caught wind of this (get it? wind) and delivered a piece of humble pie. That day the wind blew over every display on the tables, both racks of Paper Ornaments were toppled and we had to take the sides off our tent to reduce the wind resistance.  We were lucky, a guy a few rows over lost his tent to a big gust and half of his art was on the ground.  The couple across from us, who had been doing shows for years, helped us recover and gave us some great advice. 

    Two weeks later, after a lot of trial and error, we were ready for a show on the Treasure Coast.  Here’s what we did:  two sand bags and pegs* on each corner of the tent, pool noodles in the top corners for rain, bar clamps to hold down the table top displays, thin wirewire to hold down the jewelry busts and decorative weights (or rocks) for pamphlets.  Basically what you want to do is make damn sure your tent is pegged* and weighted, if the wind is really bad pack up and go (it’s not worth a ruined booth and possible injuries).  Next, treat your tables like anchors for your Display Props, then use your Display Props as anchors for your Product.  Surprise, Surprise, the wind was relentless (25 mph sustained winds with 40 mph gusts), but we were GOLD!  Aside from the sand we had to brush off, nothing moved.

*If you cannot use pegs bring extra weights

2) Don’t worry about Looking “The Part”

“I…am…The Artist!”

    Yeah, not even going to pretend that I didn’t feel the need to do this.  I was so worried about looking the part that I spent the first few shows itchy, miserable and exhausted.  Guess what?  No one cared if I looked like a tortured soul who lived on the fringe in pursuit of my muse.  They cared about my work and wanted to have conversations about that with me. 

    Dressing to fill a role only made it harder to relax and show the real place my art comes from, inside of me.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with having that “look” if it’s who you are, but if not, just be you-that’s who people want to talk to.  After that  I wore my style of clothes, chilled out and had fun!

3) Bring a Side-Kick

“Side-kick!!”

    You should also bring someone to help you. My Mom goes to every show with me and I could not do it without her. You will eventually have to use the rest room, get a drink, have a surge of buyers all wanting to check out at once or you just need stretch your legs.  It is also a HUGE help when setting up and breaking down (both figuratively and literally).  My Mom knows my work so well, she is in charge of the focal displays on each table. 

    Having that person there is invaluable.  If the Robin to your Batman is like my Mom and won’t take money for their help, buy them something from the show and dinner.  Be as generous with your gratitude as they have been with their time and work.

4) Be Friendly and Smile Even if You Don’t Feel Like it

“We are so Happy to be Here.”

    As a hard-core introvert I understand the pain of socializing.  It feels uncomfortable and can drain you to that foggy headed point.  I get it, but you can sleep it off the next day. The day of your show you have to be approachable and friendly.  Remember: You set up a booth at a public event, no one forced you to do it. Suck it up and smile!Another good reason to be welcoming to everyone (as if the money-I mean good vibes wasn’t enough!) is that you can’t be sure that the guy who just stepped into your space and asked about a piece isn’t a judge or an event co-coordinator.  This is where the side-kick comes in.  When Mom see’s me getting a bit spaced out she takes over and I can step out for a couple minutes.  Trust me, it makes a difference.

   Outdoor shows are so much fun and I encourage any one with interest to apply.  Check your weather for the date(s) as soon as it’s available and plan accordingly.  Be safe and have fun!

I know I have skipped a lot of things like: be nice to your booth neighbor, don’t start packing up early and keep your cash box safe, but these were the four things that I either struggled with or couldn’t do without.  

Buying Handmade Online?  Read these tips before buying

4 Things to Check before you Buy Handmade Online

“Hmmm, It says here that this Blowflex Max Trainer is Handmade.”

    Consumers are looking for alternatives to the mass produced; they want something unique, made with attention to detail and superior quality.  More and more people are engaged in Conscious Shopping that helps their budget and the environment by purchasing one thing that they will use for 10 years rather than something that has to be  replaced over and over again during that same time span.  They are looking for one unique piece that can take the place of 10.  Handmade fits the bill. It supports local economies, it takes less natural resources and energy to make (when compared to mass produced), the quality is unmistakable and the unique factor is there. 

    It’s great when you can go to a shop and see and feel the quality of a piece, maybe even meet the artist themselves and “talk shop”. But how do you do that online?  Are you getting Handmade or a factory made item with a “handmade with love” sticker slapped on it. Etsy is what most people think of when they want to shop for Handmade Online but when they changed their definition of Handmade in 2013, they lost a  lot of credibility and opened the door for mass produced.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t shop on Etsy, the honest Artists and Crafters there are not responsible for the muddied waters, just don’t make the mistake I did and think that handmade always means…well, Handmade!

    After feeling as though I’d been cheated out of the handmade experience one too many times I decided I would do a little investigating.  I compared the purchases that I was pleased with to the ones that I was not.  There was a pattern and   several purchases later I could confirm my method worked.  When I bought my next Handmade items I had a story for each one: “This mug was made in College Station, TX. The Potter used a Tenmoku glaze and she has 3 cats.” or “This bag was knitted with Alpaca yarn that the Crafter hand dyed with Yarrow. She likes wine and chocolate.”  Okay, maybe the Artists’ cats or wine and chocolate sessions didn’t influence my purchase (I said maybe), but I did have a better understanding of who made my new treasure and how.

    Okay, I figured it out, great, good for me, but what about other unsuspecting shoppers?  What if they were duped one too many times and quit looking online for their one-of-a-kind, quality purchases?!

“If my Chiseled Jaw and Rippling Abs weren’t so terribly distracting I would Travel the World spreading this Information.  Alas, I must write a Blog.”

    Fear not, below are the 4 things I do that have helped me to shop handmade with confidence.

1) Look at the Shops “About” Section.

“Hi, I’m Gertie. When I’m not making organic soap from Goat’s milk I’m turning the volume up to 11!”

What to look for:  Insights into their process and a knowledge of their craft; why they do what they do and how they do it! 

What to Avoid:  Shops with an empty “About” Section

    Creating is a lot of work that most Artists and Crafters spend years (if not a lifetime) perfecting and the “About” Section is the perfect place for them to share some of this. If an Artist is shy or reserved, they won’t share much personally (and that’s okay), they will focus instead on their work.
     The about section also has the Store Policies, the General Location of their shop and sometimes “behind the scenes” photos (these are gold!).  Many times there are links to their Social Media or Website.  Make sure to check their Return Policy and keep the terms of that in mind before buying.  Chances are you will come away from the “About” section having learned something cool about their work and a general feeling of who the person behind the creations is.

    There is no good reason for the “About” section to be blank.  The Artist has created this shop to show their wares and hopefully have someone purchase from them and they can’t be bothered to tell you a little about themselves or their work?! 

    2) Read the Descriptions of the item and look at the Pictures.

“See John, It says right there that it can withstand Shark Attacks, but NOT Toddlers.”

What to look for:  Materials used, measurements, Several pictures with different angles of the product, how it’s made.

What to Avoid:  No list of Materials used, less than 5 pictures, Nothing about how it is made

    The Description should answer any questions about a piece; its size, color, style and so on.  There should be a description about how it’s made.  As mentioned before, a lot of work goes into a handmade piece and a bit about that process should be expected. The Pictures that usually accompany the description will show the details of the Handmade piece.  The materials used should be listed here, if not, it begs the question of why. 
    As an online seller, they are presenting an item to you and asking you to purchase it without having held it or seen it (in person).  You deserve a good description from the person who made it. 

3) Do a Google Image Search (this picture is not funny)

This just suckedey suck sucks!

What to look for:  Other sites where it may be listed, more information about the artist

What to Avoid:  Copied Listings (see below)

   A Picture speaks a 1,000 words, and can sometimes save you 480%!  This generally works for items that the re-seller just copied the pictures from the original seller and made their own listing. Please be aware that in some instances it is the original seller whose photos (especially if it is a best selling item) are hijacked and used to sell an inferior copy. Here is where the About section and descriptions help to suss out the “imposter”.  If you suspect this is the case, message the seller and let them know their hard work is being used by someone else!

From your phone: press and hold your finger on the image and a side menu will pop up.  Toward the bottom is a “search Google for this image” click on that and see what comes up. 

From your Computer: right click on the image you want to search and a side menu will pop up. Toward the bottom is a “search Google for this image” click on that and see what comes up. 

    If you like the item whether it is handmade or not, you just saved a lot of money!

4) Ask The Artist!

“Where were you on the night of October 13th 1998?”

  If the About Section, Pictures, Description and Google image search do not give you enough information for a confident purchase, Ask the Artist!  Do not feel like you are bothering them, this is their online shop and they have invited you in as their guest.  Expect to be treated as such.  Artists and Crafters are passionate about their work and the process of creating. You asking questions shows that you value this.  I love getting questions from my customers, it’s one of the few times I get to be the “expert”.  What kind of questions should you ask? Ask questions about their crafting process, how long they have been doing it, where did they learn, how long does it take to finish a piece, do their 3 cats like wine and chocolate.  Don’t expect trade secrets, but do look for some transparency and knowledge.

I wrote this in the hopes of sharing some of the things I have learned that empowered me to shop handmade online and discover the beautiful items to be had.  

I used Etsy by name and in the example picture of the Google image search because they are the best known site for handmade and they have NO vetting process for their sellers. I do have a store on Etsy.

Amazon Handmade has a vetting process for their sellers that includes shop photos and a detailed description of the work.

A new and upcoming site: goimagine has an auditing process for their sellers and donates 100% of their profits to charities for children.  I call that a win win!

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