Participating in my very first art show was exactly the push I needed to call myself an artist, push past my comfort zone, and elevate my business to a higher level.
I formally started my business in June of 2018, but that was really just the birth of my business page. I received a direct message on Instagram sometime in July or so about a local art show in D.C. with a group called “RAW Artists” - and to be honest, I thought it was a scam.
I sat on it for a little bit. What if this was an actual real life opportunity? But the realist in me was very hesitant. I decided the best way to move forward at that point was to do some research. It turns out that the RAW Artist Group is an organization that holds art shows around the world, dozens of times each year. It was real! I still wasn’t sure what made them reach out to me, but I finally felt prepared to engage with the RAW liaison.
After learning about my obligations and the pros/cons of the show, I was sold. Each art show is different. Some events require artists to pay an exorbitant booth fee, regardless of whether they make any sales - and some require a percentage of the sales commission, on top of that. Although I understand the value that some showcases can bring to artists looking for exposure, I wasn’t sure if that model was appropriate for me at the time. Luckily, with RAW, the requirements were a bit different. In short, I needed to sell 20 tickets for about $22 each. In turn, my booth would be “paid for” (meaning I wouldn’t have to pay for the booth out of pocket), and the sales also ensured that we had people actually attending the show. What a concept! In exchange, RAW would provide the display materials, and coordinate necessary logistics and marketing for the event at large. You’re also able to create your own page on the RAW website. Participants just had to sell the tickets, promote the event, and show up.
For anyone considering participating in an art show like this, I’ll be honest: it took a LOT of work to prepare for the show, and I spent more money on certain things than I’d like to admit. It depends on your craft and some other factors, but I’ll quickly outline some things I needed to purchase and prepare for.
First, I needed to buy a slew of supplies for the show. These included a plastic table cloth to cover the wire panel holding up my artwork, a dark table cloth to cover the table display for some smaller pieces, zip-ties and S-hooks to hold up canvases and connect other pieces to the wire frame, small easels to display my mini D.C. maps, a power strip to plug in lights and a charger, and bags for customers. I also needed to create branding materials, so I designed and purchased my very first set of art business cards through VistaPrint and lettered a sign on a small chalkboard detailing my business, social media pages, and methods of payment.
It didn’t end there. I also had to plan how to get to and from the event, in the heart of Washington, D.C., without my own vehicle. I had an amazing friend Mary help me out. I rented a Zipcar, which she drove back home for me after we unloaded the car and got everything by my booth in the venue. I had to plan how to make sure I ate enough food, so I bought a pre-made pasta salad from Trader Joe’s the day before, and brought lots of snacks. Set-up began at 2:30 PM but the show didn’t begin until 7:00 PM, so lots of food and water were imperative! I also had to figure out how in the heck to take more forms of payment than cash, Venmo, and Paypal - so I created a Cashapp account, and signed up with Square to get a free card reader so that I could take payment via credit card (for a fee, of course). Tip: make sure if you get Square that you set it up before the event, and that you have service or WiFi for it to function properly.
Before the day of the show, I tried to roughly plan out how I wanted to set up all of my pieces. I had a large range of pieces - from 3x4 foot canvases to small 6x9 inch mini D.C. maps. Planning this in advance helped me get into the venue and set up pretty quickly, with some time to spare before doors opened. However, I brought a lot of extra props (like wrapped boxes to display my ornaments) that were beautiful but were a hassle to set up and bring to the event. Looking back on it, I wish I used my suitcase to pack up most of the items and used props that were easier to transport and set up for the display. We live and learn though, so I wised up and used the suitcase to transport items for my second show.
A final note about preparation: I had to sell the tickets! Before I decided to participate in the showcase, I needed to gauge interest. I polled local friends about whether they’d be interested in buying a ticket/attending. I told myself that worst case, I would be willing to shell out about $200 for the show, if I couldn’t sell all of the tickets. It seemed like a fair investment if worst came to worst. But maybe there was a different way I could promote ticket sales? I decided to create an incentive: for each ticket purchased, I would create a small customized map for the ticket purchaser, and send a hand-written thank you note. This was the key! Also I must say I’m so fortunate to have such a supportive network of friends and family who helped me reach this goal. You all know who you are, and I’m so thankful for your help.
Enough about preparing for the show - let’s talk about the experience itself! I was NOT mentally prepared for how many people were about to be packed into this tiny space. There were over 1,000 patrons in the Howard Theatre, along with dozens of vendors both upstairs and downstairs. I was fortunate enough to be set up right in front of the bar: prime real estate! I did have some drunk people straggle by my pieces and occasionally accidentally kick a box from my display or get so close to a piece that they almost knocked it over - but overall, everything worked out. I had several attendees ask about my pieces, and sold a few smaller pieces. I was so excited to sell one of my large canvases to a new client, Linda. Little did I know at the time that Linda would later go on to commission two more of my large paintings. You never know who you’ll meet, or what an important role they’ll play in the growth of your business.
All in all, the show was a success! I managed to sell all of my tickets, and a few extra. I was able to make enough pieces for the show, and sell several of them. And I’ve even had several lovely individuals keep in touch since my first show. I went on to participate in my second show in February of 2019, which was a blast! I had a better idea of what to expect, and although there were some unexpected logistical challenges, everything worked out in the end.
This turned out to be a much longer post than I anticipated - much like preparation for the show. It took a long time to make all the pieces for the show and the incentive paintings for each ticket purchaser. I spent just about all my free time making sure everything would get done in time. I wouldn’t change a thing, though.
If you’re preparing for an art show or looking for tips or recommendations, I’d love to try and help out. Feel free to connect with me via Instagram at @dcbrushesandstrokes or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.