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Hello, i'm stepping up from Saturday markets and doing my first 3 day art fair.  long days.  10am  - 8 pm.   I'm really nervous.  I'd love any advice on how to be successful.  I've got about 80 pieces made from small to larger.  i wasn't sure about pricing (price higher since its large art fair and an affluent neighborhood?).    also all of my pieces are different so i wasn't sure how to present them.  only so much can fit on the tables.  i was going to have a catalog of inventory that's in boxes below the tables so they might find something else they are interested in.   I look at each piece with such a critical eye, i'll have to resist the urge to point out all of the flaws i see :( .  any advice is appreciated (how to draw people into booth.... how to give them ideas for use - does anyone else get that question "i love this bowl but what would i use it for---ITS A BOWL).  Thank you!

 

 

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Keep some inventory aside if you need to. You don't have to have everything out all at once. Too much will overwhelm people. Just keep the surplus organized so it's easy to find a certain color/shape/size if someone asks for it.

Get a good cooler and keep it stocked with food and beverages. There's nothing worse than being hungry or thirsty while sitting there. Keep rain gear and a full change of clothes in your booth, including shoes and undergarments. You might need them if the weather turns.

Never apologize for your work. If someone critiques it, either thank them for their ideas or explain why you did it the way you did. But never admit that it's flawed in some way. Most flaws are only visible to you. Don't de-value your work with your words.

Pricing is difficult, so go with your gut until you've done a few more shows and have a better feel for what prices your work can get. I never change prices for specific shows. If they won't sell at a certain price, that show probably isn't a good fit for my work anyway.

Every artist has something they say to almost everyone that comes into their booth. For me it's telling them that my pieces are dishwasher and microwave safe. It's the question I get the most, so I open with that. It breaks the ice. Figure out something simple and interesting that will get the conversation going. Give people time to look. Don't pounce on them. Find that balance between letting them know that you're paying attention to them, but giving them their space.

Good luck!

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17 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

Don't de-value your work with your words.

That is an important bit of advice! Everything Neil mentioned is gold and should help assure a good experience at these shows.  I want to address the "flaws" disclosure issue. My perspective is perhaps a bit different from many ceramists, and I am not  a professional.   For me, the role of "flaws" in clay (or paintings, sculpture etc.) is an aesthetic and  philosophical issue that each craftman/artist should explore and come to personal terms with. Over time I have  moved from seeing technical flaws as flaws in the work--and even as flaws in me as the creator-- to seeing technical flaws as just that: technical.  If I am aiming for the best craft, the most sound chemistry/technique etc., that really matters. But if that is not my goal, then said flaws are not necessairly artistically "wrong".  Obviously, there is also the matter of values, and one should be quite clear about what one's values are, and why.  Then your words will reflect your values.

3 hours ago, cbarnes said:

i'll have to resist the urge to point out all of the flaws i see

First question---what flaws do you see? The flaws I see depend not just on my knowledge of ceramics, but also on my approach to the field and the process I use to generate my style. I decide, on a piece-by-piece basis, whether to accept technical flaws or not, as an artist. If I don't accept the flaws (i.e. the glaze crawled, piece has got some burples, there is a warped curve--whatever) the piece meets Mr. Hammer.  On the other hand,  I may choose to embrace those vagaries of forming the clay, glaze & firing as it is expressed in the finished piece, "warts and all".  Not ever to deceive or mislead a customer regarding the integrity of the piece--i.e. if it doesn't hold water one must disclose that the "vase" is only for dried flowers or pencils--but to stand behind my style, to affirm my point of view as the maker.  

The point I am making is that while that perspective is not for everyone, perceiving flaws as flaws is a conscious process and may extend beyond the technical aspects. So, in that regard, it might be worth some of your time to think about what it is you do see as flaws, and why, and what do you want to do --or not do--about it. None of that involves pointing anything out with a customer! 

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4 hours ago, cbarnes said:

also all of my pieces are different so i wasn't sure how to present them.  only so much can fit on the tables.  i was going to have a catalog of inventory that's in boxes below the tables so they might find something else they are interested in.

If the pieces are all vastly different then to avoid it looking like a mishmash I would take the less is more approach to setting up your display. Set up a table at home and put your pots out then snap a picture of it when you've got it sorted, do this for all the tables / fixtures / whatever you will be setting up on so you have a planogram ready to go. This (hopefully) will get you into work mode rather than being stressed at the beginning with your setup.  

Being pleasant but not overbearing is huge. I usually just say good morning or hello then be approachable.  I don't know your work but just thinking of customers in a booth, I'm not sure people would stop and look through a catalogue. I don't change prices depending on the venue either.

4 hours ago, cbarnes said:

does anyone else get that question "i love this bowl but what would i use it for---ITS A BOWL)

Can't do anything about those type of customers. I had one customer who asked if my mugs were for coffee, I said something along the lines of "sure" and then she asked if she could use them for hot chocolate too. I kid you not. I'm sure we've all had them, just try not to grin until you're alone. I live in a very multicultural area, one person might be buying a large bowl to serve a curry in, next person might want one for Pho, next person for popcorn so having an answer for everyone is next to impossible. Just don't do what my partner did at a sale, he was explaining how French Butter dishes work and he said the usual stuff then added that it stops the cat from licking the butter. :blink:Needless to say they walked away. 

I can't recall if anyone has ever critiqued my work while at a sale, not that I can think of, can't change what people do so no point stressing over that possibility either.

If you don't already use them then a heavy yoga mat or foam squares to stand on if you are going to be behind a table really help, I'ld also take a change of footwear too for such long days. In my grab bag of all the odd stuff I take I also have Tylenol, allergy meds etc. as I've needed those a few times.

 

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I agree with the advice posted above.

My advice is to keep your mind free of expectations. Easier said than done, but since this is your first real art fair, your goal is to gain experience, not sales. I’ve seen a lot of noobs at their first big fair, who for some reason thought they were going to sell everything they brought, and end up feeling very disappointed and discouraged. Those expectations aren’t realistic for a new seller, especially if you are bringing a range of work without a cohesive style. 

Instead of sales, you should be focusing on the logistics of doing a big 3 day show. You will learn so much just by doing one. Evaluate everything you did and make plans to do the next one better. Becoming good at doing shows is a long, incremental process of learning and practice. (just like learning to make pots, go figure). 

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I really like what @GEP said there. Being good at doing shows is as important as selling at the show if you want to make it all work and do it long term. I see so many artists who have been doing shows for years and still don't seem to have a clue what they're doing, and they're stressed out the whole time.  You'll figure out systems that work for you, but here's a few things that make it work for me:

1. No cardboard boxes. Everything goes into plastic tubs so rain is not an issue.

2. Small tables, and adaptable shelving. By using 4' tables instead of 5' or 6' tables, I can set up in a number of different configurations. This is important because some shows require you to have half of your booth up on the sidewalk and half on the street, or sometimes you'll get put on really uneven ground, or have to work around a big tree root. I can set up my shelves on top of the tables in either 4 foot or 6 foot widths, or do a smaller setup for one day shows or indoor shows that have smaller spaces. I typically do a 4'x8' L and a single 4' table. For small shows I just do the L, or I can set up a U if I'm partially on a curb. I can set up in a space of just about any size.

3. Invest in the best canopy you can afford and make it sturdy. If you don't have a ton of money to spend on a premium canopy, then get a popup and spend some money on weights and stabilizer bars. You want at least 40 pounds on each leg. Stabilizer bars will make any popup much stronger, and will keep the walls from blowing in on your pots. If you do it right, you won't have to panic whenever a storm rolls in. An awning out the back of the booth to provide shade for you will be a big help, too.

4. Get there early and give yourself plenty of time. My rule is to always be set up at least an hour before the official start of the show. That way I don't have to rush, and might make some sales from the early birds. If that means leaving the house at 5am to set up Saturday morning, that's fine.

5. If you find yourself being stressed about some aspect of doing the show, figure out how to fix that. The less stress you have, the more successful you'll be.

 

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I  think lots of folks have dealt with many of the "how to's" beautifully already, but I think the thing that doesn't get talked about a whole lot is how to actually deal with the awkward things that fall out of some people's heads once they've entered your 10x10 domain. Things like when someone asks you what a soup bowl is for.

While sarcasm can be entertaining, it's not going to win you a good reputation. And it's kind of mean.

Being immersed in craft processes as we are, we sometimes forget that some other people have limited exposure to handmade anything. Many are removed from where everything in our lives comes from, so we folk who make stuff are kind of mysterious and exotic. (And let's face it: some of us can be weird.)

I try and approach those situations with a couple of assumptions in mind. First, that most people mean well and deserve the benefit of the doubt. Second, compassion is my preferred method of dealing with people.

When you get those awkward questions, I think people aren't trying to say something stupid, but in that moment they've been challenged by an idea that's new to them, or their brains processing too many thoughts and the words don't come out right. Odds are they're miscommunicating something, or leaving out large parts of their thought processes. They're not really confused by the function of a bowl, they're confused by the fact that it's hand made, or somehow special, and therefore where does it fit and under what specific situation does this special thing get used, and how does that fit within their current sense of abundance or lack thereof and do I have to hand wash this sucker?

Sometimes, they're just plain stressed out and uncomfortable.

Odds are also good that this person isn't going to buy something they can't reconcile in their own head. That's ok. They don't have to buy it: not everyone is your customer. 

You have two options in this instance: get them to visualize themselves using a piece by giving them a really specific scenario like "Wouldn't that be a fantastic mug to drink your first cup of coffee out of while wrapped in a blanket and watching the sunrise on your deck?" If the person genuinely likes the piece and were just trying to figure out how to work it into their lives, picturing themselves using it will help close the sale. The second option is to give the person a gracious way to exit your booth. Do this for the person who has clearly decided that what's in your booth isn't their thing, or within their budget. Often this shopper will move on quickly under their own power, but if they dither because they feel awkward and don't want to be rude, suggesting they put something in it from one of the food vendors will usually "remind" them that they're suddenly hungry.

 

 

 

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On 6/27/2019 at 8:03 PM, LeeU said:

 

First question---what flaws do you see? The flaws I see depend not just on my knowledge of ceramics, but also on my approach to the field and the process I use to generate my style. I decide, on a piece-by-piece basis, whether to accept technical flaws or not, as an artist. If I don't accept the flaws (i.e. the glaze crawled, piece has got some burples, there is a warped curve--whatever) the piece meets Mr. Hammer.  On the other hand,  I may choose to embrace those vagaries of forming the clay, glaze & firing as it is expressed in the finished piece, "warts and all".  Not ever to deceive or mislead a customer regarding the integrity of the piece--i.e. if it doesn't hold water one must disclose that the "vase" is only for dried flowers or pencils--but to stand behind my style, to affirm my point of view as the maker.  

The point I am making is that while that perspective is not for everyone, perceiving flaws as flaws is a conscious process and may extend beyond the technical aspects. So, in that regard, it might be worth some of your time to think about what it is you do see as flaws, and why, and what do you want to do --or not do--about it. None of that involves pointing anything out with a customer! 

thank you! the "flaws" i see are usually in the paint, crawling or blurring of lines.  i've just started carving pieces after i take them off the wheel and then paint underglaze in a pretty detailed pattern.  its painful to go to Mr. Hammer after all of that work... but i do learn from it.  i usually give them away to family and friends.  they dont seem to mind the "flaw" in the paint.  Cracked me up at my last family gathering when the stampede started the minute i said there was  free pottery on the deck.  i am going to try to overlook some of the problems i see and show them anyway, maybe they wont care if there is a tiny spot of black in the white design.

 

 

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Thank you so much for all of the advice.  i feel a little less nervous.  i'm just going to try very hard not to have any expectations... do the best i can at customer interaction and more important LEARN.  i have found on my journey so far as a pottery, that you are always learning.  your comments helped me remember that.

 

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As you start gathering your information and prepping for your next show I would take a look at inventory and try and determine where your revenue is going to come from. Ours usually comes from about 50% mugs/tumblers and perhaps a quarter comes from under $15 items. The rest comes from an assortment of platters, bowls, vases and other higher end pots. We use Square for checking out both credit cards and cash so we have a good record of everything in one spot. I would recommend checking them out.

I bet you will be surprised how little difference running the booth is than your market shows.  

Good luck! 

Edited by Stephen

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one thing you might want to consider is where in the world you are going to be situated.   yes, the world.  will your booth open toward the east so the front of it will be exposed to very intense sunlight early in the day?   if so, be careful not to burn customers who might pick up something dark and therefore extra hot.  having an awning  built into your tent is very helpful.   if you can buy another one for the opposite side, do it.   you might not be able to use both every time but when you can it is very good to have.

will the wind be blowing and from what direction?   are you going to be broiled by the afternoon sun by putting your chair in the left or the right back corner?  look at the map that you are given to find your booth and make sure you know where  N S E and W are in relation to the front of your tent.   plan ahead is an old saying but it is a good one.

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What you see as flaws, others will see as natural or design elements.  You are the only person who knows what you were aiming for, everyone else will be in awe that you made it.

True flaws are vases they don't hold water, rough edges on the rim of a mug,  those kind of thing.

Loads of good advice above.

Enjoy........

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When I say flaws its usually in my paint job.  here are some examples.  drips from the dip on the red one being "milky".   the sculpted vase with the black lines leaching into the colored glaze. and the crusted looking brown  underglaze on one.  didn't apply the maroon thick enough on one piece.   its just hard to toss them out when you put so much time into a piece.  part of the process I guess.  and I learn from each one.

 

pottery9.jpg

pottery8.jpg

pottery 7.jpg

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Factories in china are turning out pots with the same "flaws" on every 6th pot. While no one wants to have bad pots on the rack I think you have to be very careful about tossing pots that just have characteristic blemishes from being hand made.   

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