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artist to artist etiquette at shows

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I've mentioned stuff like this before on the forum, but I think it would be nice to have a thread where we share etiquette tips for artists at shows. If you last on the art show circuit, you will make some very good friends. But there is definitely a culture that you need to understand, in order to get along with other artists.

I rarely have problems with rude customers at shows. The worst personalities I have met at shows are some of the other artists, who are being rude or tone deaf. 

In my book, Rule #1 is "do not ever get between an artist and their customers." 

If you are in another artist's booth chatting, as soon as a customer walks in, leave. Stop talking in the middle of a sentence if necessary. Just make a small hand wave and leave. You can finish your conversation later. It's not as important as the artist's need to say hello to the customer.

Similarly, if the artist from across the aisle is in your booth talking, and you see a customer walk into their booth, quietly point over their shoulder and gesture with your eyes to let them know they have a customer. Again, it's normal for that person to stop talking in the middle of a sentence, and go back to their booth. At one show, during one of those preview night parties, a customer came to the booth next to mine, and looked like she was prepared to wait until the artist came back. I could see the artist waiting in line at the bar. So I walked over to the bar to tell her a very motivated-looking customer was waiting in her booth. She ran back. I would certainly want someone to do that for me. 

This is on my mind today, because at last weekend's show, I had to endure a very clueless artist who did not know Rule #1. I guess I am lucky that I was able to complete a sale even though he wouldn't shut up. 

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Here's another one, which seem so obvious but unfortunately I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it.

Do not block access to your neighbor's booth, either physically or visually.

One time, someone on a bicycle came to talk to my neighbor. After a few minutes, she said "hey your bicycle is blocking my booth. Can you stand over here instead?" and made him stand in front of my booth. WTF?! I waited about 10 minutes to see how long he planned to stand there. Then I stood up and politely asked him not to stand there. He got it, apologized, and left. I'm not sure the artist understood what she'd done.

It's also wrong to put part of your display in front of your allotted booth space. This means customers cannot walk in a straight line along a row of booths. If they are diverted around an obstruction, the next booth gets fewer visual hits. I've seen artists do this unintentionally, and some who are definitely doing it on purpose. 

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I think of artist to artist etiquette pretty broadly. It's not just about how you directly affect your neighbors, but how you affect the show as a whole. For me it all comes down to professionalism. Not just in the quality of your work, but in how you display it, how safely you display it, and your attitude toward customers and other artists.

One of my biggest peeves is artists who treat other artists as competition, which they totally aren't. I prefer to think of us as a team. The better we treat each other, the happier everyone will be, and the more successful the show will be. But some artists are just rude to other artists, block access with their car during load in and load out, push the boundaries of their booth space, and just aren't very considerate and kind in general. Those artists also aren't usually very shy about voicing their negative opinions to customers. That kind of attitude and unhappiness can greatly affect the mood of a show and hurt sales.

When artists are ready to go on time, their displays are safely set up and ready for any type of weather, and their attitudes are good, the show does better.  If you're still setting up your display at noon, you need to get your act together. If you don't have the proper materials to set up your display without a slight breeze knocking things over, you need to get your act together. Customers freak out when things fall over. Windy days can be as bad as rain. When something falls, it can be heard a block away, and it distracts people from whatever they were looking at in other booths. Also along those lines, a good canopy is key. I hate when artists show up with a weak, cheap canopy because they 'only do a few shows a year'. It doesn't matter how many shows you do. It only takes one show for your booth to wipe out a neighbor or at the very least cause the customers to stress out because your stuff is falling over.

I take two tool boxes to every show, and half of the stuff is there in case someone else needs help with their setup- extra clamps, extra shims, extra zip ties, pliers, screwdrivers, box cutters, etc. I do better when my neighbor isn't having issues because the shoppers aren't feeling tense about what's going on next door.

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I think of Neil Gaiman's speech that he gave at that graduation ceremony. He was speaking about how to get work as a writer, but I think the sentiment applies to how to behave professionally as an artist in most situations. He said you have to do 3 things: show up on time, do good work, and be nice to people.

Show Up On Time covers things like, but are not limited to:

Showing up for load in on time, and to your booth early enough to get the lights on and your coat put away; having all your materials with you; having the proper equipment and what you need to set it up with, reading the load in and load out instructions so you know where you're supposed to be and when; not blocking traffic areas so people can't get to where they need to be. DO NOT pack up early.

Do Good Work covers things like, but are not limited to:

Making your pieces to the best of your ability: doing testing to make sure everything works as it should. Documenting that work so you have good images when you need them. Doing your writing so you have it to hand when you need it. Doing your marketing when you know you ought to. Making some basic shop policies for yourself ahead of time, so you aren't put on the spot when someone asks you "Do you do custom work?" or "This thing I bought broke just after I bought it/a month after I bought it/last year. How do you want to deal with this?"

Be Nice to People covers things like, but are not limited to:

Remembering first and foremost that someone else's bad behaviour does not reflect on you, but your bad behaviour does: "He did it first" didn't fly when you were a kid, either. Being patient with others: everyone is stressed, and everything can be figured out like the creative adults we all are.  Not interfering with sales, as mentioned above. Providing information and payment to the organizers when they need it. Don't gossip about other vendors to your booth neighbours if they're making something you think is ugly or not your thing: they are still human beings. If they 're doing something the show organizer needs to know about it, tell the show organizer rather than me, and let the organizer deal with difficult situations. Stay sober, sane and as present as you can be in your booth (you have to pee and walk around sometime, I get it). Plan where you're going to keep empty storage boxes/your personal stuff/overstock, and make sure that's not in your neighbour's space. Stay within your allotted space and don't let your display creep into the fire exits/the aisles/your neigbour's booth. Don't take power you didn't pay for, or ask me if you can skim off of someone else's:  breakers are an issue. Save comparing financial notes with people you're closer to and trust, and don't do it during the show.


I'm super, super lucky that 99.8 percent of the other folks I've ever worked with in the last 5 years or so have been fantastic. The other .2 percent can be counted on one hand.

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Here’s another ”what not to do” ... Please do not play music in your booth, loud enough to hear in neighboring booths. It might be the right atmosphere for your booth, while being totally wrong for your neighbor. In the same vein, do not conduct your salesmanship loudly enough to be heard outside your booth. You basically have to shout to accomplish this, but I’ve seen it! Think carnival barker. 

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I could write a book on this really.

Music, clueless vendors, just scratching the surface of faux pas really.

What if your neighbors brought a chicken with them in the booth next door?

How about a live keyboard instrument to play  during show to sell their product-music CDs.

Pop gun booth next door with line that sticks out 30 feet full of screaming kids-kills crowd flow

Ok I must stop before rant is the main feature.

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1 hour ago, Rae Reich said:

My worst booth neighbor was a guy who demonstrated his skill at carving/etching unglazed pots with a dental drill - all day and evening for 2 1/2 days!! Burning porcelain smells just like tooth drilling, too!

Hehe, I am now amending my rule to "don't invade your neighbors' spaces physically, visually, audibly, or olfactorily!"

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There have been many a long rant on certain facebook groups about the weirdness one encounters at shows. It's interesting to me that there are so very many of them dedicated to the lack of tent weights. While outdoor shows are a bit of a lark in summertime in Canada, they're not the usual. That said, I did have one neighbour who didn't read the show information for a short night market,  didn't bring any kind of tent weights, and asked me if it was ok to tie off to mine because the wind was picking up and it was getting rainy.

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I have supplied weights to more than one neighbor. Nothing worse than pots getting distroyed by the neighbors booth blowing into mine. I have had the neighbors dogs break my pots and the owner not pay up. Really clueless neighbors selly dog hats. I like to be next to glass folks who have breakables like me.They usually are the best neighbors


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  • 2 weeks later...

Prepare for wind, if not for your work sake but for you neighbors work.

I usually have extra weights in the van. I normally do 60 pounds per leg but carry enough weight when doing a two day show to take it to 100 a leg...i have loaned out these weights to clueless first timers.

This past November i did a one day show that i gotta say was my windiest to date. As i unloaded my van  I watched in horror as the booth two doors down had their tent folded by the wind as they tried to erect it. In spite of this, the makers next to me erected their tent. Now totally unloaded, I went and parked my van. Came back to see these tiny little weights on their legs. I told them they should take the tent down as the wind was too strong. They said it was integral to their display.

I refused to start setting up as i watched that tent walk into my space with every gust. I told them multiple times to take the tent down or take the canopy off, that the tent was walking. They poopoo'd my concerns. I continued to not set up.

Then a big gust swept that tent 3 feet into my space knocking over a bin of pots. I strongly, between gritted teeth, urged them to take the freaking canopy off the frame as it had now, i was fairly certain, broke some of my pots...this said while holding onto the leg that smashed into my space to keep it from coming further into my space. Finally the canopy came off. No apology was given for breaking three items, two bowls and a mug.

Eventually the frame was even brought down as they tried using it to hang aprons and such from it. Those items of course blew off into my space. Finally i set up...no tent. I set up my barebones setup, no platter easels, no interesting multilevel display...windproof. But i did spend the day returning merchandise that blew off their table all day long. I tried to show them the bags of marbles i use to weight down light objects but the brushed the advice aside. It was a tiring, stressful day. I have not seen those two makers at any other local outdoor show since.

Seriously, that day was so windy that if you stood up from your folding chair your chair would blow away.


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