My Blog Journal


6 Lessons I Learned Participating in 2 Art and Craft Shows

With a whopping two shows under my belt, I can officially say that I’m …..well, still a beginner. Nevertheless, I have already discovered several things about doing live shows:


Frederick Music and Arts Festival outdoor booth

My booth at the Frederick Music Festival…. oh, look, it’s outside!


1. Read the Application Very, VERY Carefully….

…and it doesn’t hurt to get a second and third opinion, in case you overlook something.

Apparently I misunderstood the content of my application for the Urbana Music Festival. The part which read:

Vendors have the option of setting up inside; however, based on Frederick County Public Library policy, vendors will be asked to donate 15% of their revenue to the Friends of the Library. Please indicate if you will set up inside:
_______ Yes, I will set up inside. I agree to donate 15% of my revenue to the Friends of the Library”

My daughter and I arrived at the library steps, ready to set up, and were met with questioning looks. For 20 minutes, we were shuffled from one event planner to another, until the Lady in White stepped down from her lofty perch to give us a condescending speech. Which consisted of five words in a continuous loop:
In the event of rain.

If it rained, we could set up inside. As the skies looked in no danger of raining (it was 86 degrees and humid!), she inquired whether we’d brought a tent.
Uh….. of course we didn’t bring a tent!

She directed us to set-up in a small space between a lovely photography booth managed by Cindy Stegle …. and a guy selling his handmade furniture. [see lesson #2]

In my defense, as I feel I must offer some excuse here… the only reference to weather conditions in the original application concerned the outdoor musical concert, which would be moved indoors …. in the event of rain.

There was also a detailed e-mail sent out one week prior to the show, which included one sentence Miss Dressed-in-White frequently quoted:
“This event will be held rain or shine. If it rains and if you agreed to donate 15% of your revenue to the Friends of the Library to set up inside, you will be shown where to set up inside.”

I did read that sentence, glanced over it actually…. however, I assumed this condition must apply to vendors who hadn’t already applied to be indoors. I failed to notice that “agreed” was a past-tense verb. Just as they failed to mention rain (with regards to vendors) in their application. ;)

C’est la vie, right?! Without much ado… alright, maybe a little ado… we set up our tables and greeting card rack under the blazing hot sun. I’d like to think our piteous condition earned us a few sympathy sales. LOL

2. Be Careful When Applying to Art Fairs Without Booth Fees or Juried Applications

This lesson may seem obvious to craft-show veterans, but never occured to me…. a truth universally acknowledged that a show free for vendors, and very easy to apply for, is most likely in want of any warm body with a crafty bone. Whether it’s a femur or a toe bone is irrelevant. Whether they consider themselves an artist, small business owner, or a hobbyist is also beside the point. Everyone is welcome to set up a booth and sell whatever trinkets they put together.

Which makes these shows resemble a flea-market or giant lawn sale….

Toilet paper rolls decorated with President Obama’s face? Sure!
“Gift baskets” filled with store-bought stationary, stickers, and markers? Absolutely!

And your neighbor will undoubtedly be a polite elderly gentleman who builds wooden furniture.

handmade wooden furniture and crafts

Wait…. that isn’t so terrible, is it? Of course not. Although he will consider it a hobby, and sell his rocking chairs for $15. Making your $12 wooden cat plaques look ridiculously over-priced, and leading your well-intentioned 10-year-old to suggest reducing your prices to stay competitive. Bless her.

I was secure in my pricing format, thankyouverymuch. I’ve agonized over my prices for a long time, doing the math, figuring out all of my overhead costs, wholesale AND retail, and I’m perfectly capable of defending my prices and materials to anyone who asks. :O)

This experience did give me an invaluable opportunity to share with Lydia the ins-and-outs of selling artwork to different markets. A novice teaching another novice, of course.

empty chairs at vendor booth

These two friendly ghosts were selling handmade purses…

3. Don’t Rely on MapQuest

Joe and I talked about driving to the locations of my shows… to check out where they were, and how long the trip would take. It was a smart suggestion. Too bad neither of us thought to act on it. So at 4:30AM ~ the morning of the show, after packing up the car with boxes and displays, I sat down at my desk and Googled the directions.

I have a Love/Hate relationship with MapQuest. On the one hand, MapQuest enabled me to navigate through downtown Washington D.C., find a parking garage, a theatre, and my way home, with minimal fuss.

On the other hand, we almost missed the festival entirely while trying to follow its asinine directions to the Frederick Library.

And nearly got me lost in Westminster this past Saturday; it sent me down a dead-end street!!

Fortunately, there were signs posted everywhere to advertise the Farmer’s Market that has been in operation for the last 40 years.

MapQuest totally plagued me (and my procrastinating nature)… although it did afford me a lovely view of residential neighborhoods ~ which led to thoughts of settling down somewhere in the area.

My daughter Lydia running my Regency Cat Art booth

Our indoor booth at the Carroll County Farmer’s Market

4. Bring More Stuff…. Bring Everything… AND a Handcart to Carry It All

I didn’t bring any magnets that we’d made, because we only had a handful ready to go, and I wanted a full representation. But wouldn’t you know that two ladies asked whether I carried magnets? I directed them to my Etsy shop, assuring them I can do custom requests, and promising we’d have magnets at the next show (July 7th).
I also brought along one box (100) of my new business cards. It almost wasn’t enough. By the time we packed up, I had six left.

As I watched our neighbors loading their equipment onto furniture dollies and rolling carts, I had to laugh at my assertion that I could manage a heavy plastic tote (containing 80% of my merchandise), 5′ fold-up table, 3 metal displays, an easel, and (5) 16″x20″ frames all by myself. (We haven’t added the tent yet).
I allowed Lydia to carry the cash-box, portfolio/print binders, and tablecloths out to the parking-lot, but I obsessed over anything heavy or fragile.

At some point this week, it looks like I must purchase a folding hand cart.

Tara Fly, cat artist, working at her art booth

Signing and packaging 8×10 prints for sale

5. While You Wait….Paint!

After my first Saturday in Frederick, which left me wandering aimlessly about whilst getting burnt by the sun (I sent Lydia into the library on countless occasions to keep cool), I realized that I should have brought something to occupy my time during slow periods.

This past Saturday, I brought along a commissioned painting that needed to be finished. That simple decision to get some work done also turned out to be a wonderful way to market myself indirectly. People love to watch artists paint!

Beginning stages of Sherlock Holmes Cat painting

Working on the wood paneling background of this piece.

Although I did videotape my Africat painting, I’m generally too shy to demonstrate my technique for others to observe and critique. I often change my mind midway through, redoing whole portions of background or clothing, and I make plenty of mistakes as I go…. These can easily be corrected, but its embarrassing to be under a magnifying glass during the process.

However, the painting was on a deadline, and I was able to complete three-quarters of it during the show. It gave me a tangible reference when discussing my commissioned cat portraits with interested customers. And quite a few folks stopped at my booth to ask, “Did you paint all these yourself?”
To which I could reply,
“Yes, and I’m working on another right now.”

My business cards disappeared into the hands of people who knew somebody who might be interested in getting custom portraits painted.

Even other vendors were aware that “live painting” was going on, and sent their customers in my direction (to watch me), which was very charitable of them!

It was amazing how much actual work can be accomplished when you are forced to remain in one place for hours. Even with the constant distractions, I was able to complete most of the piece.
I’ve realized that I should take advantage of this opportunity to get more work done, so I plan to paint every Saturday. :)

Sherlock Holmes Cat and Dr. Watson Cat painting in progress

By the end of the show, I was 80% done… needing to finish the clothing and cats’ faces.

6. More Than Just Sales

My little booth of quirky cat art seemed to generate quite a bit of interest and attention. I talked with people about their pets, about art and painting, and handmade goods in general. I gave away tons of business cards, referrals to my Etsy shop… and noticed my web-stats had increased traffic from the local area.

But invariably upon arriving home, and returning to work, I would be asked “Well, how did it go? How much did you sell?

It’s an obvious question. The short answer is that I made out okay, but not great, not as much as I’d hoped to sell. Granted, last Saturday was the holiday week-end (since July 4th falls on Wednesday)… The highway was packed with vehicles leaving town, we were under a heat advisory (to remain indoors), and many were unfortunate enough to lose their electricity in Friday night’s storm.
(We didn’t lose ours)

My fellow vendors bemoaned the decreased foot traffic (which wasn’t noticeable to newbies like me)… and assured me that business would pick up soon. Especially as next Saturday is hosting “Christmas in July” (which means, I’ll also be bringing ornaments!)

Measuring success by sales is definitely understandable, if one is earning his sole income from his craft. There will come a day when I, too, will judge the worthiness of a show by the number of visitors and gross sales generated.

As I’m still working on my presentation, addressing the public, and gaining experience… I considered the Carroll County Farmer’s Market to be a successful debut into the arena of live arts & crafts shows.

Tara Fly standing with Regency Cat greeting card display

I spent $140 in booth fees for the entire summer, $300 on ink and paper (so far), $40 on a table, $200 on a tent, $130 for displays, and the list goes on…. but the feelings of admiration, appreciation, and general self-worth were priceless.

It was the first time ~ in a long time ~ that I felt I was doing what I was meant to do.

Scraping spaghetti sauce off retail shelves provided me with a regular paycheck, but creating art and sharing it with an encouraging audience gave me back my dignity.

And that was the best lesson of all:

Just share yourself with people. Don’t be afraid to let the world see your talents.
Because there is a special place in this world that only
you can fill.

Cat greeting cards against a cloudy blue sky


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