40 Hours of Amazing – What to Expect At Your First Art Show

Do you think you are ready for a show, but have never done one before? How do you take that first step? What should you expect? This is where I found myself back in the beginning of 2016. I was approved to have a booth at the huge, annual Junior League “A Christmas Affair” show in downtown Austin, and I had never done a show at that point.

For a few months prior, I had slowly started creating new fine art products. As in, super-slowly. I needed direction. I felt like I had the technical pieces down (the Photoshop, the photography, etc), but I needed guidance to answer questions like “What can I create that would connect with people?”. So, I went to my mentor, Noah Elias. He’s been doing this for years. He’s created work for Disney, Universal, Lucasfilm, Toyota and more. He saw what I was trying to do, and helped steer the ship a little bit to create work that tells stories and builds connections. The first of these images are what I call the Austin Family Collection. It’s a series of personalized wall art. One piece tells the whole story of a family (how they met, interests, kids, etc).

Once I had those products designed as well as some holiday paintings and other pieces, I set out to learn about booths. When you sign up for a show, you get assigned a booth space and are sent dimensions for your booth. Not much else is included (perhaps electric, and a basic divider between booths).

Doing research online, I found that a lot of artists use ProPanels. What I like about them is that they a) are easy to set-up, and b) are quite portable (even though you’d think they were big and heavy by looking at them). The team there helped me design a booth that fit my needs quite nicely! Working with Noah, I decided that the booth would have 3 main sections: Paintings, Photographs, and Christmas card photography. I built the booth a few times in my studio to see how it looked.

Once it came time for the show, my wife and were able to get everything I needed into my truck and her car. I set up on a Monday the show ran Wednesday evening through Sunday.

40 Hours of Amazing

For the next 40 hours (I counted them), I met a ton of great people, sold artwork, and just had a great time! Several friends and family stopped by, including past Christmas card clients:

Here are some things you might want to take note of before your first show:

– Be prepared to apply several months in advance for a show. This particular one started accepting applications a full 10 months before the show began.

– Bring more than enough cards. I ran out twice. I came with about 150 cards, but ended up needing 500. During the week I had to make 2 emergency trips to Kinko’s to get more cards printed. And they weren’t as nice as the ones I would have ordered from my lab.

– Bring food snacks, especially ones that won’t leave something stuck in your teeth! 😃 Even if you have the show bring meals to your booth (I did), you end up taking forever to eat because who wants to see you eating? Energy bars/etc were great for quick bites.

– Watch people’s eyes. It shows you what they are reading/seeing, *and* what they are missing! I noticed early-on that people were missing some cool details about the pieces, and I adjusted my discussions about them because I could see in their eyes what they were missing. And if their eyes start to drift back to the aisle/other booths – let them go. Recognize that not everyone is into your art/style.

– Experiment with moving things around during the show. I did this a lot to see if I could catch someone’s eyes with bright colors/etc in strategic places.

– Take notes during the show of what you want to change for next time. Need to change your layout? Add more information to descriptions? Less? Write it all down so you can address it later.

– Tylenol obviously

It was indeed 40 hours of amazing. Probably the most standing I’ve done in a 5 day period. And then out of the blue, I was awarded the most creative booth at the show. How cool is that?

Overall I had an amazing experience! I learned so much and met so many great people. I’ve already applied to do the show again this year!

Have you exhibited at a show yet? What are some of the tips/takeaways you learned to be better prepared for the next one? I’d love to hear below!

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