How to Choose Your Best Artwork to Display at an Art Fair or Festival

By Niki Hilsabeck in Art Business Advice > Selling at Art Fairs

How many of you have a festival or art fair coming up in the next few weeks?

You’ve probably already sent in your paperwork, paid your fees, perfected your booth setup, and packed all the little necessities. Pretty soon it’ll be time to load up the artwork—but how do you know which pieces to bring?

When you’re just starting out, the easy answer might be “whatever’s framed!” But if you’ve got a variety of pieces available, these simple guidelines should help make your selection process a snap:

1. Start with framed work in your signature style

Select framed pieces that show off what you consider to be your signature style, whether that’s a particular subject matter, theme, or painting technique. Make sure you have a variety of sizes and prices—I usually bring about 2/3 in medium sizes, with the remaining third divided into a few larger pieces and a small collection of framed miniature works.

For the total number of artworks you need, consider the size of your booth, and figure out how many of your framed pieces you can bring based on the amount of space you’ll have to hang or display your work. Some artists suggest you bring twice as much art as you can display; I tend to pack a little lighter and just have a few extra pieces available if my booth needs rearranging after sales.

Bonus tip: Think of your booth as a solo show that you’re arranging for yourself. Before you pack, group and hang your pieces to see how they look together. Putting them in organized groups before you leave for the event will save you time AND stress as you set up your booth.

2. Include a selection of protected, unframed pieces

I like to invite people to browse through my work with their hands (it’s carefully packaged, of course), so I usually bring a selection of pieces that I think people might enjoy looking through on their own. Think about where these will go in your booth—a table to one side might make a nice browsing area, or if the pieces are fairly small, perhaps stand them up in a felt-covered box to be leafed through more easily.

These pieces should include plenty of traditional examples of your style, but go ahead and include a few riskier choices, too! Some shoppers will enjoy making a “find” among your unframed paintings, and will be looking for pieces that both fit their taste and stand out from your other paintings on display. (As an added bonus, I sometimes set the price slightly lower on these pieces, to encourage further interest.)

3. Theme your work to complement the event

Each festival I participate in has its own “flavor,” so I like to bring pieces that go with the theme or feel of the festival. If the festival is being held at a beach town, I’ll bring a selection of beach scenes or offer a postcard featuring a seascape with purchase.

Visitors often come to art festivals looking for local flavor, so if at all possible, offer some artwork that fits that setting!

4. Know your customers—offer prints and cards

This topic is enough for an article of its own, but I’ll offer my quick take on it here: with the exception of high-end events, most festival-goers are more likely to buy your art when it’s affordable. If someone likes your painting but isn’t totally committed to purchasing it, they’ll probably still be happy to drop a few dollars on a print or card and take it home in that form.

Now, if your goal is to make the bulk of your sales from original work, you might want to keep the prints and postcards out of your display, saving them instead as a “thank you” to tuck into the package when you wrap up an original for someone to take home.

But if you know you’ll be selling to a casual crowd that is more likely to buy prints and cards, then by all means bring plenty, and put them front and center of your display. You want your inventory to match your selling needs. If cards and prints are a moneymaker for you, bring a big selection to share with your customers!

5. Bring one piece that will draw a crowd

I always bring a few works of art intended purely to draw people into my booth. A large, bold piece, for example, is easy to see from a distance and indicates to visitors that you’re able to work on a larger scale. This piece should be priced a bit higher than the rest of your artwork, showing that you price your art consistently based on size.

If you don’t paint large, bold pieces, consider bringing a work of art based on a well-known place, or a piece that includes figures that people can relate to, or something framed a bit dramatically compared to the rest of your paintings.

Whatever you choose as your “draw” piece, just make sure it still fits the style or theme of the rest of your work—you’re basically advertising what’s for sale in your booth with that eye-catching piece. It should be consistent even while it stands out!

Ultimately, your artwork should let visitors get to know you as an artist, and give them a taste of what it would be like to take your work home and hang it on their walls. Remember, even when you don’t make a sale with a particular customer, if you can stand out in their minds, you may still win them as a collector down the road!


We'll send you articles & tutorials right as we publish them, so you never miss a post! Unsubscribe here at any time.


This post may contain affiliate links.