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Art Fair Success: Tips for Artists

“I make my living doing art,” says JoAnne Hauser Warren, a native of Cuba City, Wisconsin. “Ever since I was a little kid, I just loved playing with colors.” Joanne’s work is currently being exhibited across the tri-state area, including Outside the Lines Art Gallery in Dubuque, Chestnut Mountain Resort, the Galena Artists’ Guild gallery, and the Longbranch Gallery in Mineral Point.

At her last full time job as a restaurant manager in Richmond, Virginia, she sold 66 paintings simply by hanging them on the walls of the restaurant. When she returned to Cuba City, she decided to go full time into art. Now an experienced art fair vendor, she travels to eight midwestern states and will be applying to exhibit at the DubuqueFest Art Fair on May 20-22, 2011.

With watercolor as her primary medium, she has diversified her creative output into galleries, shows, and competitions, and also teaches watercolor and drawing classes. Before teaching a class at the Dubuque Art Center, JoAnne shared a few of her original watercolor paintings, and offered suggestions for both artists and visitors to the upcoming Art Fair.

Art fair success

When it comes to success in selling creative work at an art fair, JoAnne’s top advice to other artists is to talk to the people. Instead of reading a book, for instance, she recommends engaging in conversation with booth visitors.

Start with a welcoming phrase such as, “If you have any questions, just let me know.” By their response, you’ll know whether they want to talk or not. After they do respond, you might then talk about the techniques you use or where you find inspiration.

Being pushy or forceful could drive potential buyers away. And don’t start by asking a question such as “Can I help you?” that can be answered with a “No.” Always strive to keep the interaction positive and friendly.

Choosing art to display

When asked how much of her work she takes along, she responds, “Basically, I jam as much as I can get into the van.” Take a variety of work, whatever your vehicle will hold. Without fail, “whatever you don’t take, somebody will ask you about.”¬†And even if you don’t display it all, you can easily retrieve something from a vehicle that is parked nearby.

A successful vendor will display pieces with a range of prices. Artists should not only take the big, expensive pieces that draw people into a booth, but should also display lower-priced items for ordinary festival goers who may not be able to afford the bigger things.

Dealing with bad weather

“I have done shows in every weather condition known to man,” recalls JoAnne. Once she had the luck to be showing outside in Door County, Wisconsin, during a blizzard. During her first year exhibiting at DubuqueFest, a heavy rainstorm hit the ground so hard that mud was splattered up on her work.

Although water can cause problems if it finds its way under the glass, luckily, modern watercolor paints are durable. That’s why it’s important to use quality materials, both paint and paper. In addition, instead of a lightweight canopy, she uses a nice, waterproof tent with pockets.

Advice for festival goers

“People love to come to look at art in the park, but if they don’t buy anything, the artists will not come back,” warns JoAnne, in a special message to festival goers. Particularly for artists who travel long distances and who are paying for gas, and for a hotel room and restaurant meals, the art fair experience needs to cover their expenses. Most artists display some items priced in the $20, $40, or $50 range, making an affordable purchase possible.

She suggests thinking ahead to gifts for special occasions. “I do all my Christmas shopping at art shows.” Some couples make it a tradition to buy each other an anniversary gift to show support of the arts. Or for those with an upcoming wedding to attend, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to give a gift that is an original piece of art?”

Memories

Finally, events such as the DubuqueFest Art Fair offer opportunities to network with both art lovers and other artists. JoAnne remembers a year when she received a purchase award at DubuqueFest, and used it to buy pottery. She still thinks about those people.

Other artists have become friends, familiar faces to run into every year or so on the festival circuit. Over time, she’s heard the story of one artist’s family through marriage and children.”You meet the most interesting people,” she laughs, “all slightly crazed…You have to be to do this for a living.”

 

Learn more about the artist on Facebook, or at joannewarrenwatercolors.com.

 
by Pamela Brandt

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