Leave your books at home
Almost 3 decades ago on a sunny September weekend I participated in my first outdoor art festival. I carefully set up my booth and proceeded to park my keister under a shady tree to read a novel. All Saturday, and Sunday too, the crowds filtered past my booth throwing an occasional glance towards my work while I sat engrossed in my book. From time to time I would peer over the top of the book to check on the activity at the next booth.
Just my luck! My amateur work was juxtaposed with a very seasoned artist whose work sold for 40 times what I was asking for mine. His booth was teaming with activity…and sales.
Late Sunday afternoon as I was breaking down my show with lightening speed (easy to accomplish with empty pockets) that artist took a moment to walk over and offer me some advice. "Leave your book at home son, and pay attention to your customers."
It seems like a pretty rudimentary point, one that would need to be delivered to a youngster at his first show, but not one overlooked by seasoned professionals.
I can say from experience many artists still use the time spent at a show to do anything but relate to the show attendees. After All, the art can speak for itself, right?
A successful show, one that generates sales, is directly proportionate to how much the attendees relate to your artwork. If you sit idly by and ignore the attendees you are letting potential clients and possibly future collectors walk away without an opportunity to talk to the only person who can help them to relate to the work on a more personal level.
Just a brief introduction as "the artist" may be enough to prompt someone to stop and take a second look. Suddenly, the attendee has met the artist who just happens to be a real live human being. A short conversation may reveal some commonalities. Once the customer can relate to you as a person they will have an easier time relating to the artwork.
Turning the conversation to the artwork can cause that same attendee to take a third look. Tell the stories behind the work and point out items that are not obvious at first glance.
If you have not been able to prompt a sale then be sure to have something for the customer to take home with them. A brochure or tear sheet is preferable but anything with your imagery and information on it is good.
Many artists are not comfortable talking with the public, so if you are "slightly" uncomfortable try taking a public speaking class. A class is probably available at a local community college and this minimal investment can reap huge rewards later. Contrary to popular belief these courses offer more than the recommendation to imagine everyone in their underwear.
If you are "really" uncomfortable or just plain terrified then have a friend who can speak on your behalf work the show with you. Interacting with the show attendees is so important I would even recommend hiring a show manager.
However you choose to do it, interacting with show attendees will yield increased sales and future collectors.