One nice thing about a glass art blog is that it’s read by…(drumroll) …artists. Especially artists who sell their work at artfairs and such.

And that’s just who I want to talk to now. If you’ve designed a good booth for selling arts and crafts: I need your advice. Please?

My friend Carol and I are doing the Oregon Glass Guild’s annual Spring Glass Gallery again. We’re trying to use what we’ve learned in previous artfairs–successes AND failures– and advice from artfair veterans, to design a fabulous booth that successfully showcases our work. (translation: sells enough glass to make a nice profit)

I know a bunch of you make/made a fair living selling your artwork, so….would you mind chiming in with opinions on our booth plans? Please?

The venue:
Spring Glass Gallery is part of the Portland Gathering of the Guilds, one of the largest artist-owned artfairs west of the Mississippi. You’ll find more than 300 booths filled with work from members of OGG, the Oregon Potters Association, Creative Metal Arts Guild, Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, Portland Bead Society and the Portland Handweavers Guild.

There’s incredible stuff there, along with lots of artist demonstrations, door prizes and activities for kids and adults. It’s at the Portland Convention Center over Cinco de Mayo this year (May 4, 5, 6), and it’s going to be a lot of fun. If it doesn’t kill me.

What we’re selling (couple of samples in above pic):

  • 40% small items (mostly jewelry, i.e., necklaces, earrings, loose pendants) priced from about $12 to $125
  • 30% wall items (mirrors, picture frames, glass paintings) priced from about $40 to $250
  • 20% pedestal items (vessels, tabletop sculptures) priced from about $45 to $200
  • 10% bargain bin items (glass cabochons, seconds) starting at $4

Booth space:

  • 5×20 feet, hopefully on a corner (open to traffic on one side as well as the front–we don’t have a booth assignment yet, so this may change)
  • Booth rental includes pipe and drape in choice of color along with 500 watts of electricity for lighting and such
  • We supply booth furniture, lights, carpeting, but we can rent tables and chairs

Our booth this year is a 5x20 foot space, or roughly two of the booths we had the first year, side by side.

What we’ve got:

  • Plywood to build stackable boxes for storage and display
  • Two modular shelving units–last year we covered the bottom halves and put a plywood board in back of the top halves, to supply both table and wall display.
  • Sono (cement form) tubes, which make nice pedestal bases
  • Some plexiglas risers and boxes for display
  • Ten gooseneck, clamp-on halogen lights
  • Carol’s SUV and my car, which must transport EVERYTHING from our houses to the venue

Last year we attached thin plywood to the top back of two restaurant shelving units, draped the bottom in fabric, and used them as both table and wall display (and the bottom half served as storage. I built two plywood boxes as extra-large pedestals--they stack and can serve to display wall art.

Last year's Spring Glass Gallery booth. We followed Nancy Goodenough's suggestion to move the displays closer to the front edges and store stuff behind. This year: Less crowding, more consistent backdrops, stronger focus on the art. (Click image to see more about how this booth was constructed)

I’ve sketched out four potential booth designs, but I’m not crazy about any of them. (BTW, you can click the layout to see an enlarged version)

I like this design because it involves minimal and fairly lightweight schlepping and fast setup, letting us concentrate on placing work in the display. We reuse the plywood boxes from the last two years (see above), but stack them to make an 8-foot tall column for hanging work on three sides (the fourth side is open for storage). Then we’d buy 4 hollow-core doors and set them up as additional wall display on the left, paint and top some sono tubes (concrete forms) for pedestals, and rent a table from the show for jewelry and small stuff.

We’d have a small table front and center for something we sorely missed in the last two years–a place to put cards, brochures and a guest book–and bring our own fabric to make classier, more consistent-looking drapes and a privacy curtain. We’ll use the same fatigue-mat flooring with (hopefully) some kind of carpet on top.

Downsides: This year we aren’t crowding the booth but rather putting out new inventory as stuff sells, and we’ll have bigger pieces that will need padding and boxing. That adds up to more behind-the-scenes storage which may not be available.

In this one, we really take Nancy’s advice to heart and push the displays all the way out to the edges of the booth, with more pedestals for tabletop stuff. This would increase our storage space and only minimally increase the amount of schleppage and setup.

Downsides: It would be harder to manage the left side of the booth because it’s literally on the other side of the wall. Pilfering isn’t unknown at this show–I lost a few buttons and pendants last year–so that’s an issue. And we need to be able to easily get in and out of the booth, but that curtain at the edge is losing valuable display area.

This version still minimalizes setup and schleppage time and probably uses the corner better. It also moves the entry curtain to what’s probably the least obtrusive area, and may give us a little more visibility for potential shoplifters. It needs far less flooring (in fact, we could get by without any).

Downsides: We lose one side of our stacked pedestal, but probably make up for it by making the boxes a foot longer (which means we can’t use last year’s boxes). And the storage space might be a bit more awkward.

In this version we bring back the shelving units from last year (see the pics above), build another set of boxes to stack so that we create a doorway, and still keep our little table for information display. This gives us the most storage of any design, I think.

Downsides: If we’re sitting in the booth we’ll have no idea what anyone is doing in most of the booth unless we get out and circulate in front of the booth displays (which in past years has been a sure-fire way to drive customers away). And since the bottom of each shelving unit, as well as the rented table, all need draping (as well as the visible part of the “wall” draperies), we’ll need a LOT of fabric.

This will also strain our capacity for schlepping, setup and storage, given that it requires schlepping and building the two shelving units as well as the stacking boxes, Carol and Emelia’s chairs, the lights, flooring, draperies and (oh yeah) the artwork.

If I had to pick one of these right now, I’d probably opt for #3…but I could really use some suggestions. Anybody?