Preparing for a craft fair….. Chapter one

I thought it might be useful to create a document on how to prepare for a craft event based on my own experiences. I know how overwhelming it can be when you are first starting out and believe me I have possibly made every mistake in the book! However over the years I have found my own routine which works for me and thought I would share the steps that I go through in order to get to that day where you are presenting your work face to face to your customers.

Just a few house-rules. There is of course plenty of information on preparing out there – this is just my own experience. There is a lot of information here to read through – please feel free to print this off for your own use – however do not use any of the content on your own blog or website without my express permission. You can however link to this page using my name and blog address. Many thanks!

In this post I will be covering applications – finding the right event for you; knowing your work and your customers, applying for events, preparing your CV, artists’ statement and images and being organised with your applications.

Step 1 Applications

Which event is right for me?

Even before you think about applying for shows and craft fairs it is important to take a step back and evaluate your own work and where it will fit. Not every craft fair is right for every craft maker and artist. You may already be selling online and so be getting an idea of what people like about your work and the type of customer you attract. There are so many different kinds of craft fairs out there and it is important to know the difference between them. The location, time of year, type of customer and the way it is marketed will all have an influence on how your work is received.

For example – there are fairs organised by schools which may take place in the school gym after a school day and be mostly attended by the children and their parents with lots of other activities going on and a mixture of stalls from tombola’s to cake stands. These are often very inexpensive to attend and can be good for the beginning crafter who makes fun, quirky and inexpensive goods which will be good impulse buy’s but you would be unlikely to sell a £300 hand-crafted silver necklace there for example although it would draw admiring glances!

Village arts and craft fairs can often be very well organised and attended but in my experience they are not always strictly ‘arts and crafts’. You may find yourself next to a stall selling fair trade goods or vintage pieces or very inexpensive crafts made out of component pieces. Of course there is nothing wrong with vintage and fair trade but if you have signed up for an event thinking everything is handmade – you might be disappointed. However these fairs do tend to attract a great variety of people out and about for the day looking for gifts or treats for themselves. Goods are generally very competitively priced and you may be competing with sellers who have very similar things to yourself but at much lower prices. Again this is a great kind of fair when you are starting out as you get to meet lots of different kinds of people and it is a wonderful way of gauging the response to you work and for people to see your work and  find out about you.

There are also fairs run by crafters and artists for crafters and artists. With the huge developing interest in hand-made and make do and mend in recent times, there are increasingly more people getting together to run groups who meet up for craft nights, workshops, get-togethers and who love what they do. This can often be a great way of getting a group of people together with a common interest to organise fairs of their own. Venues can vary from small pubs to cinema’s to outdoor events and they are often very affordable to exhibit at and well advertised. Again there can be a good range of potential customers and it is a wonderful way of meeting like minded people.

At the higher end of the market are Contemporary craft events run by galleries, museum’s contemporary craft centres or craft organisations. These are very much aimed at the discerning customer, someone who is interested in unique art and design, collectors and customers who are willing to pay for the more considered purchases. These events are much more expensive to attend – they are juried events, usually with a far higher number of applications than there are available spaces. They are well marketed and may also charge an admittance fee for visitors.

Trade Fairs are events attended by craft shops, galleries, exhibition organisers and store owners. These are quite different from craft fairs and I will write a separate post on how to apply and prepare for attending a Trade Fair.

 

Knowing your work and your customers

These are really only a few examples of the types of fairs that it is possible to be a part of as a crafter or a designer/maker and there are lots of opportunities out there depending on your work, your experience and skill-level. The most important thing is to know which is right for you. If you are handcrafting your own silver jewellery for example and your prices are high, you would be unlikely to sell very much at a locally organised church hall craft fair where people may come with £10 to spend on a wee treat for themselves. By the same token, if none of your goods retail at more than £5 say, then a contemporary craft fair which costs £350 to attend is unlikely to be the right event for you. This is not a judgement on anyone’s work or craft – only to say how important it is to know who will be interested in your particular pieces and what kind of events attract those people.

If you can, go to lots of different kinds of craft fairs and contemporary craft events to see the type of work being exhibited so that you can see how your work would compare in terms of price, quality and aesthetic. Some events are very contemporary, some very traditional, most will be a mixture. Going as a customer will also give you an idea of footfall, how well the space is laid out, facilities, marketing and chatting to stall holders can also give you a valuable insight into if the event is right for you.

 

Applying for events

Smaller events may be advertised locally and only require you phoning or emailing the event organiser to ask if they have a table free. Other events may have an application process and these applications will be looked over with a fine tooth comb in order to choose the exhibitors. Social networking sites can be a great way of finding out about local events, as are what’s on guides. Galleries and craft organisations may have a link to events on their website or in their newsletter so it is very useful to sign up to these. Larger events do application call outs weeks or months leading up to the deadlines so take time to find out when these are and get working on your applications! There are also organisations with events pages or newsletters that will have information about lots of different events such as Design Factory (Midlands based) or Craft and Design Magazine.

Some events will have application forms that you can download and then email or post. Some will need your address to post the application form to you – make sure you leave enough time to do this in order to still meet the deadline! Many of the larger events require an application fee of perhaps £5 or £10 which will need to be sent with the application.

There is a vast range of costs involved in exhibiting at craft events. I have attended fantastically organised and profitable craft fairs that cost me £25, badly organised and attended fairs that cost £60 where I didn’t make my table fee. I am also now at the stage where I am exhibiting at contemporary craft events for which the fee’s are hundreds of pounds. Some of these more expensive events also have ‘hidden’ costs such as lighting, plug-points and you might have to pay extra for a table or chair and don’t forget the cost of getting there! If you are travelling further a field you may even need to pay for accommodation. Make sure you read the application forms carefully and be aware of how much it is actually going to cost you before you can even begin to start making sales.

It can be difficult applying and paying for events especially when you are first starting out. They are unpredictable, footfall can be slow, the weather can turn bad, it just might not be the right show for you. There are no guarantee’s that you will make sales. I don’t want to scare you but you have to be realistic! Don’t let all of this put you off – just do your research. Paying £350 for a show that you know nothing about when you really cant’ afford it is a risk – but experience is invaluable and over time you will find it easier to pick and choose the right shows for you.

 

CV, artists statement and images

Many craft fairs and events require an application with an artist’s statement and images. Some will also ask for a CV. There is lots of information out there on how to write a CV so I won’t do that here but I will say make sure you are honest and make sure it is up to date! There is no point sending a CV that has not been updated for 2 years. When creating an art CV I don’t think it necessary to include how many exams you took at school or that you worked in a well-known food chain for 2 months in 1988. They are looking to see what events you have previously attended, exhibitions, workshops you have taught, workshops you have attended, perhaps work experience you may have gained working for another artist.

Your artist’s statement is a really valuable tool for you to have the opportunity to talk about your inspirations, technique, background and how unique your work is – really to expand on your CV and talk about the work you do. Sometimes you will be asked to write 200+ words or a very brief description of 50 or so words is all that is required. It is handy to have different versions saved in files which can be tweaked depending on the event you are applying for – for example if an event has a particular theme or is in a setting which will particularly suit your work – you can highlight how well your work will fit in using your artist’s statement.

It really goes without saying that good images are vital when applying for juried craft events. This is your opportunity to show off your work, the textures, the colours, the details and its uniqueness. Blurry or badly lit images just will not do. It is useful to have file of images in your pc with the files at different resolutions. Sometimes you will be required to send printed images by post on disk (less frequently you will be asked for printed images) – more often it will be via email so the images need to be small enough to be easily downloadable. If the organisation is printing publicity for leaflets, websites and posters, they will also require larger images with a high-resolution. Have these all ready on file and update them regularly! It will make it so much easier when preparing your applications if you have this already to hand.

 

Being organised!

If there is one thing I have learnt over the last few years it is that my previous incarnation as a hopelessly disorganised individual has caused me no end of heartache, stress and missed opportunities. I am not naturally an organised person but I have learnt to be one over time (although I am still far from perfect!) I could kick myself for all the missed deadlines and times I have been panicking trying to get applications together. Now I have a system that works for me and makes my life so much easier. These are some of the changes I have made…..

  1. I have a file on my pc specifically for applications and events. There is a file for each event I am applying for and contains all the downloadable info required for applications – application forms, information sheets, basically any documentation relevant to the event. I have one box for ‘applications to apply for’ and one ‘events I am attending’.
  2. I also have a ring-binder with plastic sleeves and all documents are printed off and given their own section. I put a sticker on the section with the deadline date, deposit amount required, selection date and if I am accepted the date that full payment is required. If I am applying for a few events close together it just keeps me organised and on track.
  3. I have a file on my pc specifically for images for applications – one folder with images at 72dpi, one with images at 300dpi – I update these regularly with recent work so that they are always ready for last-minute application deadlines.
  4. Every couple of months I go through my CV and artists statement – updating them with new events and information so that it is all to hand.

If this all sounds a little over the top – well it works for me and it is not an exaggeration to say it has changed my working life! No more staying up till 3 in the morning trying to hunt for images and resize them and write a last-minute artists statement for a looming application that I should have posted 2 weeks before!

 

Okay, so that is all that has to be done before you even begin making stock and getting prepared for the actual event – I will write about that in my next post.

Please feel free to leave your comments and let me know if you feel I have missed out anything. I am sure I will be editing it over time!

One thought on “Preparing for a craft fair….. Chapter one

  1. Gillian, this is brill, I have tweeted it as I think it will be really useful to people! Can’t wait to read your article on trade fairs! The deposit for BCTF is paid and i’m all ears!! Any tips would be more than welcome!!

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