This writing was created by Onnissia Harries and formatted for the BlkArthouse blog with the permission of the artist.
BEFORE WE BEGIN...
Let me start by saying that I did not go in with the expectation to sell anything at The Other Art Fair. Many people in my life thought I was absurd for setting “low expectations” for myself. I went to the art fair with the intention to be memorable and build my network through meaningful connections. I looked at it as a marketing expense that would eventually help propel my career forward in the long term. This was my mindset. By focusing on this, I took a lot of pressure off myself to break even or make a profit. It allowed me to chill out and relax.
Former BlkArtist Onnissia Harries (left) and BlkArthouse Founder Tatiana Rice (right).
1. HIRE A CONSULTANT
The first thing I did was hire a consultant because I was intent on reaching my goals. I booked a consultation with David at Dazed & Confucius. I told David that more than anything I wanted to be a memorable artist at this fair and make connections. Again, my focus was not on selling. David gave me tangible advice in alignment with my goals and it helped me to stand out at the fair.
2. RESEARCH AND ESTABLISH A PLAN
The Other Art Fair offers a TON of resources to their exhibitors on how to be successful. I spent hours scouring through all of them and went beyond to do additional research. I took notes and I made a plan. When planning, I work backward by visualizing the end result first. By visualizing the end result, I can anticipate problems and find solutions to them before they occur. By the end of it, I have a clear road map on how to move forward.
Pro-tip: When making plans, be patient with yourself. It took weeks of effort and research. Make a checklist with manageable goals that are easy to accomplish and do not procrastinate.
3. BUILD YOUR BOOTH WELL
Bring great art and do not hang everything at once!
I hung only 5 art pieces in a 20 ft booth. I kept it simple and applied the 57-inch rule. Why did I bring so little art? Fairgoers are visually inundated at art fairs. As artists, we are eager to show everything at once because we want to show and sell everything. It’s overwhelming when 100+ artists are doing this all at once.
A booth that is simple and yet visually appealing will give their eyes a break from the over-stimulation of the art fair. Keep it breathable so that it’s easy to approach the art and take things in. The human eye wants to focus. Give it a chance to do that without extra work.
4. BE READY
Be ready for opportunities. To talk to people. To give them your card. To make connections. To make eye contact. To build your email list. To make a sale. Et cetera. It's easy to get bored and distracted with your phone, a sketch, a book, or wander around with your booth unattended. When you're distracted, you're not ready. When you’re not ready, you miss opportunities. Be ready.
5. FOCUS ON BUILDING CONNECTIONS
I knew that if I built strong connections at the fair that it would come back to me in the long term. So, I went to the fair to build connections through conversations about art. When people stopped long enough to absorb the art, I swallowed whatever fear and anxiety I had to say hello and introduce myself. I did the next most important thing I could:
6. ASK FOR THEIR NAME & MAKE EYE CONTACT
It’s so small, but it instantly shows that you care.
Naturally, they followed by asking if I was the artist. This broke the ice and opened the conversation to build a connection. If they weren’t in the mood to chat or if there was a lull, I would say “(INSERT NAME), if you have any questions about the art, please let me know.” After that, I shut up and gave them space.
The people who are interested in your art will have questions because the beauty of art fairs is that it’s a rarity in the art industry to get to interact with artists face-to- face. The people who love your art will have questions about you and your work, so it’s important to be prepared, which brings me to the *MOST* important part.
7. HAVE A PITCH (WHICH IS REALLY JUST YOUR STORY IN A NUTSHELL)
The pitch should be your response to any introductory questions that naturally arise in your conversation. It's also where memorability and connections truly happen (and remember, this was my only real goal). A pitch is your story in juxtaposition to the passion of why you make your art in less than a minute. You should be able to share it with confidence. It doesn’t have to be fancy or memorized.
It's just sharing your story in a nutshell. That's it. After that, let the conversation flow naturally.
8. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, LET GO
If after your conversation, they want to buy your art that the decision is theirs. Don't become pushy or "salesy". Some will have more questions. Some will want to sit with your art longer. Some will want to carry on with the fair. Let go.
Be your best self. Have fun. Focus on building connections through conversation. Art fairs are a unique time for collectors to interact with artists face-to-face. The right ones will find ways to stay in touch and support you.
Do your best. Everything else is out of your control.