Should artists participate at expos?

Participating at expos is an amazing opportunity to get exposure and to meet people that you would otherwise never meet. This weekend I visited Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo at the International Centre in Toronto (www.sportcardexpo.com) where my friend and Toronto-based artist Melysa Gorlicky had a booth and was showcasing her sportcard paintings. When I came to the venue on Saturday morning, I was surprised to see a huge lineup that started inside and ended outside of the main building. Everyone seemed to be excited to shop, network and get signatures from their favorite sports celebrities.

As a vendor, you should be prepared to talk all day at any expo and be exhausted by the end of it. I spent some time with Melysa aka @liveartist (https://www.instagram.com/liveartist/) and her booth visitors asked us a million questions ranging from pricing to artist’s technique and how long it takes her to finish her works. Every conversation was different and I made a few notes of things to consider if you are planning to do an expo.

1.Networking – key to success.

What I found facilitating is the diversity of people who came to this expo. I met businessmen, record label producers, artists, lawyers, real estate agents, students, etc. Every artist should get out of his/her studio and find opportunities to network and showcase their art. You never know who you might meet. I talked to a man who turned out to be a rich art collector from NYC and who needed art for his office and home. You also should talk to other participating vendors as they may share useful information that will help you develop your artistic practice or introduce you to potential clients. Every vendor we talked to gave Melysa advises that will help her grow as an artist.

I also got a chance to talk to Montreal-based artist Eric Sevigny aka @sevigny_art (https://www.instagram.com/sevigny_art/), who also had a booth at Sport Card Expo. We discussed art exhibitions and ways to get exposure for artists. He participated in many group art shows, and most of them were unsuccessful for him. He realized that people who usually come to art exhibitions pass by artworks, look and walk away without buying anything. At this show, his booth, like Melysa’s booth, was different from everyone else, and his works got attention and recognition. He now chooses what shows/expos to participate in wisely without taking chances and spending lots of energy and money.

Close-up of Marty Brodeur painting by Eric Sevigny.

2.Having different price options is a must.

As an artist, you want to give choice to your clients. Not everyone can afford an original artwork and buying prints can be an option for them. Also, at this particular expo, many people came for autographs and were looking for posters of celebrities that can be signed. Just make sure your prints are limited edition as well as numbered and signed by you. Prints shouldn’t be just a regular printed copy of your work.

 3.Art Selection.

Select what expos/shows you want to participate in wisely that fit your style and artistic practice and do the same shows regularly to build clientele. This way regular visitors will follow up on your progress. Many people who came to our booth recognized my friend’s work from the previous show and came by to check out her new paintings.

 4.Signed works.

Getting your work signed will increase its value and will make it even more unique and original.

Melysa Gorlicky & Bobby Hull

5.Have a lot of business cards to give out to your booth visitors.

For the shows that run for three-four days, expect to have lots of foot traffic and people who want to get your business card. You can ask people to live their emails too and you can reach out directly as not everyone will write back to you after the show. Also, something obvious but important – have a working email, website, and social media that people can use to see your works.

 6.Signs.

Have “don’t touch art” signs and put them at visible spots. This might be obvious to you, but I saw lots of people, especially kids but also adults, who wanted or actually touched artworks. Make extra signs and save yourself from keeping saying the same phase all day.

Overall, having a booth at big expos is expensive. You should have enough works and options to make it worth participating. Another disadvantage is the length of the expo (usually 3-4 days and longer) and that you have to be physically present there to meet visitors and give them importation. However, big expos are the best way to exposure by thousands of people (visitors as well as vendors). It is an amazing networking opportunity and if you prepare well for the event – all your hard work will be well-rewarded.

-Curator on the go

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