“A man(woman) is only as good as his(her) tools.” - Emmert Wolf.
This is not a quote I live by. I believe in making the best of what you have, but in the case of Art Show preparedness, this could not be more true. A contractor carries a tool box, a fisherman a tackle box, an EMT a medical bag, a mom a diaper bag. As an exhibiting artist you are no different. You need to be prepared to sell your work, network, and represent your brand in any and all conditions. The best way to have a successful show is to plan and prepare for every possible obstacle and outcome. Now I know this sounds impossible and overwhelming but this tool box is the Mary Poppins' Bag of Show Preparedness. It has been tested and improved during my five years of multiple art shows and saved me many a time. With these tools (adapted for your art form), and the tips and tricks you can read more about here, you will be on your way to a successful, low stress show.
Mary Poppins' Bag of Show preparedness,
the tools inside and why you may need them.
Pens- this one is kinda obvious, taking notes, signing checks...writing utensils are needed.
Notebook- for you to write down contact info, delivery instructions, funny things that are said, notes to improve next time, a name you need to remember. I use these recycled books turned journal by a local company, Sweetwood Lane.
Clipboard (with paper)- for customers to write down contact info, measurements, or for your lunch order. I like to use mini clipboards, they take up less space and are adorable.
Baby wipes- Baby wipes are magical little squares that clean up a lot of crap (pun intended). Pen explodes- baby wipe...Deodorant on your shirt- baby wipe…. Kid touches your art with cheeto fingers….baby wipe.
Tape measure- No matter the scale of your work people love knowing the precise measurements. Sometimes it’s just a formality other times they have been searching for the perfect piece to fit in a 17.25 x 63.33 inch spot, they know their measurements and want to make sure yours will slide right in.
Microfiber towel- for dust or quick liquid clean up, dust grabbing and super absorbent.
Snacks- No one likes a hangry artist.
Water- Show excitement produces adrenaline, adrenaline produces cotton mouth, cotton mouth is gross….also hydration is just overall a good idea. This klean kanteen is where durability meets hydration...in the shop and at festivals.
Safety pins and paper clips- Keep cards together, write instructions for delivery and pin it to the address. Someone wants to clip your business card to a future show brochure, be prepared. Safety pins are the pocketknife of fasteners. Need to pop a balloon glad you got a safety pin. Your seam busted when you bent down, grab that safety pin. The wind keeps blowing your paper materials off your table, safety pin them to the table cloth.
Tylenol, there is nothing worse than a full day of conversation, action, and noise with a headache.
Mints- don't scare potential customers off with your coffee breath.
Price tags- Extras and string to attach them. They blow off, get wet, you decide to change up the price mid show, whatever the reason be ready.
Scotch tape- things tear, be prepared.
Tiny broom and dust pan- popcorn, kettle corn, chips, dog food, skittles, potting soil, ice… just to name a few things that have been spilled in my booth over the years. I no longer have to frantically scrape and scoop with my hands thanks to this little set.
Power Bank- you will be using your phone for transactions, social media posts, and photos.... back up that battery life.
Setup and Takedown tools
Drill-and the appropriate driver bit, screwdriver, hammer. Set up goes smoother when you don't have to use a plastic knife to tighten a screw.
Screws, nails- in case some assembly is required...
Pliers- chain adjustments, tight fishing line knots, jammed tent height button adjusters, pliers are the answer.
Duct tape- “If you can’t duct it ….” the saying isn't great but it’s a good tool to have.
Rope and/or string- Secure your display rack to the tent, people bump into things, wind gusts knock things over, the ground isn't level and top heavy furniture is likely to tip. Keep it from happening by discretely tying it to a steady structure.
Clamps- Clamp your show sign to your tent, your light to a tent post, an extension cord to a table leg.
Ratchet straps- I use these to attach my tent weights to the top of the tent, the black looks clean and they are much more efficient at holding the tent down in wind than the post clips alone.
Extension Cord- and or power strip- power those lights, your demo tools, computer.
Fishing line- discretely secure things, hang things, and give the illusion that the work hanging from the tent cross pieces is really fixed to the wall like it would be in their home.
Thumb Tacks- you just never know.
Tape- see above.
Felt pads- protect your surfaces.
Shower hooks- the easiest way to hang things from the tent cross pieces. Open hook string your banner grommet, planter hanging loop, picture hanger, lights, garment...whatever string it though, and clip it to the tent. It makes it so easy to take down when an item is purchased, no scissors required.
Clear plastic hair ties- My pegboard system has smooth wooden dowels, one hair tie on the back side to keep it from sliding through the hole and then others on the display side to keep the product or shelf from siding off.
Chain, S hooks, hangers- Chain is another easy and adjustable way to hang things from the tent walls, s hooks are amazing for grid systems and the larger ones fit over the tent cross pieces, obviously if you are displaying a wearable item, hangers are a good plan.
Light Bulbs - see previous tip.
ICE tools (in case of emergency)
Touch up and quick fix supplies- At some point in your festival career you are going to have a piece break, shatter get scratched or otherwise damaged. Sometimes it can be fixed on the spot, other times it’s a total loss. Titebond quick and thick, Startbond Instant CA glue, paint or finish, sandpaper for the quick fix, that broom and dustpan, and maybe a box of tissues (for the ones you can’t save).
First Aid Kit- I’m a mom, enough said.
Plastic drop cloths or tarp- rain is a woodworkers worst nightmare. Wood and water don't mix unless you are boat-maker. Get ready for those down pours and have a quick way to cover your work and dry it.
Rain cups or other moisture barrier for ground contact work. Road runoff, mud in the grass, straight up puddles...I’ve survived it all, or should I say my furniture has… I put table and chair legs in these little cups and have plastic sheeting to go under pieces with rails or longer points of ground contact.
Flashlight (with working batteries) for searching through the dark bin under your table or if you happen to be setting up or taking down at night. Or for an epic game of shadow puppets on your tent walls.
Not only could you survive an art show with these tools, you could also survive in the wild, well maybe… and bonus you are going to be the most popular kid on the block when other artists are in a bind and you have just the right tool to come to their rescue. Good luck!
Shop the whole list of art festival prep tools here.
Read "10 ways to plan and prepare for Art and Craft Show* Success" here.
Download a complete Maker Show Checklist here.
Have any tools that make your art shows a success? Share them in the comments!
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