Artist Alley or Exhibitor Booth?
Which one is right for you?
For the past 5 years I have been exhibiting as an artist at shows big and small, and I have found that one of the most common questions I get asked from fellow artists is “How do I know when I’m ready for an exhibitor booth?”
While each artist’s situation and every show is different, there are some things I consider when deciding what to book. Here are some of my thoughts and what I take into consideration when thinking of upgrading on a show-to-show basis.
Artist Alley - Start small
If you’ve never exhibited at a convention or show before, then Artist Alley is a great place to get your feet wet. Tables typically have a low cost of entry, and you can get the experience of selling your work in person for the first time for very little up front cost. Figuring out what sells well and learning the ropes can take time, and for artists just starting out, with little to invest, this is the best place to begin.
One of my first shows was a table at a craft fair in a parking garage in Japan. Starting small allowed me to experience what it was like to sell my work and also meant that I could change my setup quite easily for the following shows because I had invested in so little. After making a whopping $800 in a weekend selling prints I was hooked!
But what if this isn’t your first show and you’re already consistently making four figure per show? If this is you then perhaps it is time to consider an upgrade!
Exhibitor Booths - Go big or go home
We all know that “vendoring” at any show is a bit of a gamble. But with some shows, you know going in that your chances of doing well are quite high based on your own past experience and that of your peers. In general, these events tend to draw a lot of people or higher paying attendees. These shows are typically the ones that I consider upgrading into an exhibitor booth.
A bigger booth means that I can handle more customers at a time and can accommodate larger, pricier items like more originals in my booth. Having the space to display more of my work also can make for an easier decision-making process for my customers as they can see all that I have to offer in a glance vs having to hide some of it in print bins etc.
If you are consistently making a profit, you can afford an upgrade AND (extra emphasis here) if the show is a good fit for you, upgrading to an exhibitor booth would be worth a trial run!
I have found that, for myself, typically the sales will scale with the amount of table space. The more table space I have along an aisle the better I will do. With this in mind, when exhibiting in a booth I always try to get a corner booth. Corner booths are a good investment because they double the amount of shopping space by offering 2 isle-facing-sides instead of just 1.
What is your business model?
Any business decision you make should be made based off of your business model. Upgrading to a booth takes your brand out of the “artist” category and allows you to bring in a lot more options for merchandise, branding and even booth help to a show.
With an Artist Alley table, a show’s rules usually dictate that you, the artist, will have to run the table. This isn’t the case for an exhibitor or small press booth space, which can be run by an employee or assistant. Similarly, there are a lot more limitations placed on artist alley tables as to the kind of setup or merchandise allowed at your table that are not in place for an exhibitor booth.
If you're interested in expanding your business beyond what you alone can do — having your work displayed at events that you don't attend — I highly recommend trying an exhibitor space. Test it out and see if it fits for you!
When Artist Alley (Or the Art Show) still makes sense
I want to wrap up by looping back to Artist Alley and Art Show tables. Even after exhibiting in large booths there are many shows that still make sense to be in Artist Alley or the Art Show.
The primary benefit that I’ve found with sticking to an Artist Alley or Art Show table is the simple fact that you’re among fellow artists and the art. People attending the show seek out the Artist Alley to buy art and have the experience of meeting artists. Being where people expect to find an artist is never a bad place to be.
I’ve vendored at several shows where I’ve overheard people comment, as they are walking by my big booth full of art an aisle away from Artist Alley, “Oh wait till you see Artist Alley where all the artists are!”. If this mindset is shared by other attendees then there is little I can do to change it no matter how flashy my setup may be.
There are also many shows that have juried Art Shows where the bar is raised even higher for the artwork found there. If you’re interested in catching the eye of an art director or taking on freelance work then being in one of these art shows, where they can easily find you among other artists, is the ideal location.
In the end, I suggest weighing each show individually on a case by case basis and deciding what is best for you. From the beginning, I chose to take educated risks in upgrading my setup when I thought it was wise, and I’ve learned a lot in the process.
Naomi VanDoren is an artist who spent much of her life abroad. She grew up in the Spice Islands of Indonesia. A childhood of travel and immersion into a variety of cultures at such a young age left her with the desire to explore the earth and share her experiences through art.
She has a formal education in graphic design and began pursuing illustration on her own after moving to Japan in 2013. Naomi dove deep into painting digitally full time, and her passion for drawing and painting blossomed. In 2015, she experienced painting in watercolor for the first time and found it to be the perfect medium for traveling and she hasn't put it down since.
Currently she is developing projects around her own foxdragon creatures.
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