Making of an (Art Show) Artist: Part IV – More On the Job Training


Spinning © 2011 Bo Mackison

Welcome to my 5 part series on the making of an art show artist!

Part I described my initial questioning about whether or not I could be an art show artist. In Part II, the answer was “yes, do it, but how do I start up?” Part III included a few of the lessons learned from “on the job” training, the real learning is in the doing.

Part IV continues with more lessons learned from the first year’s art shows, learning by doing MORE and MORE art fairs.

A breakthrough happened during our fourth show of the summer. I discovered the magic that happened when Sherpa and I each had our own jobs to do. There isn’t much space to maneuver in a 10′ by 10′ art show tent, and we were forever stepping on each others’ toes. I’d start to do a task and get interrupted. He’d try to finish the task, but it didn’t work as intended. I finally realized that if we each did specific jobs, there would be less confusion with better results.

Sherpa began going for the truck and trailer at closing time, leaving me to pack everything in an organized fashion, and life on the art fair circuit became more peaceful. We were able to get the work done in less time. And with more calm. Division of labor–a good thing to learn.

Our first large show (in Chicago) taught us a different kind of lesson. It’s an easy one to do. Take advantage of the amenities offered by the organizers of the shows. These added benefits may include booth sitters, free breakfasts, and delivered-to-your-booth bottled water for hot, humid summer days in the Midwest.

But the best amenity, and one that quite a few artists ignored, was the artists’ reception held the night before the festival opening. I’m not a party goer, but this is the kind of party I make sure I attend. These receptions are an excellent time not only to meet other artists who will often share their experiences, but it is also a prime time to meet the art patrons in the community.

These are the people who give their time and effort to make art happen. They are knowledgeable, friendly, and they love art! Definitely, they are people worth getting to know. Plus, it was a party! After setting up the booth in the mid-summer heat, food and drink was a great reward.

After a season of art festivals, we had the organization down. We were meeting other artists. And finally, I was getting more comfortable talking to the public. Sherpa is a natural at small talk; he could chat with a cement statue if given the chance. Me? Not so much. I made excuses for my shyness, listing plenty of reasons why I needed time to warm up to conversations. Or why I should avoid a conversation altogether.

Well, warm up time or avoidance are parts of my past. There isn’t enough time for warm-up exercises when customers are in your booth looking at your art. I had to carry on an intelligent conversation with my potential clients, or they would leave the booth, never knowing what they were missing.

It is up to the artist to educate the public about all aspects of your art, and you can’t do much educating by remaining silent, or ducking in the back of the booth. Or even worse, by reading a book or simply ignoring people and not engaging.

Neither Sherpa nor I read or ignore our visitors, but I saw quite a few artists sitting in the back of their booths, half hidden from sight, reading or working crossword puzzles, and never giving their customers even a hello. I also saw those same customers, feeling unwelcome, leave those booths quickly.

It took me quite a few shows before I did much more than smile and offer a friendly “hello” to people who came and looked at my art. A few more shows and I was doing so comfortably, and carrying on conversations. Now I feel confident approaching any visitor in my booth, and talking to them about my art. After all, photography is my passion, and who doesn’t love to talk about their passion with willing listeners!

You can teach an old dog new tricks! Or learn how it is possible for an introvert to be an artist on the art festival circuit!

Part 5–the wrap up.

If you have any questions about showing art at art festivals, or would like to know about a different aspect of art fair circuit routine, feel free to contact me. Use the contact form in the menu.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. It’s so inspiring to hear your stories and how you’ve grown into showing your work at art shows. I think there’s a lot here to learn – for all of us. And – I just love the abstract image!

  2. I have walked into many booths at art fairs where the artist was “hiding” in the back of their booth reading a book, or simply ignoring the customers. I always found this to be a huge turn off. Potential customers shouldn’t have to go out of their way to find you to ask a question or to try to learn more about you or your artwork. At the same time, I also hate a pushy sales person who is trying to sell me something. When I see an artist sitting in their booth eying everyone who comes in, I also find that to be a turn off. My solution for this is to position myself in front of my both, greet people as they come in and let them have full reign of my space. They know where I’m at and we have already exchanged pleasantries so they are comfortable asking questions or just chatting about anything.

    I would love to hear more about some of the specific equipment you choose for your shows. For example, what type of canopy do you use, how do you weight it down, what type of display do you use inside of your canopy and anything else you could share with us. I’m thinking about switching setups and I’m curious as to the thought process you went through when choosing the products that you did.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      You are right, Michael. There is a difference between the pushy salesman, who is downright annoying, and an artist who greets their customers, then backs off to give the consumers time to look without feeling like they are being scrutinized.

      I’d be happy to give you the details of my set-up, but those dry facts would bore the more casual reader, I fear. I’ll send you a DM.

  3. Gandalf says:

    I’ve enjoyed following this series. Very interesting.

  4. Actually, I’d like to hear the set-up details, too. I don’t expect I’ll be on the art fair circuit anytime soon, but it is something I’m curious about.

    Learning about division of labor has taken me 35 years of marriage. lol! I’m still not sure we’ve got it down, but we’re close.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      It sounds like such an easy concept, right Robin? You do this, I’ll do that…And Sherpa and I are just getting a good handle on it too. Must be something about that 35 year mark. We hit 35 in June.

      And Ill get the specs of my booth, etc. written down and distributed by email to anyone that leaves a comment saying they want them.

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