So You Want To Do An Art Show

I’ve sold my jewelry at art shows and holiday boutiques for about 10 years now.  There’s no quicker affirmation of the work I put into my art than selling a piece.  The idea that someone connects with my jewelry still gets me.  It’s not so much the money…although that helps….it’s the fact that my piece speaks to someone else and they feel good wearing it.

We have quite a few good art shows in Cleveland.  When I started out, these shows were my goal, but initially I knew I was totally out of my league.  So I started out small….really small.  I saw an ad in the local newspaper that artists were needed for an art show in a church.  I sent in my pictures and got accepted.  They provided me with a table and I took a white table cloth and laid my necklaces out for all to see.  I was convinced that I would sell out….everyone there was sure to see what a fabulous artist I was.  I spent 7 hours sitting at my table and sold two necklaces.  One to the promoter and one to the woman who had a table behind me.  They were pity sales.

But I continued on.  At my next show I realized that I badly needed to develop some type of table display.  When I looked around and saw everyone’s creative displays, I was embarrassed to lay my necklaces on the table.  I think I spent most the show trying to sneak a peek at the other displays so I could get ideas.  At one point I pulled out a piece of paper and started to draw table lay-outs.

My third show was a three day Christmas boutique.  At multiple day shows you really get to know the other artists.  So I screwed up my courage and asked another jeweler what advice she could give me.  She was very nice and gave me quite a few suggestions for improving my table display.  The husband of another artist came by and suggested that I invest in better lighting to make the jewelry pop.

So….I very quickly read up booth displays.  I knew that I didn’t want to invest in expensive jewelry cases or pro-panel type set ups early on.  I wanted to find out if I had a chance of getting into the bigger shows before dropping some big bucks on displays.  The first thing I purchased were tables with adjustable legs.  Most of the info I had read talked about buying tables and using PVC pipe to increase the height of the table to 36”.  I found tables that have legs that adjust to three heights: 22”, 29”, and 36”….perfect.  I found that three tables give me enough flexibility to have a variety of arrangements in a 10’ x 10’ space.  Most of the time I use all three tables, sometimes I only use two.

Next…table coverings.  I went to the local fabric store to look at black fabric.  Black makes the jewelry stand out but it’s overdone (in my opinion) and I couldn’t find a nice quality material that would last more than one season and wouldn’t wrinkle.  I walked over to the upholstery section and found an amazing dark greenish brown blend that looks like suede and can be thrown in the washing machine.  It has a little bit of stretch and no matter how tightly I fold it up…it doesn’t wrinkle.  You need a lot of material to cover three 4’ tables.  Plan in advance and purchase when the store is having a sale.  I also lucked out that day in that they were having a 50% off sale.

For lighting I decided to buy professional from the start.  I purchased 6 telescoping halogen lights.  They weren’t cheap.  I’ve had them for 6 years and have only had to replace one bulb.  They look great, they highlight my jewelry and I’ve had a number of artists ask me about them.

For table displays I went to stores like Pier 1 and World Market.  They have an amazing variety of dishes, candle holders, statues, trays and bamboo mats to drape jewelry over.  You could also use cigar boxes or items that you find at antique shows or flea markets.  Just use your imagination.  Look at an item and image what it would look like with jewelry on it.

Now that I had the basics of what I needed to go inside my booth….I needed a tent.  I initially purchased one of the pop-up brands because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and I wanted something I could put up myself.  It lasted about 3 shows.  It wasn’t easy for me to put it up by myself, it wasn’t water proof, and it twisted out of shape during a wind storm and wouldn’t collapse fully….until my husband gave it a big squeeze and snapped one of the supports.  I needed to get another frame for my tent because I had another show in a few  weeks.  I was unable to get a replacement frame for my pop-up tent so I decided to invest in a professional tent.  This was the best investment I’ve made.  It’s can be assembled by one person, it’s water-proof and it’s very good in storms.  I’ve used it both indoors and outdoors and it has a great re-sale value if I decide to get out of the art show business.

Here is a few pictures of my set-up today.

This didn’t come together in a year…it has been an evolution over about 5-6 years.  I went from a single table with a white table cloth and no displays to this. I worked at coming up with a cohesive style that goes with the jewelry.  The take-away is this….get out there and do it…even if you are doing it with white table cloths and no displays. It won’t be perfect the first time….it will probably never be perfect. I’m always looking for ways to improve my display.  But if I had waited to get it to this point…I would have never done art shows.

In my next post I’ll provide you with some sources for booth displays and a list of items to pack for your art show.


Gail Lannum

About Gail Lannum

My day job is research administration but my making jewelry. I work primarily in bronze and am inspired by ethnic and tribal art. You can see my jewelry at


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