Dec 9, 2009

Selling at Art Shows - Costs

C. Wade left a comment on my last blog post about the start up costs of an art booth. It's really quite a comprehensive topic and I could spend weeks on it, but I do want to share some basics about what's involved with selling at art shows. Since I purchased my things a while back, and have since made tweaks, I'm not sure I'll be able to give you an exact dollar amount. I can, however, give you some things to think about and some resources where you can learn more.

There are two main categories of costs - your booth setup, which is basically a one-time cost, and your inventory, which hopefully will be a recurring cost as you replace what you sell.

I'll talk about inventory first.

For my inventory I have a range of price points, ranging from cards to framed or mounted prints. To figure out costs I have to include the price of prints, the cost of the matboard, and the cost of frames or mounting. I cut the mats myself, which saves some money but spends a lot of time. If you go this route, the equipment to do this needs to be factored into your one-time costs.

Then there's packaging and labeling. Plastic sleeves for prints or matted prints, padding or boxes for framed pieces, shopping bags, price labels, branding... All of these have costs.

Keep in mind that many if not all of these items - from prints to price labels - are much cheaper per piece if you buy in bulk. So you have to consider that as well. I personally would buy in smaller quantities if you're just starting out. If you aren't sure you will sell 2000 notecards, you may not want to pay for 2000 plastic sleeves to put them in.

(By the way, pricing is a whole different animal and I don't feel comfortable getting into it as there are far too many variables, some personal, some business.)

Onto booth setup costs...

Booths can be fairly simple or very complex. They can cost around $100 but can easily cost thousands. It all depends on what type of shows you're doing and what you think will work best for you.

When I started selling at art shows, I jumped right into outdoor fine art shows. This meant I needed: a tent, walls to display my art, tables, flip bins, tablecloths, tent weights, display baskets, signage, sunblock, a comfortable chair, a cash box, credit card processing, receipts, business cards... I could go on and on. And for each item, there are various options. Not knowing if the art show circuit would work for me, I went with more affordable options. I got an EZ Up tent at a good price, rather than a higher end canopy. I chose to buy one wall's worth (4) gridwall panels (about $30 each or $120 total) from a local business supplier rather than getting what are now my dream walls - Flourish's mesh panels ($640 for three walls). I use a lot of items from home in my booth setup - TV tray tables, camping chairs... Without looking up all of my receipts, I would guess that my booth setup cost me $500-$700, not including inventory.

If you start selling at smaller, indoor art shows, costs drop dramatically. Often you only need a 6-foot table, a nice tablecloth, display bins, lighting, and maybe some easels or shelves to give your booth height and increase your display area. These shows generally have smaller booth fees. Keep in mind, the vibe, clientele, and attendance will be different at these types of shows than at a large fine art show. That said, this might be a good way to test the waters. The holiday shopping season brings many opportunities at this scale.

You can't forget about costs like sales tax permits, credit card processing options, food, etc. Also, almost all shows charge a booth fee - the ones I've done have ranged from $30 to $375, and they go up from there. Also - you have to be able to get your booth to the site and set it up. Does this mean buying a bigger vehicle, or renting a trailer? Can you set it up by yourself or will you need to have an assistant? Will you need to pay your assistant? There can be many "hidden" costs, so be sure to think through everything carefully.

Like I said, I could spend weeks on this topic. However, others have already done so for me! Here are some great resources:
There are many more sites out there, but these were the ones I personally found the most helpful. Good luck!


  1. Great post- thank you! There's a lot to think about here.

    I really applaud you for cutting your own mats- that's such a lot of work!

  2. Glad I could help!

    Yes one thing I learned early on was to stop making custom sized prints and start keeping all of my images to a standard size. Makes buying mats affordable. Though I do still like the personal touch of cutting my own.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts!