Where Did You Purchase Your Tent (Panels, or Print Bins)?
Periodically during the art fair season, I’ll receive this question, or others very similar, from individuals considering entering art fairs.
Some wish to know where I purchased my tent. Others seek to know about the panels or print bins. Amazingly, many ask about the chair.
I’m always glad to answer these questions. It’s the way I learned - by asking questions.
In answering the questions, I’ve often thought there is a high probability the answer will be forgotten once the questioner returns home. Rather than having one rely solely on memory, I’ve listed below my art fair booth resources list.
Hopefully, this list and my experiences may help while you plan your own initial art fair investment.
St. Paul, Arkansas
Unlike many other items in my booth that have been changed over time, my canopy is the one item that hasn’t changed. My Trimline is the 10×10 model. I initially ordered the standard unit, along with the Sta-Bars, Easy Riser Kit and Great Weights. A year later I added the front 30″ awning and three-section front door.
When I first looked into getting into art fairs, what type of tent I obtained was a real research question. I asked a lot of questions, watched the artists during the shows, considered the budget, and asked more questions. One photographer gave me the best advice "buy it, you'll never regret it". I'm glad I took his advice. I have never regretted this purchased.
During one art show a visitor came by my booth and stated "You must have to do a lot of shows to make this tent pay for itself”. I answered that I only needed to do one show. One really windy show, one really rainy show, or one show with both conditions. All the other shows are "free".
I've been in shows with this type of weather and my prints have never been damaged. Unlike other artists, I’ve also never had to hold down the tent during the show on a windy day.
Although my trimline tent is more expensive than others, it is well worth the investment, many times over.
St. Paul, Arkansas
Initially I purchased three full-wall white mesh panels from Flourish. They were made specifically for the Trimline tent. The panels rolled up, and stored in a 5-foot bag, were easily transported. Likewise, they were easy to install.
When I first started in art fairs, I was displaying framed prints. The prints were hung with their standard wire hanging, and attached to the mesh panels using the Flourish "S" hooks. (Side note – Make sure to use the hooks from Flourish. Similar hooks from local hardware stores are too thick).
After a few years, I switched from hanging framed prints to displaying Dura Plaq prints. Unfortunately, the Dura Plaq prints do not use a hanging system like the frames. Instead their typical mounting system is with keyholes. Although I tried dfferent ideas for hanging the Dura Plaqs, everything I tried didn't work. I ultimatedly switched to Pro Panels using velcro to hang the Dura Plaq prints.
I have nine 7-foot tall (38″ wide) oatmeal color Pro Panels. These were ordered after I had been using the Pro Panel print bins. Fortunately, I liked the oatmeal color of the bins.
When I first purchased these, I thought I’d save money and skip the leg extensions. After my first show, I realized that was a mistake. The leg extension kit was ordered and installed.
As mentioned above, once I started showing the Dura Plaq prints, nothing I tried worked except velcro for mounting. As you may guess, there is a lot of velcro on the back of each Dura Plaq print. I’m not taking any chances of the prints falling off during a show. I'm still not completely happy with the mounting system, but it is the only thing I have found to work, thus far. I’ve been doing this for a number of years.
Don’t underestimate the space required for the Pro Panels, both in the vehicle and in your storage location back home. Having room to transport your panels is essential! My panels fit in my minivan, on edge, right down the center (all passenger seats removed). Each just clears the back opening. (Pro Panel does not recommend storing these units in a hot trailer or storage facility).
I store these standing up in my dehumidified basement.
Canvas Flip Bins
When I first started, I used the Alvin canvas flip print bins for the first couple of years (available from Amazon). These are made of lightweight aluminum frame, that fold flat for storage. (Great for transportation).
At first I had four bins, then eventually increased that number to six. Yes, it was too many.
Each bin also took up a lot of room in the booth. Because of their design, the legs extend out both front and back. With the prints extending over the back of the bins, the bins also needed to be away from the walls. With uneven ground to contend with, sometimes I just couldn't get the bins where I wanted them. As a result, the move-about space within the booth kept being restricted. My booth started to become "uninviting".
Pro Panel Print Bins
The switch to the Pro Panels bins opened up the booth space dramatically, as these bins are "boxes" that stand upright against the booth wall. Unlike the diagonal legs of the canvas flip bins, the Pro Panels bins do not reach out into the open booth space. It became much easier to move around the booth, and much more "user friendly".
Recognizing that the standard depth bins were too deep, I ordered the adjustable-depth Pro Panel print bins. The back of the sling can be adjusted to create different depths of the bins, thereby bringing your prints higher to the viewer. To somewhat match the mesh panels I was using at the time, I ordered the print bins in the oatmeal color.
These adjustable bins worked well, but I wasn’t completely satisfied. The adjustable units come in two separate sections, the sling unit and the base. These two sections required a little time to put together, take down and transport. It wasn't necessarily a time burden, though it was inconvenient - at least to me.
After a couple of years with the adjustable units, I ordered one piece, custom-depth bins from Pro Panels. Each of the five bins are cut to a specific depth, allowing the top of each specifically-sized matted print to align just below the sling’s top support bar. This gives a truly uniform look within the booth, making it much more visually attractive. The custom depth also elevates the print for better viewing. And lastly, as well equally important, they are much easier to set up, tear down, and transport, as they are now one-piece units.
At first I used my chair as the check-out area, keeping needed items in arm-supported cloth sleeves that came with the chair. This was a great idea – until it rained! Since I keep my chair in the front of the booth, it always seemed the rain came in just enough to get the cloth sleeves damp. (One reason I purchased the 3-piece door and awning after the first year from my tent.)
When I started marketing my newsletter, I needed a more permanent solution for the sign-up location.. Solving this issue would also solve my rain issue. To match the rest of the booth, I purchased a two-shelf mini-desk from ProPanel. This small square pedestal desk is just the right size for what I needed. I now use this desk for my "office" items.
The two shelves of the desk are out of sight, yet the items are immediately available when needed. On the top shelf I keep the quick items, such as the receipt book, credit card reader, pens and stylus, extra business cards, etc. The second shelf stores the envelopes used to package the purchased matted prints.
My ipad (in a stand and locked) is located on the top of the desk. Very handy for customers to sign up for my free newsletter.
The mini-desk easily folds for transportation and storage.
I have used Constant Contact for my newsletter marketing program for a number of years. Only recently (spring 2019) have I switched to using the email marketing program through Squarespace, my web hosting provider..
Customers can sign up for my newsletter both on my web site and at art fairs.
My iPad, in a locked stand is placed on top of my mini-desk. The locking pedestal stand and cable lock was purchased from Amazon.
Using the app (which later outputs the list to csv file, which is imported into Squarespace list) individuals can sign up for my newsletter, without interference from others viewing prints. The mini-desk is not an obstruction within the booth.
I do not use booth lights for outdoor shows as the top of my Trimline is translucent, allowing light to diffuse into the booth.
After doing a couple of indoor winter shows, the need for booth lighting became apparent. Again turning to Pro Panel, I purchased their nine LED light system. Following their article about batteries, I have also added a battery source for power, no longer requiring electricity at the shows.
I find it imperative to be totally self-contained at an art fair. I do not want to rely on anyone or anything. This philosophy has served me well, and is one reason why I purchased the Easy Riser kit for my Trimline tent. I can put it up by myself.
I use the same philosophy for hauling things to and from my booth site at shows. Many shows will not let allow driving to the booth site. The only way to get everything there is to hoof it. Having your own cart is well worth it - at least to me.
Like other items, my cart changed three times because what I had just didn’t work as desired.
My first cart was a convertible hand cart, purchased locally from a large hardware store. In one position, the cart was a dolly. Sliding the handles converted it into a push cart. Larger wheels were at the base of the dolly, two smaller wheels at the top (which became the back two wheels of the extended cart). This worked in my test drive around our house on the concrete driveway. It failed miserably (my opinion) when transporting across grass. It didn't last past two shows!
The second cart was a lawn cart/wagon. This cart had four nicely sized air-filled tires with a decent size base. It actually worked very well until I purchased the Pro Panels. Because of their size, unfortunately, I needed once again, something different.
Ordered directly from Pro Panel, I obtained their “Haul It” cart. This works great for the ProPanels and all other items. The tires, though solid rubber, are large enough to push easily over grassy fields. I use an exterior hitch carrier on the car to transport the cart to shows.
I still use the first and only chair I purchased for art fairs.
The model I selected is an aluminum Earth Executive VIP Tall Director’s chair (ordered through Amazon). With a wide base, it is very sturdy. On uneven ground, you'll welcome this feature.
Where I place this chair is important. I always try for the right front corner. Here I can interact and greet visitors entering my booth.
This chair is tall enough to maintain direct eye contact with visitors while being seated. When I want to stand, I do so at the same elevation. This even eye contact was a key feature in selecting this chair.
A side benefit, this lightweight chair easily folds flat for storage.
Booth Front Sign
The front sign, “Powder Hill Photography LLC” was ordered locally through a print shop (that also does T-shirts, banners, advertising, etc.). I use a heavy duty industrial velcro to hold it onto the Trimline canopy.
After having it been blown off one evening in a very high wind storm, I now remove it each night.
Consider your safety when setting up and tearing down. In this though, I have found both a step ladder and knee pads to be invaluable tools. I’m not tall enough to reach the tent wall zippers, especially on uneven ground. A step ladder becomes a needed asset for both set-up and tear-down. I’m never without mine.
Here again, I tried one and switched to another. Both step ladders were purchased locally from a large hardware store.
I first used a two-step ladder, the second step being the top. There was no handle. As a result I always reached for the tent poles when climbing, especially on uneven ground. (Notice the common theme about the ground! It always seems to be uneven at some part of the booth space).
Though I didn’t quite like it, I made it work. And then one morning, while I was on the top step, I thought I was on the bottom step. One very large step and I was on the ground, surprised it was so far down. Fortunately I didn’t sprain my ankle. But after that show, that ladder was removed from my art fair items.
I now use two-step aluminum step ladder with a front handle. The handle actually is an extension of the lower unit. The top step is a large platform rather than a narrow step. I've seen painters use a ladder very similar, and now understand why.
This light weight unit is easy to move around as I set up. It is also very sturdy, regardless of the ground situation. With the handle, I no longer have to reach out for support from the tent.
This step ladder is as important as any other item in my booth. It is the first thing out of my car at every show.
Credit Card Reader
Every artist has to decide if they want to accept credit cards. I do, and have done so since day one. I wouldn't enter a show without this capability.
At least the customers I see, they expect that I would take credit cards. Using the chip reader and my iphone, it is quite convenient. Just make sure you know how to use it!
For a number of years I've used PayPal, in part because I already had a PayPal account and that is also what I use on my web site. This past off-season (winter 2018), I have switched to Square, and will use it going forward.
One feature that attracted me to Square is their "off line" mode. It hasn't happened often, but there have been a time or two where I did not have cell coverage for a sale transaction. The people were nice enough to allow me to send them an invoice later when coverage was restored. With the Square feature, I can still capture the credit card information which is stored until cell coverage comes back. At that time, the data is then sent through the system and transaction completed. Now that I've switched, I'll probably never be out of cell coverage again!