Selling work at fairs can be an exciting, sociable and lucrative addition to your illustration career, but knowing where to start can be a minefield. As part of our #NotaHobby Campaign, we’re exploring the lively world of illustration fairs and asking three seasoned sellers how they turn their stands into successful and enjoyable sources of income.
With London Illustration Fair just around the corner, Alice Tams, Charlie Evaristo-Boyce and Elsa Rose Frere share their top tips for stall applications, set up, and making that all important sale. The talented trio also give us the inside scoop on what we can expect to see from them at London Illustration Fair this year.
From pricing to prints to large scale interactive art works – Alice, Charlie and Elsa share their expertise with you below.
What can we expect to see from you at the London Illustration Fair? Do you have a new or popular product you’re excited to present?
Alice: Lots and LOTS of pigeons! I’ll be doing a huge, interactive ‘pigeon wall’ for the duration of the festival, which will feature visitors over the weekend (as pigeons, not people!)
Charlie: This year I am really focusing on my travel illustrations. In January myself and Jordan T Gray (who I am sharing my pitch with) went to India for a month. We took our sketch books, cameras and artistic eyes with us. On our return we had an exhibition in our home town of Margate called ‘Power Monkey Sound Horn’ which was received well. I am really excited to show this collection of weird and colourful illustrations and artworks at the fair!
Elsa: I am very excited to be selling my latest ‘Sexy Man’ range of cards, prints and 2020 calendar. ‘Sexy Man’ started off as an illustration I did for my husband for valentine’s day but ‘Sexy Man’ slowly developed his own following and over the last couple of years has become one of my best sellers. Now I have so much fun drawing this overweight hairy man in different poses, and watching the reaction he gets!
Elsa Rose Frere
Do you have any advice for competitive illustration fair applications?
Elsa: I always look at previous examples of exhibitors to make sure that my work will fit in with the curators’ style, as well as not be over saturated. You want to know that you are offering something a bit different but will also be selling to the right sort of customers.
Alice: Really pay attention to the design of it, as well as the content, and keep it concise. Often big fairs have 100s and 100s of applications and they’re likely to begin the selection process by scanning over the PDF previews as a whole. Make yours stand out, so when they get to it in more detail the judges will already feel familiar with your work.
Are illustration fairs a lucrative source of income for you? Do you have any tips for covering costs / keeping track of profits?
Charlie: Yes fairs are a great way of making money, meeting people and networking. Fairs with a high foot fall and a reputation for excellent art like The London Illustration Fair already have a captive audience and fan base. This allows the artist to focus on their work rather than having to worry too much about marketing and getting people to come. We manage to keep our costs down by sharing our pitch, this year and last year I shared with Jordan T Gray and Handsforfeet. This meant we also split the cost of all the logistical aspects like vans and fuel.
Alice: They always have been, I started my business many years ago with a shared stand on Brick Lane every Sunday. I would say especially when you start out, try not to have too much money tied up in stock. Have a good price range – especially around Christmas – as people will often be looking for gifts already with a budget in mind and under-pricing your work can be as harmful as overpricing it. Make sure you take everything into account – labour and packaging as well as product – to ensure you’re making a sustainable income for yourself.
How do you present your work at illustration fairs? How do you make your space stand out?
Alice: Whenever given the opportunity, I like to get some colour and nice big props involved, of course this time that will be nice and easy with my mural! There are all sorts of ways to get creative – tall stands will always draw the eye. Get some doweling rods, clamp them to your table and string up some of your work, be it prints or products. Being framed by things when you stand behind your stall will always be more eye-catching than having everything flat on your table. Bring a big, colourful sign if you can!
Elsa: I love designing my stand and I spend a lot of time making sure it looks professional as well as having that personal touch. I think that it is important to give your work room to speak for itself, taking into consideration how the space works as a whole, how the pieces work together and how they complement each other.
Charlie: I try and hang my biggest brightest artworks at eye level or where they can be seen from a distance to maximise impact and draw people in. Our stand last year also really stood out because we had a mash up of artworks by three different artists, it created conversation and for someone to view all the artworks it took time.
Alice Tams, Photograph (c) Crafty Fox Market
What is your approach to interacting with customers?
Charlie: You have got to engage with every person who walks by. Invite them to come and have a look at your art. Make eye contact, smile and make them laugh. Having a memorable fun experience can sometimes be the pivotal point between making a sale and not making a sale. You also have to think about the way you set your stand out. A lot of traders position themselves behind a table. I have always thought being stuck behind a desk creates a physical and metaphorical barrier between the seller and the customer.
Elsa: I try to say ‘Hi’ to everyone who comes to my stand, so they know I’m there if there need any help. I personally find really over eager sales pitches a bit intimidating, so I try to approach customers in the way I would like to be treated. Buying artwork takes time and I like to give people the opportunity to really look and think about my work before I start talking to them about it.
Alice: I’ve had many years to experiment with basically every approach you can imagine. What I’ve settled on is to give people a ‘Hi, let me know if you need help/have any questions’ and leave them to it, whilst remaining friendly and approachable in case they would like a chat. I like to take drawing with me if I can, which is often a great conversation starter (and stops me getting bored during lulls)
Elsa Rose Frere
What are 3 essential things that you bring with you to every illustration fair?
Coffee, to get hyped up energetic and chatty.
Beer, to celebrate sales and create a social vibe.
Water, because hydration is important.
A card reader! You really can’t expect everyone to be carrying cash around these days, though some fairs like the London Illustration Fair will handle transactions for you, which keeps things nice and simple.
My sign, which has gone through many iterations through the ages but is always big and features a bird wearing a hat…
A canteen full of coffee, for obvious reasons.
London Illustration Fair is open Friday 29th November – Sunday 1st December. Head to their website for a full line up of this years artists.
Get your tickets HERE.
You can use promo code ‘AOI20’ for 20% off entry tickets.
More about the illustrators…
Alice Tams – @alicetams
Alice Tams is an illustrator obsessed by the colourful, the surreal and the anthropomorphic, who is best known for her ongoing series ‘Birds in Hats’. She began her career in London with a market stall on Brick Lane and ended up in an artist’s studio in Bermondsey, selling products featuring a plethora of birds wearing hats alongside taking on commercial and personal illustrations. This year at London Illustration Fair Alice will be painting a large scale interactive mural live. London Illustration Fair will be running an Instagram competition in the lead-up to the fair with the chance to have entrance portraits immortalised as a pigeon in a hat, within the mural.
Elsa Rose Frere – @elsarosefrere
Elsa Rose Frere is a freelance Illustrator currently based in Bristol. Working across many different areas of the industry, such as editorial, branding, and book illustration, Elsa uses her quirky yet bold designs to bring personality to any project she works on. This year Elsa is returning to London Illustration Fair for the 4th time with an even bigger and better selection of her personal work. As well as exhibiting lots of new and exciting pieces Elsa will also be working on some live illustrations, giving you an insight to how she creates her playful yet sophisticated designs.
Charlie Evaristo-Boyce – @charlieevaristoboyce
This year at London Illustration Fair, Charlie is exhibiting with fellow East Kent image makers Jordan T Gray and Alastair Knowles-Lenoir. All three have varying illustrative styles, however their work overlaps with a mutual love of print, colour and humour. Expect to find eye catching and bold prints, with hand crafted merchandise full of character. Charlie will be creating an installation on the top floor of the Bargehouse. Using cardboard boxes, the artists have created a flat pack art installation. They print and paint onto these generic cuboids and convert them into visually striking mash ups that reflect their surroundings and their imaginations.