Ah, to think it was only just over a week ago that I was running my own stall at the House of Illustration's first ever Illustrator's Fair! I really enjoying it and, from what I could see from behind my table, it was a really good introductory event!
The House of Illustration have got themselves a really nice location only five minutes walk from the shiny new King's Cross station and Granary Square was a great space for the fair; open and fairly bright but with protection from the unpredictable british weather and a little room to expand for larger future events. The back boards that were mocked up for stalls were a great idea, which added a second dimension to each vendors space and gave us room to present more work and draw in visitors with colourful displays. There was a really nice variety of styles to be seen among the 100 illustration stalls present and though I didn't have much time to explore beyond my table, the workshops and other interactive events looked great too. I particularly liked seeing visitors walk around with their faces illustrated on balloons! it was fun to compare owner to portrait during the quieter moments from my stall.
The event itself could have been a little busier and I think it would have benefited from some more prominent directional signage, but knowing that the House of Illustration crew only had two weeks to put this whole thing together, I have to say I'm really impressed by what they managed to achieve. I was also impressed by the staff themselves; everyone I met on the day was helpful, considerate and enthusiastic and the hard work they invested in this event has clearly paid off. I'm really hoping that they can run the fair again as a regular event and I'm sure that if they do it will be bigger and even better than it was for this first illustration extravanganza.
On that note and in preparation for more fairs in the future, I've written a few retrospective pointers on running an illustration stall. I put together a pretty comprehensive list (including advice from some of my more experienced friends) before the fair but there are a couple things that I think we missed out or that should be emphasized, so here we have a little list of things I learned at my second Fair:
- It really is important to have a range of products at different price levels. This is important at fairs in particular as people will be paying in cash and will often not have been planning on a large spend. If there aren't any cash machines nearby, this can be a problem. I sold far more of my £3 colouring books than I did my more expensive prints and these colouring books, as well as postcards and greetings cards made up more than half of my total takings on the day. Small things matter!
- Another reason I think my colouring books were my bestseller is that they are more interactive objects than flat prints. People will pick up little books to leaf through them, whereas flat prints and cards are less tangible objects. I hate to go all cold saleswoman on you but handling an object makes you feel more attached to it and means you are more likely to buy. On a more friendly note, the colouring books offered a novelty factor because they were something that could only be found on a few stalls, whereas almost all of us were selling prints and cards.
- Planning in advance is essential and really should not be left until the last minute. On the day it was very obvious who had made an effort and had time to plan their presentation and who hadn't and that's more off-putting to potential customers than you might think. Although it's nice to think that the work speaks for itself, making sales isn't just about the quality of your work but about how you present yourself and your products to visitors.
As illustrators I think it's often difficult to think of ourselves as a business rather than as artists, but unfortunately to make an impact we really have to be both. Presentation and promotional skills are essential, particularly if you want to sell illustrated products.
- On a similar note, I was surprised how many stalls had no visible branding beyond business cards. If you've been active on social media before the event then it's a lot easier for online followers to find you if your name is on display. It also makes your name and your stand more memorable to visitors on the day. You don't have to have a fancy logo or font (although a couple of people I spoke to at the Illustrator's Fair mentioned that they recognised me by the logo I use online, which was at the top of my board), but it makes sense to take advantage of every opportunity to get your name out there and have it stick in people's minds.
- I would also definitely recommend getting everything done two or three days in advance of an event if at all possible, to avoid the last minute panic which isn't ever fun. Although I planned my layout in advance and tested my hanging methods, I didn't actually measure out the size of my board and arrange my test display until the day before the fair. This meant that when I realised I didn't have enough parcel paper to cover my whole board, the shop I bought it from was already closed! Luckily most of the blank board was hidden behind my table but this has definitely taught me a lesson about being prepared. At the very least, being ready a couple of days in advance will give you a chance of getting a good nights sleep the night before. Both myself and one of my neighbours at the fair were fighting back yawns half-way through the day due to lack of sleep and that means we probably weren't engaging with visitors as much as we could have been.
- This also applies to what you take with you on the day. No matter how carefully you prepare, there is always a chance that something unexpected will effect your plans. Without seeing the set-up of a fair in advance, it's impossible to know exactly what you'll end up with. If you're not sure you'll need something, take it anyway if you have the room, and a supply of basic useful things like pens, blu-tak, masking tape and scissors often proves handy. Even if you don't use everything you bring, you could have something another stall-holder can use and they might be able to help you out in return.
- Running a stall independently can be a little lonely and tiring. The time definitely seemed to go slower than when I ran my first stall with a few friends. In this case I recommend getting to know your neighbours during the quiet spells. It's always great to have the opportunity to make new creative friends anyway, but if you don't have visiting friends or relatives to help you out it's also nice to have someone to exchange stall-cover with for food breaks etc and someone to chat to to keep you awake if you're one of those last-minuters like me who didn't get enough sleep!
I've always found the illustration community to be uniquely filled with lovely, friendly and generous people who are happy to help each other out and offer advice and support. I've mentioned networking events before as a great way to boost your creativity and make some new friends, but events like the Illustrator's Fair are often equally valuable in this respect.
I think that about covers it. I really enjoyed the fair and I look forward to doing lots more in the future.
If you can think of any useful advice and tips of your own that I've missed, or if you have some feedback from the fair you'd like to share, you can tweet it to me at @BirdsTalkCode, or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll share it for you with credit. All the best wishes to you all!