How to Prepare For an Outdoor Art Fair (Your No1 Problem Revealed)

how to prepare for an outdoor art fair header image. Two women looking at an art display on an outdoor display on a sunny day

Most traders arrive at their first art fair totally unprepared. In this post, you’ll learn how to prepare for an outdoor art fair properly so you don’t get washed out, blown away, or fried by the elements.

Bring rain covers and plenty of spring clamps to hold tarps in place. Keep your display in full shade, and tie everything down against the wind. Use weights and pegs to secure canopies and use parasols with vents. Bring along plenty of plastic bags, absorbent cloths, and invest in a good windproof umbrella.

Let’s cover the hazards each weather element presents and how to prepare for the worse. Read on.

Preparing for Rain in an Outdoor Art Fair

If you live in a climate as unpredictable as I do, here in the UK, you have to be prepared for a sudden rain shower at all times. I seldom trust the weather forecast, I’ve made that error too many times.

Bring more covers than you think you’ll need, more containers, and more plastic bags. Not only that, bring a bagful of spring clamps to keep everything pinned firmly in place.

It’s not enough to have everything with you, you must have things at the ready to throw over as soon as you feel that first spot of rain.

What Kind of Raincovers Do You Use in an Outdoor Art fair?

I like to clamp a lightweight tarp to the rear side of my table ready to flip over in an instant. I secure it on the front legs with two clamps.

That covers a polyester tablecloth made from a bike cover that is itself waterproof.

I’ve also used rolls of polythene in the past, wrapped around lengths of pvc tubing, and unrolled my made-to-measure covers in seconds.

What Kind of Umbrellas Do You Use?

In my experience, you can’t have too many umbrellas. They are not just for me, I hand them to customers too. My stall is in a permanent outdoor pitch and rather exposed so perhaps I rely on them more than the average trader.

I like to have a well-vented umbrella clamped to my easel, another cheaper one for me, and one for my customer, which doubles as an extra sunshade in hot weather.

I also use a central rectangular garden parasol. It’s vented and lightweight. I’ve also used fishing umbrellas in the past but what they gain in size and strength they lose in color.

How Do Protect Your Art Prints From the Rain?

As I’m selling mostly A3 prints I keep my stock in a homemade plastic box which is itself, placed inside a drybag and resting above ground on a luggage trolley.

Over the top, it may be, but rain and paper don’t mix well and, touchwood, in 20 years trading outdoors I have yet to lose any stock. I have lost some display prints though.

I display my board-backed prints in clear self-seal cellophane bags. They are bigger versions of the kind you see on greetings cards.

Further Reading: What Kind of Art Sells Best?

To be extra safe I tape the end but even so they eventually succumb to UV and the bumps and knocks of everyday wear. It only takes a pin-prick to let in water.

I know that once in a while I will have a mishap which is why I always bring a few spares to replace any damaged items.

How Do You Protect Your Original Artwork From the Rain?

If I am paranoid about losing my prints you can imagine the trauma of losing an original. It’s not happened yet but gosh I’ve had a few close calls.

Part of my selling routine is to draw in situ and encourage onlookers. I always have my latest project on display.

I always draw beneath an umbrella held to my easel with a golf umbrella holder. That buys me time should it start raining all of a sudden.

Easel set up. A drawing behind perspex and underneath an umbrella in an outdoor pitch
Drawing behind perspex underneath an umbrella

The drawing itself is inside an A3 cello bag, I stick it to my drawing board and tear a small hole where I intend to draw. The chances of anything going wrong are small.

If I feel the rain, I cover the board with another sheet of clear perspex and secure it with bulldog clips. This does the trick but if the wind picks up too I will store the original in a box until the danger has passed.

How do You Deal With Damp and Humid Weather

In many ways a heavy downpour is easier to deal with. You throw your covers over and wait for the rain to stop.

Humidity is more insidious. It creeps up on you. There are sultry days when the air is saturated. This affects the paper.

Paper acts like a sponge and absorbs the moisture. I usually notice it first when I’m trying to draw and nothing seems to work. The paper becomes soft and loses its tooth. Try drawing on damp paper and you’ll see what I mean.

I can’t draw on these humid days. I’m also aware that the paper starts to wave. It no longer lies flat. Thankfully I’ve done this long enough to know that when the moisture levels go down, the paper will flatten again.

Further Reading: Repair Damaged Drawing Paper – 8 Ways to Rescue Your Artwork

I’m also aware that my prints will buckle too. I protect them inside a plastic box with half a dozen large silicone sachets to absorb the moisture.

If humidity is an issue, fine misty drizzle, a British specialty, is a killer. It’s almost impossible to trade in those conditions because umbrellas make no difference. Such is the life of an outdoor trader.

Preparing for the Wind in an Outdoor Art Fair

Believe it or not, it’s not the rain I worry about, it’s the wind. If it’s wind and rain, you may as well pack up. That said, it takes a lot for me to quit and there are some things you can do to ease the pain.

Further Reading: How to Write an Artist’s Bio

How do You Secure Your Easel Against the Wind?

The first thing to blow away is my easel. If I am ever going to lose my original it will be because I haven’t secured the easel properly.

I have, by necessity, a lightweight easel. That’s great for work outside but it blows over in a puff of wind. I secure it by hanging a heavy weight from the center with a long cord. I bring a plastic water container and hang it just above the ground to keep the center of gravity as low as possible.

If the wind is too strong for the umbrella to be raised, I skip the drawing demos. It’s not worth the risk.

It’s the drawing board acting as a sail that topples the easel but because it’s one of my sales props, I’m loathe to abandon it. I secure the board to the easel with spring clamps. The perspex sheet has always protected the drawing from damage when the easel has fallen over.

How do You Secure Your Art Prints Against the Wind?

I stick my prints to corrugated plastic display panels. They are the same panels printers use to make ‘For Sale’ signs from.

I velco the panels to a metal frame and velcro the prints to the panels. What would I do without velcro?

It works well when the velcro is new and less so as time goes by and the velcro loses it’s grip. If the wind gets up I clamp the panels onto the frame as a precaution.

As the wind gets up I will have to unfold the parasol, even so the plastic panels act like a sail and my fear is one violent gust sending the whole display flying. It has happened in the past when a freak gust has caught me unawares.

These days I tie my stand to a secure post and weigh the base with my stock of prints which acts like a dead weight. If the wind does catch me out, it’s only the panels to worry about and they aren’t heavy enough to cause harm.

Preparing for the Sun in an Outdoor Art Fair

You would think the sun would be your best friend, and sure it brings out the crowds and cheers everyone up, but there are a few things to consider.

For one thing, no one wants to stand around in the full sun for long. If it’s very hot people seek shade and the good mood soon frazzles into hot and bothered.

 A parasol and giant umbrella casting shade over two women looking at art in an outdoor art display.
You can’t bring too many umbrellas

I offer plenty of shade, and luckily, my permanent pitch is under a tree so that really helps.

It’s not just the passing trade that starts to wilt, my display suffers too. Pictures do not fare well in the glare of the midday sun.

Pictures need shade. This is what happens.

  • Your prints appear bleached out
  • Paper warps
  • Display sleeves wave
  • Velcro melts
  • Marks, smears, and scuffs are highlighted
  • Prints sweat inside their wrappers
  • Cellophane and perspex glare

I readjust my display throughout a sunny day as the sun pans across the sky. Umbrellas are not just for the rain.

To prevent my display prints from warping I stick them to lightweight 4mm polycarbonate sheets and replace the cellophane wrappers as and when they deteriorate.

Further Reading: How to Make Cheap Art Display Panels That are Light and Strong

The only reliable way I’ve found to prevent condensation is to bake the prints in full sun for a while or take a hairdryer to them before I set up. They are fine when the moisture has evaporated at which point I will re-wrap them.

Other Environmental Hazards When You Sell in an Outdoor Art Fair

Birds and Insects

My pitch is under a tree, pigeons sit in trees, need I say more? There are days when my canopy is splattered. It infuriates me. Yet another reason to have plenty of umbrellas, tissues, and cloths.

Pigeons and, God forbid, seagulls are an ever present concern but so too are insects. I get plagued by aphids. I love my elm tree but it’s an ecosystem, and as the summer progresses the aphids drop sticky honeydew.

I’m constantly wiping, cleaning, and inevitably, squashing everything. That’s all very well on my display, I can easily manage that. I get more paranoid when I’m drawing.

I can only work under the protection of an umbrella. That’s fine for the aerial bombing but insects have an uncanny knack of finding their way inside the cellophane wrapper. It’s an attack from all sides.

Further Reading: How to Make Prints of Your Art if You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

It’s so easy to casually brush away an insect only to squish it onto your artwork. I’ve done it too many times. Now I gently blow them away if I can, making sure my mouth is dry first. If that fails I use a feathered blending brush.

If that wasn’t enough, I check the reverse side of my perspex sheet before I cover the picture. I’ve had so many near misses from that complacence alone.

Bringing the Right Clothes For an Outdoor Art Fair

Always bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. It’s far better to take off layers than to suffer the discomforts of not having enough.

I always bring a rain jacket/windcheater, and as the season changes, I’ll dress in layers. You get cold standing around all day.

In short if you think you might need something, bring it along.

The one thing I won’t wear is sunglasses. I’ll wear a peaked cap to stop me squinting but never cover my eyes. That’s a sales NO-NO.

Are There Any Advantages to Selling Art Outdoors?

You would think that after listing so many reasons why selling outside is a pain in the backside, I’d jump at the chance to sell indoors. Not so.

I trade outside because, unlike so many artists and illustrators, I approach selling art like a market trader. I want to shift my wares, I just happen to make the product myself.

I’m not an ‘arty’ artist. I like to think I’m fairly down to earth as far as my art is concerned. That helps me detach slightly and prevents me from getting too precious. I can take most knockbacks in my stride.

Further Reading: How Do Wildlife Artists Make a Living? Copy This and Get Started

I know from decades of selling, that if you really want to sell non-essentials, you must capitalize on impulse, and the sure-fire way to do that is to be under people’s noses. That’s best achieved outside, and luckily, outdoor pitches tend to be cheaper.

Higher profits, cheaper rent, that’s WIN-WIN.

Useful sites:

Conclusion

There are many ways to trade. I prefer face-to-face. I like to get up in the morning and go to work. I have fellow traders to chat to, regular customers, and I get to draw between customers.

Not everyone will find a cheap seasonal pitch. Most will make do with art fairs and events which makes the decision to do outdoor events a riskier investment. Only you can determine what’s right for you, we all have different circumstances.

If you do decide to trade outdoors, this guide will help you to prepare for an outdoor art fair with more confidence and a clearer idea of what to expect.


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