How to Prepare For an Outdoor Art Fair: Tips for Success

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, zip ties, and absorbent cloths, plus invest in a good windproof umbrella.

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

Read on.

(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

Preparing for Your First Art Fair

There is no doubt about it, preparing for your first art market is daunting. First-time exhibitors feel like fish out of water. You don’t know what to expect, will the other traders be friendly, will you sell anything, have you got everything you need? It’s stressful.

There’s good news, luckily, we all remember our first time attending an art show and how grateful we were that fellow artists were so happy to help. People are friendly. There’s nothing to worry about on that score.

It’s more important to know how to sell your art, that’s the whole point, right? and to bring along the right equipment to make that possible.

I can teach you everything about selling your art at art fairs, and I urge you to buy follow my guide, but for this article, I will discuss the preparations for trading, especially when you are selling outdoors.

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Prepare an Equipment Checklist

The first thing you’ll need to know is what the event organizers provide for each attendee. You’ll need to know the exact dimensions of your permitted pitch if you are to plan and optimize your selling space. You will also need to know if tables are provided and if there are power sockets.

Be very clear about any rules and restrictions beforehand. You don’t need any nasty surprises on the day.

Some markets provide nothing but the permission to trade in a given space, if that’s the case do you have everything required to set up a stand-alone display?

I’ve traded on a seasonal pitch for years and I must set up and dismantle my market stall every single day. If I forget something, I have to do without

All my equipment is designed to fit in a small van and all the heavy stuff remains in the back overnight:

  • Market stall
  • 6 x plastic display panels
  • Signboards
  • Rectangular parasol
  • Folding Table
  • Tarpaulins
  • Easel and stool
  • Folding chair
  • Table cloth
  • Water containers as weights
  • Bag of spring clamps
  • Umbrellas

I go home at night but if I was trading away I’d have to remember to bring the rest of my stuff with me:

  • Replacement stock – prints
  • Board back envelopes
  • Postal tubes with polythene liners
  • Cellophane wrappers
  • 3 portfolio display folders
  • One original drawing as a work in progress
  • Drawing board
  • Drawing materials/pencil case
  • Business cards

I always check my money pouch before I go to work and make sure I have everything:

  • Plenty of small change (in my case 17 x £1 coins and 6 x £0.50p coins)
  • Banknotes (6 x £5, 3 x £10, 1 x £20)
  • Charged portable credit card reader
  • Receipt book

There are extras that I need for repairs:

  • Zip ties (cable ties)
  • Plenty of cord (looks better than string)
  • Self-adhesive Velcro tape
  • Sellotape
  • Gaffer tape
  • Craft knife
  • Screwdriver
  • Wet wipes

You can’t have too many plastic containers and bags

An optional extra is to take along a small hardbacked comments book for testimonials and building and a mailing list.

If you are trading indoors you will have to bring along spotlights. Don’t make the mistake of assuming there’ll be enough light.

Lastly, I have my smartphone of course and I still carry a small notebook for jotting down ideas.

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 mistake too many times.

Don’t rely on an art fair booth providing enough shelter from the weather. Rain can whip through your display with one gust of wind. You must prepare for every circumstance.

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 to hand and be ready to jump into action 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 tabletop, ready to flip over in an instant. I secure it on the front with two spring clamps.

I also have a polyester tablecloth made from a waterproof bike cover, so I can quickly slide things under the table instantly.

I’ve also used long rolls of made-to-measure polythene in the past, wrapped around lengths of PVC tubing, to unroll my cover in seconds.

What Kind of Umbrellas Do You Use?

In my experience, you can’t have too many umbrellas. They’re not just for me, I hand them to my potential 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. You can buy purpose-made traders parasols but they are super expensive and heavy.

Umbrellas are not just for rain. They are cast shade too and in my case, protects my display from pigeons and seagulls. More about that later.

How to 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 the ground on a luggage trolley.

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

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

Read this for tips: What Kind of Art Sells Best? All The Secrets Revealed

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 spare bags, and spare display prints, 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 front of potential buyers and encourage onlookers to stop. I always have my latest artwork 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
My 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.

The paper acts like a sponge and absorbs 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 buckle. 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.

I’m also aware that my prints will wave too. I protect them inside a plastic box with half a dozen large silicone sachets (affiliate) 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 in outdoor shows.

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.

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.

The drawing board acts as a sail and that topples the easel, but because it’s one of my sales props, I’m loathed to abandon it. I secure the board to the easel with spring clamps.

Touchwood, the perspex sheet has always protected my drawings from damage when the easel has fallen over. It’s nerve-wracking when it happens.

How Do You Secure Your Art Prints Against the Wind?

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

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

In the past, I used polycarbonate sheets, which are far stronger and UV resistant. They are better, but you have to cover them to look good.

Read this post and do it yourself: Cheap Art Display Panels: Make Your Own For Art Shows

It works well when the velcro is new and less so as time goes by and the velcro loses its 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 that one violent gust will send 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 as a dead weight. If the wind does catch me out, it’s only the plastic panels to worry about and they aren’t heavy enough to hurt anyone.

I found this Skillshare class on preparing for trade shows. It’s worth checking out if you are going to an event.

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 or Correx board and replace the cellophane wrappers as and when they deteriorate.

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, wet wipes, 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 shady 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.

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 for stray bugs before I cover the picture. I’ve had so many near misses from that complacency 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 and wearing comfortable shoes is essential

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 from squinting but never cover my eyes. That’s a sales NO-NO.

Public liability Insurance for Art Fairs

Accidents happen, especially when you trade outdoors. Public liability insurance is a must, even though here in the UK it’s not a legal requirement. I know from experience that you cannot foresee every potential problem that might occur.

It’s better to be safe than sorry and the premiums are not too high.

You can buy a yearly premium to cover all markets and street trading or buy insurance for each event, the choice is yours.

Touchwood I have never had a serious accident but boy, have I had a few near misses. If you shop around, basic public liability insurance is very affordable. Don’t just accept the first quote you find and confine

These are 3 reliable sites where you can buy public liability insurance in the UK. I advise you to look around and search comparison sites for the best deals. The first choice is the NMTF which is a yearly membership that includes full cover for all markets.

Bare in mind that your insurance will only cover authorized events, markets, and licensed street traders.

These organizations and brokers are US based:

Use these links as a starting point for your research. I’m not endorsing them, I just want to give you a helping hand.

Make sure you have any licenses and permits to trade according to the laws of your own country.

Tips for Selling Your Art

The art of selling is a huge subject and I cover it elsewhere. These are general things you can do to increase interest in your booth or display.

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It doesn’t matter if you are attending a local fair or an art festival, this is an art business and you must focus on sales. It might be comforting to have family and friends around but they will only distract you from your main purpose, and that is making money and attracting art buyers.

As a professional artist representing themselves, you must know everything about your own work and services. If you can’t remember it all, have the information to hand.

Have the framing sizes listed out, know the backstory of each work of art, and know the printing process and paper stock used. Answer questions fully and with confidence.

Have framing suggestions for each print, have mockups of the artwork in situ, and don’t leave anything to the imagination of your prospective buyers. It’s in your interest to help them to visualize your work in their homes.

Make sure each art piece has a well-thought-out title and a caption explaining something about the artwork. Keep it short. This will help people to engage with your art and keep them interested for longer. Even if your browser doesn’t buy anything, it will attract new people to your stall.

Read this: How to Name Your Artwork: Find a Title That Sells

Write a bio about yourself. Potential collectors are fascinated by your story. Don’t bore them to death with where you were born and went to school, and God forbid describe your artistic angst. Write your bio as a journey from where you were, to where you are today.

Not sure how to do it? Try this formula:

  • The dream
  • The journey
  • The struggle
  • The triumph

Keep it brief and edit it down to the minimum. Maybe drop a teaser in there to invite a follow-up question. That’s a great opportunity to start a conversation.

This post will help: Write an Artist About Me Page: An Artist Bio in 4 Easy Steps

Do not advertise your website and keep your business cards discreetly hidden. You will lose potential clients by advertising how easy it is to find you elsewhere.

Markets are all about impulse and finding your target audience. Don’t encourage them to leave and find something else. Almost none returns to your booth after they find you, let alone look at your website.

I cover it all: Artist Business Cards: How to Use Them to Drive Sales

Be clear about your prices and unapologetic. Your art is worth what people are willing to pay. There is no right or wrong. It’s up to you to determine the prices.

Have items at different price points. Ephemera is for casual admirers who want to buy something from you. Modestly priced open edition prints, more expensive limited edition fine art prints, and expensive originals.

Have an original artwork in progress and if you can, work on it in your booth. It will be a conversation starter and a great way to introduce work for sale. This has been my most profitable sales tactic over the years. Your unfinished art is a brilliant sales prop.

This will help: How To Draw in Public: The Experience of an Artist

Be approachable, casual, and friendly. The best way to attract people is to be cheerful. Always break the ice gently, smile, and look busy. Never pounce on people.

Selling art is about selling yourself. It may be a cliche but so what? It’s true. You are selling a feel-good item and as such your art collectors are buying an emotion.

There has got to be something compelling about you, your work, and the subject matter that resonates with the buyer. Art does not sell itself.

Are There Any Advantages in 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 sell my wares, I just happen to make and sell art.

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.

I know from decades of selling, that if you really want to sell non-essentials, you must capitalize on impulse, and the surefire 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:

Preparing For an Outdoor Art Fair: Final Thoughts

You’ll meet all types of people at an art fair, from casual browsers without much money, to new collectors with big bucks to spend. You never know who is just around the corner and you can’t always judge by appearances.

In other words, you can’t afford to ignore anyone, and just because you are trading in a minor show, doesn’t mean your perfect buyer isn’t there.

There are many ways to trade and most people write about trading online. I prefer selling face-to-face. I like to get up in the morning and go to work. I have fellow traders to chat to, and regular customers, and I get to draw.

Not everyone will find a cheap seasonal pitch. Most artists will attend art fairs and art festivals which makes the decision to invest in outdoor art events a riskier investment. Only you can determine what’s right for you, we all have different resources.

Don’t obsess with art and craft shows, your subject matter and style of art might do better at specialist events. You must think like a business person and go where the market is, besides there will be less competition.

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.


Pygmy elephants pencil drawing
‘Kindred Spirits’ by Kevin Hayler

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