The Harvest Festival - Show Wrap-up

This fall I took on a whole new type of art show, The Harvest Festival, and I wanted to share a little bit of my experience with you.

As an independent artist that is building an audience and making a fair portion of my income from shows like this I think it's important to share my own takeaways in the hopes that someone else can learn from my experiences. If you follow my YouTube channel you already know that I'm fairly candid with the information I share and I hope to be able to bring that same kind of candor here to my blog as well.



So what is the Harvest Festival?

The Harvest Festival is an art and craft show that takes place in multiple locations across multiple weekends here in California. The general feel of the event is a well-curated craft show, with vendors selling in a 10x10 or larger booth space and offering a mix of items. Many of them are selling anything from wool slippers and boutique clothing to novelty items and one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry.  The audience tends to be a slightly older crowd than what I usually sell to at comic conventions, ranging in age from their 40s to 60s, with a majority of them women. You can find more information about each specific show on their website if you're curious.

Why did I choose to attend?

I'm always looking for new things to try and love finding odd or unusual events rather than the typical fantasy-themed conventions that many artists within my genre attend. Thankfully, my work has a broad appeal and I was curious to see how it would do in this new space. With these shows I wanted to see how well it would do in a crowd looking to shop in particular for Christmas gifts.

experiences and what I took away

So How was it?

Overall I had a wonderful experience. I attended 3 different Harvest Festivals during October and November with my final one on Thanksgiving weekend. I only noticed a slight difference between the weekends in terms of income and foot traffic and so would compare them equally.

1. Hiring an assistant.
For the first two shows I hired an artist friend, Christine Rhee, to help me out at the booth. I hired her not because I thought I would see the size of audience that would necessarily require an assistant but because I wanted the experience of working with someone else helping me out at a show, a first for both of us! I also chose someone that I knew and who could also give me feedback while we worked.

It was a wonderful experience and definitely one I'm so glad I was able to test out in a safe environment. Christine was a dream to work with and having her with me made for a much better show! Being a first for both of us, keeping the lines of communication and feedback open taught me quite a lot of new things about running a booth and gave me several new ideas for how I would like to approach working with assistants in future.

Naomi and Christine Harvest Festival

2. Don't be afraid to change your setup.
Going into these shows, I knew my setup for them was going to be a bit different than my usual conventions. Having attended other art and craft fairs I knew that the expected setup was often more "shop" or "boutique" like, each 10x10 space set up as it's own little store. The usual convention traffic doesn't allow for people to mingle and wander into your 10x10 space. It can get rather cramped quite quickly.

I decided to approach my setup like my neighboring booths and create a calm space to step out of the flow of the main isle and into my space. Instead of opening up my entire 10x10 I cut it in half and brought my back table forward, making it easy for someone to see what I had walking by without needing to enter, yet allowing enough room inside my booth for a few more people to walk around. Christine and I played with this setup a few times, tweaking the table placement and what was displayed where. Below are examples from my first show and second.

3. New collectors

I was pleasantly surprised to meet quite a wonderful variety of people at these shows. As I do more of these shows I'm learning to spot the people that collect my work (my tribe) in the attendees that walk by and I was thrilled to find them here at the Harvest Festivals as well. Every show typically has it's own type of person that it attracts and the Harvest Festival is no different. And while this primary group isn't my audience I found many others attending that were.

4. TV Interviews

On two occasions I was interviewed by news channels about my art and involvement with the Harvest Festival. The first time KRON4 brought me and another artist into the studio in downtown San Francisco to do an interview for their morning show. The second time I was interviewed on location at my booth with ABC7. Both were very enjoyable experiences and something I'm glad I was able to participate in. I noticed several dozen people recognized me from each interview, the KRON4 interview especially brought in a few more attendees that sought me out specifically at the show.

I feel like having my own YouTube channel and being in front of a camera regularly helped quite a lot with each interview.

Here are links to both if you're interested in watching.

Kron 4 news Interview Naomi vandoren

Thinking of Exhibiting? Here's what you should know about Holiday craft fairs:

  1. Bring items that are finished and ready to be used. Prints did do well but could easily have done better if framed and ready to hang. Think about giftable items!

  2. What popular themes does your work fall within? Often items within a theme like "cats" or "mermaids" were an easy buy for a family member who liked those themes. I had many requests for more mermaid prints because that is a collectable theme that many are interested in or know someone that does collect them.

  3. Bring lights! The overhead lights at the show were dimmed to make it more of an "experience". If I had foregone the lights my space would have felt like a cave. In general this is a good idea, regardless of venue, to bring lighting to highlight the artwork and catch people's attention. No one likes a dark corner.

  4. Bring originals... but don't expect them to sell! At each show I brought a selection of original art. I use these as talking points to share my work and process. Surprisingly I sold about 2 originals per weekend show.

  5. In-line booths can work quite well in these situations. It's all about inviting people in and making them feel comfortable. Create an eye catching display of cohesive work and you will have no problem!

  6. Have fun and make friends! I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with my booth neighbors and think that the community of artists around these shows is wonderful! They're a strong group, often traveling weekend after weekend to different events. Don't miss the oportunity to connect with these other local artists. Their insight into the show could be invaluable for how you approach it next year.