An introvert’s guide to surviving an art show

A friend posted a comment on something I wrote on Facebook:

I want to have a booth at a show, but I am nervous that I will not be charming enough. Any tips for being yourself And an introvert and a good salesperson for the crafts you love to make?

That seemed like an awesome thing to think about and share what I do. I am a major introvert. When I say that, I always have students from my classes say “There’s no way you’re an introvert.” but it’s really true. When I am in front of a class, I can turn off the introvert for a while and I enjoy it, but I have a timer and it runs out. I get what I call a “teaching hangover”, especially when I teach in the evenings where I need several hours to unwind and reset before I can sleep or deal with people again. It’s a different feeling than just being tired. I feel prickly and scatterbrained and I crave silence. (It’s a lot like the onset of a migraine now that I think of it.) I need to get that out of my system before I can do anything else. So a class that goes until 9 pm means I will be up until 2 am before I feel like I can relax again. I know that about myself, so I have come with a lot of ways to make it work.

When you’re an introvert, showing your art at a show is pretty much you having to be “on” for 8 or 10 hours straight, which is so hard to do. The reason people come to art shows is because they are interested in handmade items and they are interested in meeting the artists that make them. That means you. My last post was all about how that interaction with the artist can make all the difference in both positive and negative ways. So here are a few ways I deal with being an introvert and surviving a long show day and making sure I am being the best ambassador for my art.

Meet your neighbors

One of the first things I do is try to meet the people that are set up on either side of me. Especially if you are staffing your booth by yourself, it’s nice to feel like you have a couple of friends who are in the same boat. It makes it feel less awkward to borrow a sharpie or masking tape from them and you have someone to eye-roll with when things are slow. Chances are good that everything is going to be crowded (because it always is) and you are going to be encroaching on each other’s space in some way. That’s a lot easier to tolerate from a friend when you are crawling under their table to find your water bottle or their customers are standing in the way of your display and chatting.

Don’t forget fuel

It’s tempting to get a giant latte loaded with sugar and figure that caffeinated energy will carry you through your introvertness. And that works to a point. But around Hour 3 when you are jittery and the sugar has crashed, your ability to cope with crowds of people is toast. It’s going to be loud and you will get thirsty from talking a lot. Water is good. I am not really excited about plain water, so I drink a lot of tea. I have decided that almonds, apples & cheese are pretty much the perfect show snack. Cut everything up into small pieces. Stash it in a container under the table. You don’t want anything that makes your fingers messy and you want to be able to eat it in a couple of bites. You might get a break, but you might not. And I don’t know about you, but if I am hungry, I am even less interested in talking to people and they stress me out more.

Be present

The simplest version of this one is “don’t sit down”. It’s tempting to make yourself a home base where you feel comfortable watching people come in to your booth, but you are out of the way. But the problem is that when you sit down, you are tempted to pull out your phone or your knitting or something to keep yourself busy. Then you are looking down and not making eye contact. And then you look busy and someone with a question might not want to interrupt because it looks like you are counting stitches. And we introverts don’t want to be interrupted, so this one just perpetuates itself. A tall stool or chair helps with this, so you can literally sit and not have to be on your feet all day, but you are still at eye level with the people who are shopping and not tempted to hide in your phone. My phone battery is iffy so there is no surfing for me or my Square checkout might not make it through the day. I always wear a bracelet to fidget with even though I would love to have my knitting to fidget with instead. Being present also means not letting yourself get monopolized. I overheard several unhappy comments from customers at my last show because one of my neighbors had a huge bunch of friends in the booth chatting with each other. No one else could get in to look and the artist was completely unaware.

Don’t get trapped

This one is about your booth design. It took me a while to figure out the simple design of “here’s a table with all of my stuff and I stand behind the table” totally makes me feel trapped. I am constantly on display along with my art right in front of all of those people, aka the Introverts Nightmare. I now try to make a booth where I have several places to stand, including out in the aisle. I want to be able to see my things at all times, but I want to be able to move around and not have me or the customer feel like we are watching each other. I think it also helps to wear a nametag so that no matter where I stand people can figure out that I belong to the booth. Some shows really don’t lend themselves to this, but give your design some creative thinking. I have seriously taped out the space with masking tape on my livingroom floor and mocked up the booth before I go.

 

 

Find the story

Ugh. Small talk. Right?

“Let me know if you have any questions.” is a good opening line, but it’s so commonly said that we almost don’t hear it any more. Often the first thing someone says when they walk up to my things is “Pretty fabric” or something like that, so my opening line has become: “Thank you! I design all of these fabrics and have them digitally printed.” At which point they usually look up at me with a confused look on their face (because what I do is unusual) and they ask me a question. “What do you mean digitally printed?” “You designed all of them?” “You can do that?” And now we have a conversation started and it’s the easy conversation. It’s easy to talk about what you do because you love it. You wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. You aren’t selling it at that point, you are sharing your love and enthusiasm for it. And that’s a way more fun conversation than “How much is this?” I also print out a card that talks about what’s unusual about my work and I put it in the display. That’s for the introvert shoppers.

What’s the opening line you can say that invites people to ask you more?

  • Something you can’t tell by looking at it (ie it’s digitally printed)
  • Alternate ways to use it (ie it’s a necktie, but I am a girl and I am wearing one right now)
  • What’s unique about it (ie I use all reclaimed fabrics or recycled silver)

Have a break

Get a friend to come. Leave for 5 minutes and go away from the crowd where you can be “off” for a while. Walk outside or even hide in the bathroom. Anything where you can be anonymous for a couple of minutes will give you a little chance to reset. I rarely have someone stay in the booth with me. There is never enough room and you tend to talk to that person instead of customers. But someone who can drop by for 10 minutes is the best gift you will get all day. It’s always the last thing I think to organize, but it’s so important. Shows will often give free or assistant passes to vendors; this is what you use those for. This person doesn’t need to know how to do anything more than say “The artist stepped away for just a minute and will be back soon.”

Go home and reset

This is important for multi-day shows. I always have invites to go out and grab dinner after a show and I rarely say yes. You need the time in the evening to reset if you are going to do another day at the booth. Have a hot bath, eat something, drink a glass of wine, go to bed early.


I have actually gotten to where there are some art shows that I really enjoy. I know what to expect, I know I will be having the same small talk conversation all day and I still enjoy it. But that’s taken some practice. Your first few shows are going to be exhausting. Making your booth/strategy work for your personality is going to make you feel more confident and even if it feels a little contrived to come up with an “opening line”, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and it doesn’t feel that way at all.

4 Thoughts on “An introvert’s guide to surviving an art show

  1. Hi Becka. Thanks for another great blog. I appreciate you sharing tips on how to survive
    vending at an Art Show. I do an annual needlework market in Nashville each year and will use your tips on healthy snacks and how to wind down after the show!

  2. Gamanda on April 17, 2017 at 3:56 pm said:

    Thank you for this post!! I may need to re-read it before each show. ?

  3. I so appreciate your willingness to share your tips. Shows are generally quite painful to me. I will definitely employ some of these suggestions next time I enter a show.

  4. Such great advice! Thank you. I panic at the thought of needing to talk to people for a full day too. This might help to give me the confidence again.

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