Let’s talk a little about display today. What is the best way to display your work to its best advantage?
I always secretly envy 2-D people. They basically need a few walls to hang up paintings or prints. Their main worry is, “Is that frame straight?”
On the other hand, it’s hard for a 2-D artist to stand out in a sea of similar set-ups.
On the other other hand, it ends up being about the art. Period.
And when all is said and done, that’s the way it should be.
I’m not advocating bare booths–far from it! But if I had to pick the biggest mistake I see with highly-creative display, it’s when artists get confused about exactly what it is they’re selling.
If someone picks up a piece of your display and asks how much it is, that’s your cue: You are letting your display interfere with selling your art.
This is a delicate balance, because display fixtures are, indeed, a way to create a look and a mood in your booth. Bruce Baker talks a lot about making your display style fit your style of art.
CHEAP VS. EXPENSIVE DISCONNECT
If you make spare, elegant gold and diamond jewelry, these will not look good displayed in cheap, rickety cases or on pine display fixtures. I don’t think elegant silk clothes and shawls look good on that white grid paneling I often see at shows–the elegance just doesn’t go with that Toys-R-Us display mode.
But beyond the “disconnect” of displaying expensive work on cheap-looking fixtures, the other rules go out the door.
MATCH THEME WITH STYLE
If your work is whimsical, it can be good to have your whole booth and display fixtures reflect that. If your work is traditional, ditto.
OR MIX IT UP
There is also surprise and pleasure in contrast. Ironically, sometimes whimsical work does good in a plain and simple display. My richly textured and colorful jewelry looks really good displayed on sleek, contemporary-style black steel display stands. The black disappears, the colors pop–all you see is the work.
I’m not sure the opposite is true–when we have elaborate and “frilly” display with strong, contemporary work. Probably because the “frilly” is what gets attention, and the artwork loses.
Which brings us to the title point:
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
We can get carried away with carrying that theme of congruency too far.
I have a habit of creating beautiful vignettes in my studio and booth. I set up little rocks and stones and shells around my sea-themed jewelry. I look for colored papers and bean bags for my brighter jewelry. I look for creative odds and ends to hold earrings, necklaces, bracelets.
But you know you’re in trouble when your customer can’t tell exactly what it is you’re selling.
They pick up a pretty rock and say, “How much is this?” Or they carefully take the earrings off that cool note card holder and try to buy the holder. They see a coaster under a pin and say, “I’ve been looking for a set of those! I’ll take them all!”
Catalog companies have this happen all the time. Look at catalogs sometime, and examine the props. You’ll find that almost all of them are either for sale as product–or are obviously not for sale. That’s because the last thing that company needs is a jillion phone calls from customers who want to buy that widget on the mantelpiece that isn’t for sale.
I’m always looking for display props and fixtures wherever I go. I get all excited–“I could use this wood artist model hand to hold bracelets!” But if I get too many questions like, “Did you make this?“, out it goes.
It’s like the essay on the “beautiful booth” phenomenon. You want your booth interesting enough to grab people’s interest (if you have trouble doing it with your work because it’s small or detailed or subtle or whatever.) But once they’re in your booth, it has to be about the work.
Same with your display. It should complement–and compliment–your work enough. But the minute it begins to overshadow your work, cut it out.