I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.

A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?

Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.

But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000” up to “over $1,000,000”.

The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.

Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.

But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.

And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….

Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.

The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.

Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.

I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!

My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.

If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.

Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.

When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.

And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.

I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.

P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

7 thoughts on “NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??”

  1. Great topic, as usual, Miss Luann!
    I do one show a year. That is about all I can handle. And the topic of booths is always an issue. I don’t need tents or too many fancy lights. I keep changing or adding something each year to make it more interesting but focusing more on displays. This year I added bed risers under the legs of my tables and it worked great! And my table cloths? Flat sheets, twin size in black. Perfect coverage. I would say pick and choose things that you like from other booths, but don’t try to mimic someone directly. Make that booth an outward vision of who you are as an artist, keep some things consistent (like a color scheme) and seek interesting, out of the box display items. But the most important accessory in your booth is YOU! Work it!
    Enjoy the day! Erin


    1. Okay, Erin, you officially qualify for the fastest post EVER on my blog! I haven’t even finished fixing the typos yet!!! :^D

      And I love your comment about “be inspired but don’t copy”. Thanks for sharing that!


  2. Luann, thank you so much for the kind mention!

    I love your advice to look at what other vendors / exhibitors are doing for displays. Experienced vendors often have evolved some really nifty systems for displaying their wares and running their booths, which we can adapt to fit our own unique situation.

    From my own experience, I also suggest that artists who have never done a show may do well to hold off on spending a lot of money on displays until AFTER they’ve done a few shows.

    What sounds like a lovely display in theory can turn out to be a huge pain in reality – when it comes to the time, space, and effort involved in storing and transporting all the display parts, setting them up, arranging your wares on them, and taking the whole thing down again after the event!

    After doing several shows with a variety of different display components, I made a list of everything that I wanted and DIDN’T want regarding my booth.

    My list included things like,

    “It has to double as jewelry storage at home, in between shows or parties.” (After discovering that my original “cool” display took up nearly a whole closet for storage between shows.)

    “The entire thing needs to fit easily in my car [a Honda CRV].” (After realizing that my EZ Up tent couldn’t fit in the car unless I eliminated some of my displays.)

    “It needs to be ultra fast and efficient to set up and take down.” (After taking 2+ hours both before and after every show, and being the very last exhibitor to leave the venue for several shows in a row.)

    “It has to be modular and adaptable to a variety of booth sizes and shapes.” (After being surprised with a smaller, funkier-shaped booth space than I expected at an art show.)

    … etc. My list had about 10 or 12 items.

    I couldn’t have made this list before doing my first show – but after doing several shows I learned what really mattered to me and what didn’t when it came to designing my booth!

    Also, great advice to not be afraid to make mistakes.

    I think for many artists, the booth itself is a continually evolving work of art. And like a fine wine, it gets better with age! 🙂

    Thanks for this insightful post, Luann!


    1. Hey, Elaine, thanks for the link! I checked it out and found this: “Tips of the Trade helps to bring Supervisors closer to their trade show team, by working with the department head to clarify what to expect from the show and their staff.”

      I will alert my staff and call a meeting of my department head asap! Whoops, nobody here but us cooks and bottle washers…. :^D

      But a free consultation couldn’t hurt. I’m tempted to try it & see what they say for an artist exhibitor.


  3. Hi Luann,

    I need to thank you for all your insight. As a novice to shows, we have struggled to find anything either in print or online to assist us in how to design our booth. I have found the most insight from you and your blog. Thank you, a million times over!



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