Monday, July 13, 2009

A Compact Art Festival Booth

My new outdoor booth layout for 2009.

I did an Art and Wine show over the weekend at a local winery, and thought I would share my booth experience. I've been doing this for about 4 years now, and am learning a lot. I used to use the family pickup truck to haul my stuff to and from the show, but it started to be a problem because my husband could not take the boat out fishing when I had the truck. I used the traditional 6'+ fold up tables which can be heavy and difficult to lug around, not to mention tough to transport without a truck.

So, I was motivated to find a set-up that met the following goals:

1. Aesthetically pleasing and professional looking
2. Compact - needs to fit into a Prius
3. Inexpensive
4. Flexible - different shows sometimes force different layouts, so the booth needs to be reconfigurable.

Thus started my quest to acquire pieces that would work. First I bought the Caravan canopy at Costco, which has worked well for the most part. I got the one with the carrying case and side walls (for closing the booth up at night), but I suspect the reason that this one was at Costco was that there is about 3" too little fabric to easily fit the walls around the sides. The only way I can get it to zip up as advertised is to attach the walls before the unit is completely expanded, and then pop it up. It's very frustrating that the vendor couldn't just make the walls an inch wider. This canopy fits into my Prius with the back seats folded down, behind the passenger seat.

The grid panels are 2' x 6' and can be hung individually with cable ties (my most-used item!) from the canopy framework, joined together in pairs (again, with cable ties) to provide two right-angle corners that fit nicely around one table, or joined in a triangle or square for a totally vertical display. They can support a track light fixture for indoor shows. I like to hang large photos of my work from them so that people who are walking by the booth can tell what kind of work I have without "committing" to enter the booth. The panels could also be used to display actual jewelry pieces as well, in frames.

The reed fencing is new this year, and came from Home Depot. It was dirt cheap at $20 for 16'. I like the way it softens the back and sides of the booth. It's reusable at home for outdoor decor too.

The carpet was another Costco item and is made from recycled plastic, and is good for outdoor shows where there is a lot of dirt. Unfortunately, I have to clean it - this year it made its debut at a rainy show with mud, and it's filthy.

The curtains tie onto the canopy frame, and were inexpensively purchased at Cost Plus Imports. The two tables are metal roll-up camping tables from Sierra Trading Post, and I use PVC pipe to extend the legs to bring the tables up to a comfortable browsing height for jewelry. This is key for jewelry artists - nobody wants to have to bend down to peer at your tiny works of art. The tables are wonderful - they don't weigh much, they're sturdy, and when disassembled they fit into a 5' tubular nylon bag about 10" in diameter, and I can carry two at once.

The two rectangular tables are joined by a square table made from a tall cardboard box (from The Container Store) that is weighted inside and has a 24" square plywood top bungied to the weight. When combined with wood or other rigid tops and bottoms, cardboard boxes are a fabulous, lightweight, flexible option for shows and won't break your bank. I've heard Uline has some great ones too. They can be painted or covered with decorative materials to make an artistic statement as well, and I've seen artists put glass jewelry cases on top for a very professional look.

I like making an "L" shape with the tables to create a "behind the counter" area where I can stand and talk with browsing customers. I've tried other layouts (tables along two back walls) and like this one the best for engaging with people. It also lets me stay in the shade, and gives a protected space for shoppers too.

Underneath the large necklace busts in the back are some lightweight woven fabric storage bins from Storables. Unfortunately they don't nest, but I love how they blend in with the black table coverings to reduce visual clutter. The necklace bar on the square table is made from PVC covered with pipe insulation and then velour, and it's inserted on a wood stand made from a piece of 2 x 4 with a large wooden dowel.

The earring display is a peculiar piece I picked up at a home consignment center - it's a square wooden base with an Eiffel tower-esque obelisque top that has lots of criss crossed wires I can hang earrings on.

Now for the part I'm most excited about - the trays. I found some tiered buffet serving pieces for around $30 each at Bed, Bath & Beyond that break down flat and give a unified look to my booth. This makes efficient use of the space and lets me put stuff higher in back. Sure, these cost a little more than other options, but I really like the look. Since the trays in the back are raised up off the table, it gives me a spot to stash my receipt book, calculator, pliers, etc., and a place where I can write up purchases without requiring another piece of furniture in the booth.

Now serving: Fire Glass!

On the trays is something called "Fire Glass" ( I knew I could use rice, coffee beans, peas, etc. to display the jewelry on, but I wanted something different. You know those newer outdoor gas fire pits? Well, this is the new replacement for lava rock - it appears to be tumbled tempered glass, and what could be more perfect than fire glass for lampwork beads? This stuff comes in many different colors, and while heavy to lug around, I think it really draws people into the booth. When they ask what it is I just tell them it's the windshields from all the cars I've wrecked over the years (jk).

Most of my "miscellaneous" stuff fits into a lidded plastic tub - my gift bags, clamps, cable ties, guest book, business cards, tape, table signage, one table covering, a few busts, mirror, etc. I need an extra bag for gift boxes, however. Since I need to fit stuff into oddly shaped places in my car, I opt for plastic shopping bags for some items - it's easier to squeeze them in than if they were in a rigid tub.

How to Pack a Prius for a show 101.

Not shown are my canopy weights, which currently are an assortment of sandbags and concrete filled PVC.

All of this fits efficiently into my Prius including my jewelry, provided I put things in the car in the right order and in the right spots. The grid panels and canopy have to go on the bottom, behind the passenger seat which is pushed all the way forward. On the floor in front of the passenger seat are the five framed posters of my work. I forgot about the grid panels being on the right and had to repack the car after taking the photo above - I could not get the hatch closed.

So, I am finally self sufficient come show day, and DH can fish to his hearts' content. My heart still melts, however, when he shows up to visit me at a show, or comes by at closing time to lend a hand with the breakdown.

Anyone else have learning experiences to share from their festival set-ups? There are lots of ways to do this, and mine is only one.


  1. Patty, What a great, informative post!!! Thanks so much for sharing it here!

  2. great post...thanks so much for sharing that information...looks like you have it down to a science...

  3. A beautiful set up. Thanks for sharing all your special finds. I find I am always tweeking my set up, trying to make it better. Yours looks fabulous.

  4. You're all very welcome! Good luck in your pursuits of the Ultimate Booth. :-)