Visiting an art fair

Art fairs are a fabulous way to discover new artists and to buy exciting original art for your home, but they can also be overwhelming. I often see visitors wandering with a slightly glazed expression as there can be so much to look at.

So a few tips to make sure you have a great visit, especially if you are looking for art to bring back home…

affordable art fair

1. Pick the right fair

Fairs where artists show directly to the public are a great opportunity to discover emerging artists who are prepared to invest in their career. If an artist has created a solid body of work, paid for space, invested in framing you can bet they are committed to their practice and growing their art career. You could discover a new talent!

Some fairs (such as Frieze or the Affordable Art Fair) allow only galleries: this gives you the benefit of a prior authority approving their work, however galleries vary according to taste and it does generally mean the prices will be significantly higher. They can be more visually daunting as 100 galleries each showing work from say 10 artists, means 1000 different styles! So it helps to be clear about what you are looking for.

2. Find advance tickets

Get free or reduced entry by joining the mailing list of the organisers or one of the galleries or artists involved. Printed tickets are not usually posted out as a matter of course so make sure to open your emails in the run up… and put the date in your diary as reminder to check!

3. Have an idea of how much you want to spend

Having an idea of how much you want to spend is helpful. Prices can vary hugely depending on how established the artist is, but there are many ways artists try to offer alternatives. You may be fixed on wanting a large original painting, but perhaps a drawing could have the same impact, or a reproduction print?

If you fall in love with a particular work you may be prepared to be flexible about your budget. Remember – that exact painting is a one-off and it won’t be available again – now is your chance! Art can feel expensive so put in context with your spending on furniture if you are redecorating a room, or how much you would spend on an evening eating out with friends. See no.8 for other ideas to help spread the cost…

4. Get out your tape measure before you leave home

If you are looking for artwork for a particular place, be prepared. Take measurements of the wall where it will hang, take photos on your phone so that it’s easier to visualise the artwork in place. But if you fall in love, be prepared to adjust your ideas – small paintings can be hung in groups for impact on a larger wall, and a small space can look amazing filled with a larger painting.

5. Do a fast first route – with a pen in hand

If you give a lot of attention to every stand you will feel wrung out before you’ve covered even half of what’s on offer. My tip is to do a fairly swift walk around the whole venue – certain pictures may catch your eye but don’t stop too long now. Mark artists you like on your map. Once you’ve looked over everything you will have a better idea of the work on show. Maybe your ideas have changed, maybe you feel stronger in your conviction of what you are looking for. If you feel that you haven’t yet seen anything you like you will certainly have a clearer idea of what you don’t like. The second time you will be more attuned to visually pick up on work which appeals to you – and may spot something you didn’t notice at first.

6. Revisit your favourites and talk to the artist!

The second time round you are revisiting particular paintings or artists you liked before. Does it still grab you on a second viewing? Maybe this time the work feels more enticing? Listen to your instinct. If there is a piece of artwork you are interested on, talk to the artist or gallery and let them know. This is the most exciting part of an art fair – you get direct access to the person who made the work so ask away.

Feel free to ask more about the piece. If you feel it’s the one for you – go for it! If you are still a little unsure then find out if they will hold it for you. The last thing you want is to come back and find it just sold to someone else! It’s unfair to ask an artist to reserve a painting for you indefinitely, after all they are there to make sales, however most artists or galleries will give you time to consider.

7. Take a break and restore your energy

Don’t be surprised if you find your energy flagging – its a visual feast but it’s a lot to take in! Take a break, find somewhere to rest your feet and have a coffee. It’s easy now to feel overwhelmed and head home without making a choice – but then you will just be back to square one. Go back to stands you spoke to and let them know your decision – either way. They won’t be offended, no one will try to persuade you, but there may be a way to help you out with some of your considerations….

8. Ask about paying in instalments

Many of the big fairs offer payment plans through the Own Art scheme which allows you to spread payments over 10 months. But even individual artists may be open to this idea for larger work. I have taken payment for work in three parts. Just discuss terms and remember you are both trying to get to the same solution – a way for you to own a piece of work you love!

9. Keep in touch

If you have found an artist whose work you like – congratulations – that’s like a needle in a haystack! You don’t want to lose touch and forget they exist. Even if today isn’t a buying day, what about your birthday coming up, or an anniversary to celebrate? You can always contact them after the art fair too – I can promise they will be delighted to hear from you!

Even if you never plan on buying it’s worth getting on to gallery or artist’s mailing list – in my experience they rarely bombard you with too many emails and it’s a good way to see more about how an astist works, or how their work is developing. And of course, get free tickets for next time!

10. Take home what you love – and have fun!

Last and most important is to choose what you like. Don’t be swayed by your friend who prefers flowers. A painting doesn’t need you to stay the same dress size to continue wearing it. You can’t lose half of it like a pair of earrings. It isn’t something you enjoy just for an evening or a week, like the theatre or a holiday. All those things are wonderful too, but I continue to get great enjoyment from the paintings I have bought over the years. Some remind me of a certain time in my life, or wake me up in the morning, or remind me just to slow down a little and notice the details. Buy what you love and you will never go wrong.

I will be showing new paintings at Windsor Contemporary Art Fair 10-12 November 2017. Join my mailing list below for Free Private View and reduced entry tickets. If you come along be sure to stop and say hello.

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