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Published Feb 3, 2020

Craft Fair Booth Setup

Transporting work to and from craft fairs and setting up your booth in an efficient manner can be challenging. But over the years Neil Estrick has gotten it down to a science. He developed a time saving system to fit everything into his SUV and make setting up easy.

In today's post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Neil shares tips for efficient packing and his craft show booth setup ideas. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

PS. See the full article plus a ton of other great content in the February 2020 issue of Ceramics Monthly!

When I decided to start selling my work at weekend art fairs over a decade ago, I didn’t realize just how much thought would have to go into simply moving everything to and from the shows, and how that would affect the design of my booth display.

 1 Rear view of vehicle loaded up for a show.2 Side view of the loaded SUV. It is loaded exactly the same way every time, because it makes loading quick and easy, and everything fits.

Packing Strategies

I transport all of my work in plastic tubs. I never, ever use cardboard boxes. Everything must be waterproof—rain is a regular part of doing outdoor shows. Durable tubs with locking lids can be found at big box stores for under $10 each. I measured my car several times to make sure I got tubs that fit the way I wanted them to. I tumble stack my pots in the tubs, placing thin foam sheets between them, and putting many types and sizes of pots in each tub. It’s a fast and efficient method of packing, and reduces the number of tubs I need compared to having a dedicated tub for each form. There is very little wasted space in each tub. I never use bubble wrap, because it takes up more space than foam sheets and doesn’t protect rims and feet as well unless you use several layers. Each tub weighs 35–40 pounds when full, which is easy to carry. I usually take 6–7 tubs to a show, with roughly $1000 worth of pots in each tub.

3 Easily adaptable art-fair booth setup.4 Cup set, 4 in. (10 cm) in height (each), Wheel-thrown porcelain, underglaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2019.

Craft Show Booth Setup Ideas

I designed my booth display to be pretty subdued since my pots have a lot of color and pattern. It consists of fold-down shelving on top of 4 tables that are each 4-feet long. It’s quick and easy to set up and tear down, and takes up minimal space in my car. It’s not an elaborate or terribly creative setup, but it complements my pots, and everything is displayed at a height that is easy for people to see. Plus, I can store all of my empty tubs under the tables during the show; I don’t have a mess of tubs and packing materials behind my booth like some artists. If it rains, I can easily fit everything inside my canopy and still have room to sit. The display is also modular enough that I can make it smaller if needed, or adapt it to special situations like when my booth is straddling a curb.

5 Leaf jar, 15 in. (38 cm) in height, wheel-thrown porcelain, underglaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2019.6 Gourd vase, 12 in. (31 cm) in height, wheel-thrown porcelain, underglaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2019.

Packing my car for a show is a bit like a game of Tetris, but it all fits and still leaves room for a passenger in the front seat. It seems like a lot of stuff, but it’s well within the weight limits of the vehicle. Here’s a rough breakdown of what everything weighs:

  • Tubs of pots—300 pounds
  • Canopy with sidewalls and cross bars—120 pounds
  • Tables—75 pounds
  • Shelving—50 pounds
  • Canopy weights—160 pounds
  • Cooler—30 pounds
  • Hand truck/dolly—35 pounds
  • Bags, paper, linens—20 pounds

This amounts to a total of 790 pounds. It’s really no different than having 4 or 5 grown men riding in the car.

My setup has gradually become less complex over the years (I’ve stopped using larger tables, taller shelves, layered linens, and wall fabrics) as I realized that I was wasting a lot of cargo space and energy on things that didn’t improve sales. I now spend less time setting up my booth than ever before, and sell just as much work.

the author Neil Estrick holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual art with an emphasis in ceramics and photography, and a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics. He has been making pottery for 27 years, and specializes in wheel-thrown porcelain. Since 2004, he has been the owner of Neil Estrick Gallery, LLC, in Grayslake, Illinois, where he makes and sells his pottery, and teaches wheel-throwing classes. Neil also sells kilns and does kiln repair in the Chicago-Milwaukee area. Neil also serves as a moderator of the Ceramic Arts Network Community Forum.

Topics: Ceramic Artists