Friday, February 13, 2015

Part 3: Artist Alley Essentials for Under $30- Display

I've already covered the basics (link) of your artist alley table that you can get from the Dollar Tree, now it's time to move on to your display.  Cobbling together a display from stuff you can buy at Dollar Tree is easy, but it requires knowing what you intend to sell, and how to best present that.  I can't predict what will work for you, but I'm going to go through the things I found that would work for my table, which revolves around selling commissions, original mini watercolors, buttons, and books.  For me, display is an important aspect of my table, one I take a lot of pride in, and I'm finicky about how things look.  Therefore, a lot of this post will also be about making what you found at Dollar Tree your own, rather than just stuff from Dollar Tree.  As time goes by, you will probably want to upgrade some of these items to nicer, sturdier things, but I feel these are good for a starting artist.

In this post, I'll be covering:

  • Photo frames
  • Cakestands
  • Small Trays
  • Corkboards
  • Easels
  • Business Card Holders

Photo Frames

Dollar Tree has a fair variety of frames in a variety of sizes, from tiny 2"x3" frames to 8.5"x11" frames.  The frames I picked up are document frames, and don't have an easel on the back.  This is fine if you're hanging these frames on your display (say from a wire mesh structure), but if you plan on displaying them on your table, you're going to need an easel.

I use frames to display two things- sketch commissions, which are already 8.5"x11" and mini watercolors.  When purchasing frames for unusually sized originals, I recommend buying a larger frame than your piece, and faux matting.

Faux matting is simple, and for this demonstration, I'm just going to use the paper that came with the frame.  If you'd like to make your piece really stand out, I recommend going with a contrasting piece of decent paper- perhaps scrapbook paper or solid colored wrapping paper, cut to fit the frame.  You can determine what size paper you'll need by simply tracing the glass.

Step 1: Disassembling the Frame

This frame isn't very well made, but it works just fine for my purposes, especially since the 'glass' is just plastic, and wont break in transit so easily.  I use a penny to lift the little metal bits that hold the cardboard backing to the frame.

Step 2. Arranging Your Image

When you're faux matting a piece, you probably want to remove it from any protective sleeve you may have it in.  For the purposes of this demonstration, I leave my original in its wrapping, but it looks much nicer if you don't.  If you intend to use the same image for several conventions (or until it sells), you should take care to align your image evenly in the frame.

Step 3. Insert Your Backing Paper

Again, I recommend using a contrasting piece of paper, but I just used the paper that came with the frame.

Step 4: Reassemble.

Another place to look for cheap frames would be your local Goodwill, thrift store, or Salvation Army.  It may require frequent checking to get all the supplies on your list, but you may be able to save a significant amount of money. 


Easels are handy to have for your convention setup.  While I didn't find any 'art' easels at Dollar Tree, I did find display easels and business card holders.

These display easels actually do a fair job holding up the lightweight frames I bought, and don't look half bad.  The angle could probably be adjusted with some elbow grease.

These business card holders can be used to display your business cards, bookmarks, or any other small flat items you'd like to display on your tabletop.


When setting up your table display, you want to make sure your merchandise is displayed at a variety of levels, to better attract customer's interest.  I use tiered cake stands to display my Sailor Scout ribbons attractively, but I've also used them to display my charms, stickers, and even books. 

This display is fairly simple to make, all you need are some plates and candlesticks from Dollar Tree, and hotglue.  You glue the candlestick to the plate, and stack.  I used some ribbon (from Michaels, but you can find ribbon at Dollar Tree as well) to decorate my candlesticks.

While these weren't included in my original total, you can get 3 candlesticks and 3 plates for under $10.


Corkboards really come in handy at conventions, and can be used to display a number of items.  With push pins, you can tack up bookmarks, sticker examples, or charms, or just pin your buttons straight to the corkboard itself.  I've used a couple corkboards in my regular convention setup- one for 1.5" buttons, and one for larger buttons, and I've also used corkboard strips.

The Dollar Tree corkboard is pretty low-quality- it's cardboard covered by a thin layer of cork, and it comes with three push pins.  I recommend getting a higher quality corkboard that'll last longer- this may be the sort of thing you get from a second hand shop.  If you wish, you can paint your corkboard or cover it with fabric (this is what I've done for my convention corkboard), but even simple decoration can make a difference.

I used the glitter tape I picked up at Dollar Tree to spruce my little board up a bit.  I didn't want to trim all the edges with it, since I didn't know how much I had in the roll, so I tore off enough to decorate the corners.

Because the Dollar Tree tape isn't very sticky, I secured it on the back with Scotch tape.

Since the corkboard is too topheavy to be supported by any of the easels I'd bought, I ended up sticking it in this clear napkin holder I picked up.  I had bought it as a commission display for this post, but it held the corkboard pretty well.

Every Dollar Tree and Dollar Store differs in what they carry, so your local Dollar stop might have better options than mine did.  Inventory also changes regularly, so I'd recommend popping in every six months or so to see what's new.