How Superfine! Newcomer Elisa Valenti Took Her Art from IG to IRL

Elisa Valenti in her booth at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

Elisa Valenti in her booth at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

When painter Elisa Valenti got a call from Superfine! co-founder James, she had no idea that she’d soon (as in one week later) be jumping in head-first to her first art fair as an exhibitor.

There are so many factors that go into the getting-ready process before exhibiting at an art fair. There’s the marketing, booth plan, artwork checklist, outfit planning, and so much more. Jumping into all of that with little to no experience can be intimidating.

Elisa is a body-positive artist painting empowering images of women’s bodies. Her work is deeply powerful and pleasing, rife for success on social media – which, consequently, is where she had been building and cultivating her following prior to her first appearance as an exhibitor with Superfine!. Her decidedly feminist messages of self-love and unapologetic celebration of the female body resonate with collectors and admirers from many walks.

Representing deeply personal works in-person for the first time can be a challenge even for experienced artists. So how exactly did Elisa go from Instagram darling to one of the most talked about exhibits at Superfine! NYC? She took some time out of her busy post-fair schedule to answer some of our most burning questions.

When did you decide to take the leap and submit your artwork to a fair?

About 2 weeks before Superfine!, I had a thought in my mind of a good friend, Gigi. I remembered she became an artist and wondered how she was doing. On this day, I happened to be scrolling Instagram and came across an ad for Superfine! fairs. I looked into the details and saw Gigi was going to be showing her work! It was a strange moment. I thought of her and she appeared. I contacted her and she invited me to go see her at Superfine! SoHo.

I decided to look deeper into Superfine! and noticed they had early applications for 2020. I applied then. The next day, I received a call from James, he said they had one opening and asked if I’d like to join the 2019 show.

It was only about a week away, but I agreed. What I planned to mentally prepare for in a year, turned into a week.

Viewers capture Valenti’s work at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

Viewers capture Valenti’s work at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

How did you know that choosing the direct-to-collector art fair model was right for you?

Instagram is my primary tool for communicating with followers of my work. It is a direct-to-consumer model. I feel the art fair model follows suit. I felt it was a less intimidating and more approachable first-time art selling experience.

What emotions did you experience when you learned your work was accepted to the fair?

I felt proud. I felt seen and heard. I felt excited.

How did you start preparing for your first art fair?

I announced it on my Instagram. I began to let people know and invited them to attend. I started thinking about marketing, and I immediately ordered business cards.

Did you do anything special to stand out as an exhibitor?

I transformed my booth to look and feel like my actual studio. My studio has light grey walls and is filled with plants. The booth felt like where [my works] were created and it complemented the paintings. People started to recognize my booth because of the plants I installed. It was coined “Elisa’s Garden”!

Valenti with Superfine! attendees. Photo by James Miille

Valenti with Superfine! attendees. Photo by James Miille

What were some learnings or takeaways after your first day? How did you feel?

I immediately regret not ordering more business cards – next year I will order triple the amount. The first day was very exciting! It’s a bit of a whirlwind. I spoke with so many people.

Did you meet any attendees or fellow exhibitors who have or will positively impact your career as an independent artist?

Yes, my Instagram following grew and I made connections with an amazing group of artists. Each were open and willing to share their thoughts and experiences. There was definitely a sense of camaraderie and none of competition. Everyone was really lovely.  

What are your biggest takeaways from your first art fair experience? What did you learn that will help you at your next fair?

Financially, you can not predict what will happen. I think the first year allows you to understand the model and the second year allows you to tweak. In my first year I sold originals, prints and got 2 commissions. I also had a few articles written about my work. I gained publicity I would not have otherwise. Although, I just nearly broke even, I would call it a marketing expense and learning lesson for the future.

What did you learn about how people interact with your art?

The response was overwhelming. People [were] connecting with it in a level I was not expecting. I had two women come to tears and at least 10 people asked for hugs. Both men and women, gay and straight felt a connection to my work. It felt good to know my message resonated. People I would have never expected came to the show because they saw it posted on Instagram. Instagram buddies I never met came out in support of my work. It was truly touching.

Do you have any advice for independent artists who are looking to exhibit in an art fair for the first time?

The art fair model is a great way to get to know your followers. It’s a good way to learn how to express your story. It teaches you how to deliver a great elevator pitch about your work. It connects you with people who are buyers and admirers. It’s important to research the show, the demographics, how the marketing of the show is done, the layout of the space and the location. I would consider it a good investment for getting your name out and making connections. I would consider it a good marketing expense. I would be realistic about sales and understand that nothing happens overnight.

Valenti with a proud new print owner at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

Valenti with a proud new print owner at Superfine! Photo by James Miille

Outside of her artwork, Elisa applies an attitude of grace and confidence that isn’t simply performed, it informs every aspect of her art, business and self. All it took to get her work out there to a new collector base was clicking “submit” and a little help from her friends. She has a thing or two to teach about setting an intention and taking the steps to manifest those goals. In short, there’s no excuse to wait – that application you’ve been sitting on might just be the step you need to take your art career to the next level!