A Guide to Do-it-Yourself Art Fair Display Panels


Are you interested in displaying your photography at art fairs but are turned off by the initial investment? Read along to find a way to save over 60% on your display panels.

For many artists, the thought of selling their work, having it create a lasting and recurring impact on the life of the collector, and earning a living during it all is something that we dream of. Also for many artists, the initial investment of such a venture is a large financial risk, if not cost prohibitive altogether.

This year I finally decided to make the leap into the world of art fairs. I know that it’s going to be a long journey into figuring out what to do, how to do it, and what not to do, as well as a very large financial investment and being the frugal person that I am, I was looking to save money wherever I could when it came to acquiring my booth setup. I am a big believer in quality and astounding presentation, so it’s a delicate line to walk. I wanted to buy Propanels, but didn’t have the money or means to make that a reality.

A finished display panel.

Years ago, I was passed along the website of Ernie Klevin (erniekleven.com • 1/4/24 I have heard that others have not been able to get ahold of Ernie. I've have also reached out to him and have not heard back. Please try to contact him before you purchase his plans. I will update this if I have any news.) by an acquaintance when inquiring about the display panels that he built. I’ve held onto it knowing that in the back of my mind, someday, I’d likely want to start presenting my work at art fairs. I finally bought Ernie’s plans and produced nine of the panels for approximately $600, saving myself over 50% of the cost of Propanels.

I’m not going to provide any insight into the plans themselves, as Ernie is kind enough to offer these plans for only $40, which is a great investment that will save you over $700 (or more!) for nine panels and also comes with a bonus manual for knockdown shelves or a folding sales desk. An added value is that you can continue to use these plans for the rest of your art fair career, constantly saving yourself some money. So please support Ernie by buying the plans from his site!

Check out this video talking about the general construction of the panels and some of the things that I encountered along the way. Below the video are some tips that I would suggest to people undertaking this project.

As I stated in the video, doing your shopping online will save you a ton of time and frustration. To help me along, I put together a simple spreadsheet of everything I’d need and ordered at homedepot.com. It took a couple of hours for them to pull the order together and text me that it was ready to pick up. The fact that this was free blows my mind! I simply showed up and they loaded it into my truck and I drove away. No roaming the aisles trying to find everything. Just search on their website, set to ‘pickup in store’, add to your cart and you’re good to go.

My simple spreadsheet for shopping and build notes.

All I had to do was wait while they brought it over with a forklift and loaded it into the truck!

Here are some helpful tips I learned during the construction of my panels. I highly suggest checking out the accompanying video to get a better idea of the construction of the panels. After watching the video and purchasing Ernie’s plans this list will make more sense:

  • Try to be as exact in your measurements as you can, especially when it comes to the piece of wood along the top. This is the piece of wood that I used to align my carpet. If your measurements are off, your carpet will wrap around in a crooked fashion leaving a misaligned edge.
  • Use a tube cutter to cut your conduit. In my opinion it’s a much easier and level cut than with a hacksaw. I bought a cheap tube cutter which required much more ‘cranking’ on the cutting wheel which gave me blisters after cutting 18 pieces of conduit. If you want to pay more for a larger tube cutter this might save you some effort and blisters.
  • On your conduit, mark the exact spot where your wood needs to align. I did this the whole way around the conduit so that no matter where the conduit was rotated, I had a reference point to align my wood piece. Once you have your wood lined up with the conduit, mark a place on the conduit in the approximate middle of the wood. This is where you’re going to drill and subsequently screw the conduit to the wood piece.
  • Try to drill as straight as possible through both walls of the conduit!
  • When applying the duct tape, don’t give it a ton of tension. I did this and it started to peel up on the ends because the adhesive on the tape wasn’t strong enough to hold the tension.
  • Use a large adhesive spreading trowel. This is another area where I tried to pinch pennies and bought a smaller one which made spreading the adhesive time consuming and frustrating. I went back and bought a large one and it made a world of difference.
  • You’ll get glue everywhere. Seriously. No matter how hard you try. It even ended up on my coffee maker because I must have had some on my hands. As such, wear clothes that you don’t mind getting glue on.
  • Buy the carpet that’s already cut to 6 feet wide and have the Home Depot team cut to the length you need. It’s usually the same price (per square foot) as the 12 feet wide carpet but you won’t have to deal with the hassle of cutting it in half in a super straight line.
  • Crease the carpet where it will wrap around the legs to that it better conforms to the shape of the conduit.
  • Control the amount of glue you apply with the angle of the trowel. Having your trowel closer to 90 degrees to the insulation will leave more glue but holding it at a steep angle will leave enough, but much less.
  • After applying the adhesive and aligning the carpet, use something to smooth it out. I simply removed a large weight from my dumbell and used that, sliding it around to make sure there were no bubbles.
  • When trimming the carpet after wrapping it around the frame make sure you don’t stray too far in or out. I went too far in which left a very visible slice where the other side of the carpet wasn’t long enough to meet the cut mark. You can actually see it in the video if you look close enough. Luckily I caught it in time, but I was extra cautious when cutting the carpet on the rest of the panels.
  • Use paint thinner on a cloth to remove adhesive from the carpet.

I think with following Ernie’s plans and taking these tips into account your building will go a lot smoother.

What Now?

Instead of following Ernie’s plans to use the leftover conduit for support bars, I will be purchasing finishing pieces from Propanels. This includes:

  • Light Bars
  • Stiffeners
  • Support Bars
  • Telescoping Legs - *edit* for these, I ended up using 1/2" conduit inserted into the ends of my panels. I drilled a hole, had a friend weld a nut over the hole, and use a thumb screw to tighten them. This enables me to easily level the panels.

While this will add to the cost of my booth, I feel they’re good purchases and things that I don’t want to skimp on. I want to display with good lighting and anything that IS visible I want to look clean and professional (light bars and support bars). The telescoping legs are just going to help with adjusting to uneven terrain and moving the display area of my panels higher so that more of my work is at eye level.

I hope this post helps you along the way. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions if you decide to take this on.

Here's a final shot of my display. I made the panels, hanging system, and weights myself. A friend build the POS cabinet for me:

Posted in Tips and Tricks.