Surviving Your 1st Art Show
Start small - Enter shows that take only one or two pieces, and watch them for you. Now that you let someone
other than family see your work - you're ready for...

                          Your First Art Show
                          What Do I Do Now?
Ask Questions! - Ask Everybody!
If you're hesitant, talk yourself out of that feeling!

                                Displaying Your Art
                               Finding a display that meets your needs

Many different display units are available from dealers, but most are fairly expensive. If they are going to be
used, they are more than worth the investment. However, some ideas to construct your own display stand are
fairly easy to manage.

Things to remember:

  • The more attractive the exhibit, the more it will draw attention.
  • Make sure YOU feel comfortable with your set-up.


                                    Pre- built stands from commercial vendors are best if you can afford them.  Some can
                                             cost a lot.  Decide if you will do enough shows to make this cost effective.  Try to
                                       look at the long run.

                                    Add a coat of paint for that finished look. The color black enhances most art.
                                    You may want to purchase or make a cloth or canvas cover for your rack.
.                                            This makes a nice background for paintings.

If you use a wire mesh rack, and do not have a cover, you may want to hang pictures of similar size back to back
so people won't be looking at the backs of your works.
  • Wood Lattice
  • Peg Board
  • Pig Wire (can be covered with burlap or canvas for a neater look)
  • Use S-Hooks or drapery hooks to hang your works. If you have a peg board rack, peg board hooks will
    work, as long as they won't slip. Get the right size!
  • Works should have sturdy wire and hooks attached for hanging; clip type hangers for unframed items can
    be found for little cost.
  • Easels are good to highlight a work, but should be weighted down for an outdoor show.

  Examples of Racks or Stands You Can Make  

Suggestions for Bins:

                                     Professional bins can be purchased, some for a reasonable cost, while others are
                                     very expensive.   Canvas racks are usually reasonably priced.  If you're handy with
                                     tools or know someone who is, they are fairly simple to make.   Make sure they're
                                     sturdy enough to withstand a show.  Again, decide whether it will be worth it to
                                     invest in one.   Until you do...

  • Plastic milk carton type bins or a cardboard box covered with contact paper will suffice and actually last
    quite awhile.
  • A box turned over, or an empty paint can covered with a cloth makes a pedestal!
  • Check office supply stores for ideas - file boxes work well.
  • Be sure items in bins are shrink wrapped or in plastic sleeves or acrylic pouches. People like to touch
    (especially children). Fingerprints can destroy a painting or a print. In a pinch, or for a start, kitchen plastic
    wrap will do, but the works will tend to stick together.

If you need ideas...
... Visit your local hardware store or warehouse; wander around. You'll get a lot of  ideas.                              Keep
your eyes open for handy containers.   Invest in a sheet of plastic for an emergency cover for your bins or racks.

A STEP LADDER or 2 with boards can
  double as shelves.


  • Canopies of various types are a must if you will be doing a lot of outdoor shows. Many shows do not
    have tents or other shelter available.
  • Remember to ask before you commit! Prices on small canopies are becoming more reasonable, but again,
    this can be a considerable investment. (Sam's Club now frequently has Easy-Up canopies for $200 -
    "cheap". These may not quite as sturdy as the ones available from the company, but may be adequate for
    a beginner.)
  • Shop around - don't buy the first thing you see - or everything you see! Think about how much you will
    need and use a canopy, and can you handle it without help if you don't have any? (If you buy something
    cheap, then buy something else anyway, how much money do you save??)

... Get organized!  Plan ahead!  Try to think of the potential problems before they find you, but don't get bogged
down with worry. You will learn from experience. Everybody has a horror story - listen to some of them! Be sure to
pass yours on!

Don't get carried away  by trying to do everything at once. Take one thing at a time. Make notes for the next
show that will help you.

Don't overdo it  - clutter is not attractive.

Set your prices.  Don't undersell yourself - you should have an idea of what you think your work is worth. After
you do your first show, you can adjust prices if necessary. Decide from the very beginning whether or not you will
negotiate a price. If your prices are firm, stick to it! A lot of people want something for nothing. YOU are not a
nothing! For those who really want to haggle, you can raise your prices so they can talk you down. Keep in mind,
though, that overpriced items will be difficult to sell.

Set your goals!  Just make sure you set them within reach. Be realistic. If your goals are too high, you may be
constantly disappointed.

Be prepared for weather
, if outdoors. Wind, rain, and sun can be a problem.

If you're doing an outdoor show, plan on rain. Always hope it won't happen, but be ready.

Allow air circulation around your things so they won't act like a "sail on a boat". Easels are extremely difficult to
manage, but weighted down with sandbags they can function. Pillowcases filled with playground or builder's sand
are quite effective, but use a plastic bag inside to keep the sand dry. Make sure they're double thickness! Other
ideas for weights are a plastic bucket filled with hardened cement and a large eye hook, boat weights, or plastic
gasoline containers filled with sand. Bring plenty of rope. Plan to fasten down your rack AND your canopy. It not
only protects against wind, but jostling crowds. Gore-Tex sandbags with Velcro closures are available too - and
YOU get to add the sand! Don't avoid outdoor shows - learn to deal with the elements.

SUN AND HEAT:  Sometimes sun can be very damaging if it is directly on your works. Wind can be just as
dangerous. Watch closely to see if the shows offer shelter, and what kind. If the show is in a parking lot or other
asphalt during warm weather, be extremely wary. Pavement can add 20 to 40 degrees to the actual temperature.
Heat will cause condensation on glass if the back of the painting is cooler than the front. Be aware of what the
effects of heat may be on your art. The darker the ground surface, the hotter the temperature! Beware of heat
stroke or heat exhaustion for you and your works! Light colored clothing helps on a hot day.

Introduce yourself. Wear a name tag if you have one that identifies you as an artist. Many shows provide these
for you. If you're the shy type, now's the time to get over it!

The easiest way to do a first show is with someone else, experienced or not. You get some support both
emotional and physical - you help each other. In addition, there are two of you thinking instead of one, and your
are also twice as brave, half as shy, and hopefully, twice as efficient.


  • A chair or two - you'll need it! Camp stools are handy, so are step-stools.
  • An umbrella, if the show is outdoors. It keeps off the sun as well as the rain.
  • Plastic covering for your exhibit, if the show is outdoors. It will protect your bins and other work. Use
    clamps to fasten it down (from hardware or home improvement stores). These also help with tablecloths.
  • Weights, and rope with which to attach them. If it CAN blow over, it will.
  • Glass cleaner, paper towels, moist towels or baby wipes, masking tape, hammer, pen and paper, wire and
    other framing necessities for repair work in case something goes wrong. Put together a small tool kit and
    gadget bag and keep it ready. Maximize the power of THE TOOL BAG!
  • Some bags for your sales (Of course you're going to sell!).
  • Some small change, in case someone hands you a big bill; but beware of the person with a $100 bill who
    wants to buy a $5.00 print! Buy a pen that detects counterfeit bills - these are available at office supply
  • Thermos with drinks, snacks. Water is a must for outdoor shows that have no refreshment areas.
  • Magic Marker, felt tip pen.
  • Business cards and holder (you can be creative with the card holder).
  • Sketch pad, pencil - people like to watch artists at work! Paint if you have the equipment.
  • Boxes or bins for unframed items.
  • A small table, if you think you'll need one. Tablecloths are a nice touch.

  • Sunscreen, Band-Aids and aspirin or Tylenol! Bug Spray!
  • Regular medication if you take any - especially if you have allergies!
  • Various clips and clamps, convenient sizes; scissors!
  • Emergency supplies such as safety pins, masking tape or Scotch tape.
  • A hand truck, dolly or small cart to help carry things.
  • Never underestimate the power of VELCRO! Buy a small roll.
  • A fanny pack, or a place to hide your purse! Keep your valuables out of sight!

  • "Busy Work" - just in case; books, magazines to occupy spare time (if you have any spare time).
  • Creature Comforts - you know what they are!

  • Smoking. This is offensive to those who do not smoke, and can cost you a sale.
  • Too much perfume or cologne. This is almost as bad as smoking.
  • Alcohol. Empty six-packs or beer breath fend off customers.
  • Garbage. Keep your area neat. That goes for you too - don't dress in a sloppy manner.
  • Back Strain! Learn and use proper body mechanics.
  • Foul Language. This is a big turn-off. Pretend there's always someone listening.
  • Clutter. It's hard to concentrate on one thing with a lot of distractions.
  • Don't hover, but be accessible.
  • Crafts. If it's a fine arts only show, keep it that way.
  • Yelling. People who speak English as a second language are not necessarily hard of hearing.
  • LITTER: Keep your lunch or drinks off your tables, preferably out of sight. Paper plates and cups are not
    inviting to browsers unless they're at a buffet; besides, things spill easily! Just think what a glass of Coke
    could do to a watercolor painting (or anything else for that matter)! If you're eating, people may feel they
    shouldn't disturb you; but don't starve - no one will begrudge you a lunch or snack; if you look like you're
    paying attention, people can sense that.

Creative titles
frequently help sell a piece of art. Originality intrigues. Don't get so creative they can't be
understood. Maybe you can print a brief story about your piece to make it more interesting.

SMILE!  Look interested! Answer questions and be friendly, but don't run your mouth without encouragement.
You're selling yourself as well as your work.

BE PATIENT!  You don't have to do everything at once. Make a "TO-DO" list.

NEATNESS COUNTS! Keep your display and your area neat and attractive. Picking up incidental trash doesn't
cost anything!

ART IS A BUSINESS!  Even if you're just doing it for fun, records and some organization are a must. Something
you do today may come back to haunt you some time in the future. Even if you just handle the bare necessities,
some things just have to be done. If you were running a grocery store there are certain things you would have to
do, and the same goes for being an artist and marketing your work.

ENTRY FORMS:   Read them! Before you sign an entry form for a show or agree to participate in a show, read
the entry form. If all your questions are not answered by reading the entry form, call the organizers of the event
and ask questions. If a show is more than one day, you may be required to stay the entire time. There may be
penalties if you leave early.

DEADLINES!  Make sure you know the deadlines for the event in which you are participating, and stick to it. You
don't make a good impression by being late. Keep an "ART" calendar.

DRAFT A BIO  - People will want to know more about you, and some shows request one. Keep it short and to the
point, adding interesting highlights without being boring. Tell where you're from, the medium in which you prefer
to work, and some of the awards and honors you've acquired. If you are willing to work on commission, say so.
Include an address and e-mail address if you have one.

GET A BUSINESS CARD!   Prospective clients will remember you. Most printers have reasonable prices, and
computer programs are available to those of you who want to make your own.

TALK - if you can say something productive. Learn to listen; you learn more that way.

COMMISSIONS!  Many shows or events take a commission from sales at the event. If you expect a certain price
for your works, add the percentage of the commission the sponsoring body will take to the asking price of the
work. This can be anywhere from 15% to 50%. Don't let yourself be surprised when you receive only a fraction of
the price you were asking!

SALES TAX:  is collected in most areas. Check the laws before you start. Business licenses may be required in
some cases. Keep in mind that you may be asked to pay city sales tax, state sales tax, or both on anything you
sell. Set your prices accordingly. Customers are receptive to even dollar amounts. You can include taxes in your
prices, then tell clients accordingly, and pay it out of what you take in.

INCOME TAX:  Sales are an income!! Surprise! Don't forget when you file your returns!

KEEP RECORDS OF YOUR SALES!  A Receipt Book will give your customer and yourself a record of all sales.
Learn to use it, or a Ledger of expenses and incomes. Income Tax laws apply to artists too! Many times you can
list your expenses to offset your income - check with a tax expert! (Keep records of your shows and exhibit
locations too!)

CREDIT CARDS  are handy for customers to use, and many artists are set up to take them. This is an individual
decision, which depends a lot on volume of sales. If you accept checks, get an ID!

COMPUTERS  are very helpful in keeping records and descriptions. Keep a disk just for your art.

INVENTORY:  Keep an inventory, both written and photographic of your display. It will help you in future shows,
and help with your records. Take a photo of your display. Think about it a few weeks after the show. Record your
works - what you sell, when you exhibit each one. Artists should be good business people too! Record the names
and addresses of your clients; send them an announcement of your next exhibit. They may want to come back!

WRITE DOWN IDEAS  - what could be better? What should I do next time? Jot down your dreams and ideals.
Some of them will come true, and others will give you a good laugh in years to come! Take notes in a pocket
notebook and refer to them later. Little things are important, and you might not remember them.

HAVE A PRINTED INVENTORY  ready and available for those shows that require one, where monies are
collected by the agency running the show and then paid to the artist. If you have an accurate price list, it is less
confusing to those trying to keep track of the finances, as many times they are not artists. Include a brief
description such as title, medium, and size.

HAVE SAMPLES  of your work (photographs and slides) available for shows that are juried. These do not have
to be works you are actually taking to the show, only a sample of what you do. Record the medium and the size of
the actual work on the sample. Send a self addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with the photos or slides if you
want them returned. Pick your best stuff for these samples - they jurors want to see what you can do. Don't miss
deadlines because you had to make samples!

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE OTHER ARTISTS . Watch what they do, and if you see a display or method that
interests you, see if you can adapt it to your own needs. Be friendly - don't be shy! Most people are willing to help
a new person get started, but expect some healthy competition from the veterans! And just because something
works well for someone else, if may or may not work for you without a little adaptation.

DON'T TRY TO SECOND GUESS THE JUDGE  in a show where awards are offered. Judging is a very subjective
process, and you can never tell what may strike someone else's fancy. Don't be intimidated by shows with a
theme - learn to adapt. It's not that hard.

SELF IMAGE  is important. If you feel good, it probably shows! Part of selling your art is being in the right place
at the right time, and looking good!

LEARN SOMETHING  from each show you do - if you don't, you are missing something. People are fascinating -
pay attention to them. If you will listen, they will talk (some, too much, but that comes with the territory).

SHARE YOUR TALENTS  with others once you get established. Think of something now that you wish you had
known before you started showing your art.  Remember - today's children are tomorrow's artists!

EYE-CATCHERS!  You can be unique. Have a gimmick, something a to catch the eye of the audience.
Sometimes just the word "SALE!" will do it. This is not a necessity, but watch for ideas and think of them in terms
of an art show. If you have a bargain, advertise it. Put up a small but noticeable sign. Think of the type of artist
you want to be - the type of image you want to project, then think of ways to develop that image. It might not be a
good idea to be too outrageous at your first show. Test the waters, then work from there. Don't try to be
something you're not - the strain will show.

BE ACCESSIBLE, BUT DON'T HOVER!  Most shoppers don't like to be followed. Sometimes they see this as
pressure to buy. Be close by, but let the people come to you. If someone seems to have a question, approach
them with a line other than, "Can I help you?" "That's interesting, isn't it?" may be more appropriate.

THERE ARE NO FREE RIDES.  Most things take a lot of hard work. You just have to make it look like there was
nothing to it! Exhibiting takes some hard work, but try not too look too flustered. Don't make your customers think
you're too hassled to attend to them. Remember the duck: calm on the surface, paddling like heck underneath!

RESEARCH  usually doesn't hurt. Read a little. Make yourself knowledgeable if you're not already. Learn to
appreciate the work of others, even if it's not your style of art. Look at some design magazines, check hobby
books for display ideas.

IF YOUR FIRST SHOW ISN'T THE FAIRY TALE  you thought it would be, try again. The old saying "A quitter
never wins and a winner never quits" has merit. Rain, lack of sales, one bad experience can ruin a show. Don't let
it ruin you as an artist. Somewhere out there is the person who's been looking for one of your pieces for a long
time - they just haven't found you yet. If you give up - how will they EVER find you?!

EXPOSURE!  Remember, each time you show your work, someone sees it. You have to get your work out there
even if you don't have a chance of selling. Get a web site or page on another site if you really want to be seen
and put that address on your cards. You never know who may be looking.

TRY DIFFERENT MARKETS.  Watch the trade magazines, newspaper ads, and visit other shows. Make sure you
want to be a part of a show before you sign up. If a show is all crafts, a fine artist may not do well due to the
audience attraction. Ceramic ducks and black velvet pictures of Elvis may go like hotcakes, but you are not a part
of that market. There IS a market for you - make sure you believe that. Be a FINE artist! Persistence does pay
off! And always remember the old saying: "There's no accounting for taste!"

BORED WITH ROUTINE?  Try a diversion or something new. Sometimes trying a new approach or new medium
really makes things more interesting. Variety keeps you on your toes.

EXPECT SUCCESS!  Be an optimist. Just don't take everything for granted. Persistence will eventually pay off.

IF YOU MAKE A PROMISE, KEEP IT! Whether to a customer, a fellow artist or to yourself, you are establishing a
reputation. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

DESIGN A BUDGET  and follow it! Unless you're made of money, you need some guidelines. Most of us don't
have money to burn.

TALK TO YOUR FELLOW ARTISTS!  At the end of a show, ask what other artists thought of the show, and of
your exhibit. Ask if there's any way to do things a little easier, but be prepared to accept criticism if it comes.

THE INTERNET  is a valuable tool, and is the wave of the present, not just the future. It takes a computer, but if
you don't have one you can go to the library. Surf web for information, shows, other artists, and use it to
advertise yourself! It's easier that it looks! Many artists tend to stagnate - stay where they are because it's
comfortable. Learn to GROW! Don't let age or experience hold your back - none of that matters on the WEB!
Just don't get suckered in by spam or other schemes you may encounter, and don't give personal information to
anyone you don't know personally, just as you shouldn't do over the telephone.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED  and learn to deal with it. There is no limit to the stupid things you may encounter
(with no reference to anyone's intelligence). Remember: the difference between genius and stupidity is that
genius has its limits!

WHEN THE SHOW IS OVER - and you've made it! - get ready to do it all over again... Just remember those
notes you made!

YOU SHOULD LEARN SOMETHING  from each show you do. The trick is to remember it and apply it to yourself,
which means recognizing that you just learned something. Exchanging horror stories is a good way to share
experiences and learn from them, not to mention that some are really hilarious (after the fact). Repetition makes
an experience easier (in most cases), but if you keep repeating the wrong thing, you're defeating the "live and
learn" adage.

There's always the possibility you will pass misinformation on to someone else and pass on the problem too. And
just because it works for you if may not work the same way for the next guy! Be flexible! Take the advice in this
program in that vein. Most of the content here exhibits "Learning from Your Mistakes" - and please note that
there is a lot of content!

CALL OR WRITE FOR CATALOGS - you will find great ideas, many at reasonable prices! There are many more
available. Check the back of your art magazines!

QUESTIONS? Call or e-mail Lois Tryon:  706-323-8129  or
Artist Supply Sources:

DICK BLICK                                                                       GRAPHIK DIMENSIONS
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Atlanta GA. 30309                                                     
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Rochester, NY 14603-0940
1-800-828-5539                                                                THE ARTISTS' MAGAZINE                                        1-800-333-0444
Art Supply Warehouse
5325 Departure Drive                                                        ARMSTRONG PRODUCTS  (rack)
North Raleigh, NC 276-16-1835                                         PO Box 979
1-800-995-6778                                                                 Guthrie, OK 73044                                                         405-282-7584

American Frame Corporation                                            INTERNATIONAL E-Z UP   (canopies)
Arrowhead Park                                                                1601 Iowa Ave.
400 Tomahawk Drive                                                        Riverside, CA 92507
Maumee, OH 43537-1695                                                1-800-45-SHADE

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