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

The Display

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:

Suggestions for Racks or Stands

You Can Make Your Own

Examples of Racks or Stands You Can Make
The Peg
                Board Rack The A-Frame Rack Hinged Display Rack

Suggestions for Bins:

Bins can be simple

Professional bins can be purchased, some for a reasonable cost, 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...

If you need ideas...

Instant Table!


Before the Show...

... Get organized! and 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.

Consider the Weather

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.

"People Skills"

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.

Things to Take Along:


More Tips

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.

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 asecond 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!

AND REMEMBER:  Check the Columbus Artists' Guild's Web Site at for the latest happenings, shows and helpful hints.

QUESTIONS? Call or e-mail Lois Tryon - 706-323-3189 -

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