7 Tips to Prepare for Your First (or next) Art Show

Back in the day, I believe it was 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution to either participate in an art market or rent out a space and host an art party. And just like 75% of the world vowing to go to the gym, I did not follow through. Not because I didn’t want to, but time escaped me. Yes, I know, excuses excuses.

In 2016, I made the same promise to myself and this time, I am happy to report, I actually followed through. New Year’s Resolutions really do come true! Except for that time I swore I’d learn how to juggle. So close, yet so far…

Anyways, for those of you who have read my other blogs, you know that in 2016 I concentrated heavily on how to cultivate a successful business selling my artwork. After building out my Instagram strategy, I started receiving requests to participate in art shows, galleries and markets. Being a newbie, I really had no idea what I was doing, who I should respond to or what events I should take part in. Should I do one? Should I do ALL of them?  One thing you should know about me is that I get WAY too excited and have a tendency to dive head first into any new project – like the time I thought it would be funny to make a series of videos eating mayonnaise in public and record people’s reactions. Not everything is a good or feasible idea.

Well the verdict is out and after participating in countless art shows over the last few years, I can admit that in the beginning I had NO IDEA the amount of time and effort it would take to get ready for something like this. That’s why I have decided to write this blog, to share a few tips and tricks that I learned along the way and hopefully provide some helpful advice for all of you artists looking to get your artwork out into the world.


1.     Determine the audience

Just because an event seems popular and well attended doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Sure, you want to get your feet wet and try it out, but I highly recommend ensuring the market/show you want to participate in has the right audience for your work. I scoped out most of the events a year before I participated, just to ensure they were the right fit for me. Ask yourself a few questions: Are the people attending this event, similar to your customer/client base? Is art the primary focus of the event? Or are people mainly attending for another attraction? If you haven’t quite defined who your client segment is, then try putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Would you go to this event and buy art? Will people walk out with my artwork or are they more likely to contact me later? Participating in an art market or show is a big commitment and in some cases can be an expense, so make sure you pick the one best geared to your target audience.


2.     Consider your time

Sure, being spontaneous is fun! That’s how I got myself into 4 shows in 10 days with less than 8 weeks prep time. However, if you’re like me and work 9-5, finding the time to properly get ready for one event, let alone 4, is very stressful.

When you decide to participate in an event, the first thing you should consider is the amount of artwork you will need to bring. Get the dimensions of your space right off the bat so you can map out how much (approximately) you will need. If you think you have enough pieces, consider what will happen if you sell any between now and when the event starts. And don’t forget to have extra in the event you sell a few during the show itself.

If you realize you need to create more pieces, give yourself ample time. For me the creative process cannot be forced, especially when under the pressure of an event deadline. Will you have enough time to create the same caliber of art? Or will you be running an art factory with subpar results? Be considerate of your time before committing to anything.


3.     Map out your space

Planning out your booth/space at an event is key. After you receive the dimensions, determine not just how many pieces you should bring, but which pieces you should bring. That seems easy enough right? Just remember that how you set up your space will impact how your art is perceived. Spaces that look cluttered and disorganized stick out like a sore thumb.

Consider different tastes and bring multiple sizes and colour schemes. Consider the flow and space between pieces. And if you can manage, try to make your space interactive. I did some live painting which drew in a big audience, however due to unforeseen circumstances (like rain…) it did not turn out well.

Before every show I use Photoshop to mock up every wall of the space. This not only helps me visualize how the pieces look together, but also gives me measurements for how much space needs to be above, below and in between each piece - ensuring installation on the day of the event is a piece of cake.


4.     Make sure the price is right

I’ll make this short and sweet. How you price your pieces is really up to you – I am not going to tell you what your paintings should be worth. What I will say, is that if you have not spent sufficient time researching and planning out your pricing model, you should. And just as you would in the e-commerce world, be sure to bring pieces of various price points.


5.     Polish your work

This should really go without saying, but ensure your work is polished and ready to hang. Are your pieces varnished? Are the sides painted? Or do you need framing? Are all of your pieces signed? Do you need to do any touch ups? The last thing you want is for a potential customer to walk away because your artwork doesn’t look finished.


6.     Make a list, check it twice

Some art show directors will tell you what you need to bring, but there are always a few items they forget. So, I’m giving you a list of items (yes, some are obvious) that you should consider bringing or at least inquire about for each event whether inside or outside.

  • Tent - if you’re outside

  • Fence siding - this is usually provided or available for rent

  • Lighting - clamp lights work marvellously, but most likely not necessary if you’re outside and its the middle of the day

  • Table - even if all of your work is hung up, you’re going to want a structure of some sort to put your business cards and signage on

  • Seating - believe me, you’re going to want to sit down at some point and seating can be a welcoming gesture for observers

  • S-hooks if you’re hanging your work on fence siding, picture hooks if you’re hanging your work on walls

  • Hammer and nails - if you’re inside and hanging your work on walls

  • Level - crooked paintings are the worst!

  • Description Tags (Name of work, size, medium, price etc.)

  • Square or other payment method

  • Shipping forms - Not everyone wants to carry around artwork for the rest of the day, offer shipping to your customers

  • Packaging materials - I use extra large clear plastic garbage bags with cardboard protective corners, and I always keep bubble wrap on hand

  • Cloth or paper towel to wipe down your pieces - sometimes your work can get dusty and marked up, be prepared!

  • Zip ties - these will come in hand for anything and everything

  • Tape

  • Scissors

  • Banner / Sign - Include your name, website and social media handles

  • Business cards - Don’t have any? GET SOME!

  • Snacks and drinks - There may be some food/drink vendors around, but you may not want to leave your booth, so have some handy just in case

7.     Promote your event

You’ve put all of this work into putting on a good show, now it’s time to tell the world. Not everyone knows about all the amazing events that happen in your city, so tell them. There are several events that I have attended and had no idea about until I saw them on Instagram or Facebook. Get on your social networks, send emails to your friends and family, tell your colleagues – and help spread the word.

How often and how much should you post? My recommendation is not to post too far in advance for any event - most people don’t plan that far ahead. Try 1-2 weeks prior at most,  again a few days before and of course while you’re there. But be sure not to go overboard, the last thing you want to do is spam people with the same content over and over.


If you’re still a little intimidated about participating in a show. Don’t be. It might seem like a lot of work, but you won’t regret the experience. And whether you sell a lot of paintings or none at all, you’re putting yourself out there and that is something worth doing.

Courtney Senior2 Comments