Guidelines for a Successful Art Show

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How much work is involved in an Art Show? Are there any profits to be made or is it simply a making connections event? Dan Holmes shares some valuable advice for a successful start

Write down what you would like to accomplish; will it be sales, exposure, contacts, validation of your work? There are many valid reasons but setting some goals ahead of time will help you with planning, costs, sales and success.

Think about starting with modest expectations. This will be an opportunity to find out if people like your photography, how well you connect with the public, how well you can manage your time during the show, how good you are at selling, how much work is involved and most of all, how much fun it can be!

Plan your display

You need to decide what you want to show and sell. There are many products with a wide range of prices: metal prints, custom framed prints, canvas, unframed prints mounted on foam core, matted prints in plastic bags, photo note cards, calendars, bookmarks, magnets, photo products and more.

With so many great products it can be easy to become overwhelmed and want to show too much! Try to ‘edit’ what you will show as clients may end up spending a lot of time looking and enjoying, and find it difficult to decide what to buy!

Calculate your costs

Art shows can be expensive. Depending on the show, entry fees can range from $100 to over $1000. Popup tents range from $80 to over $600, display systems range from $150 for a homemade display rack to well over $1000 for a commercial steel mesh display wall. Additional equipment adds up: table, chairs, sign, banner, display racks for cards and bagged prints, cash box, credit card reader, tape, lighting, power cords and other miscellaneous gear.

You will also need to consider travel costs: fuel, lodging and food. How will you transport your equipment? Will you need a larger car, rent a van, buy a trailer or borrow your friend’s pickup?

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This is all before considering the cost of your inventory. Printing and mounting costs vary tremendously depending on the product; with custom framed prints the most expensive, followed by metal prints, stretched canvas, glassless metal framed prints, frameless prints, and unframed matted prints sold in a clear plastic envelope (bag).

A new and interesting option is the Bay Photo Xpozer Print. These are reasonably priced beautiful prints on a durable plastic material with a unique hanging system. They come rolled up in a convenient cardboard case, they are very lightweight and look impressive on the wall. My photographer friends and clients have loved these prints!

Investigate the Art Show

What type of show is it, where is it located, who will attend, what other art work will be sold, how strong is the local art market, has the show been successful and for how long? Are participants artists or merchants? Will the artwork be original or merchandise for resale? Can you check for referrals from participating artists? What do the organizers offer: electric hookups, booth rentals, set up and take down assistance? Is it a juried show, a street fair, art walk, or art festival?

Select the images you want to sell

Decide how you want to present yourself. Are you a wildlife, travel, nature, landscape, abstract or urban photographer? Choose a theme for the show and select photos with a common style or feel. Bright colors and powerful images will help draw people into your booth and start the conversation. Photographs of local scenes and well-known locations can help draw even more visitors into the booth. Answering questions about the photographs and how you made them helps create a connection with the client – which helps greatly in closing the sale.

Price your work

This can be one of the most difficult parts – you don’t want to set your prices too high but you don’t want to undervalue your work either. Investigate what others are charging, visit art shows, galleries, websites and talk with other photographers. Set prices that will cover your costs and profit, remembering that you have a lot of overhead, that it is unlikely that you will sell all of your work and that it is very easy to accumulate inventory.

I have shared laughter and tears with clients and visitors. These momentary connections are a big part of why I continue to sell in art shows. The rewards aren’t only in the sales. What I didn’t expect to encounter were the conversations, the emotional reactions and the new friendships that happen with each show.

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  1. Avatar

    Nice essay. Being hungry is also very important. It gives you the necessary motivation to overcome obstacles and competition. In my situation it was the main factor. If I had not been hungry, meaning I had no other choice but make it work, I would not have been successful.

    Alain Briot

    • Avatar

      Thanks very much Alain! Your books have provided inspiration and knowledge and I can’t help but agree on the importance of “being hungry”!
      Best regards,
      Dan Holmes

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