Advice for Exhibiting Artists

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

I have recently been asked by a new exhibiting artist if I had any advice for artists that are exhibiting for the first time. I felt this is an excellent question and warrants a blog post. Exhibitions can after all, understandably create a lot of anxiety for both new and professional artists.

As simultaneously an artist, an art agent, event director, and sponsor, I've exhibited myself and had the opportunity of hosting various affairs. I've helped many types of artists exhibit; everyone from sponsored artists, brand new artists, high profile artists, and professional commissioned artists. I've experienced everything from elated gratitude to tears.

If you were to narrow down my help guide to the two most important musts it would be to stay organized and make sure you have your expectations in check.

Advice for your exhibition

1. Keep an organized checklist of everything you need to bring and do prior to the event. This is what I do before every event and it ensures I have peace of mind and don't forget anything. 

Musts for a to-do list may include:

* Not to forget business cards

* The specific art you plan on bringing

* Hardware for walls or panels

* Display cards for each piece

* Prints and a small box to keep them in

Being a list person, sometimes I will make sure that I write down when to get ready and when to leave the house too!

2. Drop off work before hand. This makes things much easier. Find out from the event director if drop off of work is permitted. Most of the time exceptions can be made.

For Savoir Fair, drop off is the day before (suggested time from 12 - 3) or the day of the event (12-3) . Drop off work in a box for easy transport and storage to and fro.

3. Give yourself plenty of time the day of the event to find parking etc. Or take an UBER!

If your headed to exhibit in downtown. Be realistic about traffic and leave early!

4. Set the right expectations for yourself.

Mindset, especially a growth mindset, is imperative and probably one of the most important ways you can stay focused and create future success for yourself.

Growth Mindset - “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” ( Dweck, 2015)

* Set the right expectations about sales.

The reality with any exhibition is that sometimes artists sell a lot and sometimes artists don't sell at all. Art is one of the most competitive markets. I've witnessed first hand how one artist will sell a plethora of work, while the artist directly next to them does not sell a single item.

I've been through both experiences myself. Feelings of absolute elation as well as tears. But rather than blaming someone else, It took a tough look inside myself to figure out exactly why my sales did not go as planned.

* Set the right expectation of foot traffic. Sometimes shows have no standing room, other times, there are a lot of no shows. This is something event planners can't control.

As an event director and sponsor, I personally spin off hundreds of direct emails, hundreds of calls, send out hundreds of flyers, and send hundreds of additional VIP invites sent via direct marketing (in addition to the ones provided to each artist) I spend hundreds of dollars on social media campaigns, and work to find the best venues. This is especially difficult with galleries that refuse to host exhibitions other than their own or their particular branding. It is a full time job in itself to locate suitable venues. And venues are not free. An event venue after all, can cost anything from 1,000 to 100,000. Think about it this way, a sponsor has to work tirelessly to ensure a successful event as it is too risky not to. I work night and day, tirelessly, for each event. I partner with various orgs, institutions, and individuals to spin off additional flyers and campaigns. I work to network and disperse discounted codes to institutions and the list goes on. Even then, despite all this effort, money, and sleepless nights, I cannot guarantee a certain amount of foot traffic. No one can. If someone does, then they are lying.

Hence, the best advice one can give is to set the right expectations in terms of foot traffic.

In the event there is little foot traffic, take the opportunity to network with the gallery owners and high profile artists. It is an incredible honor to exhibit with established artists as they have a wealth of experience and connections to share. Put your best foot forward with those that do make it out because remember, everyone is a potential buyer. Every connection is a potential opportunity. And enjoy the live painting and food too!

If there is too much foot traffic and not enough standing room, it is normal to feel overwhelmed. Don't be shy to reach out for help if this happens. Event staff is there to help and you can ask us for assistance at any time. At every venue, there is usually a quiet room or back area. At larger venues, we ensure we have a sensory friendly room too. And we always have ear plugs or other devices on hand if the noise level becomes too much.

5. How to increase sales and lure buyers at an exhibit or fair:

Here are a few reminders of how to increase sales at an exhibit or fair:

* Does my art have a back-story? A meaningful story on why it was created in the first place? A purpose? Am I able to open up about myself and relate to others in the process? The reality is that exhibitions and fairs involve face-to-face, dynamic sales practices. Your ability to relate to the customer and sell your brand is key to luring potential buyers and long term collectors. Collectors have proven time and time again, that they prefer to invest in art that has a story. Not just a pretty picture. Harsh, yes! but think about it this way, why would you spend hundreds of dollars at the spur of a moment for a similar picture that can be bought for a few dollars on Amazon?

* Stay positive and upbeat. Buyers gravitate to positive folks like sticky tape. Serious collectors are seldom on the look out for something to hang on a wall to keep a nail busy. They want story - they want connection. As a collector myself, the art I collect, I bought, because it reminded me of that artist and the bonding that we share together. It was that long term relationship established through her way, our way of connectivity. Whenever I look at her work, it brings me peace. And even to this day, whenever I feel down or anxious, I pull up her work on my phone to calm me.

And collectors, they will literally walk away from any negativity or the illusion thereof. This holds true of any face-to-face sales. Again, harsh! But think of it this way, "Why would I spend hundreds of dollars on a piece of art that will only serve to remind me of a negative person that I just met" ?

How to stay positive? This is up to you. The only advice I can give is to ensure you check your expectations at the door. Having certain expectations about anything in life often leads to discontent. My advice is, go to your event with the mindset of enjoying your moment, networking as much as possible, and meeting new people. Enjoy the live painting event or applicable show! Take a moment to enjoy free food! Enjoy exhibiting in a gallery - this is your moment!

* Stay actively engaged! Are you on the phone or sitting away from your booth during an exhibition or fair? Chances are, you will not sell at all or make connections. Stay actively engaged with prospects at all times and be on the lookout to engage curious passerbys.

But I'm not a salesperson! I'm an artist! The reality is that artists must be sales people to pitch their brand and their work. If it is just not your cup of tea, there are suggestions and alternative that can help you succeed despite a lack of sales prowess..

* Ask a relative, friend, or coworker to help you sell your work at an exhibition of fair. I once knew an artist that was extremely shy and introverted. His partner would come along to the exhibits and pitch sales on his behalf as he was skilled in the trade.

* Don't underestimate the value of an education. Taking sales and marketing classes are an excellent investment for artists.

* If you are ready, hire an Art agent to represent you. An agent's life is devoted to helping artists make those sales. A good agent or consultant has experience in arts and is first and foremost a negotiator and salesperson.

* Ask for Reasonable Accommodations.

If you feel that your disability will prevent you from making those sales in face-to-face exhibitions, don't shy away from asking the event planner or sponsor for reasonable accommodations. For example, someone that is autistic may not be able to or comfortable enough to engage in dynamic face-to-face sales tactics. In the event that an artist has a disability, reasonable accommodations such as a surrogate can be provided free of charge to help engage and sell the artwork on your behalf to the public. Paint my Meditation offers this service to those with disabilities. We also offer virtual exhibitions for those that would prefer to exhibit virtually rather than in person.

* Be prepared for the next page. An exhibition is a chance to establish long term collectors, and future opportunities. That is its intended purpose.

And this connection may happen after the event - not during.

Remember, a lot of buyers may not purchase the day of! Art usually has a heavy price tag or perhaps it may be too bulky for them to carry home. Maybe they have something to do after your show! Or, they may just not be ready to commit to an investment at a spontaneous, moments notice. They may also not be there to purchase art but are rather scouting for artists for various galleries, corporate collections or commissioned projects.

The good news is, you can be prepared for these eventualities! Here is how:

* Come equipped with business cards and don't expect people to be bold enough to ask you for one themselves. They won't. Be proactive in your approach to handing out cards.

* Bring in smaller, less expensive prints of your work and make sure that you pitch these avidly. Buyers may not even notice them at an affair, so you must be a proactive salesperson. These small, inexpensive prints serve as "samples" of your larger work, and may drive sales and collectors later on.

* If the event sponsor has an online sales platform, make sure you list your items on the site. Via email campaigns, after the event, event goers will look to the sponsors e-commerce site to buy a piece they fell in love with at the show. I can't stress enough how many people have asked or posted images on social media of work they liked at a show only to find that no one knows who it belongs to. Fortunately, Paint My Meditation does offer an e-commerce site. And exhibitions can post work here with a substantial discount:

6. Keep a thick skin of critics. Be proud of your work and what you have accomplished. Remember, you were chosen to display here.  

7. Ensure you have given out your VIP cards to avoid your guests being charged admission at the door. If the sponsor allows this, feel free to sell your VIP tickets. For Savoir Fair, we allow this as long as they are not lower priced than our general admission tickets of $22 not including taxes. If you do sell them, that money would be yours to keep. :-)

8. Share the event anywhere you can to lure traffic. It will also help establish you as an artist.  Be proactive with your own marketing of your event. This is your moment to shine. And remember, someone believed in you enough to create this opportunity for you.


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