Level Up Your Next Art Show

Getting the Most from Your Next Art Exhibition

make your next art shop pop text on neon abstract background
Make your next event count!

Spring is quickly approaching, and with it comes a new wave of exhibitions and shows to showcase your work and make 2023 the year you promised yourself it would be. Make your exhibition space stand out with my tips on setting it up. Get ready to set your sights on success this show season.

Looking Differently At Exhibition Spaces…

The past couple of years have been challenging for the events industry with physical exhibitions having been replaced at least temporarily with virtual events together with the character building challenges that running any event online brings. It seems like forever ago that I last walked though the doors of a physical space to view artworks displayed in booths but when I did walk through the entry gate recently at one particular event I was surprised by just how much had changed in the physical event space.

If we were wondering what the new normal would look like in the world of brick and mortar exhibitions, I’m not convinced we would have been able to predict the level of change that seems to be taking place within them. The success of virtual events during the rather lengthy hiatus in live events over the past couple of years seems to have carried over into the physical world with many events now often being simultaneously held in a physical space and broadcast live in the virtual world.

abstract man with paper textures and shards
Waiting in the Sky by Mark Taylor - One of my most recent works!

So what’s Changed?

Health and safety has always been a priority, at least it has at well run shows and exhibitions, but event organisers are still, thankfully, taking the pandemic seriously even if a lot of people think it’s finally over. One of the things that jumped out to me on my recent visit was that there was an abundance of things like hand sanitizer still available, and the event organisers were keen to make sure that everyone felt safe. That’s a particularly important point because there are still many people who continue to be nervous about entering highly populated spaces, particularly when those spaces are indoors.

Something else I noticed was that sustainability is now more of a thing. Historically, events by their very nature are designed to be temporary and have often failed in their efforts to be fully sustainable. Displays, posters, handouts, the obligatory plastic keyring, a cheap plastic branded biro or a branded ceramic mug being given away for free, all have an environmental impact with everything being designed through an ephemeral mindset.  

At past events I’ve witnessed people queuing up three deep for a free plastic keyring, I have no idea why because it’s not like anyone has ever used them. I dare say most of them from previous shows and events are now floating above some ocean reef these days.

Something else I noticed and possibly because the event was also being live streamed, was the increase in the use of technology. From digital displays rather than traditional vinyl banners right the way through to Virtual Reality experiences. Exhibitions and events really have matured to meet the expectations of the digital age we now live in and I think this really is just the start of how we will see technology shape the way events are run in the future.

astronaut artwork fly me to the moon
Fly Me to the Moon by Mark Taylor - another new release!

Will we see the rise of NFTs in the event space or used in a useful way?

Will live events evolve even further in the next few years? I think so. There are so many technologies that could be used in events but so far have been absent. Regular readers will know that I have a passionate dislike for NFTs, or more specifically, non-fungible tokens, yet it seems there are plenty of other artists who are seeing them as some kind of golden panacea.

I’m not a fan of buying a meme and displaying it next to my small art collection, I do think the technology is interesting and has a valid place in the art world for some things, just not for the purchase of art. I think that it’s a trend built on hype that manages to both tokenise and trivialise art, and it really doesn’t have the level of trust given that NFTs and cryptocurrencies are always in the news for the wrong reasons.

There’s a lot of art out there that can already be purchased with NFTs, but we have to be honest and recognise that much of this NFT art would likely have little to no value in the traditional art world, and most of the work created by unknown artists without any sort of curation simply fails to sell as an NFT, so my hope is that events don’t begin to chase the NFT sale because that will put a huge number of potential buyers off.

Maybe that says a lot about the curation and quality of the art or maybe it's a lack of understanding of how NFTs and digital wallets work alongside opportunistic attempts at following a trend, but there is an opportunity to take that technology and utilise the true power of NFTs in a more considered way which could even be quite exciting.

There’s a strong argument to sell physical event tickets digitally though NFT technology, that would put paid to the ticket touts buying up all of the tickets within minutes of them going live and then reselling them on for a massive profit.

My only other gripe with the concept is just how un-user friendly the process of NFTs and digital wallets is but if that problem could be solved by simplifying the process along with better education of NFT technology, then at that point, NFTs could be the answer to some fundamentally complex challenges that require a level of security and validated provenance to fully resolve. Of course, there is a simpler way for events to make sure the touts don’t buy up all of the tickets and that would be to use a dynamic QR code that carries the identity of the original purchaser and only ever allow resales through the events own ticketing service.

abstract line art polybius
Polybius by Mark Taylor - Based on the legend that is Polybius, a mythological video game that was said to be located in Portland, Oregon in 1981!

Will exhibition spaces for artists evolve?

Whilst the exhibition I recently attended wasn’t solely an art exhibition, the entire place was filled with artworks for sale. I’ve said it many times before, if you have a niche and you need eyes on your portfolio, you absolutely have to think outside of the box when it comes to spending money on an event space. There’s a simple question that I regularly use to gauge whether or not any investment in an event space is worth making, and that question is, can I afford to not take my work to an event where I know buyers will be present?

I know there are artists who baulk at the idea of exhibiting their work outside of traditional art spaces, but not every artist serves the same market and markets are diverse enough to buy from many different places. Some artists who take advantage of non-traditional spaces can find that their income significantly increases from showing work at the point of footfall rather than limiting it to fewer people with even fewer sharing an interest in a particular niche often mistakenly thinking that art will only be seen seriously if it sits behind a gallery door or it’s on display at a prestigious exhibition.

Some of my best sales in the past decade haven’t come through typical art spaces, they have come from either being a part of a community online or from showing my work in nontypical spaces where I know people who are into the kind of work I produce attend. There is no dark art to working out where those places are likely to be because they’re exactly the same places I like to look for artwork.

For my landscapes (and yes, I will be creating more of them, when I find some time between commissions) my best outlets have always been high quality destination gift shops and for my retro inspired artworks, the online retro community and vintage computer events attended by collectors have always proven more fruitful than when I last exhibited in a traditional gallery. If I had to change to gallery representation now, the numbers would need to work at least as well as they do in non-traditional spaces and most traditional galleries might find that a difficult ask.

abstract lines artwork by Mark Taylor
Polybius Redux by Mark Taylor - this piece looks as if it is positioned in front of the canvas through the use of shadows and colour, representing something that's not what it seems.

How do you approach exhibiting in the 21st Century?

As artists, it’s probably time to begin thinking about our next event especially if we haven’t attended one for a while. We might also want to think how we can capitalise on the growing trends that are emerging in the world of event management too.

Whether that means becoming more digitally literate so that we can leverage the simultaneous live broadcast or so that we can digitally enhance our show booths, we do have to think carefully about what buyers are starting to expect from physical event spaces and we have to respond accordingly to meet their new expectations.

There’s an inherent risk when exhibiting that you will blend into the background like some bland wallpaper if you are doing what everyone else is doing. What has forever surprised me is just how many exhibitors approach their event space design, very often without any design standards in mind.

Those who do think beyond the colour beige when it comes to having creative show space ideas will be the one’s who stand out and we can often see this at shows like Basel, you either have an established brand/name or you dress for the occasion and by that, I’m talking about dressing your space appropriately and making it a more attractive proposition for potential buyers to take pause.

So how do you make your space pop?

Unless you attend one of the free to enter shows that so rarely happen these days, you will be paying for every inch of space and often, the instinct will be to utilise every inch of that space and fill it with work. That could cost you, not only will you need enough work to fill it which means there’s an initial upfront outlay for you, it often confuses the buyer when an artist takes along too much of their portfolio which could consist of a few new works and a crate or two of unsold works in the hope of moving them rather than have them hanging around the studio. If you sell what you really intended to sell first, you could always leave the filler until the last day when people are looking for last minute bargains. If you fill the space to the rafters with work there’s a real risk that so your event space becomes more like an interactive Where’s Waldo for the buyer.

If you are exhibiting, you really do need to choose a theme and firmly commit to it. Many shows and exhibitions will have a key theme but if it’s a more general exhibition or trade show, there might not be any defined show themes or they might be only loosely associated with the context of the exhibition. If that’s the case, then you can really make your space shine with the right theming.

Rather than thinking about your space linearly along the lines of purely retail space, ideally, you need to utilise every inch to create an experience rather than a live Pinterest style content grid. Ding that can turn an exhibition space into a very chaotic space and it creates a heap more work for you to do. Events can be chaotic enough without adding complexity, and my advice to anyone thinking of showing their work to keep in mind that less is more.

Where we can, we should be minimising the workload, there will still be plenty to do but we can spend months planning for our next event and still find that we’re hanging work five minutes before the show opens. Again, this lends itself to thinking about your space more from that design perspective instead of thinking of it purely as a retail space.

There’s a risk in not planning properly in what you then hang next to what can have a negative effect on the overall presentation. As a rule of thumb, hanging should never be thought of as a five minute task, nor should it be thought of as an incidental extra, what you hang and where you hang it needs some very careful and considered planning.

Planning your space well ahead of the event should help. You need to have some spatial awareness of just how much space you will have when you get to the event so it’s worth checking with organisers to make sure what you think you have is what you will have on the day, and its worth checking where in the event the space will be, will the majority of people be heading towards you from the left or right, things like this can make a difference to where you hang your best work. Once you have the dimensions you can begin to formulate your hanging plan ahead of time.

If you approach your layout from a design perspective, maybe even set out works in the same kind of space at home before you arrive at the event, things should then become a whole lot easier on the day and it should minimise the workload and give you a little extra time pre-show opening to settle into your space and hopefully relax a little.

Crisis artwork to support nurses in a cost of living crisis, nurse sitting in despair
Crisis by Mark Taylor - Created to raise awareness of a nursing and health service crisis in the middle of an economic crisis. Nurses are currently having to take industrial action in the UK to raise awareness to government that they do not earn a rate that meets increased inflation, but more than this, there is a serious staffing and resource shortage in the National Health Service that can potentially put lives at risk. Low paid NHS staff are having to rely on donated items from a food bank to feed their families despite being there for everyone during the pandemic. I wrote a short poem as the description which you can find on my Pixels website!

Think About Frames…

If you need to frame your work for the exhibition it will pay dividends if you present your work in the best light but that doesn’t always mean that frames need to be expensive. IKEA sell some good quality frames for very little money if you are looking for understated. Your frame choice will need to be guided by the event, your IKEA frames might be out of place at Basel, but they will likely be more than fine for local exhibitions or trade shows, although to some extent your choice of frame will be determined by the artwork it will surround. You need to be mindful of the costs and we’ll touch on this in a moment.

Positioning your art…

What have high-end art galleries got in common with the discount supermarket, probably more than you think and there are plenty of tricks and tips we can take from the behavioural psychology of retail spaces to make sure our event spaces can leverage some of the same mind tricks that make customers more readily reach for their wallets.

Just how effective some of them will be in a small space is to be determined but there are proven tricks here that have been tried and tested and will work in an event space showcasing your art.

Hanging Time…

If you are hanging your own work you really do have to consider how you will hang your work at the event. Figure out what kind of wall or panel you will have and only use hanging fixtures compatible with that wall. Some exhibitions have an absolute no nails policy or they won’t allow you to make any marks on the wall. If you can’t find out what kind of material you will be supporting the work on, it is better to always assume that this kind of policy will be in place so it is worth taking along appropriate hanging fixtures designed to not leave any marks or that don’t require any drilling or nails.

If you are a portrait artist or feature faces prominently in your work, make sure when you hang the work the eyes in the work are at eye level with the viewer. This might sound slightly strange but it’s a trick that supermarkets use all of the time, if you make eye contact you quickly form a connection and this has been proven time and time again by galleries who regularly place portraits on their walls.

In supermarkets you tend to find cereal boxes that include cartoon characters will be placed at eye level with children in the hope that this placement attracts pester power. The psychology in play through retailers and how they leverage these kinds of things is something that we probably shouldn’t ignore because they have entire teams that often include behavioural psychologists who have nailed the art of stock positioning.

Generally, you have to make sure that your best works are hung at between 57 and 60 inches from the floor stood on by the viewer, this too is roughly at eye level but the measurements are an approximation of the average height of a persons eyes. Bear in mind that some show spaces may have a step between the viewer and the work, so the height should be taken from the floor before the step if the viewer is not expected to stand on the step to view the work. What you will find is that works where the viewer is expected to step up will be slightly higher than those they view from the main floor. In short, try to keep everything at eye level in relation to where the viewer is more likely to stand.

calculator watch retro art
Calculated by Mark Taylor - back to my retro works, this time a hand drawn and painted calculator watch with my typical realism applied! The background is a nod to the big news stories of the 1980s.

Get floral with florals…

Supermarkets always put fresh fruit and vegetables near to the entrance of their stores. Logically, it makes no sense at all as fresh fruit and vegetables placed into the bottom of your shopping basket can fall victim to bruising and crushing as you place more items on top. There is a specific reason that supermarkets do this though and once again, it’s all about consumer psychology. 

They give the illusion of healthiness at the start of your shopping trip and that has the knock-on effect of uplifting people’s moods. Fresh flowers are always close by and the floral scents emanating from the displays do the same thing.

If you paint landscapes or florals, making sure that you have a bunch of fresh fragrant flowers as part of the display will discretely bring those nature inspired images to life and it will hopefully elevate a buyers mood and put them in a mindset of buying rather than just looking. I guess the question is, does it really work?

I’ve tried this whenever I have exhibited my landscape works and whilst I haven’t got a clue about how one would scientifically measure success, I can say that every time I have placed a vase or two of fresh flowers alongside my landscape works, the works have sold better than without the flowers. It could be coincidence, but given that it is a trick that big retailers use there is probably some merit in doing this.

Some tricks won’t work with art…

An event space is not a supermarket. Collectively the entire space of the event might be similar in terms of size and many of the other tricks employed to encourage and drive positive consumer interactions might have a place throughout the wider event, the space provided for an exhibitor will only lend itself to some of the psychological tricks large retailers use.

In a larger space with multiple products such as a supermarket, certain popular items are hidden away so that the buyer has to walk around the supermarket to find them, eggs being a classic example. As an exhibitor, you might only have a single line of products to display, but if you do have something to offer that is popular, it is worth placing this so that the buyer has to navigate other products first.

You also need to understand what motivates people to stop at your space. Are they intrinsically motivated and base their buying decisions on practical need or are they extrinsically motivated and make purchases based on external factors such as value and style.

Understanding these motivators will inform you on how you should be dressing your event space. Whilst many things motivate buyers to make art purchases, all of the motivators broadly fall into two categories. Product motivation which are factors that drive a buyer to choose a specific artwork, and patronage motivation, which is why a buyer chooses a particular artists work over anyone else’s.

You can break those categories down even further  and there are plenty of useful resources on the internet that take deep-dives into the psychology of buyer and they’re worth taking a look at before you attend the event because how you dress your event space can sway some of those motivations and hopefully you will be able to sell more art.

1980s LCD watch retro art
Class of 86 by Mark Taylor - I have created a series of works within my Retro Revival Collection to celebrate the birth of the LCD watch and the miniaturisation of electronics, making them more affordable to the masses!

Think outside the box…

Physical events are definitely more high-tech than they were a few years ago and as I said earlier, there is an expectation from buyers that event spaces are able to adapt to the new digital behaviours that we have all picked up from the need for remote working over the past couple of years.

For the exhibitor, high-tech can often translate to high spend and that’s a problem in a world that is facing so much economic uncertainty and this introduces a dilemma for artists who want to take their show space to the next level but may not be ready or exhibit often enough to make major investments in technology.

If we look at the ways in which shows are evolving, namely in that they are beginning to become much more digitally focussed and at the same time placing sustainability front and centre, there are plenty of things we can do to dress up our event spaces so that we stand out without breaking the bank too much. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not just the physical look of a space, event organisers are  also focussing in on health and safety, even more so post-pandemic, so having hand sanitiser available could be useful, just make sure it doesn’t leave a sticky residue that might adhere to anything people will pick up, you definitely don’t need alcoholic based hand cleaner leaving a mark on your finest works.

retro artwork of 1980s watches by Mark Taylor
Back In Time by Mark Taylor - each of the watches are available as individual artworks or you can collect the set with a single piece! Timeless?

Digital Signage…

I don’t think the days of vinyl and fabric banners and traditional signage are coming to an end, they are still useful and they’re effective ways to communicate but there are more impactful alternatives that might be more suited to modern event spaces, particularly if they’re only going to be utilised a limited number of times. It makes zero sense to spend money on providing impact through signage if there is little value in reusing it. This is where digital signage has the edge.

A digital display can change multiple times per day, it can be used to convey any number of messages such as details about the work or it could even provide glimpses into the social proof that defines the value of your work. There are other uses too, particularly if space is at a premium. The smallest exhibition space I have ever worked in was around eight feet by six feet, hardly the space needed to place more than a couple of my large format works and a 32 inch monitor provided a useful proxy for many works in my back catalogue.

I tend to utilise digital signage wherever I can to overcome space issues and not only is it more cost effective overall, it is more sustainable than reprinting new signage between events. I tend to not show my work at events all that often so any signage I do use is more likely to be out of date when the next event rolls around. With digital signage it can be updated for each event without additional expense.

My primary artwork subject is based on technology and life from the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990s, which gives me plenty of options to turn any show booth into its own art installation. My landscape and abstract works provide less of an opportunity to do this, although as I said earlier, flowers make a difference, but essentially, any subject can take advantage of some form of digital signage to add some impact to your space.

For my retro inspired works, I tend to use some old CRT TVs and monitors to display other works in the series, it’s a real nod to nostalgia and they are frequently a talking point that help with starting those all-important conversations. Any information is displayed using typical 8-bit fonts from the 1980s home computers, and to make it into a complete experience I often bring along a vintage computer that people can get hands on with which has the added benefit of providing plenty more opportunity to engage with visitors and have a discussion around the merits of the old computers that feature in some of my works.

For added impact I usually add a couple of props such as a Walkman, a Mini Disc player, and some old electronic toy games, as a retro collector I already have access to these but they can be picked up from yard and boot sales relatively inexpensively when compared to what they go for on platforms such as eBay.

The signage is driven by a modern laptop that is hidden away, the connectivity is handled by a number of specialist cables and interfaces designed to connect modern devices to older display technologies which tend to have either RGB or S-Video connectivity. I have now even set up a Raspberry Pi device that I had sitting around after replacing it with a shiny new Pi 400, and I have to say that there’s a heap of choice for free digital signage software to run on these things and it’s often as good as the full blown commercial offerings, all for less than $40 or so!

arcade flyer artwork retro art print
One Life Left by Mark Taylor - this piece celebrate the arcade flyers of the 80s, ephemera that would encourage arcade owners to buy into an arcade cabinet, sometimes these cabinets were bootlegs of original games. This was hand drawn and painted over a period of around 50 hours!

The good news is that those cables are fairly inexpensive as they’re made today for the retro computer market, often they are used to connect devices such as the Raspberry Pi or MiSTer FPGA to older displays because the image quality when viewing vintage software is much better than viewing it on a modern display with its anti-aliasing shenanigans and 4K resolutions. There will be expensive options when it comes to some cables that connect certain devices to certain displays, a composite cable for the Nintendo 64 was around ten bucks at launch is going to set you back a hundred and fifty today, but there ae usually good alternatives to be found at much more reasonable prices.

The other good news is that CRT TVs and monitors are pretty much never used beyond the retro computer scene and people who never use vintage technology tend to throw or give them away or sell them cheaply on Facebook Marketplace, unless it’s a Sony PVM monitor, in which case, a once $30,000 monitor will set you back around $1,000 - $2,000 used, but you wouldn’t want to carry that beast from the car park. Beautiful piece of equipment though!

Cathode Ray Tube displays can handle retro really well and give an authentic vintage feel, but what do you do when you need modern digital signage and displays?

You could hire professional digital signage, the downside is that can be as expensive as vinyl and fabric banners for a one off show and you will need to book it as early as possible and well ahead of time, but it is more sustainable and more impactful. Often, hired technology has the advantage that someone who knows what they’re doing will also come along and set it all up but there’s a cost that’s often bundled in with the rental costs making hiring prohibitive for smaller shows.

Equally, you could use a good quality TV or monitor, nothing you use needs to be overly expensive, you certainly wouldn’t need anything too technical because there’s more that could go wrong, and again, places like Marketplace and even eBay can be a good source of bargains. If you use multiple displays, it’s always a better aesthetic if you use a single model from a single manufacturer but if that’s not possible, think about respraying the plastic bezels so they at least look broadly similar.

One of my artist friends went as far as gaining sponsorship from a local TV and homeware retailer on the condition that he displays a small advertisement showing the retailers name and by doing this he can usually borrow some of the best demo units the retailer has. His last event included a beautiful 65inch 8K TV to display his work on.

We’re not all going to be quite so lucky with our approaches to sponsorship, but it’s certainly worth a discussion with an independent retailer. Just make sure that your insurance covers anything that could go wrong, those shiny new 8K displays are still prohibitively expensive for most people.

There are a couple of downsides to digital signage, namely, transporting it, and wherever you exhibit you will need access to a power supply but when you think about the opportunities to drive home your branding using something as simple as a PowerPoint slide deck, or the ability to display other works that you can’t physically display due to space restrictions together with the more impactful experience it can provide, it is a trade off that could be worth making. There is an important tip here, if you do use a PowerPoint slide deck, leave out the bullet points, it’s an exhibition not a board meeting.

If you are in a smaller space or don’t have access to lots of power, there’s a simple solution that is likely sitting in a box in the attic! Remember those digital photo frames that were so popular about a decade ago, they can be repurposed and in some cases, the bezels of those devices can be resprayed to match your theme too. If you no longer have one sitting around, eBay is awash with them, as are thrift stores and charity shops. It's yet another old technology that has a modern day use that few people tend to think about. Even old tablet devices are capable of showing photo transitions, another reason why you need to hang on to old technology if ever there was one!

While we are on the subject of tablet devices, don’t forget to sign up to any of the email marketing services that allow you to author and send out marketing emails. People tend to avoid writing their email address down on paper but for some reason they do seem to like entering their email address on a screen and especially if there is a chance to win a prize. Perhaps because that’s something we are more familiar with doing but not doing this as an exhibitor is a real missed opportunity in an event space.

abstract art lines in a retro colour scheme
Vantage Point by Mark Taylor - I love these retro colour schemes! 

Easy Access is Critical…

If a potential buyer wants to have a conversation with me, I have learned over the years that I definitely need to break down any potential barriers and make everything as easy as possible for the buyer to approach me. If your space is cluttered with leaflet stands and they feel like they need to navigate an assault course just to ask you the price of something, mostly, people will move on without asking and without buying.

Clutter isn’t just about boxes of leaflets and plastic giveaways though, people clutter spaces just as much. If you have a small space then you probably won’t need an entire army manning the tote bags. People, and don’t get me wrong, I actually like some people, but people are intimidating when they’re in a group. If you do need help on the day, make sure everyone has a defined role, stays out of everyone else’s way and wherever you can, try to keep your helpers limited in number.

retro neon colour abstract art with lines
Neon Nights by Mark Taylor - clean 80s colour scheme looks brilliant on my soft furnishing range! It's bold, beautiful and oh so 80s!

Keep it simple and unique…

With all of the emerging trends and a desire to stand out, there are some inherent risks that by achieving the next level of wow, you inadvertently overcomplicate your space. Over use of any technology in any space carries the very real risk that it can frighten people off. If you have a bank of monitors showing multiple images there’s a danger that rather than looking like an art exhibition booth, it ends up looking like the control centre of NASA which might be fine if your paintings feature the Apollo rockets, not so fine if you paint portraits of pets.

Digital signage has plenty of positives, especially for accessibility. I’ve even seen rolling video of the key message with a sign language interpreter in the corner but you don’t need a lot of technology to make an impact. Minimalism looks way more elegant than clutter, it also adds to an air of luxury so that prices can be more representative of the artworks worth.

Something else to bear in mind is that digital technologies do not provide complete solutions, rather they provide possibilities, especially in efficiency and intimacy. Don’t expect a digital sign or any other kind of sign to turn poor fortune around completely, at least not when it’s used without both a digital mindset and a strategy. If either of those are flawed, or the messaging you display on the signage is flawed, digital will only serve to magnify those flaws and expose them publicly to anyone who walks past your space.

The other risk is that you go so far down the digital event rabbit hole in an attempt to compete with those who will always have the funding to do it better, or you end up competing with everyone else who is trying with a limited budget, at which point you’re back to the problem of merely blending in rather than standing out. Think of using digital signage as a tool, apply a design mindset to your space, and that should ensure more than anything that you achieve the goal of ultimately making your space stand out.

1980s retro mechanical watch art by mark taylor
Pop Watch by Mark Taylor - another retro work, this time a nod to those fashionable Swatch Watches that demanded you collect the set!

Location, location, location…

Just occasionally the art Gods look down and we get to pick where our event space is located at an event. More often we will be given a space depending on theme or medium, but when you do have a choice it is worth thinking it through before you fully commit.

There are a few decisions you will need to make, is the location next door to someone who sells the same kind of work, is it within eye contact distance of any breakout or rest areas, that could be handy as groups of potential buyers tend to mingle in those spaces, and will you be lost with your small space if you are in between two larger exhibitors?

The question of location doesn’t just cover the internal layout of the event, you have to consider the location of the event and whether it is in commutable distance of your intended market. Any good event organiser who has run these kinds of events before should be able to provide you with at least a little comfort from previous visitor demographics.

What age group is your market, are they likely to attend this event, is the event theme suited to your work, and what kind of footfall can you expect on the day. These are all questions that you should be asking before paying for space at any event and if the numbers seem off, it might be best to skip the event entirely and find something that’s more suited to you and your work.

1980s retro led watch art print
Little Black Watch by Mark Taylor - these watches were popular in kit form during the 1980s! Hand drawn, total time to complete, around 40 hours!

Hiring space for your own event…

Artists and collectives of artists will frequently venture onto the path of self-hosting an art show, and whilst this is a great idea it’s also more work than you might at first imagine. One of the biggest challenges you will face is finding a suitable venue that is affordable. Premium event spaces carry a premium cost and that might not be doable even when you are splitting any up front costs with a collective of artists.

There are plenty of affordable spaces in most towns and cities, community centres, local authority owned spaces (although recently some of these have become just as expensive as dedicated spaces so you do have to do your homework), and pop-up shops. Certainly here in the UK when a retail shop closes down, the owner of the property can find themselves paying additional taxes for leaving the premises unoccupied, so renting the space out keeps not only the dust away, it can also mean that the owner pays less in taxes or business rates because the premises are occupied for a period of time.

Most towns and cities with a vibrant gallery scene will also rent out exhibition space, but you have to be cautious that they’re not operating as vanity spaces where you essentially pay to display your work. You also need to keep an eye open in case they  start bundling in additional costs for staff, or to open any catering space. Some will also insist on you using specific caterers.

Some galleries exist solely by renting out their entire space to vanity events but art professionals will know that the events held in these spaces are just ways for the space to make money. You’re less likely to then attract art critics or journalists to the event.

harlequin style patter art print retro
Vintage Harlequin by Mark Taylor - this piece looks brilliant on cushions and duvets as well as in print!

Make sure your budget stretches…

If there is one thing I have learned from exhibiting over the years, it’s that events are seldom as inexpensive as you think they will be. Exhibitions set out to achieve one single goal which is to extract as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. It doesn’t matter if you are attending as a buyer or as an exhibitor.

Just attending as an exhibitor means that you have to financially plan on covering the event costs and also your own costs, food is notoriously expensive at most events where it’s not provided. If you need food or drink and you probably will as you are mostly human, you have to expect to pay a premium. If it’s a local show, unless there are specific rules about bringing your own food, take along your own provisions. Your aim should be aligned to the core mission of the event, and that is to extract as much profit and value out of the time you are exhibiting as possible so that you at least cover your costs.

If display stands are not included in the price of exhibiting, this is something else that you will need to think about. You have options here, you can either rent modular displays which can be increased or decreased in size, or if you attend on a regular basis, then purchasing a modular display system might be more cost effective but these are not inexpensive, modular units usually carry a cost premium.

What you absolutely don’t want to be doing is turning up to an event with a decorators table and duct tape. We’ve all seen those kinds of spaces. If you decide to hire a solution, make sure that you do this as early as possible, hire charges tend to increase rapidly just before an event and you don’t really need the added pressure of sourcing it at the last minute or wondering if it will arrive in time. It’s also worth considering insurance to cover your costs if the event is cancelled and just in case the event doesn’t have its own public liability insurance in place.

Ditch the freebies…

Personally, I would forget about bringing along boxes full of giveaways. It might be better to spend a little extra on turning your business cards into miniature artworks and use environmentally friendly materials instead of offering the obligatory keyring and pen.

A lot of galleries, especially those in the cruise ship industry offer prize draws in return for visitor details. Usually the prize is a print or a painting that’s relative in value to the prestige of the event, but bear in mind that this is a cost that comes out of your bottom line and offering a ten dollar print might not attract that many people.

Stay as local as possible…

If you get the opportunity to exhibit at Basel, take it, no matter how far away you are but the majority of working artists won’t ever find themselves in that kind of space. There is a train of thought with exhibitions that you should try to punch up above your current demographic, but that is a risky strategy unless you can afford to spend the time at the even and spend the money to be an exhibitor in a more prestigious space.

Personally, I tend to stay as local as possible. This negates the need to book hotels which usually add an event tax in the form of increasing their prices whenever an exhibition is in town. Staying local also takes a lot less effort to get there and you don’t then have anywhere near the same transport and shipping costs or the worry that your inventory will arrive damaged. I’m also picky about the demographic of the event, if it’s of no interest to the type of buyers I have, there is then no guarantee that I will make a sale let alone cover the costs. To be totally cold about it, if I can’t make an event pay, I’m not turning up as an exhibitor, vanity doesn’t pay the bills, but there might be longer term benefits that you might want to consider, it’s also about the sales you make tomorrow.

If there are options to set up early, even if there is an extra charge for doing so, those charges usually include someone else taking your stand from the entrance to the event space. Some exhibitions will charge a drayage fee, and they usually charge based on weight. If your total weight is even slightly over the limit, you could be charged at a higher rate. Drayage usually covers taking your exhibition stand and inventory from the entrance to the show space so that could potentially save paying for additional help. It’s worth bearing in mind that drayage is usually charged over and above the exhibition fee and often this work is outsourced to non-event staff so make sure it includes insurance.

1980s LED watch retro art print by Mark Taylor
Welcome to the Future by Mark Taylor - I was surprised I pulled this one off! It took an insane amount of time to create the strap - Love metallics but they're incredibly difficult to paint when only using a stylus and no short cuts!

Get Connected…

In my experience, there are three types of Wi-Fi access you can get in an exhibition space.

Free Wi-Fi - potentially shared by thousands of people on an unencrypted and unsecure network, not something you should be relying on if you need to use the internet to take card payments.

Exhibitor Wi-Fi – where you pay by the day, week, hour, and you tend to pay a high fee for an internet connection that might not be all that robust, it might still present security issues, and there’s always a chance that you find yourself in a wireless not-spot rather than a hot spot.

Your own connection – you are in control.  If you have a data plan that includes tethering, this might be your best and most reliable option. The downside is that you will be reliant on a cellular signal that might be too weak to use, and if you take your phone to lunch and your helper needs to take a payment, you could lose the sale.

My advice to anyone who chooses to use a public Wi-Fi system is to always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), that will ensure that customer data can be better protected. You can often sign up for trial periods for VPNs but a word to the wise, some of these VPN services aren’t that secure. There are VPN services available that really do make a bad situation worse, so only ever use trusted VPN software and purchase it through a trusted supplier, and check if there are limitations that might restrict you doing what you need to do, some won’t allow tethering to other devices such as a card machine.

Electrical Connections…

Power will likely play a big part in your space, whether it is to provide lighting so you can show your work in the best light, or to charge your phone or run displays, any power needs have to be considered early on.

Some events will charge an additional fee for power, some have smart meters installed and you pay by each unit of electricity that you use, but there are still a few events that include power charges in the price you pay for the space. You could take a portable power bank, but these can be expensive even to hire.

Many event organisers now insist on portable appliance testing, if you don’t have a certificate already you might have to pay the event hosts to carry out this work for you, although some provide it as a service and include the cost within the cost for the space.

It’s always worth taking along extra extension sockets, cable ties, and duct tape so that you can at least tape down rogue cables but you should also make sure that you are not introducing a trip hazard. I often use a rubber cable cover that fits over the cable, is brightly coloured, but provides a slight slope over the cable. At least with this there is less chance of tripping over it and less chance that equipment will be pulled down onto the floor and damaged. Some exhibitions will have these items for sale if you are missing anything, but if you think the food is expensive, ask them for a price on an extension socket.

ocean landscape with boat artwork by Mark Taylor
Ethereal Seas by Mark Taylor - expect more landscapes soon, I have four in various stages of non-completion! 

Frame Wisely…

 By paying a little less to frame some of your works you could then invest a little more in other pieces which could benefit from a much higher quality frame. I tend to stick with a simple white wood frame wherever I can but do tend to take frame samples along to any event so that buyers know they have a choice. These can be useful to encourage the all-important upsell.

Thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace and eBay can often be the source of good quality frames but you do have to make sure that the frame you use is firstly, the right size, and secondly, isn’t damaged. Beyond that, any frame you use shouldn’t detract from the work, there’s nothing worse than someone looking at your best work and then saying, that’s a nice frame and ignoring the work it contains.

Don’t forget that Artist Statement…

Even at a trade show you shouldn’t drop your standards or think that you can get away without an artists statement. I know this is up there with the worst jobs an artist will ever have to undertake, I’ve never met an artist yet who likes writing these things, but they are kind of expected, kind of essential, and they will add some value to the overall experience of buying your work.

Tips to set up your own community event…

1.    Define your vision: Before you start organizing your exhibition, it's important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Consider what kind of art you want to showcase, who your target audience is, and what message you want to convey.

2.    Choose a venue: Once you have a clear vision, you can start looking for a suitable venue for your exhibition. This could be a local gallery, community centre, library, or any other public space that is suitable for displaying art. Make sure to consider the size and layout of the venue, and make sure it meets your needs.

3.    Invite artists: After you have secured a venue, you can start inviting artists to participate in your exhibition. Consider reaching out to local artists, art schools, or artists' organizations to help you find artists who are interested in participating.

4.    Plan the exhibition: Now that you have your venue and artists, it's time to start planning the details of your exhibition. This will include choosing a date, organizing a reception, planning a walkthrough or artist talk, and coordinating with the venue on any additional details such as lighting, signage, and other logistics.

5.    Market your exhibition: To ensure that your exhibition is well-attended, it's important to market it effectively. Consider creating a promotional flyer, sending out press releases, and utilizing social media to spread the word. You can also reach out to local newspapers, art blogs, and other media outlets to help promote your exhibition.

6.    Host the exhibition: On the day of the exhibition, make sure to arrive early to set up and prepare for the event. Greet visitors as they arrive, provide them with information about the artists and their works, and ensure that the exhibition runs smoothly. After the exhibition, take some time to reflect on the experience and consider what you could do differently in the future.

By following these steps, you can set up a successful and memorable art exhibition in your local community.

dry stone wall at sunset artwork by Mark Taylor
Glow Over a Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor - one from a few years ago, this work was hand painted using a digital medium, each rock was hand created, and it remains one of my best selling works today!

Good luck with your next event…

Event spaces are not inexpensive and adding unnecessary costs over and above the cost of the space is something that you will want to avoid if you can. It’s easy to be swept along in the initial excitement that exhibiting will bring, and it’s that excitement that can often lead to making some really poor choices especially when events organisers begin selling you their version of the upsell. No matter how well you think you upsell your art, experienced events teams have gone way beyond mastering this particular dark art.

Mostly, exhibiting isn’t something that you need to have lots of experience in doing, you just need to be aware of the small details that will make you stand out and provide you with more chance of having a successful exhibition. Above all, you have to manage your own expectations around what is involved, events can be fun but they can also be incredibly testing.

So long as you expect the days to be long, the work to be somewhere in between a little more arduous and extremely more stressful than your regular daily routine, and you also remember to strike up conversations, the rest is pretty much more about applying a little thought around the detail and not letting your heart overrule your head. Keep this in mind at your next event and you might just find that your event space not only begins to pop but you might just make a few extra sales too!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com  

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia



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