Your First Exhibition? Tips - Part 1

 "What is it?" she whispered.  "The Darkest Rose" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016, Thurmont. Md.  Experimental work for #52weeksofquiet.

"What is it?" she whispered.  "The Darkest Rose" (c) Rebecca LaChance, 2016, Thurmont. Md.  Experimental work for #52weeksofquiet.

Eeek!  You've committed to your first exhibition.  Congratulations!

What happens next?

Here are some guidelines for you - all based on what I have learned over the years. Choose your beverage of choice, sit back and enjoy the reading - because this is gonna be a long one!

Heck, you might even want to print this page and use it as a checklist for your exhibition!

I.  Planning

Where and Who?  Are you hanging in a local restaurant or bar? How about your local library? An event center?  And who are the patrons of these venues?

These two questions - where? and who? - are important because they can help you define which of your works will be appropriate for the setting.  What you choose to hang in a hipster, downtown bistro will probably be different than what you may place in a cathedral's community center.

Theme?  Again, you're choice of pieces to show may be directed by where you will be presenting and who will be viewing it.  Of course, this can work in reverse.

Do you have a specific body of work that is begging to be presented?  Your work may dictate the best venue. (Contemporary nudes in the public library may not be the best fit!)

Visit the venue and wander around.  Look at the available wall space and watch the lighting.  Use the information you collect to plan out your hanging space and your selections. 

For example, an exhibition in a small but thriving and busy, downtown wine emporium, will probably support a broad selection of paintings and photographic prints.  And, available wall space may dictate that none of the works be larger than 17 x 22 inches.

 And that lighting? You don't want to hang a dark painting or print in a heavily shadowed alcove.  No one will ever actually SEE your work.

Or, if you do hang a dark piece in the alcove, be prepared to spend some extra bucks for a small light source to make your work visible!

Now, you want to develop a contract/agreement with the owner/representative of the venue.  Below, I've listed items to include in the contract.

  • Hang date/Take down date
  • Hours the venue will be available to you for your own opening or events.  (A couple wine/cheese date nights at your venue while your work is hanging?)  Always look for creative ways to get people in front of your artwork.
  • Are there restrictions as to how you can hang your pieces.  In one place, I was allowed to make nail holes.  In another, wall anchors could actually be placed for heavier pieces.  And, in the place with the ceiling track wire system, I wasn't even allowed to used artist's tack on the back of frames.  And finally, will you be responsible for any repair of the wall when your items are taken down?
  • Will the owner of the venue be selling your pieces?  In that case, what will the commission rate be for the owner (my experience is 20% to 25% tops).
  • Will the owner of the venue be allowed to apply a discount (no more than 10%) to facilitate a sale?  If so, that discount needs to come out of his/her commission - NOT from your 75% to 80%. (Put it in writing.)
  • Will your pieces stay in one place during the entire contracted hang time, or will they be moved for other events?  (Yes, I have seen this happen!)  The owner needs to be financially responsible for any damages to your pieces that might occur during those moves. Put it in writing.

**Whew!  That was a lot.  Now we move on to the scary stuff!**

II. Finances - expenses

Before you print or frame ANYTHING, determine your prices for each piece.  And you're going to do this in a business-like manner, right? 

You already know what size prints your venue will you know the sizes and number of each size you want for the exhibit.

Get ready...if you don't already have a pricing structure in place, here's what you need to determine your prices.  Let's do this with an example of five 20 x 30 fully matted and framed to 40 x 30 with an additional three prints of 17 x 22 framed to 20 x 24.5.

(Please note:  These are not official IRS definitions for COGS and CODB.  They are my simple explanations to help you determine the price you will charge for your prints.)
  • Cost of Goods sold (COGS)  - this is your labor (your cost/hr) + printing + matting + framing x's your total number of prints. Remember it was your labor that produced the original art! How many hours did that take?
  • Cost of doing business (CODB) - Do you know your cost of doing business?  CODB is your overhead. Use a percentage of your CODB. (Click on the link above for a great calculator of CODB.)
  • Price of print is COGS + %CODB +  your profit % + insurance% + any taxes you will have to pay. In the U.S., this will usually be your state sales tax. 

What is a profit percent?  Simply stated, it is the percentage of profit you want to make over and above all your costs. Remember your labor is already included in the cost of goods sold; so you definitely want to include a profit percentage in your calculations. (My current profit percentage is 35%.)

**You're operating a business, right?  You want to make a profit, right? So, include the profit percentage in your price calculations.**

Let's talk insurance.  You definitely need liability insurance.  What if one of your pieces falls off the wall and lands on someone's foot? (God forbid!).  You hung the piece so you may be considered responsible for any damages.

And, the insurance percentage?  Pretend that your liability insurance premium for 60 days for 8 pieces is $100.  Divide that $100 by 8; each of the photos will have $12.50 factored into the final price.

Want to see the final numbers?  Let's look at the price of one matted and framed 40 x 30 picture.

  1. COGS      =  $500.00
  2. CODB%   =  $750.00
  3. Insurance =     $12.50
  4. Subtotal   = $1262.50
  5. Profit%               x1.35
  6. Final price = $1704.375 (Before Sales Tax)

You can decide to round down ($1699?) or round up ($1710?).

**Is it time for a refill of that beverage and a cookie yet? Go ahead, I'll wait for you.**

Get a Sponsor

** "Hello Mom.  You wanna to buy one of my photos?" **

Here's the point.  Get a sponsor, or several sponsors before you even think about printing and framing.  If getting sponsors to support an art exhibit is good enough for every single major art gallery/institute/museum around the world, it's good enough for you! full disclosure...this is a concept that didn't hit my brain until after I had already done three exhibits!   What lit the bulb for me was a statement by a photographer in the U.K. "The exhibit nearly didn't happen because the first sponsor backed out."  Whoa !!!! (And this certainly implies -to me- this photographer was so secure in herself and her work, she was willing to forego the exhibition without a sponsor.)

Printing and framing - whether you contract it out or you're a DIY artist - is expensive!  That's out of pocket dollars from you...with no guarantee of return.  Cover your costs just like the big guys do! (And that includes the costs of that wine and cheese for your opening night.)

You already know (based on the example above) that your COGS for the 40 x 30 inch picture is going to be $500 per print.  And $500 times 5 = $2500.  (Don't forget you have those three 17 x 22's to be printed, matted, framed also.) Just to keep it easy, we'll say those 17 x 22's have a COGS of $350 each. 

Your total COGS just to have the prints prepared for exhibition is $3550. That's a tad more than pocket change isn't it?

Once you have established your prices for each artwork, you can build your own sponsorship plan. Let's look at an hypothetical sponsorship structure.

$2000 Sponsorship receives one of the 40 x 30 pieces (after the exhibition) as a Thank You gift, plus mention as a Master Sponsor.

$1000 Sponsorship receives one of the 17 x 22's (after the exhibition) as a Thank You gift, plus mention as a Journeyman Sponsor.

$500 Sponsorship receives a framed 8 X 10 exhibition photo of their choice as a Thank you gift, plus mention as an Apprentice Sponsor.

Anything less than $500 are Supporting Sponsors and get a special invitation to some future event you have planned, plus mention as a Supporting Sponsor.

(Did you see how I used the Guild system to designate tiers?  Just a playful idea - choose your own tier levels and titles.)

How do you find a sponsor on the local level?

This is where your past relationship building comes into play.  Approach those friends, relatives, businesses, organizations...all those folks you have done business with in the past; all those folks who have previously purchased your work.  Ask the owner of the venue for potential sponsors and approach them.

Have you heard of the "SNOWBALL" approach?  It is used in social sciences when conducting information ask the person you just talked with, "Who else do you think I should talk to?" Visualize the snowball rolling down a hill that gathers more snow - you want to gather more contacts and you pick them up from the contact you just met.

This really is the POINT IN TIME when you want to be very clear about the benefit of sponsorship to your potential sponsors.  Have you considered what those benefits may be?

Ideally, you will accumulate enough sponsors to cover your COGS so you can print and frame with little to no "out-of-pocket" expenses.


That's a lot of information.  I certainly hope you find it useful.

Make sure to come back next week for Part II when I cover the physical hanging of the prints, my "exhibition toolbox", the paperwork, and the emotions

Congratulations on your exhibition! 

Remember:  Expect the best. Anything else is an Adventure.


Was this post helpful?  What other questions do you have about hanging your first exhibition?  Or, do you have experiences to share with us?  You can post your questions/suggestions below, or over on the FB page.

And make sure that you don't miss out on the next installments.  You can join us here.

P.S.  Drop on over to Definitely Dreaming. My mastermind buddy, Janet Broughton, had some nice things to say.  And take a look at her Instagram page, @definitely_dreaming.  Her photography is indeed, dreamy.