How to measure exhibition success.

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133rd Blog post   record keeping (again)

Yes, we are back to record keeping, this time following the art exhibition I took part in at Painshill Park a couple of weeks ago. First, a quick reminder about your journal, or bullet journal as I find some of you are now referring to it. I wanted to let you know that having this system up and running has been an absolute godsend for me.

With so many things to remember to do for the exhibition, the financial and legal affairs of my recently departed father plus planning for the teaching I am due to start again soon, having the journal means that whilst I know I have a ton of stuff to get through, I can prioritise what needs doing, and plan it out in the journal so that I have not been overwhelmed. Well, nearly.

There are always things that jump out at you and need dealing with, but I can look at my journal and see which days have less going on and make appointments or organise Zoom meetings around those times. It means that, overall, I feel in control. It also means that I have been able to manage other people’s expectations of me. Right down to have I got time for that long phone call to a friend, or would I be best to drop a note for now and carve out some time a bit later when I know that my diary is looking clearer? And whilst there have been a couple of weeks in the middle of the chaos in my life when I forgot to use it and found myself floundering around, getting back on track has been a life saver for me. So, I really hope you are all finding this tool useful in your lives.

Now to the exhibition records. There are several different ways you can look at an exhibition and consider it a success. Clearly, whether (or not) you made any sales is the most obvious way but not the be all and end all. Making connections with people interested in your work is hugely important. If you can get their contact details and add them to your email list all the better. Your email list needs growing constantly, and it is yours, not at the whim of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. It should be treated with respect and improved on whenever possible.

Connecting with other artists is also huge. By cultivating relationships with others, you can find out about exhibitions you could take part in, connect with courses which may be of interest and make friends with people who really understand the difficulties we artists face trying to find a market for our work.

Last, but by no means least, information take-up is a great gauge of public interest in what you are producing. As I said in last week’s blog, I had more of my leaflets taken at this exhibition then ever before. One never knows what, if anything, will come of this. I had one person come back to me two years later wanting me to make artwork for them, so it is a good gauge of interest and patience is a virtue.

So, those are some of the ways you can measure success and you will also need to produce accounts, but it is worth doing a costing of the whole event so that you have an idea of just where you truly stand financially.

My advice would be to have a costing sheet of some kind. You could set this up in the back of your journal or you could use large index cards, or probably the easiest way unless you are not really tech savvy, a spreadsheet.

What I do is produce a spreadsheet titled with the name and date of the show. I have made a mockup for a fake show – see below – so you can see if you like this approach.

For this to work properly, you must record all your costs: exhibition fees; travel expenses to and from the venue; the cost of leaflets; and any other expenses pertinent to that show. You should already be keeping records and costings of your artwork and framing so that you can be sure you are not selling your work at a loss, so in this instance you do not need to include those kinds of figures, as we are just looking at one exhibition. Why? Because this way you’ll have a good idea if the exhibition is worth attending next time around.

You could get really detailed here and work out the profit on the artwork you sold verses how much it cost you to take part so that you can see what your profit or loss was, but I know most of you are not selling huge numbers of works at these exhibitions, so let’s park that for the moment.

Add up what you have sold, take off all your expenses and you have the profitability of the show you have taken part in. This first spreadsheet shows income of £980.00 less expenses of £884.82, which gives you a small profit of £95.18.

The Greatest Art Exhibition

June 2021IncomeExpenses
paintings350.00Exhibition fees525
cards35.00hotel expenses219
other165.00printed info (47 taken)7.56
business cards (84 taken)4.26


If you want to dive deeper (and I know many of you don’t, but really you should), you will take the actual profit on the sales and compare that to your costs to see what the outcome is.

The Greatest Art Exhibition.
June 2021IncomeprofitExpenses
paintings350.0050.00Exhibition fees525.00
cards35.0015.00hotel expenses219.00
other165.0065.00printed info (47 taken)7.56
business cards (84 taken)4.26

By looking at the full picture you can see that you have not made a profit at all, but you may be very happy to have covered your exhibition costs so that you are more visible as an artist. The profit you made on your works sold of £290.00 less the expenses show a £594.82 loss.

Granted, this is made up and possibly extreme, but if you want to understand your true financial position when taking part in the bigger exhibitions, I believe you need to keep all this information in mind.

It could also help you when deciding how to price your work as well as choosing which exhibitions to take part in. Information is power but only if you actually put it to good use.

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