How to prepare for taking part in an art exhibition in 2021/22

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As the UK starts slowly to prepare for reopening its shop doors, putting on events and exhibitions and generally trying to get back to some kind of normality, now feels like a good time to start thinking about which exhibitions you are going to sign up for and what you will need to prepare so that you are ready for them. 

I have taken part in lots of exhibitions now, both here and in the USA but the questions are always the same. Will anyone like my work? Will they want to buy it? And am I simply kidding myself?

It is scary and that is OK. A little bit of fear mixed up with a whole lot of anticipation is good. So, let’s take a look at the things which you have absolutely no control over, but which could cause you to be concerned.  

You don’t know how many people will attend.

You don’t know if anyone will like, and therefore, buy your work.

You don’t know who will be in the booth next to you; will you get on with them or will it be really uncomfortable? It does help if you can get on with your neighbour!

You don’t know how much bubble wrap/paper bags/tape/string etc. you will need to have with you.

And so on.

Remember, though, that are lots of things you do know. You know why you make the artwork you do. You know the thinking behind it and what your inspiration is. You know exactly how you made your artwork, what the process is, how to look after it and what to do if it gets damaged.

You know that there are plenty of people out there who do like your work and possibly have bought your work before, so you need to cling on to those thoughts.

Not everyone will like your work and that is totally fine. Don’t be upset or offended by people who let you know they don’t like it. One, they are out of order telling you but, more importantly, if you think about it there is only one thing that every person on this planet agrees they do like. Really only one thing out of all the millions and billions and trillions of things at our disposal as human beings. One thing. That one thing is oxygen. The rest we can take or leave but we all want and need oxygen.

So, what you have to focus on is being prepared well ahead of time. Get all your admin stuff ready now so that you do not have any last-minute panics.

First, you need to have something you can hand to anyone interested in your work but not yet ready to buy. This can take the form of business cards, postcards with your artwork on, folded information sheets like the ones below which give a bit more information about who you are as an artist and include a few pictures of your artwork. Or you could have notebooks to hand to people, maybe with a pen which has your contact details printed on them. Something which reminds the person when they get home about you and your artwork.

Last but not least, greetings cards. Some people love buying them, others not so much. The same is true of artists; some love to offer them (cards that is, not artists) while others don’t want to bother. You need to decide for yourself. I do have them, and I offer a discount on multiple purchases, too.

My thinking is that someone might like my work but not enough to spend a large sum of money on it so they will buy the card instead. I have had two people come back to me saying that they have the card on their notice board and would now like to buy the original. I have also had people seek me out because a friend had sent a card they had bought, as a birthday card or similar, and they loved my artwork.

Now is the perfect time to prepare for this as you will need to start getting ready now, for your first exhibition, in way too long. Start with the text for your information sheets, which is much like writing a bio. Write it long and cut it down for the various places you want it seen. Photos of artworks need to be taken and then conversations with various different printing companies have to happen.

Shop around and remember that you don’t have to give all the print works to the same people. I use for my business cards, postcards and stickers, Dandy Art House is great for cards, just avoid using them close to Christmas as they get swamped, and I use Kall Kwik Chelsea for my information leaflets and notebooks. Last but not least I use National Pen UK, to provide me with pens and Post-it Notes with my contact details printed on them. Each supplier produces what I need in the way I need it but not one of them could do everything the way I wanted it.

Taking payment from your customers. Look out for deals on card payment machines. If you are doing this for the first time, see if you can find someone to lend you theirs. Most people these days don’t carry cash and certainly don’t have cheque books, so you need to be equipped to take payment from them.

I must tell you that one organisation I am involved with has put off having a card machine for years, possibly, I think because the treasurer is slightly frightened by this new technology. He dug his heels in, so I took my machine to a group exhibition we were in. The amount of money we took was almost double that from the previous exhibition and 90% of sales were made using the card machine.

There are lots of different brands out there. I have SumUp and Square (yes, two just in case one stops working) but there are lots of others, including iZettle, Ingenico and of course PayPal. I suggest you Google them (other search engines are available) and see who is giving the best rates and who is offering a discount. They all offer discounts on their products at some point in time, so you may just have to wait a couple of weeks to grab the one you want.

Also, it is a good idea to have a carbonized receipt book. That way you have a record of what you have sold, you can put a copy in with their purchase, along with, of course, an information sheet about you. Also there will always be the odd few people who still carry cash or who are buying greetings cards so will prefer to pay cash. I don’t take cheques these days and none of the people I know do, either. It is far safer to go down the digital route even if it feels uncomfortable.

Oh, and two final footnotes on card machines. Make sure yours is fully charged and take a charging cable with you. If you are busy, they do run out of charge with lots of transactions. Make sure you know how it works before you start your exhibition, by which I mean do a practice run on the day or the day before the exhibition. I lost my first card sale because I couldn’t make the machine work and the customer lost patience.

Having all the above ready well in advance will make the getting ready just before the exhibition, much less stressed.

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The Comments


  • Great advice Alison – would you mind if I shared it on our OS page?? Hope you’re doing ok xx best wishes Teresa

    On Sun, 14 Mar 2021 at 17:21, Alison G Saunders Art wrote:

    > Alison G Saunders Art posted: ” As the UK starts slowly to prepare for > reopening its shop doors, putting on events and exhibitions and generally > trying to get back to some kind of normality, now feels like a good time to > start thinking about which exhibitions you are going to sign ” >

  • That would be lovely. Will you give the links to my
    website. That would be lovely too.

  • Great tips! It’s been so long now, I could the refresher course! 😉🙏

  • 🙂

  • You may reference my blogs, no problem but please be clear where it has come from with source ref and credit. If you send me links to your blog we might find that I can do the same for you in return.

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