For many artists the anticipation and anxiety around planning and promoting an art exhibition can be very daunting. These are very natural feelings, partly because it may be the first time you have shown your artwork to the public (maybe even your friends and family), and possibly the logistics of organizing an exhibition, planning an Opening Reception, and promoting the event are overwhelming.

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During my time working for Gamma Pro Imaging and Fidelis Art Prints, I have had the pleasure of planning and executing several solo and group art exhibitions for my clients. I have also been involved with several art events and fundraisers with guest numbers ranging from 30 to several hundreds.

I hope that this will serve as a through blueprint for planning your first (and future) exhibitions. You will need to dedicate at least 3-4 weeks to preparing for your exhibition, but I promise the experience and opportunities gained from exhibiting your art will be worth every effort.

How to Choose What to Exhibit

This is one of the first and most important steps to planning your exhibition.

Let’s assume that at this stage you have not secured a venue and you are not sure which pieces you will be featuring. At this point you have the choice of letting the venue dictate how many pieces you can show, or you can find a venue that best suits the quantity and size of the artwork you want to exhibit.

You should never feel pressured to “fill” a venue—always show only your very best work.

For the purpose of the guide we are going to begin with selecting your art first and finding a perfect venue second.

How Many Pieces Should I Exhibit?

This is determined by the physical scale of your artwork and your venue options (wall space, number of easels, etc). I suggest a minimum of 10 (mid to oversize) and maximum of 30 (if your artwork are 11×14” or smaller).

Organizing Your Images

Begin by choosing your best images/artworks from your archives. Sort them by “Theme Galleries”. The more concise and cohesive the images are within your theme galleries, the more sense the theme will make to your audience. Having a theme helps your audience understand your art. People buy art they can relate to and understand.

What are Your Themes?

You may not know it, but you are likely drawn to painting or photographing a common theme. For example: landscape, realism, abstract, colour, subject matter (people or objects), close-up or a specific location. I’ve been through this process with many artists and sometimes it is not as obvious to the artist as it is to another person. If you need help with this step, I suggest engaging a friend or another creative colleague to assist with the selection.

Many artists, particularly digital artists have a hard time editing their artworks as they often have several variations of the same image. Use themes to help narrow your selections based on colour, filter and effect used.

If this is your first exhibition, I suggest presenting one body of work—one theme. This will show your buyers and potential gallery representatives that your work is focused and that you are capable of creating more than one “great” piece based on a common theme, artistic style or genre.

If you don’t have enough pieces for one theme and/or you have a lot of wall space, you could consider presenting several themes—hanging each theme in separate groupings.

Determine Your “Heroes”

Edit your themes further by determining your “Heroes”. These are the final selections and will determine the art for your showing at your exhibition.

A “Hero” is defined as your VERY best piece(s) from a particular theme. “Best” is defined by how well the artwork meets your creative style, delivers or meets your theme and of course how well it has been executed. Each “Hero” should meet all three of these criteria.

Don’t be disappointed if this process has dropped your inventory of 30 images to 10, this often happens. The artworks not selected this time around, should be saved for a different show or re-worked to better meet your “Best” criteria.

Important: This exercise in “determining Heroes” can be recycled by featuring your Heroes in your portfolio, sales pieces at your online store/gallery and in press release documents.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you would like to learn more about art marketing be sure to subscribe and receive our FREE “Artists Guide to Exhibition Planning”. The sign-up box is at the bottom of this page.

If you are planning for an exhibition and need some immediate advice, please feel free to contact me. Good luck with your organizing!

We’d love to know if you found this post helpful. Please let is know by commenting or answering these questions:

How do you organize your images? Do you use a photo/image management software to keep your art organized?