What I Learned From My First Art Exhibit

I had an art show at the hospital in Kearney, Nebraska. It was a great experience, and I am glad I was given that unique opportunity. One of my friends worked at the hospital and took me to the “Walkway Gallery” and I thought it was perfect. It was a long hallway with nice soft lighting with art on both sides. At the end of the hallway the artist’s name was up in large letters. It was very inviting. The hospital has a gallery to help patients and family be able to get their mind off their troubles for a while.

Things I learned:

1) I knew it would be expensive to have a show. I had business cards printed. I designed a marketing postcard to send out to local car dealerships and businesses so they would be aware there would be large car photos for sale. I also was required to use plexiglass (which is expensive and scratches easily). In the end, I spent around $2,000. I printed my photos on metallic paper, used acid free matting. I tried to cut costs on the framing by refinishing some used frames as well as buying frames at Hobby Lobby when they have their half price sale. So, I was trying to be conservative. I had 24 prints for sale in the show. So, don’t be surprised if your show costs more than you anticipated.

2) I also had a glass cutting place cut my plexiglass. They cut one of the plexiglass too big. So, they tried to sand it down. When I got the plexiglass it was dinged up (which didn’t work for an art show). So, that was a bit of a learning experience. I thought they did some cutting for other artists, so they would know it shouldn’t be that exact size. So, if I said I wanted plexi for a 16″ by 20″ they didn’t automatically assume that needs to be a little bit smaller than 16″ by 20″ to fit in a frame. So, if you go to a glass cutting place that isn’t used to doing art exhibits for people you will want to tell them the EXACT size…such as 15.75″ by 19.75″ so they don’t cut it to too big.

3) Decide if you need to charge sales tax. If the buyers are in-state, you are supposed to to this. If you sell photos online through a site called Etsy, sales tax will already be figured in if they order through the site.

4) If you don’t calibrate your monitor your prints will probably come out darker than you anticipate. I recently bought a Sypder 3 Express monitor calibration software. After I calibrated my monitor, the final result was my monitor looked a little lighter and brighter. However, even AFTER using the calibrator, my prints were printing a little bit darker than what was acceptable. The way I solve this issue is I open up my photos in Photoshop. Then I move the middle slighter in the levels dialogue box about .35-.50 to the left. Then the prints come out great. My favorite lab to use is Mpix. However, for some of my lage prints I would print at Nations Photo Lab when they have sales on large prints.Some of my canvas prints, I printed at Redipix.com. Sometimes my prints have been great. One time the print was not so good but they reprinted for me free of charge. So, they have been pretty good for the most part on shipping me good prints. I printed one of my prints on aluminum from Bay Photo lab. It turned out okay.

5) Metallic prints are hard to keep flat. If you have small prints, it is no big deal. If you have a 24″ by 36″ print…you may have waves in your print when you try to frame them. I used spray glue to mount the metallic prints to foam core. I was kind of stressed about the whole situation. In retrospect, I would have printed the large prints on Kodak Endura (regular professional) paper and had the lab dry mount them to matte board. I wouldn’t do the spray glue thing again. That was tough. My local hobby lobby would not dry mount metallic prints. However, you can dry mount prints on regular paper. My view of large metallic prints are they are very pretty, but they are a huge headache when it comes time to frame them, because they have a mind of their own.

6) One of the problems of my show was the prices were not on the prints. I think they were trying to be “classy” and just keep the prices on the brochure. It was a nice idea in theory. They probably wanted people to feel relaxed and not have any form of “sticker shock” or something. However, often times I am not sure people even saw the brochure that was off on a counter around a small, partial wall.

However, some people were seeing the brochure, but I would go to the exhibit and sometimes they were out of brochures. So I tried to solve the problem by printing a price list and have it a frame sitting up on the counter. Ideally, it would be best if you would exhibit at a place where the prices are clearly known and people know how to purchase the prints. After you put a lot of work into a show and spend a couple of thousand dollars, you really hope that some of your prints will sell to at least offset the cost of some of the prints. If I were to do the show again, I would liked to have set up an artist’s easel at the end of the gallery with the price list and the brochures in a more visible place.

7) Another rookie mistake I made was making a deal with a lady online after she saw one of my prints. She wanted one printed (not the framed one in the show). I told her it would be best if she dry mounts the print so she doesn’t have “waves” in it. (I didn’t want her to experience the “joy” of dealing with unmounted, large metallic prints). So, later on I realized that significantly “upped” the cost involved. Then when I went to ship the print, since the print was so large, the cost was so much higher. So, I hadn’t done my homework on “dry mounting” and shipping oversized prints. So make sure and get a good idea of the cost of shipping large prints before you quote the customer a price. Those large prints you will want to ship via UPS and not USPS, because UPS will be cheaper if the prints are really large. (Also, I would insure any large prints that you ship.)

8) The beauty of an art show is people see your artwork at full size. They aren’t looking at a image that is four inches wide on their computer screen. They get to see 24″ by 36″ prints in all of their glory. It creates a more distinct impression than looking at a photo on a computer monitor. I think I was surprised how often people would say to me “Oh, you are the girl that takes pictures.” All of a sudden you do gain a little bit of local fame. That is fun.

9) A funny thing that happened to me is the local newspaper interviewed me about my show. I told him a story about a magazine photographer that had traveled the world. I asked him about one of his favorite photo shoots. He said that it was in Kansas. He really enjoyed staying with the people and taking some scenic pictures. That surprised me, that this seasoned photographer who had been all over the world would pick Kansas. I deduced it was because ranchers in the midwest are kind, and care about others. He must have enjoyed some authentic, rural hospitality.

I told the newspaper reporter that I thought that Nebraska was great because of the people. I told him the story of that photographer and that “Kansas is just like Nebraska except it has more wheat.” It wasn’t the most brilliant thing to say, but I was trying to convey that Nebraska is a great place, because of the people and some of the natural scenery. When I got the paper, he thought I said “Kansas is just like Nebraska except it has more weeds.” Needless to say, I was mortified. I think I had just turned off anyone from Kansas who was reading the article. It appears my IQ had dropped about 30 points. I am pretty sure I said “wheat.”  But, I must admit it is kind of funny. 🙂

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