Exhibiting is all about getting your work on to walls where potential buyers can browse and hopefully buy the prints. There are a number of ways you can get your work displayed, some of which are easier than others. There are no hard and fast rules to exhibiting your work and you'll experience less restrictions than any other channel when it comes to deciding what you show, where you show it or how much you charge. Let's take a look at some routes to seeing your work exhibited. For the purposes of this article we'll assume you have framed a print to a professional high-quality standard.
This is an easy level to start to test the water and see if there is any interest in your work. Open exhibitions are run by many organisations who look to attract work of different types to put together a temporary art exhibition. For example a local arts centre might wish to exhibit the work of artists from the area and therefore invite work to be submitted for exhibition at their venue. Some exhbitions are aimed at artists from all over the World too so they range in size from small to big, unknown to World-famous.
Most exhibitions will have judges who select work from the submissions. It's always a good sign when yours gets past this process and is selected for the show. Once the exhibition starts many allow you to sell your work, with the venue or organisers taking a cut of the selling price. You will be asked what the selling price of your work will be as part of the submission process. If you find that your work sells at these kinds of show that's a very encouraging sign that you are creating work that interests buyers.
There's a lot of debate about competitions that require the creative to pay a fee to enter their work. Many claim to offer the winners a prize plus the added benefit of publicity for their work. Part of the issue is knowing which are genuine and which may be an attempt to make money with no benefit to those who enter. It's certainly worth doing some research to see which comps are genuine. Keeping an eye on social media to see who's talking about the competitions and which major publications are reporting on the winners are important clues to the validity of the competition. It's up to the creatives to decide if it's worth the risk of paying a fee to enter but for those that do and win, then the prizes can be very appealing and perhaps more importantly, the exposure for their work can give a career a real boost.
One of the biggest competitions is the Taylor Wessing Portrait event which not only offers a large prize for first place, but around 60 images are selected for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the work is featured in a book and then the portraits are taken on a tour. This is an expensive event to enter but for the creatives whose work is chosen it offers them great publicity. It's also an opportunity to talk about work and use this as a talking point in PR and social media.
The Taylor Wessing competition is quite famous and receives thousands of entries from all over the World, which means, unsurprisingly, there's a lot of photographers who are disappointed when their work isn't selected. From the rejected, has sprung a new event called the Portrait Salon, which is a competition open only to the rejected Taylor Wessing entries. This also leads to an exhibition and touring event so gives another chance to see work shown to a large audience. It's only been running a few years but is gaining ground as a well-known event. Another opportunity to get eyeballs on work.
By low-key I mean places where you wouldn't expect to find an exhibition of work such as a public house or cafe. Many of these venues have empty wall space that could be filled by a temporary exhibition of your work. There's a lot of leg-work to be done to find potential venues and expect to get a lot of rejections but if you find somewhere that is interested this would be a great way to get people from the area to see your work. Having a local interest in the work would probably encourage business owners to offer you the wall space and also be of even more interest to local people who might want art featuring their local area.
As this would be an exclusive exhibition of your work you would probably want to spend some time promoting it so contacting local papers, any local groups who might be interested in your subject and family and friends. Obviously this potential audience will increase footfall in the venue so this could well be a selling point when it comes to convincing a business owner to let you show your work on their premises.
Perhaps the hardest channel to break into as gallery owners will only select work they feel can find a market that's interested in buying it and fits with the style and reputation of the gallery. You will need to do more leg-work here to identify potential galleries and contact them to see if they are interested in your work. Many have websites that offer instructions for submitting work to be considered by the venue. As with most submissions of a speculative nature, expect rejection but don't let that put you off as your work might be good but just not what that gallery wishes to show. Keep at it! There will be galleries in your local area too so try those as well as the larger establishments around your country or indeed the World.
Specialist Arts & Crafts Shops
If you're looking just to make sales, then it's worth checking out the local arts and crafts shops to see if they're interested in putting your work on their walls. This is something I've done myself, where I contacted a local store who actively seel the work of local artists on a commission basis and sale or return. So they don't buy the work but offer an opportunity to get thr artist's work seen by potential customers and for that they take a cut of the sales price. This is a new stream to my income and so far I've sold one of two printed images so it's very early days. As with most new sales opportunities I have to experiment a little and see what the owner is prepared to put on the wall and what their customers like the look of. The owner's feedback is invaluable because they see and hear what their clients are taking an interest in so this gives me information about what I could be offering for sale.
Things to Think About
You might need insurance to cover the costs of any loss or damage to your work whilst it is being exhibited. At least be aware that this could be an issue should such a loss occur. It's always best to have these issues identified and cleared up before you start. i.e. Who would be liable if your work was stolen from the premises of your exhibition?
Be prepared to pay for all transportation, printing, mount and framing costs for your exhibited work. These costs should be factored in to any selling price you put on your work if you wish to sell at a profit!
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