Prepare for Gallery Night – Tips & Advice

Recently, I had an interesting request from a Twitter follower. With only two weeks left before her big art show, a photographer named Amy asked me for some advice on ‘how to prepare for gallery night’.

Amy is not represented by a gallery,  or a co-op gallery, so she had to do a lot of the work herself.  I am writing this post to help better prepare any ‘newbie’ artist for his or her first art show.

This article is directed toward the self-represented artist…in other words, artists who are not or choose not to be represented by an art gallery. I will address how to prepare when represented by an art gallery in a future post…

Amy was clever enough to find a place to showcase her work at the Point Break Café. Great, she has the time and place – now what? Amy needs feel confident that her artwork is ready to show the world! After that, there are a lot of things to think about.

These were her questions:

Question: How do I promote my show?

  • Come up with a ‘catchy’ name for your show. For example, my last gallery show was named, “Inspired by Nature” or “Illusionary Realism” was another past show.
  • Don’t forget your name!
  • Know your date, time & location address of your event
  • Call your local newspaper and ask for them to do a press release – preferably in the ‘art’ section. Call 2 weeks in advance.
    • Most papers are online nowadays – make sure they post you on their website as well
    • Ask the paper to post you in their ‘classified ad’ section (many newspapers will do this for free if you keep the ad to a minimum of letters)
    • You can pay to take an ad in the ‘art’ or ‘community events’ section of your local newspaper and their website.
  • Call your local radio station 2 weeks in advance with the same information
  • Put this information on your own website
  • Link to other websites
  • Print postcards with your show information on one side & an image on the other
  • Save money and print color copied fliers with the show info Use email for your show announcement
  • You can even take out expensive ads in major art magazines.
    • This is very costly – if you do this, contact the magazine at least 2 months in advance
    • Post ‘tweets’ on your Twitter page a few times a day where you can brand yourself as an artist.

Question: How many pieces should I have for my show?

  • Even though if you are representing yourself right now, it is helpful to know that the standard show requirements can vary from gallery to gallery.
  • But, the average show consists of 8 – 10 of your very best works. I usually paint between 12- 15 works. I like to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ J .
  • Do not overwhelm your collectors with too many choices.
  • These works should be professionally framed and ready to hang.
  • Have tags with your name, size, medium, & price clearly printed and displayed with your work

Question: Do you have any suggestions for the ‘night of’ my show?

  • It might be helpful to read my previous post on how to how to find the right gallery.
  • Look your best!
    • People will be admiring your work and will be impressed by you, so make sure you are courteous and friendly to all with the right attitude.
  • Do not be overly aggressive
    • Not all customers buy on opening night
    • Many times they go home and think about it and come back later
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover – many of my best collectors don’t look like they can afford art!
  • You might have a friend or an employee of the ‘gallery night’ venue help ‘sell’ you art so you don’t have to.
  • Offer to put a ‘hold’ or a first right of refusal (usually a ‘green’ dot)
    • Use a ‘red’ dot for sold
    • Place these dots on your price tag
  • Have a guest book displayed requesting names, numbers and email contacts for future reference
  • Smile and have fun
  • Here are a few other thoughts:
    • It is a good idea to keep the work in your show as cohesive as possible. For example, a series of work looks great when hung together. This will look more professional and show that you have a recognizable style.
    • You can anchor your show with 2 – 3 major pieces (larger works) and round out the show with some smaller pieces.
    • It is a good idea to offer a range of sizes and prices
    • Or…you can do a whole miniature show filled with little gems!
  • Price your works to sell.
    • Visit galleries and websites to get an idea of what similar works to yours are selling for and be competitive.
    • Take in consideration the current quality, technique and experience of you and your art.
    • Most importantly…… willing to let your artwork go to a new home! Don’t let your art become too precious or you will have a difficult time selling it.
    • If you are attached to a really special piece, go ahead and hang that ONE work with the show and mark it as sold with a red dot! This gets the public’s attention. But don’t over-abuse this tactic…it can frowned upon.

It is always a good idea to keep a piece of your best art for your own collection. You can refer back to it for years to come for inspiration.

One more thing…if you are lucky enough to be represented by an art gallery at this time, the gallery will usually do the PR/advertising for you. This doesn’t mean that they will pay 100% though. You need to negotiate that deal before the exhibition. They will do a lot of the work for you including hanging and sales. I will talk specifically about this in a future post.

I hope this helps you all prepare for a fabulous art opening. After such a big event, you might want to read what to do if you start feeling blue from the post-exhibition blues! Let me know how it all goes.

Have a great show! Lori 🙂


How to Hang Your Artwork Like a Pro

Feeling Blue in the Studio?

Overwhelmed in the Studio? Check Your Work Habits!

Rework an Old Painting & Make it Sell!

10 Helpful Ways to Overcome Spring Fever in the Art Studio

Focus and Plan to Paint! 

The Color ‘Blue’: Use the Hidden Meaning for Art & Design

Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Art


  1. Tammy Dishner (TDishnerFineArt) April 15, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Hey Lori!

    Could you please take the you-tube video off of this article…or reduce it or something??? I think this is a really good article and I want to read all of it!:)


    • admin April 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm

      Hi Tammy. My website is getting a majoyr over-haul this week. I apoligize for the inconvenience and hope to get things up and running smoothly within a week. Thanks for taking time to read my article.

      Lori 🙂

  2. Barbara J Carter April 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    You have a lot of very good suggestions here!

    I think the gallery usually decides on the name of the show, and almost always curates the show (picks which pieces to hang and decides in what order to hang them).

    The gallery should tell you how many pieces to bring. The number is dictated by the size of your art, the size of the space, and how the gallery usually hangs work – do they leave lots of space between pieces or crowd them tightly together? If you’ve scoped the gallery out beforehand, you’ll have a feel for it.

    As for selling at the opening reception, you’re not in charge of that, the gallery is. If someone wants to buy something, bring the patron to the gallery manager and let them handle the sale. Your job is to be the artist, not the salesperson.

    The only time you’d have to do all that stuff yourself is if you’re showing in a non-gallery space, like a library or cafe. Then, yes, you’ll be your own curator, PR person, salesperson, etc. But if you’re showing in a gallery then let the gallery do the gallery-stuff.

    • admin April 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Barbara and thanks for your comment. If you re-read the article you will see that I was answering Amy’s questions. She was not represented by a gallery and the show was in a cafe. So, she had to do a lot of the work herself including promotion, display and sales. Your comments are true for the gallery represented artist. I will plan a post to that artist in the future.

      Thanks again for your thoughts-

  3. Barbara J Carter April 15, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Ah, I see you’ve clarified that this is not a gallery show. It just said “gallery show” when I left my original comment.

  4. Gwenn April 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    There are a myriad of little details to iron out before showing one’s work outside of the studio. This an excellent checklist! Questions of insurance and/or how the venue handles the work during the run of the show might also be something to consider.

  5. Delilah April 21, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Great details

  6. Hi, nice post. I have been pondering this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be coming back to your blog.

  7. Miranda November 7, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Another thing to be aware of is that some galleries expect the artist to do a little “speech” at the opening. Usually this is just a few words to introduce yourself and your work. It’s a good idea to think about this beforehand so you’re not blind-sided! At the opening of one of my very first shows, the curator told me at the opening that in a few minutes he’d introduce me and I could say a few words. Not one for public speaking, I panicked just a little! Try to have something prepared just in case!

    • Lori McNee December 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

      Mirnada – Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I have not been asked to speak at an opening, but I have given organized speeches within my community. It is good to be prepared. Artists are usually ‘behind-the-scenes’ people, so thanks for the ‘warning’! Lori 🙂

  8. Jeff April 5, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for the advice, it’s much appreciated. I hope to have some of my work displayed in a gallery soon.

    • Lori McNee April 6, 2010 at 7:19 am

      Hi Jeff. Glad this article helped you. Good luck with gallery shopping! If you have a good story to share, send it in! We all learn a lot from each other.

  9. Mikkel May 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm


    I must say I found this post very usefull, as for getting to know how much I need to prepare in advance of getting a café to host some of my art 🙂

    Thanks for the great post 🙂

    • Lori McNee May 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Hello Mikkel-

      I am so glad these tips helped you! Let us know how it goes for you – good luck 🙂


  10. Beverly Ash Gilbert January 22, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Thank you so much for your advise, tips and wisdom! I thought I had created an exhaustive to-do list before my first art show… but missed some really key points that you discussed like naming my show, having a guest book out, and the dot system!

    Question – what is your opinion on displaying a couple of prints (of already sold pieces), in amongst the new original paintings, to give lower cost options?

    Thank you again for sharing your knowledge (as you can see, still very helpful years after your initial post!)

    • Lori McNee February 4, 2014 at 9:54 am

      Hello Beverly, I think it is best to keep the prints separate if you want to make them available. If they are of the original work that is hanging in the show, you might be competing with yourself. Having different price points is a good idea, but I wouldn’t frame the prints like the originals. In fact, the prints could be matted only with an option to frame. I hope this helps!

  11. Derek Russell January 22, 2015 at 6:07 am

    Thank you for the advice. What do you suggest we say to radio stations and newspapers to get them to want to cover us or put a press release out? Do we need to have a press release written to be given to them?

  12. Aria Wellington April 28, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    I really love your tip about visiting other galleries to get an idea of how you should price your work. I have been working on a lot of different pieces over the past few years and I would love to be able to put them in a show or shop some day. I think that these tips for preparing for gallery night will be really helpful to me when that day comes, thanks!

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Great news! Yes, this post has a pretty good checklist to keep an artist on task when preparing for a show. There is so much to think about! Good luck 🙂

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