Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The exhibition checklist

While it's fresh in my mind I'm going to write out my exhibition checklist and my tips to myself.  You can vary it for your own artwork - the principles stay the same.

The following tips come from open exhibition activities past and present.  Some have been learned the hard way!

You may think some of them are itty bitty / insignificant.  Believe me some of those make the difference to getting a picture matted, framed and submitted to the right place on time!



Entry conditions
Read the entry conditionsRead them at least twice before you start to prepare for an exhibition.  It’s very easy to miss some tiny but absolutely crucial detail.
Pay particular attention to eligible media and dimensions.
See also my resources for artists websites
Create a timelineWork out deadlines (allowing for contingencies) for:
  • artwork completed and ready to hang
  • supplies bought
  • artwork framed
  • artwork submitted to exhibition
Make sure ALL the dates are clear on your wall calendar / in your diary and/or online digital reminder software 
InsuranceDecide what you are going to do about insurance re transit (if using a carrier)
Transport by carrierIf you can’t take the work yourself:
  • Find out the details of regional submissions
  • Book a carrier well in advance
  • Check what liability they accept and insurance cover they have
  • Check and double check the date you need to get the work to the carrier.  (defined dates and times for regional pick-ups can rule out submission!)
Transport overseas and/or via a third partyWork out who is going to unpack, store packing material and repack the artwork so it’s safe and secure for transport if not sold
Create artwork for an exhibitionStart well in advance and don’t leave it until the last minute.
Create artwork for selection for a prestigious exhibitionCheck out the artwork accepted into previous exhibitions.  Note how selection works.  
  • Remember style/approach of work chosen can be wholly determined by a juror.  Change of juror = change of style
  • Selection by committee is more likely to remain consistent year to year re style and quality - but exhibitions evolve over time
You can check out my photos of and comments about the major open competitions and annual exhibitions of national art society on this blog - see exhibition review
Review artwork prior to framingDoes it look as good as you remembered?  
Does it need any last minute tweaks?  Balance off the temptation to tweak with the scope for ruining a decent piece!  (A lesson learned the hard way!)
Seal drawingDecide whether you need to use fixative to seal drawing.  This is the bit I remember just as I’m getting the brown tape wet......
Scan or photograph artwork prior to starting to mat and frameScanning or photographing artwork is a whole topic in itself.  I shall confine myself to a reminder to remember to do it before you start to frame!
Commission a professional photographerIf the piece is large and the ambient light is not good and you don’t have proper lighting for photography then it’s worth considering getting your artwork professionally photographed.  This is particularly the case if you want to use the work for reproductions.
Finding a good professional photographer for artwork is not easy - so ask around and get recommendations.
PRESENTATION:  Mounting and Framing
Order framesThis is for when you want to have a brand new specific frame for a specific work.
Do not assume a framer can meet your timescale for delivering frames.  
Framers have other clients and the exhibition season is just that - seasonal.  They sometimes have a queue which runs to weeks when they are exceptionally busy and/or have orders to frame solo exhibitions.  
Framers also have holidays - usually when you want some framing done!
Review your free stock of framesDo this well in advance if you’re not proposing to commission new frames.
Check the state of frames and whether any need marks or dents removed prior to framing
Make sure all frames are thick enough to be able to cope with mirror plate fixings
Check your supplies for matting drawings well in advanceDo NOT leave checking until the last minute as this will be when you discover that you forgot to replenish your favourite colour of mountboard or you ran out of glass cleaner last week!

I need:
  • mountboard - sufficient to create a mountboard sandwich
  • pencil
  • long steel ruler
  • mat cutter I've got a Logan Mat Cutter Model 301-5. This has a 90 degree cutter for slicing mountboard to size and a 45 degree cutter to get the bevel edge on the inside of the window for the image - plus a measure for getting the margins the correct size
  • new blades for my Logan cutter.  I change blades every time I mat.  There is nothing worse than trying to cut with a blunt blade
Logan Compact Board Mounted Mat Cutter 301-S

  • X-acto knife to finish off any cuts which need a teeny bit of extra help
  • archival/linen hanging tape to hang the pic on the back  Never sellotape - the stickiness never lasts and the picture will drop.
  • Tape to seal the edges of the mountboard sandwich
  • an effective glass cleaner which doesn’t leave smears
  • dry lint-less cloth for cleaning/polishing glass
  • compressed air or really effective brush for getting rid of specks
  • brown gummed tape to seal with backboard to the frame
  • labels 
  • and a box which I keep all the smaller items in so I can find them all quickly!
Always have more supplies to hand than you needYou can guarantee that you always make a mistake when cutting a mat when you have just enough to do the job!
That’s why I came back with 10 sheets last week!
Don’t be tempted by coloured mountboardIn general, coloured mountboard is used by people who have bought art and want to frame it to fit with their decor.  A neutral mount for an exhibition is always acceptable and does not deter buyers in the same way as a coloured mount can do.  Some exhibitions do not allow coloured mounts and require neutral mounts
I use Daler Rowney Mountboard - Antique White and Pale Ivory - see colour chart
Check the orientation of backboards with hanging tackleIt is a virtual certainty that the frame you planned to use for a specific work will have hanging tackle on the backboard for the wrong orientation, which is why.......
Check your stock of backboardsGet new backboards cut for existing frames.  You can always reuse a frame but backboards can look tacky after you have removed labels from work which has not sold.
Remove pictures from frames which are to be reused / clean frame and glass Do not underestimate how long it takes to do this!
Mark up cuts on reverse of mountboardOtherwise when you do a level edge the bevel will be the wrong way round
Guess who forgot this one last week!
Measure twice and cut onceAlways important and absolutely vital when you have limited stocks of mountboard.
Get a tack toolThis is a tool which fires pins into frames to hold them.  It enables you to replace any pins which have fallen out.  You can use stiff pins or bendy pins.  
Personally I prefer bendy pins as it makes changing pics in a frame really easy.  Unless you order frames in oak!
Seal frameUse brown gummed paper to seal the rear of the frame.  It takes practice to cut and seal so that it is neat.  If you’re not careful and neat get somebody else to do it who is.  It’s a bit like hospital corners when making beds - you either get it or you don’t!
Label work for open exhibitionPay particular attention to what the entry conditions say about labelling work
  • if required to use specific labels make sure you’ve got these in advance
  • buy labels in advance (I do not jest!  Do you know how difficult it is to find/buy labels on string?)
  • create typed label for title, price and name of artist (I always use matt photo paper for mine and include an image of the work)
I always include a brief statement about copyright in a small font as well.
Label work for a gallery showPay attention to what the gallery’s specific requirements are.  Many galleries :
  • refuse to allow artists to include any details of how they can be contacted direct.  (eg no business cards attached)
  • want nothing on the back except title and name of artist.  This provides for scope to negotiate on price.
Stop and admire your work before submissionI’m always amazed at how good my work looks when properly matted and framed.  I impress myself.  
This is when you take a photo to remind yourself next time you have doubts about whether you produce anything worth exhibiting!
Complete submission form - including pricesUsually requires name, address and other contact details and title of piece, dimensions and price (including commission and tax).
  • get titles sorted well in advance and seek help if required (see In need of a title - again!)
  • remember to check minimum price (if stipulated) in advance  More and more open exhibitions are refusing to allow work which is priced too cheaply into the exhibition.  That wall space costs them money!
  • price within context - don’t be too cheap or too expensive
Submission Day
Transport - how to move artwork (by yourself)Work out how you’re going to get the number of works and the size of framed work to the submission place.
  • Buy bags which are extra heavy duty for carrying large items.  
  • Invest in some form of wheeled transportation. I've used large suitcases on wheels with towels for packing - this worked well.
Transport - how to move artwork (by carrier)Check the drop-off details
OR Prepare the instructions for the carrier well in advance
Transport overseasRemember to
  • prepare a customs declaration form quoting what is being transported, its value and for what purpose (ie artworks for exhibition)
  • Include packing instructions for the carrier if they are unpacking and repacking artwork.  (Unless they are speciliast artwork carriers they by and large do not have a clue!)
Determine mode of transport Decide on the best way to travel and make sure you know:
  • exactly where you are going
  • what parking restrictions exist and where you are going to park and offload (and a back-up place)
  • how the one way systems work
Never assume that getting there is straightforward and there will be somewhere to park nearby!  It is however easier, if travelling by car, if you have someone who comes with you and drops you and your artwork off and then goes off to park the car!
Determine time required for date of submissionHow much time you require varies according to the day of the week, the mode of transport and the time you travel.  
  • Google Maps gives estimates of time required if travelling by road.  Not perfect but generally in the right ball park.
  • It’s best to allow for contingencies - like missing a train or getting stuck in traffic
Yesterday I met somebody who had been stuck in traffic for two hours on the motorway.  She was obviously very relieved to have made it just in time.  These things happen.
Unpack work and remove packing materialsArtwork almost always has to be delivered unpacked. Which means having something to contain the packing once unpacked.  Bubble wrap rolls up nicely and goes easily in a bag!
If you are not delivering it in person you will need your carrier to do this - and store packing materials.
Remember to bring the piece of paper with you which tells you where to goEnough said?  How many people have been forgetful and left this behind?
Bring submission formYou won’t be able to book the work in without one.  If you forget they may have spares but it’s best not to assume they will.
Bring your cheque book or enough cash to pay submission fees OR receipt for fees paid.Do NOT assume that you can pay by card.  In my experience it’s almost always cheque or cash.
Alternatively check to see if there is scope to pay the submission fee online before you submit - in which case bring your receipt!

So what are your exhibition checklist tips?  Please leave a comment below.

Have you ever created an online checklist for submitting work to an exhibition or organising an exhibition ? If so, could you please share the link to your checklist.

If you think you know somebody who might find this checklist useful why not email it to them - see link below or mention it on your blog or share it using social media.

PS The “who’s made a mark this week” is postponed to next week.  It’s my Residents Association AGM this week and I’ve got lots of stuff to do (which is the other reason why I've not been around)!


  1. Wow, thanks Katherine! This really does bring home how much thought, effort and time needs to go into a worthy submission. It's easy to forget something and this is extremely useful. Much appreciated indeed!

  2. Phew! Thats a fantastic list, it is wonderful to have a handy blog that can be organised like this, I am so hap-hazard, Thank you Katherine! I am going to print this post, laminate it and stick it up in my studio...that is if I ever enter another juried exhibition ever again...thats just silly, I enjoy the pain!!

  3. Thanks David.

    Congratulations to you on your election as a provisional member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters!

  4. Sarah - you do make me laugh. Mainly because I'm going to be printing it out and sticking it up on my pin board to remind me!

    Maybe make sure your "studio assistant" has also read and inwardly digested it! ;)

    I'm probably going to make this into a Making A Mark Guide very soon!

  5. A really excellent post - and I've been guilty of several of those errors over the years!

    I too will print it out :>)

    I'd just add that if it's a gallery rather than a juried show, I print out a delivery note with small thumbnails of each painting. One copy stays with the gallery and I get them to sign mine. Prices etc are clearly shown.

  6. Good point Vivien.

    I think I'm going to split this into a checklist for open exhibitions and a checklist for gallery exhibitions and create two making A Mark guides as pdf files. Then people can savwe them on their computer if they want to.

  7. Great tips! Thoughtful and essential as ever!

  8. Katherine, Thank you once again for a stellar post. I too will print it and keep on my door.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.