Monday, July 23, 2012

How to make labels for an art exhibition

Labels for exhibits - about artists and/or paintings - in an exhibition are necessary.  However some artists find them a bit of a challenge to produce and or treat them as an afterthought.

This post tells you how I make labels for the wall of an art exhibition.  It also invites other artists to share their best tips for making labels.

Why have a label?

The labels on the wall of n art exhibition can tell people about:
  • the purpose or nature of the exhibition.  I do appreciate a decent introduction!
  • the artist - who produced the painting.  I really liked it when one art society started to hang all an artist's work in one group and included a narrative label about the artist.  It was as if all the artwork had suddenly been made more accessible
  • the artwork - typically medium and size.  I hate having to puzzle out how an artist made a painting.  I want to be surprised to find out it actually includes a media I hadn't spotted.  I love reading stories behind an artwork.
  • the prize and the prizewinner.  People who win prizes need recognition and preferably in the form of a legible well sited label as well as the value of the prize they've won
One way of making labels

This is the way I make labels for exhibitions
  • Find out what surface and space is available for labels.  The hang of the exhibition typically determines the size and weight of the label.
  • Decide on content, size and number.  Determine:
    • the purpose of the label
    • the content of the label
    • the size of the label for the exhibition
    • how many labels are required
For the Urban Sketchers London exhibition we had
  • one A5 sized label for each artist. On this we had name of artist, a few lines about the artist and why they sketch, the title/media of all he artwork being exhibited and finally website address, blog address and contact arrangements
  • one label for the exhibition which summarised the background to the book launch and a summary of our group - in two columns of A5 on a sheet of A4
Exhibition "Introduction" Label for an unmanned exhibition (size A4 landscape format)
Left - describes the background to a new book in the gallery of this major bookstore
Right - very short summary of the group exhibiting sketches in the exhibition + contact details
  • Create a template for the label.  Make the size of the label efficient in terms of the number of cuts required to produce a label for an artist. I used Word to set up a sheet of A4 in landscape format with two columns sized A5 with margins which were equalised for each column.  An A5 size label was used for each artist because we had a reasonable amount of space available for a label for each artist.  
  • Select and appropriate font.  Keep it simple and professional.
  • Decide on the minimum font size for ease of reading a label on a wall - this needs a few trial runs to see what works best.  Remember people will be reading this from a distance - it needs to be bigger than the font size used for a book. The text for the body used in the above example was Arial 12.  
  • Print the label on matte photo paper.  I prefer this because it virtually eliminates the scope for wrinkles in the next stage
  • Cut backing for the labels.  The backing gives a bit of weight - which makes them look more professional - and makes them easier to attach to the wall. I use offcuts of mountboard or foam core.  It's helpful to use a template to get the size right.  
  • Glue the label to the backing.  Use glue or a pritt stick or spray glue or equivalent.  If you use lightweight paper you need to be very careful as you'll find it may wrinkle (hence why I always use heavier paper). Trim to neaten up edges
  • Attach the labels to the wall - after you have hung the exhibition.  You can use picture pins or removeable adhesive strips (but make sure you get the ones that leave no damage)
The same process works as well for much smaller labels which are for just the artist's name or details about an individual artwork.

Other ways of making labels

If you have a different way of making labels and would like to share, I guarantee there's a lot of people who love to know more!

Please leave a comment below if you'd like to share your best tips for making labels for art exhibitions.


  1. Il est vrai que c'est très important pour toutes expositions, même individuelles...


  2. The purpose statement is a great one I hadn't considered.

    One thing I'll add is that I make a subtle color change for my painting labels each year as a way of tracking them. Something dark and near black, but noticeable by myself.

    Yes! The medium on each label is critical, and the size as HxW (xD as appropriate) is a museum standard in America for paintings and the like/ not photographs. I want to add that the substrate may be interesting to other artists, but not so much to the public.

  3. Some exhibitions require 2 labels for each painting. One to stick on the back and one to dangle over the front for when they are putting the exhibition together. In the days before computers this was time consuming. I enter the details of each painting into a Word document. My name, the title of the painting,the medium and my website on the left and the size and price on the right. A copy of this gets emailed off for insurance purposes.
    I then print off 2 copies. Using a paper cutter I remove the right hand side where the sizes and prices are. I then cut the left hand side to make the individual labels. I write the price on in pencil or use a small sticky label as either can be removed easily.
    I keep the document as a record of what went where when.

    1. The post is actually about the labels on the wall - however you make some great points about labels from an artists' perspective

  4. This is all very helpful advice. I will definitely be saving this page for future reference. Thank you for shairng, Katherine.

  5. I've tried the label on foam core method but am still not very pleased with the results.
    I've been happy with the labels I had made at They look professional and they aren't too expensive.


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