Friday, February 16, 2018

How to create a poster for an art exhibition

When creating publicity for an art exhibition - what comes first? The image or the words?

Do you recall how The Apprentice programme on BBC always has an episode where the two teams have to make a poster and video advertising a product - and they almost always get it wrong by trying to do too much and just creating visual clutter?

Art Exhibition Posters can sometimes remind me of the worst examples perpetrated by The Apprentice!

Muddled, cluttered and with virtually no visual impact!

I got this email today - asking me for help in resolving a dispute about how to word the publicity for an exhibition. Below you can read the email and my response

What would you have done/said?
Hi Katherine,

I would be grateful if you could give me some advice if you have the time please.

Myself and 5 other artists are planning an exhibition in a local town. We are very different types of artist with different styles and working in different media.

We have hit a problem regarding the titling of the exhibit. In the absence of one of the artists, the rest of us decided on the following 
Artist Name, Artist Name, Artist Name, 
Artist Name, Artist Name, Artist Name  
followed by dates, venue etc. 
The artist who was absent on that day, objects to this as she does not like the listing of the type of artwork which will be exhibited & says she has never seen an exhibition listing 4 methods of work.

Her preferred title is ‘Contemporary Mixed Media Art Exhibition.’

I’ve always understood the term ‘mixed media’ is used in reference to specific artworks that are produced using a mixture of media. I haven’t understood it to be used when describing an Art Exhibition because artists have used different media from each other......

I’m not sure that “Joe Public’ will understand the subtleties of mixed media when describing a local exhibition but by listing what type of work is being exhibited they will get a better idea of what is being exhibited.

I would like to also take the opportunity to thank you for your very interesting pertinent blog,

This was my response - which basically ignores the thing they don't agree on and tackles the issue they've not addressed.

Dear name 
You are arguing over something of no interest to the general public 
You want to minimise the words and fight over the image you are using to promote the show.

People will notice the image far more than they will notice words - make it a good one which will wet their interest 
The only words you need are:
  • art show
  • venue
  • date
  • times
that's it! 
If you like have a smaller line down the bottom listing the artists - but don't obscure the image! 
I also sent a link to this Guardian slideshow of posters by Tom Eckersley, who was one of the foremost poster designers and graphic communicators of the last century and also taught design.

Here's a couple of composite images which give a sense of the ratio of great image to words used by Tom Eckersley.

Notice how you can detect clues of what they are about without being able to read the words?
That's what a great art exhibition poster / publicity should do too!

The next argument is obviously about whose artwork to use.....

To which my reply might be - why does it need to be anybody's artwork if you can come up with a great graphic design?


  1. Very interesting article and very useful as I will be making a poster to promote three art exhibitions of my artwork this year. I think Tom's are too simplistic - I think people need to be able to see venue date and time more clearly, especially in a village like mine, but the principle is excellent. Many thanks! Ivan

  2. How big the date and time need to be depends on how big the poster or flyer is.

    My guess is that most of Eckersley's designs were intended to be mainly used on sizes much bigger than A4.

    The principle remains the same - the image attracts interest - and then people move in to read what it's about. If the words detract from the image then relatively fewer people look further.

    It's a principle which is most relevant to art exhibition.....


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