Painting How To: Setting Up & Managing Solo Exhibits

Once you’ve located a proper place for your exhibit, there are many other things you have to make decisions about:

watercolor painting of a gate

Click Picture to Purchase: "Pasture Gate at Lucas Road"

  • what the exhibit will be about
  • what painting to exhibit
  • how, when and where to find these paintings
  • how and when you’ll get paintings to the venue
  • how you’ll hang the paintings
  • which paintings will go where
  • how you’ll label hung paintings
  • how you’ll publicize the exhibit: publications/posters/ email/snail-mail/telephone
  • design/printing/distribution of any posters for exhibit
  • design of PR notice for exhibit
  • whom to invite & how to go about making up a list (this may require setting up a data base, updating address list on computer, etc.)
  • how you’ll do the inviting
  • whether to have an opening reception
  • when this reception will take place
  • what you’ll serve & how you’ll serve it
  • when and where to get how much food and drink
  • who’ll prepare and serve the food and drink
  • who’ll sit the gallery every day the exhibit is open
  • how you’ll handle money from sales (cash box, credit card account, sales receipts)
  • what kind of promotional materials to print for the exhibit
  • the guest/sign-in book & where it will be placed
  • information you want people to put in guest book
  • whether to sell prints and note cards
  • how these will be displayed (tables, racks, etc)
  • tools and equipment for necessary repairs to framed paintings, cleaning glazing, etc.

The list is seemingly endless.  But all these details are important if you want your exhibit to be successful. Public venues generally don’t handle sales of your artworks, but private venues will. You’ll end up paying a higher commission to the private galleries for these services. Art associations normally have a list of assigned sitters for their galleries and exhibits, but if your work is on display in an art association’s gallery, you’ll most likely have to arrange for much of the sitting. If you can’t find others to sit the gallery, guess what?  You’ll have to do it yourself!

Fortunately for me, during a recent solo exhibit, I was working on this very book you’re reading, and thus I was able to use the time sitting at the front door of the gallery for something practical. I also brought along my painting tools and equipment. For such events, I often depend on family, friends, or students to help me out. But sometimes I’ve had to pay someone to sit in my stead. You should do everything possible to keep your exhibit open during the hours that are advertised for the venue. You never know who may come by to see your exhibit, nor what may come to pass. If you don’t put yourself in a position for these things to happen, they won’t!

watercolor of a sycamore, sycamore tree, sycamore tree painting, beautiful sycamore

Click Picture to Purchase: "The Huston's Sycamore"

When planning an exhibit for a venue that’s not otherwise supervised, plan to use the time you must spend there to your advantage. For example, if you’re a teacher like I am, plan your exhibit to take place between semesters. When sitting a gallery, do some creative thinking, writing, painting, composing music, whatever!  You may never get another opportunity to be by yourself alone.  Take advantage of it!

Budget your expenses beforehand to make sure you can afford it. Consider all possible costs (including the rental fee for the venue and any gallery commission) when making up your budget. Set some objectives for sales of your artworks, prints and note cards.

In the long run, having solo exhibits is what builds your reputation, introduces you to a larger audience, and expands your mailing list.  For this reason alone, you want to get everyone who enters the gallery to sign the guest book, make sure they do this legibly, providing their full name and email address.


Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.

Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors