Painting How To: Solo Art Exhibits

painting of San Luis Obispo Creek

Click Picture to Purchase: “San Luis Obispo Creek at Dana St”

Group exhibits are one thing, solo exhibits are quite another. Solo exhibits are done for various reasons: to place artwork out in front of people so they’ll call attention to a particular artist’s work. They are also generally designed to target a select group of people that will attend the opening reception and buy your artwork.  The number and frequency of such exhibits is important information which you’ll want to include in your bio and resume.

A solo exhibit’s success depends on many factors: time of year, duration of exhibit, date/time of opening reception, hours/days of the week that the exhibit venue is open, your ability and success at reaching your target audience, quality of artwork exhibited, artwork subject matter, and prices of artworks.  How all aspects of the exhibit are managed is also a significant determinant (see discussion under “Setting Up and Managing Solo Exhibits”).

Some artist associations provide members with opportunities for solo exhibits by systematically selecting an “artist of the month” and having them hang half a dozen paintings on a wall of the association’s gallery along with their bio.  These art groups generally allow the artist to select the artworks, and take a small commission from the selling price.The artist delivers and hangs their work, then removes it by a certain date.

Artist associations may also help their members identify local businesses and public venues that are interested in displaying artwork.  Public libraries and courtrooms, banks, hospitals, and other businesses are likely venues for such exhibits.  There’s usually no cost associated with such exhibits, no entry fee, no commission, no awards… and generally very few, if any, artworks sold.  But that’s better than not exhibiting your artwork at all.

Many art stores and framing shops will exhibit artwork, prints and note cards.  And as already indicated, some artist associations have their own galleries. Private galleries, after reviewing your bio and artwork, may accept a painting or two on consignment.  The more prestigious galleries will provide on their website detailed guidelines of what you must submit to be considered for a solo exhibit. Their exhibit schedules are generally determined a year or so in advance by a certain date each year.

The more prestigious galleries will act as exclusive agents, often keep a painting or two of yours hanging on their walls or in the front window, and may agree to sell matted prints of your work. These galleries schedule exhibits throughout the year, solo/duo exhibits for all the artists they represent.

Solo/duo/trio/quatro artist exhibits provide opportunities to show not only original work but also reproductions that are framed or unframed, full- or reduced-sized prints, and perhaps even a few note cards.  These items expand the potential for earning income at an exhibit.  If your reproductions are well done and properly formatted, they also serve as good advertisements for your work.

ranch painting, watercolor art of a ranch, ranch watercolor

Click Picture to Purchase: “Pastureland at Hope Ranch, MT”

Finding a private gallery to exhibit your work is a tall order. But this could happen most anytime in your career, depending on the quality of your work, your overall reputation and credentials, your connections, and your financial wherewithal.

Public galleries are another opportunity, but with respect to these (certainly the more prominent ones), the reputation of the artist is even more critical than with private ones. You basically have to be a name artist, if you know what I mean.  However, I was able to find a public gallery near where I live… the Schaeffer Galley at the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes, CA. The exhibit area is perfect (excellent lighting, high walls, large room), but also the setting.  One wall opens out into an attractive landscaped courtyard. The gallery has a prominent entrance that can be accessed directly from a major street, driveway and convenient entry for the handicapped.  But you have to book this place at least a year in advance and put down a healthy deposit.

As your reputation grows, it becomes easier to identify places where you can have solo exhibits. You simply have to keep your eyes open, be actively involved in your community and with other artist groups. Target those locations you prefer for whatever reason… potential venues in your neighborhood, areas where you paint, places you travel to, where members of your family live, the town where you grew up, went to school or spent your summers as a teenager.

The greatest opportunity to raise money at an exhibit arises when there’s an opening reception.  Such events attract a broad spectrum of individuals… family, friends, interested clients, patrons, and perhaps other individuals connected with the facility or organization hosting the exhibit.

Liberty Park Painting, watercolor of Liberty Park in Salt Lake

Click Picture to Purchase: “Liberty Park Scene, SLC UT”

But there are costs associated with solo exhibits. These may include not only a fee for using the facility but a deposit for repair of any potential damage, refreshments and entertainment, printing and postage for the invitations, publicity for the event, and someone to monitor the front desk, sign-in list, and collect money for items that are sold.  At opening receptions, you shouldn’t do this yourself. You need to free yourself so you can lead visitors about, talk with potential buyers, and, of course, enjoy the event!

Though exhibits are intended to publicize an artist’s work, the expectation is some of your artwork will be sold.  If some organization… a church or other non-profit… sponsors the exhibit to raise money for a cause, consider asking if income from the sales of your artwork can be credited to your annual pledge.

See Also: Setting Up & Managing Solo Exhibits

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