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hi, i'm Ali

Photographer, dog mom, daily walker, reader, and wife to a busy maker. I'm the voice you hear and read at Life Outside the Shop.

From new project how-to's and DIY home updates to the ins-and-outs of building a family & multiple businesses, Life Outside the Shop shares what is really looks like to figure it out as you go.


How to Book Your First Art Show

May 5, 2021

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If you’re a new artist and want to make a living from your work, you’re likely going through the same thing we are over here at Sam Macy Deigns. You’re probably wondering things like, “how do I book my first art show?” or “how do I get my art seen?”.

Instagram and Facebook are great for reaching large audiences. But for most people, it is seeing the art in person that really seals the deal. Even when you figure out how to take pictures that do your work justice, nothing is quite like seeing dynamic art in real life.

Especially when you have higher-priced artwork with many layers and textures like we do, getting your work in galleries, eateries and other local places can make a huge difference in visibility.

Here is the thing, we don’t have the perfect answers. All we can tell you is what has worked for us and hopefully, you’ll be able to pull a few things from it too so you can book your first art show!

Learn how to book your first art show and get your art seen.

Sam’s First Art Show

Our very first art show was with Rustic Roots in Ali’s hometown. We were originally connected to the owners through Ali’s mom who walked into the local restaurant with a piece of Sam’s art and asked if they’d consider showing it.

Sometimes, you really do have to pound the pavement (or, have a mom who will do it for you!), give places the opportunity to see your work in real life and find out what they think. The more people who see your work, the higher the chance that someone will show it.

That being said, when deciding where to book your first art show, make sure to keep your ideal clientelle in mind. Ask yourself, “will the people who enjoy this artwork (and pay for it!) going to see it if it hangs here?”

Because it was our first art show, there was a pretty steep learning curve when it came to pricing work, learning what will sell (and what won’t), and the importance of marketing.

We were so lucky to work with Rustic Roots as they helped us learn along the way. We definitely recommend starting local and with people you know and trust if possible. It is a great way to get your feet wet before booking bigger venues and start to build connections you’ll keep throughout your career.

Rustic Roots is one of our go-to brunch spots (they have the BEST popovers in town!), and we’ve even hosted family events there. We can’t wait to work with them again in the future!

Other Sam Macy Designs Showings

Maltex Building, Burlington, VT

The Shelburne Farms Collection spent time on the walls of Burlington Vermont’s Maltex Building.

We were hooked up to this location through Burlington City Arts. BCA is an organization that helps support new artists and promote their work.

Getting involved with local art associations is another great way to book your first art show and make connections. Many of these associations keep a roster of local artists and the kind of work they do. They have partnerships with local places (hospitals, office buildings, etc) and rotate art through these spaces based on the vibe of the location.

We get an email from our contact about a new show location and BOOM, we’re in!

Things to consider before deciding to work with an outside organization:

  • Do they place limitations on other places you can hang or sell your work?
  • What percentage of the profit do they take? Is it something that you’re comfortable with? It is common for most spaces to take between 20-40% (sometimes more!) commission for each piece you sell off their walls. We’ll share more about this in our tips below.
  • Do they carry insurance if pieces are broken or stolen while hanging in one of their locations?

If all those considerations check out, go for it! Everyone needs a little help and a reputable organization to keep an eye out for places to hang your work can only help increase your exposure and coonnections.

Wally’s Place, South Hero, VT

We’ve also hung work in the Champlain Islands favorite bagel bakery and deli, Wally’s Place.

We connected with the owner of Wally’s through a friend who has supported Sam’s work since day one. She lives in the islands, loves the spot, knows the owner, and told us to do a causal name drop;)

This was another case of pounding the pavement to book a show. We utilized our current network of friends and family for an initial introduction then let Sam’s work speak for itself.

This local bakery is a favorite for islanders and vacationers making it the PERFECT spot to hang Vermont-centric work. Who doesn’t want to support a local artist or leave a gorgeous VT vacation with a piece of handmade artwork to remember it by? We worked with Wally’s to decide which kinds of pieces would do well there and made it happen.

After hanging the pieces, we updated the website and added the new designs to our Production Pieces so people who see them can find them later if needed.

Top 5 Tips to Book Your First Art Show

So, what can you take away from our experiences so far? Here are our top 5 tips to book your first art show:

  1. Share your passion – The only reason we got help from family and friends was that they knew what Sam was up to and that we had goals to grow Sam Macy Designs. The key to getting after ANY goal is talking about it because people who care about you won’t think TWICE about helping you out.

    We get regular suggestions from friends, family, and even people on social media letting us know about places they think his work would hang well. From there, it is up to YOU to follow up with those suggested people and places to get (or keep!) the ball rolling.

  2. Focus on your product – Make sure you have a website and/or pictures of your work handy to share when you reach out to galleries or local spots. It could also be helpful to offer to swing by with art they can see in person at a time that is convenient for them.

    From here, we suggest being yourself when you reach out! Stay professional, but remember people thrive off of human connection and are much more likely to show your work (and promote it when it is up) if they connect with you as a person. Share more about yourself, why you love what you do and why you’d like to work with them. Make sure it is a mutually beneficial partnership!

  3. Do your research – Make a big list of places you’ve seen artwork hanging and/or would like to hang your work. Add any suggestions you get from friends and family to your list as you go. Find contact emails or phone numbers for each place and start putting out feelers! You have to ask for what you want – no one will find you if you don’t put your work in front of them. Then, start asking questions! Speaking of that…

  4. Ask questions – before deciding where to show your work, ask questions like…
    – What percentage of the profits does the location take?
    – Do they place limitations on showing or selling in other places?
    – How long will the show be?
    – How many pieces will they need?
    – Will they need you to replace pieces as they sell?
    – Is this location “on brand”. In other words, will the people visiting this place connect with your work?

    You don’t need to bombard someone with these questions in your introductory email (pleaseeeeeee don’t!) but make sure you get a chance to ask these questions before deciding to show in that location.

  5. Maintain authentic connections – After a show finishes up, stay connected! Those relationships can last through your entire career and you can partner back up with places you loved working with regularly!

There ya have it! We’re not pros but we totally understand how nerve-wracking it is to put yourself out there and get feedback from galleries and other people in the art world. It is STILL nerve-wracking for us!

When you’re just getting started and want to know how to book your first art show, hearing from someone who is in the same shoes (and a reminder that you’re not alone!) can definitely be a confidence booster. Let us know if you have any tips we missed or things that have worked for you!

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Hi, I'm Ali! Photographer, dog mom, daily walker, reader, and wife to a busy maker. I'm the voice you hear and read at Life Outside the Shop.

From new project how-to's and DIY home updates to the ins-and-outs of building a family & multiple businesses... Life Outside the Shop shares what is really looks like to figure it out as you go!

biz & Blogging

DIY Projects

Outdoor adventures

Health & Home

lots vlog

Pregnancy & parenting