When I moved to New Hampshire in the mid-1990s, I joined a local art association where the members were a mixture of "newbies" as well as seasoned professionals. In many cases the "old pros" helped us newbies learn, not only how to improve our painting but also how to run our businesses efficiently. One of the most helpful pieces of advice came from artists that regularly worked in the outdoor, art-in-the-park show circuit. As I strolled around the grounds visiting their booths, I noticed that their work was exhibited in a similar fashion. Here's what I learned from them, and it has certainly worked well for me over the years.
Display Your Work as a Cohesive Unit
|Monadnock from Perkins Pond by Lori Woodward, watercolor painting, 11 x 14.|
Whether you're preparing to show in a restaurant, outdoor show, or even a gallery setting, how you frame and display your work can make a huge difference in the final appearance and the way viewers respond. Choose similar frames for your paintings so that when they hang side-by-side they look like a unit rather than a patchwork of disparate pieces. For example, if your body of work looks best in gold frames, select similar gold frames for all of your work. Likewise, if dark or black frames are more fitting, use those for all your paintings. At the very least, this makes buying frames an easier task.
Grab The Viewer's Attention
Now that you've created a sense of cohesion in your body of work, you'll want to grab your viewer's attention by placing your largest painting (which is hopefully your best) in the middle of your display at eye level. No matter what the size, it's important that you hang your best pieces at eye level to draw people into your art booth or to your gallery wall; placing your largest painting in the middle creates a visual pattern that draws in the viewer’s eye. Conversely, if all your paintings are the same size, when they are hung side-by-side it becomes difficult for passersby to focus on any single piece in the group.
Group Paintings of Similar Color
Just as interior decorators use color themes to harmonize a room area, hanging paintings that contain similar colors next to one another creates a harmony in your display area. This garners attention because it implies an overall statement to your collection, one that a viewer would want to learn more about.
Don't Trap Your Viewers
Clear the area around your paintings of chairs, tables and other obstacles that might make your viewers feel trapped. People like to feel like they can get away easily at any time (ironically, this also makes them more likely to stay near your collection). When I've tried to keep viewers in my booth by placing a table right in the middle–so that they'd have to walk beyond the table to see my paintings–the result was that they seemed reluctant to move beyond the table and therefore never got a closer look. After I removed the table, folks eagerly approached the paintings and comfortably spent time with them.
Keep these suggestions in mind the next time you display a number of your works, no matter what the venue. Hang your work like the pros do and you’ll draw in potential collectors like a magnet. And next time you visit a commercial gallery, notice how they display groups of paintings by each artist. It'll be a real eye-opener.
Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Woodword’s work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.