How To Hang Your Show Like A Pro

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  Medium: watercolor, Varnished (no glass) on paper on panel Size: 11 x 14 by Lori Woodward
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 and follow her on Twitter here.

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Lori Woodward

About Lori Woodward

Lori Woodward earned a bachelor's degree in Art Education from the University of Arizona. She has studied with Sondra Freckelton,(watercolor) Jack Beal, (composition) and currently is mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik as a member of the Putney Painters. As a writer, Lori has authored articles for Watercolor Magazine since 1996.  Lori authored a chapter on artists' web sites for Calvin J. Goodman's Art Marketing Handbook. She is a regular author on Fine Art Views, an art marketing online newsletter, and she has instruction art marketing and watercolor workshops at Scottsdale Artist School.

7 thoughts on “How To Hang Your Show Like A Pro

  1. Lori, I like the idea of hanging the largest painting in the middle. I will do that for my summer show in Newport Beach this year. First, I have to paint a large oil painting. I will present it like the matriarch of all the smaller paintings. The style theme will carry throughout the rest of the works. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Thanks for the information, Lori. My last art in the park experience was not very encouraging. Even the few hours of sunshine between the rainstorm and the high winds brought little traffic in my booth. I will take another look at how I display my work.

  3. Sorry to hear that Terry, bad weather definitely affects show attendance. Do you have one of those 10×10 popup tents with sides? But if they don’t go to the show, there’s not much anyone can do.

  4. I do have a nice white popup and some metal gridwalls. I could move my little table to the side and display less of my watercolors – for more impact. Alway awkward where I should sit (or stand). I will keep trying.

  5. Terry, try sitting at the side of your tent near the entrance – facing the other side of the tent or slightly toward people passing by. Offer a smile to anyone who establishes eye contact with you.

    If you have a director’s chair that is one of those high ones – that helps because it gets you almost at eye level with people who are standing in your booth.