10 expert tips for holding your own exhibition

So you want to hold an exhibition. We talk to some professionals to find out what you're letting yourself in for, and how to succeed.

It goes without saying that if you're organising an exhibition then you need to promote it far and wide using social media. We figure you've already got a handle on blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and all of that so we won't bore you by going on about it.

Because behind the gloss of online promotion, a whole lot of work needs to be done to organise a successful exhibition that both impresses visitors and sells your work. We spoke to a selection of creatives with years of experience holding exhibitions around the world to find out what practical steps you can take to hold a winning event. Here's what we gleaned…

01. Toe in the water

A great way to learn the ropes is to take part in a group exhibition first. Whether it's an invite-only, themed event in the Far East or a locally arranged art trail, you'll get to grips with creating and selecting work, framing, hanging, pricing and promotion. You might even make some cash.

02. To sell or to promote?

Decide upon your objectives. Will you hold the exhibition to sell work. Is it to promote your skills as an illustrator or designer to potential clients? Both, maybe? Knowing your audience is critical and will determine what work you create, how you present it, and whom you invite to see it.

03. The gallery route

Audrey - an exhibition artwork by Tom Bagshaw, who shows in the UK, New York and Los Angeles

If you're already an accomplished artist, you might be able to find a gallery to host your exhibition. "The gallery takes 50 per cent of everything that you sell, which seems a lot, but remember they'll be taking care of all the arsing around – organising the private view and party, showing work to visitors, publicity, hanging, and everything else. If they do their job well, it could work for you," explains illustrator Tom Bagshaw, aka Mostly Wanted.

04. No gallery, no problem

Pop-up exhibitions happen all around the world, in all sorts of settings. Ideally, try and spot an empty shop in a high footfall area and approach the managers of the building about using it on a short-term basis. Galleries are often tucked away, but a well-placed pop-up exhibition can put your work in front of a much wider audience.

05. Body of work

The Legend of Billie Jean - a poster from Sarah Beetson's 'I Dream in Celluloid' show held in 2010

If you're serious about holding a themed exhibition give yourself a year to 18 months to create a body of work. Don't only make big, high value pieces. Make some smaller, accompanying pieces and/or merchandise like t-shirts, posters, and playing cards. "I often find this is my bread and butter when it comes to earnings, and it gives me great products to take to graphic arts fairs like Supergraph and Pick Me Up later on," says artist and illustrator Sarah Beetson.

06. With a little help from your friends

Rope in friends and contacts you've worked with in the past. When Von planned his recent Elsewhere show at the KK Outlet in Hoxton, he collaborated with photographer Dan Sully on the body of work. Then, he called on designers Darren Firth, Hort, Dave Pearson and Non-Format, who used his illustrations in limited edition posters they created for the show.

Illustrator Von's latest exhibition featured sketches based on the photography of Dan Sully

07. Picture it framed

Yes, IKEA sells serviceable minimalist style frames. However, they aren't appropriate for all types of artwork. Spend more on wooden or moulded frames that fit your pieces perfectly. "I've set up a business account with a frame manufacturer and get trade prices on frames rather than buying from a framing shop," says Tom Bagshaw.

08. Hang time

"What I often overlook is the laborious job of hanging the show,' explains Sarah Beetson. "I always tell myself to expect that the hanging will take longer than anticipated. Nine out of ten times we end up finishing right on the hanging deadline. By then I am often so sleep deprived I cannot even manage a celebratory glass of bubbly!"

09. Private view

The private view will be the focal point of your exhibition and the promotion work you do around it. Get drinks sponsors involved, and don't skimp on food. "Make sure it is a memorable night and people enjoy themselves. We book DJs to play as it's always a better atmosphere when someone's actually playing records," says Orla Bennett of Atomica Gallery.

10. Special swag

Imaginative special offers or give-aways will make your opening night fizz, like these Tiki heads at Atomica Gallery

What'll really get people to your opening night is some great swag. Give a small print away to the first 50 through the door, or make a goodie bag. When celebrating its first birthday, Atomica Gallery sold special ceramic Tiki head mugs at £10. Guests could then use them at the bar and the mugs have attained legendary status in the art world.

Words: Garrick Webster