Setting up your first solo exhibition on a budget – Opening night

Part 3 – Get your first solo exhibition happening. You can do this. We all start somewhere. I remember receiving flowers on my first solo opening night. The card read “About time”. It made me chuckle. Doing the hard yards means you appreciate all the work needed. After the first couple you start knowing where to fine tune your methods. Good luck!

Opening night

  • I usually get there a couple of hours before.
  • Are you dressed for the opening? Make a good first impression.
  • Put up tables
    • At entry (program/catalogue, visitor book) Leave space in case people bring you flowers.
    • For refreshments (opening night only)
  • Who will hand out your catalogue or will people help themselves?
  • Make a list of the general timings of what will unfold.
  • Ask a friend to take a few photos of the evening.
  • Have music lightly playing on in the background on a loop so you don’t need to change it.
  • Have a short speech you will use to welcome people. Five minutes is more than enough. This is my own preference. I hate speeches that go on too long. Lets socialise instead. Wait for about 40 mins -1 hour for stragglers before speaking.
  • Remember some people are being polite and will wait for a speech before heading home. Feel the mood of the room. (A bit like waiting for the birthday cake to come out when you are at a party).
  • Were you able to store everything not in use out of sight? I often used a long black piece of fabric or, if on a tight budget, an ironed white double or queen size flat bed sheet. Have it coming over the front of a trestle table to the floor and pin up on the sides. Leave a gap behind so you can get there if you need. Store things as neatly as possible. Have a storage box behind at one end for things like sold spots, bubble wrap, packaging tape, pens, business cards, and brochures of the show.


  • Have a receipt book. Here is a generic example. Tax Invoice/Statement Book. Flip the first few pages across and fold them back. Put an elastic around this.
  • Write
    • Artist and Buyer information
    • Date
    • Title of work
    • Dimensions
    • Price
  • Will you include a disclaimer? “Copyright and Reproduction Rights Reserved to Artist”. With the advent of digital media it allows for a proof of image ownership for the artist. Should your work go viral in the hands of another this provides proof of ownership.
  • Cash or card?
  • Advise when the person can pick up their wall art or…
  • Recent exhibitions allow people to take their work straight away if it has been paid for. That is why we took a photo back in Part 1. You can place the photo behind the artwork. When the art leaves people can still see what it looked like.
  • Don’t forget to put your dot on to show it is sold.


After opening night you will still need someone there until the end of the show. People I know generally find friends to do a morning and afternoon shift during the week. Decide how long the exhibition will go for based on how doable it is. What times will it be open. Be clear on your invitation regarding true opening hours.

Don’t stress. Sometimes you are better to wait and select a venue more appropriate to your needs. Do your numbers to make sure you can afford things first and then decide which one. Innovate. Things don’t need to be conventional. Mine was at a Laundromat. A little funky and in keeping with the beach suburb of Coogee. Staff were there all week so I didn’t need to provide my own.

My first solo was at a Laundromat at the beach. A great adventure.

Taking down the exhibition

  • Taking down an exhibition is far less complicated. If you were organised when putting the exhibition up you will still have your corrugated cardboard with artwork names on the outside stored. Put the works back into these. retape the side with packaging tape so they don’t slide out.
  • Put sold artwork in cardboard or bubble wrap and text or phone new owner that work is available for pick up if it hasn’t been picked up already.
  • Fold up trestle table/s
  • Sweep up the space, wash the floor/walls, and leave clean and tidy for the next exhibitor.

Be responsible

  • Remember to thank any people that have assisted you and to thank the venue for the opportunity.
  • If you did an auction be sure to donate the proceeds to your chosen charity now while it is front of mind. Use a detailed cover letter and email. You will need to receipt this for your records.
  • Pay any commission you owe the venue and get a receipt. Staple this into your invoice book in front of invoices sold for future reference.

Setting up good habits at the start is an essential part of the journey.

Now is the time to take the next step on your art journey. We all start somewhere. My first solo was at a Laundromat at the beach. A great adventure. Even if you crash and burn it is all experience and you will learn so much from it.

Dezzie 2022

Shopping list

  • Bricklayers line – Hardware store
  • Bubble wrap – Art store or big retailer like Walmart
  • Canvases – Don’t go for the cheapest of cheap. I use Fredrix boards or my local art stores own stretched canvas brand.
  • Canvases – Large artworks can warp so make sure there is a cross-brace on the back.
  • D-ring eyelets – Art store
  • Drinks and refreshments for opening night
  • Elastic bands
  • Esky with ice to keep bubbly and mineral water cold
  • Frames – I purchase identical frames from retailers like Target, Big W. In America that would be equivalent to say Walmart. I only use two set sizes.
  • Glassware – Hire or buy?
  • Gummed tape – Art store
  • Level – Hardware store
  • Marketing stickers – Online
  • Mat archival board to customise your artwork – Art framer
  • Music – I used my laptop with music I had downloaded. Sometimes I hire a muso to play covers for a couple of hours.
  • Packaging Tape
  • Pens
  • Pins for folding back tablecloth on trestle table
  • Pushpins for room dividers
  • Red or yellow round dot stickers to show it is sold – Newsagent
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Tape measure
  • Tax Invoice/Statement Book
  • Trestle table x 2
  • Visitors book – have on trestle table at front for opening night. People can leave comments and their details. Good for if you plan on having future exhibitions as you can make contact.

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