Hopefully this guide will help your Artomatic installation go smoothly. After doing multiple Artomatic (AOM) shows, this is what I’ve learned to do. For me, it makes install a breeze. Hopefully this process will work for you as well. Artomatic installation
The first part is my step-by-step guide to Artomatic Installation. This is followed by some general tips, advice, warnings. The last section gives you some tips for what to use as your table, should you decide to use one.
1. MEASURE AT SITE SELECTION
At site selection, you should measure your space and photograph it for good measure. I keep a small tape measure in my purse at all times, and another in my car, so I never have to worry about bringing one. The measurements are vital to planning your setup in advance.
Learn from my fail: measure the height of the wall. I neglected that one year and it turned out my area had a 10′ ceiling. My whole plan was busted and things got stressful.
2. CHOOSE A STYLE: SALON vs GALLERY
Now that you have your measurements, you need to decide whether you should hang salon style or gallery style……
Hanging Gallery Style means your art is hung in a single row. Small works can be two rows. All larger works are hung at the appropriate height, 60″ on center, just like you find in a gallery.
Salon Style allows you hang however you like, rules be damned. I hang my work this way for several reasons. First, I bring too much work to hang Gallery Style. Second, I have patience issues when it comes to measuring (just being honest). Last, and most importantly, comes down to science.
People will look an a piece of art for an average of 3.5 seconds, or so I learned in college. If your work catches their eye in that time span of course they’ll look longer. Arranging your work Salon Style gives you a slight advantage. They have to stand at your area longer to see all your work. They can’t just give your space a quick glance and keep moving.
The danger of hanging Salon Style is that you overwhelm people and obscure your own work. In the example to the left, the space is so crowded that you don’t know where to look. Additionally, the pieces don’t really relate to each other making it visually confusing.
Learn from my fail…
I’ve always hung salon style (per the reasons cited above). For my first (few) Artomatic shows, I was still really stressed about how to arrange work. My work screams “THIS PERSON HAS SERIOUS A.D.D. ISSUES” so finding themes, especially at my first AOM seemed impossible. I finally learned to find basic similarities and group those pieces together (i.e. color, material, style). My best AOM showing, I think, was at the Crystal City AOM in 2013. My space was actually three walls inside a good sized room. I had 4 sculptures that stood about 7′ tall in addition to a ton of work. The sculptures were placed in the corners (except the one shared with another artist). I used different colors of paint to delineate the different themes of work I exhibited, like my Day of the Dead work and my technology based work. The back wall contained all the work that wasn’t themed. I tried to arrange those pieces by color. It worked really well and I heard a lot of compliments about the arrangement. *
3: TEST YOUR LAYOUT AT HOME
Now that you have your space measurements and you’ve selected a hanging style, what do you do? What you don’t do is show up to install and just ‘wing it’ …. unless you enjoy stressing yourself out & wasting your time. No judgements. You do you.
For those who aren’t big on stress & don’t have time to kill, read on. This is still going to take time, don’t get me wrong. However, this is time spent in your own home where you can take breaks, make adjustments, and really think things through. If you use my method, install is much easier!!
In 2015 my space almost 14’ long with standard 8′ ceilings. I grabbed my painter’s tape (any tape will do) and my measuring tape. I measured 14′ on my basement floor and taped the boundaries. Then I moved as much furniture out of the way as possible. The floor is my template for my space at Artomatic. I do this in my basement for 2 reasons. First, I have pets and the basement has a door to keep my furry helpers out. Second, I don’t have 14′ feet of space anywhere in the upper level of my 1950s house.
Now that I have my boundaries set up & the floor cleared, I decided where to put my sign-in table. If I’m using my smaller one I actually lay that on the floor too, otherwise I just tape off where it goes. I decide which of my signs I’m going to use (the one with my brand name on them) and lay that on the floor. Then I get my artwork out. I layout all the art on the floor and arrange it until I’m happy. I use my business cards as placeholders for labels. This way I don’t put art too close together.
When doing a test layout, be sure to account for all the things you’ll have in your space – including any floor lamps, business card holders, pen holders, etc. Why? Because you might get a bit overzealous and place artwork to close to where those things need to be. Think ahead & save yourself an “oh shit” moment.
When you think you’re happy with your setup PHOTOGRAPH IT WITH YOUR CELL PHONE. Ahem, sorry for shouting. That last part is important though. Take pictures of the entire setup. When you get to install you have a handy template to work from. Install in the same order you set up at home: table & signage first then art.
Pro-tip: Make sure you do NOT go edge-to-edge with your artwork if you are in a room. I generally don’t put artwork closer than 6 – 8″ from the corner. This prevents your work and your neighbor’s work from interfering with each other.
In the pictures below you’ll see my first layout attempt for the 2015 show. I wasn’t sure which pieces I was going to bring so this was Test Layout #1. Some of the pieces you see are unfinished. A few need better frames. This meant I will needed to redo this layout once everything was done. Why do a test layout before my work was done? This gave me a good idea of what else I need to make – or not make – before the show started.
You’ll notice that there aren’t any business card “labels” by the art. That’s because it was just a test layout. The table is also absent but the long white board in the picture is the exact width of the table I use. It was my placeholder. Notice that my sign is there. I don’t hang the sign that close to the ceiling at the event. It’s directly up against that wall because that part of the basement is only 7′ wide.
4. MAKE YOUR LABELS
Now that you know what work will be in the show, make your labels. I covered label design in my post on How to Sell at Artomatic.
Pro-tip: Include a few blank ones, just in case. One year I dropped a piece of art during install and broke it. I happened to bring a few “spare” pieces with me but didn’t make labels for them. Thankfully I did have a few blank ones. I hand-wrote a label for the new piece & replaced it with a properly printed one on my next trip.
NEVER USE STICKERS. NEVER. They always peel and fall off. Artists who have used them may not even realize how many times other artists (& patrons) push peeling stickers back on during the shows – but we do. Temperature and humidity vary too much for any kind of temporary adhesive. I print mine on card stock & use Stick Tack (also called Fun Tak). Thumbtacks work well too. Remember: DO NOT USE STICKERS!
5. SPACE DESIGN & PAINTING
Now that you know what art is going to be on the wall, you have one final decision. What will your wall look like? This is 100% up to you to decide. Here are a few tips…
Make sure you only paint when / where you can paint. Before you buy paint, read the can to see how long it takes to dry & keep in mind heat and humidity can affect drying times. Artomatic often takes place in old office buildings. Office buildings usually have terrible climate control. They’re usually very dry and the temperatures can fluctuate a lot as you go from floor to floor, front to back.
DO NOT USE WALLPAPER … is my recommendation. I’ve seen it a few times and it rarely turns out well. In 2010, an artist & his significant other tried valiantly to apply wallpaper to their space but failed miserably. That year it was hot and humid in the building, causing the wallpaper to fall off shortly after being applied. Conversely, at one of the Frederick shows, the building was dry enough that, during the show, the artist’s wallpaper fell off covering her work. My advice: avoid wallpaper, stickers and anything with a temporary adhesive.
Design your space to accent your art, not hide it.
Don’t feel the need to do anything fancy. I used to paint, put up trim, hang lights, etc. Screw that noise. I now try to avoid painting whenever possible. I don’t hang custom lights either. Why? Do you put up custom lighting on every piece of art in your house? No? Me either. Show your art the way it will look in someone’s home or office, not the way some art professor thinks it should be shown (remember they took a day job because they couldn’t make enough money from their art to support themselves, so take their sales advice with a truckload of salt).
THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU
- This is my Artomatic mantra: NAILS ARE BAD, DON’T USE THEM. Why are nails bad? Hammering causes enough vibration that it knocks other people’s artwork down. That artwork might be right next to yours or on the wall behind your space. Do you want to be the cause of broken artwork? I sure as hell don’t. Make friends with an electric screwdriver and get yourself some screws.
- Artomatic events often take place in old buildings. The walls are scuffed, scratched, and sometimes have large holes in them. Do not fall into the trap that says “my wall must be perfect or my art won’t sell / I won’t get a gallery show / whatever.” No one comes to an art show & stares at the wall. They are there to see your art. If the condition of an old building is that off-putting to them, they didn’t really like your art to begin with.
A few years ago was on a volunteer shift during install when I heard someone vacuuming. It’s not a sound you often hear. It turned out that one artist decided to fix every bit of damage to his wall, including replacing sections of drywall. The result was a very nice coating of white dust EVERYWHERE in the area. This artist did this towards the end of the installation period so most artists had already finished installing so their work. All that art was now covered in dust – along with every other surface. DO NOT DO THIS. Do you know how hard it is to get drywall dust out of fabric art? Or out of sculptures with lots of texture?? Or just to clean it in general? It’s not like “regular” dust! If you feel you need to do that kind of work to your space, do it on day one or don’t do it at all. Period. I don’t care what you boss said. Don’t assume everyone will be able to come back and clean their work because you coated it in dust. Please realize that some artwork can be completely ruined by drywall dust and those artists might just want to make you liable for that damage.
Remember, people are there to look at your artwork. If they are looking at the wall it’s hung on, they clearly don’t like your artwork that much.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are a few extra tips, hints, warnings, and advice.
Plan to install as early as possible. I don’t mean early in the day, but early in the installation period. Although, installing early in the day isn’t a bad idea either. If there are elevators, and you need one, they are easier to get earlier in the day, generally speaking.
Please do NOT wait until the last day. I cannot stress this enough. I always strive to have my space finished before the last 3 days of install. Why? Murphy’s Law (i.e. everything that can go wrong, will go wrong). Those ‘extra’ days could be a godsend if the unforeseen happens … like the artist who thinks nails are awesome pounds your work off the wall. (and no, that’s never happened to me but it still makes me mad)
Don’t be this guy: In 2010, at least one guy arrived about 2 hours before the end of the last day of install. He had done nothing in the 3+ weeks of install prior to that day. Nothing. Unfortunately, Captain Entitlement thought everyone should stay while he pulled an all-nighter. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go, there are no exceptions. We are all volunteers and no one is going to let you pull an all-nighter. I heard from several people that this guy threw a temper tantrum befitting a 3-year-old. Don’t be that guy. If your employer won’t let you have off work, don’t participate in Artomatic.*
INSTALLATION KIT / ARTISTS SURVIVAL KIT
This is the kit I bring with me every single time I install artwork. This includes those rare times when I’m taking work to an actual gallery. You never know when that piece you “triple checked to make sure it’s ready to hang” somehow managed to not actually be ready to hang. I keep this kit intact in my studio (I have extras of everything, except the cordless screwdriver, so I don’t cannibalize it).
Your kit will vary depending on the type of artwork you do. Here are the contents of mine:
- Cordless Screwdriver / Drill Combo
- Screwdriver bits
- Drill bits (not pictured)
- Level (the fluorescent green thing)
- Small Hammer
- Needle-nose Pliers
- Wire Cutters
- Mini vise grip (Home Depot at Xmas time has these)
- Full size tape measure
- Fun Tak
- Pens (a fresh box is added for AOM shows)
- Sharpie Marker(s)
- Picture Frame Wire
- Craft Wire
- Small bag of misc hanging hardware (eye-screws, D-rings, etc)
- Scotch Tape
- Masking Tape (not pictured)
- Tray of multiple size / length wood screws (you can get these at Wal-Mart)
- Tray of multiple size / length nails (I put this together myself)
- Vinyl tool (the white square thing, flattens vinyl signs & labels)
- Thumbtacks (not pictured)
- All purpose mini labels
- Receipt Book (I’ve sold pieces during install)
- Swiffer Duster
- Hot glue gun & glue sticks (not pictured. I don’t usually keep this in the kit, but add it if there’s any chance I may need it).
I keep both nails and screws in my kit. To prevent knocking other people’s work off the walls (be it adjacent to my space or behind it), I mainly use screws. Some of my small pieces, however, need finishing nails or thumbtacks due to the hanging hardware.
The blue stick tack is how I secure my work to the wall to prevent all but the most determined thieves. See my post on Theft & Security for more details on that.
No, that is not a full size hammer. The little one fits in my toolbox and works just fine for hanging artwork. That orange thing is a Black & Decker cordless screwdriver/drill (approx. $30). Just make sure you remember to charge it. I do have a very nice DeWalt version but its overkill for an art install most of the time (and way too expensive to lose or forget).
In my opinion, the Swiffer duster is essential. I keep it along with extra business cards under my table for the duration of the show. These shows can get dusty so having one on hand means you can keep your art presentable. I keep it at the show because I know I’d forget to bring it with me. I usually let my space-mates know where I keep mine so they can borrow it as needed. I try to arrive early to my volunteer shifts so I can swing by my space & dust off my work. Don’t have space for one? Send me a message & I’ll tell you where I stashed mine.
One item not in the picture is VITAL: a box of pens (yes, get a box). Put one or two on your table (if you have a sign-in book that is) and keep the rest with the previously mentioned Swiffer duster and extra business cards. Pens walk away periodically so keeping a few extras on hand is a good thing. Artomatic installation
BACK-UP / SPARE ARTWORK (i.e. The Murphy’s Law Rule)
If you read all of the above you’ll have noted the mention of NAILS = BAD. I don’t think I’ve been through an AOM install where someone hasn’t knocked a neighbor’s work off the wall by pounding nails into their own. I had an early shift either the last day of install or opening day in 2012’s AOM in Crystal City. While walking one of the floors, I noticed several pieces of artwork on the floor. Two with broken glass. They were knocked off the wall when the person behind their area used nails to hang their work (it was a single space on a corner wall so the damage could only come from behind this artist’s space). Don’t use nails. Just don’t.
Even if your neighbors don’t knock your work off the wall, you could drop a piece or have it something get damaged in some other exciting way. If you plan ahead, you save yourself a bit of panic if the worst case scenario becomes a reality for you. I always have a “B-team” of pieces, of various sizes, just in case (or if you’re a klutz like me).
READ THE RULES. FOLLOW THE RULES. NO EXCEPTIONS.
- Do NOT exceed the stated limits for bulb wattage.
- Do NOT chain together extension cords (ever, not just at AOM).
- Do NOT use power strips that do not have a three prong (grounded) plug
- Do NOT think you can get away with breaking these rules.
The fire marshal inspects the event before it opens to make sure every single display is compliant with fire regulations. This inspection takes place after the last day of install. The Site Ops team inspects during install & gives warnings if they notice problems. If you are not in compliance during the Fire Marshal inspection, and cannot fix your stuff in the very tiny window given (if one is even provided), then you do not get to plug-in your lights / artwork / display / whatever – for the duration of the show.
Sadly, every event there are at least a handful of artists who either too lazy (or too arrogant) to follow the instructions. At AOM 2012, one artist was in a tiny room and had several different things that needed to be plugged in. She didn’t follow the rules and was not permitted to plug-in her items. She had the arrogance to post a nasty little note ranting about how “unfair” the AOM organizers were and how they ruined her display. Her space went the duration of the show without power because she couldn’t follow the rules. On a side note, I did a shift floor-walking on her floor and would like to give kudos to whomever wrote on the wall calling her out on her BS – that made my night.
Suggestions For Tables / Sign-In Stands
In my article called How To Sell At Artomatic, I recommended that you use something tall enough that people aren’t required to bend over to use. Specific height goals should be 36” – 42” which are the standard heights for kitchen counters and bar tops respectively. I know most artists don’t have a lot of disposable income to burn on these things. The good news is that you don’t have to.
Here are a few suggestions that can be acquired cheaply, if you don’t already own them:
Example 1: ‘The Wal-Mart Classic’
I used this exact bookcase for the AOM 2012 show in Crystal City. You can still buy it from Wal-Mart for $16. It worked well and I’m still using it at home. If you can’t use it after the show, then donate it. Please don’t throw it in a dumpster!
Example 2: ‘That Used To Be Where?‘
In 2013 at the Frederick, Maryland show, I used a re-purposed piece of furniture that was in my studio – an ‘over the toilet’ cabinet we had in our old apartment. I took the hutch off, leaving just the top piece. I couldn’t ask for a better table since it’s very narrow. These things can be purchased for under $30 at most discounters. I think this one was about $35 at Target. I’ve used it at other Artomatic shows since then. I’ve replaced the top with a $6 shelving board from Home Depot and spray painted the base since it was getting scratched. I store it upside-down in my little studio (because it is a little studio).
Example 3: ‘I Never Thought of Using It Like That’
When in doubt, a simple wall shelf works perfectly well too. Mount it at the appropriate height. You can pick up an unfinished one, as in the pic below, for about $10-$20 (depending on length). You can also buy a pre-finished shelving board and two mounting brackets from Home Depot or Lowe’s for about $20 too.
Good Luck, Have Fun, Don’t Stress!
If you have questions, I’ll do my best to help. Leave a comment or send me email. I don’t think of my fellow artists as competitors. The world is better off with more art in it so I want everyone to sell lots of work. That’s why I write this. Sorry I’m kind of a shitty writer. ?
* I like to “lurk” in my space during these events. I do my best to not be noticed or identified as the artist. Why? If people know you’re the artist, they will lie to you. People don’t lie because they’re mean. Quite the opposite actually. They’ll like so they don’t hurt your feelings or because they don’t want to be rude. Unfortunately, this gives too many artists an inflated sense of their worth and doesn’t provide meaningful feedback. However, when no one thinks the artist is around, you get to hear the real truth about your work. If you can set aside your feelings, you learn SO much from lurking that you would never hear otherwise. Don’t think you’ll hear nothing but bad comments, people don’t always express just how much they love your art to your face either. I hear some of the best comments when people don’t realize I’m there. CAUTION: lurking in a space with your photograph on the wall (if you have on on your Artist’s Statement like I do), is a skill. I naturally get lost in a crowd, even more so when I want to so this is easy for me (most of the time).
** The only anecdote in this article that I did not personally experience is the 2010 tantrum on the last day of install. I heard it was epic. I hope he feels terrible to this day for screaming at fellow artists. Screaming at anyone like that is unacceptable.