7 Step How to: My First Photo Exhibition

One cold Saturday morning I was walking down the aisles of the IGA grocery store in St Donat, preparing for a winter photoshoot involving snow and a sleeveless model in tiny dresses. Phone rings and it's Angelo from RAW Artists Montreal. RAW.. Artists?

Woah, I had submitted my portfolio more than a few of weeks prior, and having looked at their rooster of amazing artists I never expected to get a response, let alone a call from the Montreal Director himself. Oh Boy.

A week later, including many OMG moments, I am booked for a photo exhibition with RAW!! Whaat? I mean how? Me? Uh, OK! Yay- let's do this!

And here is how it all came together.


Step 1: Freak out

Yaa sure, let out all the emotions and questioning if you can do it. Talk it out, talk to a few people, talk to your friends- they are most probably used to hearing you always talk about your photo projects either way.

Deep down somewhere you know you can handle this. You have waited for this moment for a while now, but can you deliver to the expectations? Not of others, but that you have set for yourself. Only one way to find out!

Step 2: Make a list

OK, everyone says to make lists in these how to articles. But seriously, make a list! 

I find that a list streamlines your thoughts. Think of what you want versus what you need and what your budget is or how much are you willing/able to invest.

Photo exhibits are not cheap. The great thing about RAW Artists is that they are a platform of artists supported by artists. They don't ask you to pay for the space or take commission on any sales you make the night of. You do have to bring in a number of guests who pay for the tickets at the door. And there could not be a more perfect practice for future independent exhibitions.

Step 3: Know your timelines

Based on my list, I needed the following for the show:

  • new business cards
  • prints

Based on my list, I wanted the following for the show:

  • an artist book
  • FAYA merch
  • 100% canvas prints

All of the items above require time to finalize the design, production and there is a delay expected for all items that have to be shipped. My goal was to have everything in my hands 1 week prior to the show in case last minute adjustments were required.

Step 4: Choosing your vendors

Choosing who to do business with, for me, is actually based a lot on their customer service.

For years I worked in a call centres and in hospitality, which taught me to appreciate and respect businesses that go the extra mile to take care of their customer.

  • Business cards

There was no question for me to order my business cards from any other than moo.com

My previous experience with them had been fantastic; loved the paper quality, the design interface, the ease of navigating through their site, and the cherry on the pie, was their very cute delivery. My packages always came with a little "Yay" sticker, which sounds very much like me hihi. Not to forget the Dalai Lama quotes and additional business card box, all included in the price. MOOOloveit and yes, mooving on! 

Prod/delivery time: 2-2.5 weeks

  • Prints

Alright prints! In an ideal world, all my prints would be printed and mounted on canvas. Now this actually costs a lot, especially when looking at prints that are 30 inches and wider.

I have always worked with Montreal's Yves Thomas for my paper prints and turns out they also print and mount canvases. I required at least 7-8 canvases and did not wish to deal with shipping fees and delays. Yves Thomas' production time was noted as 5-10 business days and as long as I sent my order in 10 days before my 1 week limit I was set.

Taking into consideration my budget versus print size, I decided that a few prints were to be produced on gatorboard instead. Those were to be my least strong pieces.

Prod/delivery time: under 2 weeks

  • Book

Anyone who has viewed my work knows that I work with bands in parallel with more elaborate, creative projects. 

Would you print a band picture to be included in a photo exhibit... hmm, don't think so. But I still wanted to showcase that category of work. Hence the book.

I had been following Artisan State for a while on social media and they seemed to be the best (price/quality wise) and fastest (eek im running out of time) choice for what I needed. 24 page Little Black Book it was.

Prod/delivery time: 3 days (crazy!)

  • FAYA Merch

Now... Merch is where I stalled. I had various (and maybe too many) ideas of merchandise I wanted to have for the show, ranging from t-shirts, mugs, pens, USBs, bracelets, lanyards.. you name it, I wanted it all! *MOAR*

Days and days of research were done. Everything was either too highly priced or required a minimum quantity for the order, which brought up the final quote considerably. Despair did I, did I not. “Much to learn you still have…my old padawan.” … “This is just the beginning!”

The show was now only 3 weeks away and I couldn't make up my mind. Shipping and prod time were just too tight for any international orders.

And in came Band-Brand to save the day. They are a Montreal based merch company and were highly efficient at giving me a quote on my final merch choice, which was a FAYA banner! 

Prod/delivery: 1 week :D

Step 5: Presentation

For this particular exhibit, I had a space of 8 by 10 feet to work with. Now this might seem small but for a first exhibit I found that the space was perfect, not too big to overwhelm me and enough to showcase a good number of works.

Prior to sending the pictures for printing, I made a layout on my apartment floor with tape and measured the space the banner would take versus leaving empty space at the bottom and how much is left versus how big the prints should be. If you like tetris, this is much fun hihi.

Step 6: Day Of

D-Day is here. (omg eeek!) Hehe, the first thing I stressed out about was what to wear! I hadn't even had a chance to think about that..%&*^$^*@# 

The whole point is to be up and mingling with the crowd, so the last thing you want is to be uncomfortable in what you are wearing. Don't feel like you HAVE to wear high heels if you are not going to be at 100%. It's just not worth it. In the end, black dress and comfortable flat black shoes it was.

That being decided, set up had to be done the day of. In a gallery situation, you'll have more time for this but in this case setup was from 4-5pm and doors open at 6pm. 

I showed up earlier to maximize the time I had but what really helped was having a good friend help out. You are already stressed out that this is your first exhibit, time is running out and you need a second opinion. Having a friend you can trust is priceless at that point.

Thanks Seb! :)

The banner was tied using tie-wraps. Canvases were hung using s-hooks. Smaller gatorboards had small plastic sticky hooks in the back.

I had drawn out the layout previously (Step 5) but once the prints were up, some worked in their spot and others just did not look right. Ten minutes before 5PM - critical decision to redo placements. (*%&#% ya that's me swearing and almost being mean to the person helping me out. But deep breaths and believing all will be fine helps. Sorry Seb!)

Step 7: Let go and Enjoy.

Seeing all the work come to life is quite marvelous indeed. Once the show is on, actually letting go of all the stress of the prep and just enjoying people's reactions to your work is fun and rewarding :)

Smile, you have worked hard. Smile, its your first exhibit. Smile, cause you just crossed another milestone.

BONUS: Cookies!!

Yes, cookies! Because I wanted cookies! And when else would I get to have custom cookies made!

NOM NOM NOM! Lovingly made from L&V sweets

Do you recognize her? This is maybe 4 years later? :D <3

Do you recognize her? This is maybe 4 years later? :D <3