Artomatic Installation Tips


This post by artist Heather Miller originally appeared on her blog at Whiterose’s Blog and is reprinted by permission.  Please visit her blog for the updated version of this post.


Hopefully this guide will help your 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.

The first few sections are basically general information and cautionary tales.  Take them to heart. The more specific tips start at “Test Your Layout At Home.”  The last section gives you some tip for what to use as your table, should you decide to use one.



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.



Plan to install as early as possible. 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.

Every single year at every single Artomatic, there’s an artist who arrives a few hours before closing on the last day to start installing his/her work. 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. When it was time to leave I heard he threw a 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.*



This is 100% up to you to decide. Just 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.

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. The AC isn’t typically turned on during install.  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.

Don’t spend so much time making your wall a work of art that it distracts from the art you are trying to display.  This may seem like common sense yet every year at least one or two artists do this.  At the first AOM @ Frederick, MD, one artist made his wall such a work of art that many people didn’t even notice he had work for sale.  I was floor walking near his space when I heard someone say “oh, there’s art here, I thought it was just part of the wall.”  I walked through that area several times and didn’t notice the little dots with numbers on them.  It didn’t help that none of his work was framed so it just blended into the wall.

Take pride in your work and hang it properly.  Display your work with the same care you put into making it.  Don’t just tape your drawings to the wall (or use bulldog clips, thumbtacks, etc).  Don’t just put unframed canvas boards up either.  When you do that, it looks like even you don’t care about your work.  Why should someone pay you for something you couldn’t be bothered to put in a $10 store bought frame?  I’ll say it again:  take pride in your work!



I’m going to say this a lot in the article:  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.  Yes, in 2015 it is recommended we use nails, otherwise we have to get putty to fill screw holes. Buy some darn putty people.

AOM events frequently take place in old buildings.  Old buildings mean walls with dings, scratches, holes, cracks, and areas were things were pushed through the drywall.  At a recent AOM event, I was on a volunteer shift when I heard someone vacuuming.  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 on a significant portion of his floor.  Most artists had already finished installing so their work was now covered in dust – along with every other surface. That’s just rude to the neighboring artists.  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.  Don’t assume everyone will be able to come back in and clean their work because you coated it in dust.  Please realize that some work can be completely ruined by drywall dust, like fabric work.

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.


Hanging Gallery Style means your art is at the appropriate height (60″ on center) and is in nice neat rows – just like you find in a gallery.

Salon Style allows you hang however you like, rules be damned (more or less).   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.  Last, and most importantly, comes down to science.  People will look an a piece of art for an average of 3.5 seconds.  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 above, 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.  Since we have to put labels on our work, it forces us to space out our work a bit more which helps to prevent this to some extent.

If you choose to hang Salon Style, then learn from my fail…  For my first (few) Artomatic shows, I was still a bit 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 was impossible.  I finally learned to find similarities and group those pieces together.  My best AOM showing, I think, was at the Crystal City AOM in 2013.  I was in a room and took 3 walls.  I had 4 sculptures that stood about 7′ tall in addition to a ton of work.  I spaced the sculptures around the room but then used paint colors to delineate between art themes.  I had some Day of the Dead themed work, some work that had at least a vague technology / science theme, and then the chaos of the remainder.  The back wall contained the remainder and I tried to arrange those by color.   It worked really well and I heard a lot of compliments about the arrangement. **



My AOM space this year is almost 14’ long (wall space). Once I think I know which art I’m going to bring, I start moving furniture. I don’t have 14’ of wall in my house that I can use to do a test setup so I use the floor. My house is relatively small and awkwardly laid out so I have to move furniture. I use my basement for this not only because that’s where my studio is but I can close the door preventing my pets from “helping.”

I use some masking tape to mark off the boundaries of my space. At AOM, if you are in a room (rather than a hallway), don’t go edge to edge so you don’t run into issues with your neighbor’s work. Tape off the area where your table will go (the one that holds business cards, guest books, etc.). Make sure you leave room above that for the height of the things that will be on your table. Also put your Sign, Artist’s Statement & How To Purchase statement out so you don’t forget to leave room for those (or anything else not artwork related).

Then lay out the work you think you want to display. I use business cards as spacers for labels so I don’t forget to leave room for them. Once you’re happy with your layout, PHOTOGRAPH IT. When you get to AOM, you now know exactly where each piece will be.  This will save you a ton of time and frustration once you get to AOM to install your work.

In the pictures below you’ll see my first layout attempt for this year. I’m not sure which pieces I’m going to bring yet so this is Test Layout #1. Some of the pieces you see are unfinished. A few need better frames. This means I will need to redo this layout when everything is finalized. Because this is a test layout, I haven’t laid down my business cards.  Notice that my sign is there. The white board is the exact length of the one on my table so I put it there rather than tape off the table. My wall at AOM is 8’ tall but the space I made is only 7’ tall. That works since I rarely put artwork that close to the floor.






Now that you know what work will be in the show, make your labels. 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.

If you want to see what my labels look like and why, read my previous article.

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.



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” 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 is the contents of mine:

  • Cordless Screwdriver / Drill Combo
  • Screwdriver bits
  • Drill bits (not pictured)
  • Level (the fluorescent green thing)
  • Small Hammer
  • Scissors
  • 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)
  • Pencils
  • 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 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.

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.

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.

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 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).



  • 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 to 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:

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.


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.


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! 



*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.

** 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.  These lies will be spoken to “not hurt your feelings” or “to not be rude.”  This gives artists an inflated sense of their worth and provides nothing useful by way of feedback.  When no one thinks the artist is around, however, 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. 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 one 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).

4 thoughts on “Artomatic Installation Tips

  1. This article (like your first one) is really helpful – but I have one major question…If you can’t use nails, how do you hang framed pictures that are fairly heavy? I hate to sound ignorant but I’ve never hung anything framed without using a nail. Additional info please?

    1. First, you CAN use nails. As I state in the article, during orientation it was recommended to use nails this year unless you buy putty to fill holes left by screws (screws leave a slightly larger hole). I recommended against the use of nails because it affects all the work around yours. The vibration from the hammer can, and frequently does, knock other people’s work off the walls, including the work hung behind your space. If you use screws you WILL need an electric screwdriver of some sort, trying to put them in by hand would be next to impossible. To repair the wall, you will need putty which is also called spackle. You use it fill in nail holes, screw holes, and other small damage to walls. You can get small containers of the stuff anywhere they sell nails & screws (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, etc)

      Second, don’t worry about sounding ignorant! Use what you feel comfortable with, just make sure your hammering didn’t knock other work off the wall.

      Screws can handle anything a nail can, usually better because you cannot pull them out of the wall without a screwdriver. I know some people use hooks with nails. Screws are generally too large for the hooks so just drill the screw in at a slight upward angle. I’ve hung some heavier pieces (close to 7lbs) using screws. That particular piece had a wire backing so I drilled 2 screws into the wall, spaced about 2 inches apart. Screws and nails both come in a variety of sizes and lengths. For heavier pieces, you want to use larger, longer nails and screws. You can hang much, much heavier pieces with screws but you need to use anchors for that. During orientation they specifically asked us not to use anchors because they building’s owner requested we not do that.


  2. Artist’s Statement – I looked thru your previous article, thank you by the way it was extremely helpful, and couldn’t find an example of this. This is a first time for my son participating in a show of this kind and I’m trying to do some of the side work while he creates. What would this statement look/read like. Thanks

    1. Artist’s Statements are the bane of my existence honestly. When I was in art school, we were “strongly encouraged” to use a lot of art jargon and flowery language that resulted in some of the most pretentious and laughably ridiculous statements. The one decent pointer was to keep it under one page, the shorter the better whenever possible. Personally, I think the best artist’s statements are clear, honest, and straightforward. That said, a statement will vary depending on whether the body of work is cohesive, like a set of sunflower paintings or a series of related photographs, or not. If it’s cohesive then the statement should describe what the works are about and/or the motivations or ideas behind the series. If the works are unrelated then you can discuss your overall philosophy behind creating artwork. For shows like AOM, I combine my bio with a brief summary of my general philosophy. I hope that helps a little. Sorry I couldn’t provide more guidance!

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