Wall Tags | How Galleries Work

In my last post, a part of our How Galleries Work series, I wrote about the process galleries use to select artists. Today’s installment in the series will be more nuts and bolts as I explore how we create our wall labels and tags.

This may seem like an inconsequential topic, but I’ve found that providing information to potential buyers in an accessible, simple format is extremely helpful in making sales. I have long been an advocate of giving viewers as much information as possible as they peruse the gallery. I have found that making it easy for a viewer to find the name of the artist, the title of a piece, and, most importantly, an artwork’s price, facilitates the sales process.

While this seems like common sense to me, I’ve been in a number of galleries that don’t provide easy access to the information. I remember visiting a gallery in Vancouver, B.C., a few years ago and finding pins with small numbers next to each piece of artwork. The numbers corresponded with price lists that the gallery staff would hand out upon request.

I can see the appeal of this approach. The pins were small and subtle and didn’t interfere with the aesthetics of the display. A client asking for a price list allowed the gallery staff to interact with the visitor, and the request for a price list alerted the staff to the client’s interest.

I see several problems with this arrangement, however. First, when the gallery is full and the staff busy, it can be difficult to get the attention of a staff member. During busy times, some clients wouldn’t be able to ask the staff for a price sheet and would be left to wonder at the pricing. Second, printing a new pricelist every time inventory changed would be a chore. During our busy season, we may sell 4-5 pieces in a day. Each shift in inventory would necessitate a newly printed price list.

Prominently displaying the price also reassures clients that there is no funny business going on with the pricing. I remember reading of a gallery in L.A. where the staff was trained to hand out different price lists depending upon the client’s apparel and the car in which the client pulled up.

Displaying a piece’s price allows the viewer to instantly ascertain whether the piece is in within his or her price range. It also serves as a subtle reminder that we are not a museum, and that everything on display is for sale.

How We Do It

When I first started in the business in the 1990’s, the gallery where I worked would type price tags on cards using an electric Smith Corona typewriter. I took it upon myself to create a database for the gallery that could print labels, thereby bringing them into the twentieth century. When I opened my own gallery, I knew that I wanted to have an inventory system that was integrated with our website and able to create wall labels for the art.

We played around with a number of different ways we could accomplish this. Ultimately, we decided that the best approach would be to use clear Avery™ labels. We would print all of the information about the art right on the label and then adhere it to the wall next to the piece. These clear labels were subtle and worked on any color wall.

Though the underlying system we use to create these labels has changed, the principle is the same. After we consign a piece of artwork from an artist and hang it in the gallery, we print a label and place it next to the piece of art on the wall.

We now use our online inventory system ARTsala.com for our inventory. It provides similar functionality for artists who need to track inventory and print labels. One particularly handy feature of ARTsala is that it allows you to print a whole sheet of different labels if you have a lot of art to label, or it will allow you to print just one label if that is all you need. You can run the label sheets multiple times through an inkjet printer, making it so that you never waste a blank label.

Just as I try to hang all of the artwork at the same level, I try to get the labels at a uniform level as well. The center of hanging artwork in the gallery is 60″, and the labels typically hang at 54″.

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ARTsala.com allows you to enter your inventory number and print a label
ARTsala.com allows you to enter your inventory number and print a label
We use clear Avery inkjet labels for our wall tags
We use clear Avery inkjet labels for our wall tags

Sculpture

For the sculpture in the gallery we stick the label to heavy, folded cardstock. This card then sits on the pedestal next to the sculpture.

Sculpture labels are printed using the same clear labels. We use folded cardstock to display the labels on pedestals.
Sculpture labels are printed using the same clear labels. We use folded cardstock to display the labels on pedestals.

Narratives

In addition to informational wall tags, we also display narratives next to a number of pieces in the gallery. If the artist has provided us with a story about a particular piece, we type it up on a half sheet of cardstock and use two-sided tape to hang the narrative next to the art.

These narratives are another great tool in the sales process. Many buyers enjoy learning the story and inspiration behind a piece. Providing the work with a narrative allows those buyers who are interested to dive deeper and learn more.

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Wall Signage

I’m planning to write an in-depth post about creating vinyl wall signage, so I will just briefly mention that we recently purchased a vinyl cutting machine that allows us to create our own wall signs. These signs are very effective for drawing clients’ attention to a featured artist’s work during a show.

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How do you Label Your Artwork?

What approach do you use to label your artwork at a show or in your studio? How did you develop your system for labeling? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

33 Comments

  1. Jason — I’m so glad you support the idea of giving the price next to a piece. Before I became an artist myself, when I would visit galleries, I wanted to know if a piece of work was even remotely within my price range before interacting with the staff about it. If there was no price and I had to ask the staff, I found it embarrassing to be engaged in a conversation about a piece I realized I couldn’t possibly buy. True, I was younger then (and more easily embarrassed), and also less affluent. But, if galleries hope to engage the next generation in buying art, perhaps it would be good not to have potential entry level buyers find visiting a gallery to be an awkward experience.

  2. I use the same labeling technique that you do at your gallery. It is clear and concise and all the information is readily available.
    Recently, I have come across a service to have a tag with a QR code. For 25 cents, I get 30 MB video or audio space, self recorded, unlimited scans, no app required. It is so new I have only tried it once. I describe one of my kinetic still life paintings. I can see posting this next to a painting in a gallery and if the piece is sold, it could go along to the new owner. Interesting concept.

    1. Deborah, would this recording be “noise” for those around the image but not looking at it? Or are you going to have earphones that everyone is given when entering the gallery, like a museum does? I think it a good idea but a bit noisy it the images are close together.

  3. Jason,

    \My wife and I hit on a system for both gallery and festival painting labels. We use your typical avery blank business cards and print them up for each exhibit. I primarily exhibit in summer outdoor festivals. Here’s the format….We underline the items on the left side. The catalogue # is my own numbering system. If the piece is one of a series, that series number is also on the card in the title line. We typically give the client the gallery card and a business card when they make a purchase.. We also produce a handwritten receipt on a 3-part sales book for, which is personalized by the artist and signed by same. The customer actually gets three artist signatures. The painting is signed on the front; the information on the card is also on the back of the painting; and the painting is also signed on the back. Finally, there is the thank you and signature on the receipt. In this way, the customer gets a very personal artist experience and comes away with a provenance trail and time with the artist. Of the 500 paintings I’ve produced in the past 15 years, this has helped over 400 of them go home with clients

    Title – A Seahorse is Simply a Small Water Dragon
    Artist – Mark V. Turner (b. 1959)
    Date – July 10, 2014 (Catalogue #487)
    Size – 12” H X 9″ W
    Materials – Acrylic, Glass Beads on Panel
    Price – $ xx.xx

  4. I have not found it necessary to print my own labels yet, but this approach seems perfect. Right now, the two galleries I am in and all the exhibits I have done, have preferred to print their own labels so everything is cohesive.

    1. I have been exhibition chair for two different art organizations ten different times. We have found that the audience where we live is more mature and can have difficulty reading small print on clear labels mounted on walls. What we ended up doing was using Avery’s four card postcard stock. The size allows us to not only include the Title, Artist and price, but also the framed size and medium. Both of these organizations dealt with mainly 2-D works. The white background with larger font made it easy for everyone to read.

  5. I love the clear Avery labels, but we have difficulty getting them to stick on Gallery walls – maybe due to slight wall texture, or maybe due to eggshell paint? Do you have trouble getting them to stay on the wall? Do they peel paint off when removed?

  6. Love your idea of clear labels, Jason, as they look most polished & professional. Thanks much for your perspective & input. I love it that you used Guilloume’s work! Such an amazing spirit & talent!

    For art fairs, I use Avery business card stock (off white), include a photo of the piece, to the right is the title, medium, size, price, and then my name & business name at bottom on one line. I then use spray glue to adhere them to black foam board for a professional finish.
    When a piece sells, I give them a business card, the foam board card label & what I call a postcard sized title card to include a brief bio on myself, a photo of the piece, medium, whether it’s abstract, aerial, or landscape, 1/1, size, & contact info.
    Both galleries I’ve been affiliated with have made their own – one on white stock & the other as you prepare (clear labels).

  7. I am curious….do these clear labels peel off the walls easily and are they re-usable? Some galleries rotate work in the room to keep the appearance fresh. When a piece finds a new location it would be convenient to adhere the old sticker rather than re-print a new one.

    1. The labels do peel off and can be reused 1-2 times before they need to be printed again. Test on your walls – as mentioned above, depending on the paint, the stickers can peel paint. We use Dunn Edwards Swiss Coffee flat paint and don’t have any issues with peeling.

  8. I never understood not listing a price. If I don’t see a price, it means I can’t afford it. Someone might think your price is very reasonable, but will never know if you don’t list it. I’ve had people comment how expensive my art is and then others say how cheap it is, at the same show

  9. I also use the clear Avery labels and I use Art Sala for art inventory but I didn’t know it had it’s own labeling system. I’ll have to try it out! I have an art booth for outdoor festivals and the walls are made of grey industrial carpet. I’ve seen similar carpet on professionally purchased walls panels in art booths. What I do for this is print out the clear Avery labels, measure and cut out white foamcore rectangles, stick the clear label on the foamcore, then stick a small square of the rough side of velcro on the back of the foamcore. The velcro sticks to the walls and the labels are easily reused so you aren’t printing new labels for every festival.

  10. I am so happy to hear that a gallery sees the value of having a story with the artwork! I write a text for most of my paintings and I get great feedback from doing that. Often the thoughtful words help the viewer to connect further with the art and this definitely helps the sale process. I print and laminate my tags and use sticky putty to attach them to the wall. That way the sign is durable and beautiful and the client takes it home when they purchase the piece!

  11. If a gallery does not display prices I immediately have the feeling there is something “fishy” about it. With the next thought – the prices are presumably totally out of my league. And an additional feeling of being annoyed, because someone who wants to sell something to me wants me to jump through hoops.
    Thank you Jason! I love your books. And with this post you have come full circle in also showing (through the back door) why artists should have prices on their websites, too. After all it is a kind of gallery. And all the above applies….

  12. ..personally I do not like seeing a price tag & all that Artist’s Statement stuff…
    By all means display text if it is part of the work’s narrative but not the generic statement that all too often comes off as pretentious.
    I suspect that it may be Ok (sort of) in the Gallery that shows lots of different Artists at the same time, the perennial Group Show. But all it makes me feel is that I am looking at ‘product’ for sale & it might as well be a pair of shoes.
    If you are a Collector you are still going to want to talk to the Gallerist at some point & asking the price is as good as place as any to start.

  13. Excellent article Jason! Being a gallery owner for a few years now, and having struggled with this issue over and over I finally arrived at a solution that works for me. I wish I could post a photo of one of my art labels as it is easier to see than to read and try to visualize. Basically they include centered:
    BOLD TITLE
    Location
    Body of narrative about the piece
    justified in one paragraph.
    -Signature
    All is typed in Georgia font with the signature typed in Script MT Bold.

    Each is done on resume cover stock, cut to about 4×5″ and laminated. The price is carefully written on the laminated surface with a vis-a-vis pen so it can be erased with water and changed. The labels are attached to the wall with small pieces of museum putty which hold the labels slightly off the wall and give them a finished look. They can be used over and over again. There is no grease bleeding with the putty I use, and the walls remain clean and unmarked. I’ve been using this system for a couple of years now and it has proven to be easy, attractive, effective and versatile. Folks love the narratives!

  14. The gallery that I am in has indoor-outdoor black carpeting on the walls. I use the Avery cardstock for my information on my paintings. I put a small piece of Velcro on the back of the cardstock which holds them on the walls next to my paintings. These Velcro-backed labels can be moved around if the paintings are moved and work very well for me.

  15. Oh boy, you hit a a personal pet peeve of mine and that is, the pretentious use of numbers and price sheets. I just find that just so annoying. Here’s how I think about it, people can often make a quick emotional connection to art and you don’t want anything in the way of facilitating the sale. If a person has to put a lot of effort into finding out the price, and the medium, they are less likely to buy it. I can’t tell you how many times I gave up looking for a price sheet. Needless to say I do exactly what you do except for the brilliant
    idea of using folding card stock for sculptures……duh that never crossed my mind.

      1. I’m surprised to learn that a lot of artists are signing the back now. I’ve heard that the signature detracts from the picture. Hey, it never did for Vincent. I now sign my initial and last name in small block letters and fit it to the landscape somewhere in the lower right corner.

  16. Jason you have such great articles! I was in Park City last Friday for their stroll, and there were several galleries that don’t include the medium on their tags. As an artist I wanted to know what it was, but does it make a difference to clientele to have the medium on the tag?
    Thanks,
    Catherine

  17. Hi Jason,
    I also use clear Avery labels for the work I display in my studio. I also make other types of labels (on glossy photo paper), with small foam board square for 3D effect, and stick with artist’s tape. These are for exhibitions where labels are not provided because Avery labels can rip paint off the wall. Thanks for the tipon using these for sculptures!

  18. I make my labels using a Word template I created so that I can print out on high gloss photo paper, which looks very professional. I use Scotch brand Removable Mounting Squares which add a 3D effect to the wall plaque and are easily removed from any wall surface.

    I am in favor of providing as much information as feasible on the wall plaque. Visitors will become Buyers if you allow them the time and space to engage with your artworks without playing pricing games.

  19. Hello Jason,

    I really appreciate your insight on the topic! really enjoyed reading through your blog so far. I am really curious to know how vinyl wall signage. I am having a show in few weeks and want to put the title of the show and artist statements about the series on the wall with vinyl wall sticker and couldn’t really find a website that lets your customize the whole lot.
    Looking forward to your article covering the topic but mean while, would you happen to have a recommendation on which service to use?

    Thank you!

  20. Jason – Just found your site. Interesting info. We do use the clear label system but have a solo show coming and the artist wants pins on her pieces. We plan to have many price sheets available on pedestals etc. so our guests won’t have to hunt us down for pricing.

    Two questions for you. Is there a “rule of thumb” when it comes to labels – to the right of the piece or left?

    When you’re hanging a show, what is your center or eye-level number? I’ve heard every thing from 57 to 62″. Thanks.

    1. Hi Gail – we typically hang labels to the right of the artwork – though I’m not sure if I have a good reason for it – it’s just always felt right to me, and is what you see in most museums.

      I put my center at 60″ – so right in the middle of the range you suggest. I don’t think the height you choose is as important as being consistent about it.

      Hope that helps!

  21. JASON – just as I went back to read your blog, I see one of my questions has been answered NEXT to a painting by Dave Newman, a Prescott friend of mine. Also, I’ve been to your Scottsdale wonderful gallery.
    Gail

  22. My company, Image Transfers, creates custom dry transfers that have been used by museums and galleries for descriptions of artwork. Sometimes vinyl is not suitable for small point sizes and sometimes 18 point or smaller is difficult to cut and apply with vinyl. Custom dry transfers can be done in almost any point size, easy to apply by rubbing on walls with a supplied burnisher and can be created in almost any color. We would welcome the opportunity to work with any of you on a future exhibit project.

  23. Dear Jason,
    On average, what percentage of artworks in your gallery have narratives? Do you encourage artists to provide them? As a visitor and potential buyer, I really like to understand the background of artwork. What percent of your customers like to understand the content of the artworks they observe?
    Thank you.
    Kindly, Sheila Mayfield

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