Art Show - Room Layout
What goes in the room
Now that you know all about the room, what needs to go in it?
|Panels & tables||Are the art show.|
Office & cashier
|Art show needs|
|Print Shop||Best in art show - if not, needs own security & office|
Supply & packing storage
Exhibits or Special displays
|Can be elsewhere, nearby is better|
Panels, office, and security all must be in the same room. It is possible to put the Print Shop elsewhere, but if you do, it will need its own office and security - which takes more staff as well as space - and it will probably get less traffic and lower sales. Box storage needs to be convenient to the art show, but need not be in the same room (and boxes are usually not pretty, so nearby might be better). Some exhibits and special displays can stand alone, as can art demos, but they also work well in the art show room if they fit. If not, try to have them nearby, so they and the art show can share a mutual audience. If you plan to have an artists’ reception and don't have wide aisles, it may be better to have it nearby rather than in the art show itself.
You will need some sort of security by each entrance to the room (see Art Show - Security ). The art show office should also be near the entrance. If you have a large show with more than one entrance, you may want a main office at the main entrance, and satellite offices at other entrances, particularly if buyers need to sign up before bidding.
Security and an office are necessary overhead, not the purpose of the show. Most of the show will be occupied by panels and tables. Rows of panels should leave sufficient aisles for easy access by wheelchairs, for multiple people to pass easily, and for good sight lines to the artwork. You would also like good sight lines down the aisles from your office and security areas. The smallest aisle I like is 6’ (that’s actually about a 7’ minimum clearance in zig-zag - see panels for how to measure). Seven feet is distinctly better than six, eight is somewhat better than seven, and gains per additional foot diminish thereafter. Prestige shows generally want wider aisles, as do shows expecting extremely heavy traffic.
You should plan your layout well in advance, and in detail. You want exact locations for every table and panel (or row of panels). It’s hard to have too much detail. Doing more planning won’t save you work, but it does shift a bunch of it from during the show – when you don’t have time for it – to before the show. I’m willing to spend 2 or 3 hours before the convention to save an hour during it. And planning in advance usually allows you to do a better job. (see Art Show - Setup )
(for panel types and construction, see Art Show - Panel Types and Construction )
Panels along walls can only be used on one side, but allow you to squeeze in extra panels with no extra space required. They're space efficient but material inefficient. Wall panels must be held up by more than tables along the wall (though that might be OK temporarily during construction). You can run overhead braces from the tops of the wall panels, place perpendicular panels at intervals or provide some sort of sturdy leg. Don't expect to attach wall panels to the wall.
Wall panels are good for displaying really large pieces, especially if you can put them at the end of an aisle where they'll get long sight distances. Wall panels are also good for putting an artist's 2D and 3D work together. You can put an 18" wide table in front of the panel. Do not use wider tables if people need to reach the panels (e.g., to fill out bid sheets). Large 3D work will obstruct the panels, so artists may not want this arrangement, but it's nice to have the option.
Free standing panels
Most of your panels are usually free standing. They have four basic shapes: islands, crosses, bays, and zig-zag.
Islands are triangles or squares of panels, most often used for special displays (they go around pillars nicely). You can only use one side of each flat, much like wall panels.
A cross is 4 panels in a cross or x shape. These are more space efficient, since you can use both sides, but not as efficient as bays or zigzags. They may also be less sturdy than larger groupings.
If you link crosses together, you get bays. Bays are sturdier and more space efficient than crosses because there is only aisle on two sides, instead of four. Notice that the bays are twice as wide as they are deep. Follow this rule unless the bay is at least 10 feet wide.
Zig-zags are also sturdy and space efficient. For most purposes, you'll want to use bays or zig-zags. Which you prefer depends on:
- which is easier to build with your flats (if either is)
- the size of your panels. 8' panels make huge bays - zig-zag may be better. 4' to 6' work well with either style. 3' or less is too small for zig-zag and marginal for bays - you can combine them into 4' to 6' sections.
|Room size|| # of panels fit
| # of panels fit
|36' x 32'||32||28|
|36' x 33'||48||28|
|36' x 34'||48||56|
- exact room dimensions. A zig-zag of 4 foot panels is about 3 feet wide and grows longer in 3 foot increments. 4'x8' bays are 8 feet wide and grow longer in 8 foot increments. In really large rooms this makes little difference. In small rooms one may fit the room dimensions better. For instance, assuming 4' panels and 6' aisles in a room 32 feet wide, zig-zag does slightly better than bays. A foot more and zig-zag wins handily. Add another foot, and bays win. Two rows of bays are exactly 34 feet wide (two 8 foot rows plus 3 aisles of 6 feet). Three rows of zig-zag are 33 feet wide (3 rows at 3 feet each plus 4 aisles of 6 feet).
- Caveats: These figures are slightly off.
- I’m using 3’ for zig-zag width, which allows 2” for the frame. I allowed no space for the frame of the bays.
- In the two smaller rooms, bays would be more efficient with two shorter rows the opposite direction – you could fit 36 and 40 panels, respectively. But if your office and entrance are in the front, you’d want to be able to see down the aisles, and it doesn’t significantly change the result
- Caveats: These figures are slightly off.
- Aisle size. In an infinitely large room, zig-zag is more space efficient for aisles under seven feet, while bays are more efficient for aisles over seven feet. They’re tied with seven foot aisles.
- Sight distance. With a 6 foot aisle and 4’ panels, all panels in a zig-zag have a 14 foot sight distance. For bays of the same dimensions, the panels along the center of bays also have a 14 foot sight distance, but the panels on the side of the bays only have an 8 foot sight distance (You can get a long sight distance at a 30 degree angle. That's why you want the bays to be wider than they are deep).
- Crowding. You don’t want to be crowded, but bays may cope with it better than zig-zags (see Art Show - Crowding Panels ).
- The number of large pieces. A four foot zig-zag doesn't deal well with 5' wide pieces (though you can supplement it with wall panels for large pieces).
Aisles should generally be at least six feet wide, measured as shown in the diagram on the right. This is enough for two wheelchairs to pass in opposite directions, or for people to pass without brushing against the panels. Six foot aisles are quite functional (you often see them at grocery stores) but may feel a bit narrow. Wider aisles feel more spacious but offer little other gain unless you expect large crowds. Narrower aisles obstruct traffic and limit sight distances.
You want to ensure easy access to all parts of the show, and keep any part from being isolated or trapping people. You don't want dead ends or choke points. Panel rows over 50 feet long might benefit from a break in the middle. Arranging traffic patterns is an art in itself.
You can also create complicated crenellated and fractal shapes with your panels. Don’t. It may look fun on the floor plan, but in the show it limits sight distance and confuses people, makes it difficult to get from one part of the show to another quickly, and makes it hard to watch over the show (see art show - Security ).
Rows of zig-zags or bays can be aligned or opposed. Aligned usually works better for both. With bays, opposed slightly increases the minimum aisle clearance, but chops 4 panels off every other row. For zig-zag, opposed may look more spacious and gives a nice "gallery" effect, but with 6 foot aisles, sight distance changes from a uniform 14 feet to half with 12 feet and half with 16 feet. You can use either aligned or opposed, though, if one works better with your room.
Panels handle flat artwork, and some 3-D artwork. Most 3-D work needs to rest on a horizontal surface. For extremely large pieces, this can be the floor, but it’s usually on tables. Tables seem simpler than panels, but they’re not really:
- You don’t need hanging hardware for tables. Tables really are simpler this way.
- The hotel sets them up for you - you don’t have to do it yourself. Unfortunately, it’s often more work to get the hotel to set them up properly than it would be to do it yourself. Tables generally need to be draped (most hotel tables are pretty ugly) and possibly skirted. If they are all set up in the proper locations before the hotel drapes them, this is no problem, but if you have to move them it may require re-draping and re-skirting them.
- Tables often wobble – most hotels keep using them until they won’t stand up at all. Check the tables for sturdiness. And even the sturdiest table moves when run into – putting them along the wall reduces this problem, as does putting free-standing tables side-by-side.
- Be wary of putting items near the edge of the table. Things near the edge often get knocked over (the edge is a good place for bid sheets).
- Tables eat floor space. A row of 30” tables along the wall provides half the display space of panels along the wall, per square foot of floor space used. Free standing tables are worse – a 6 foot table occupies the floor space of 4 panels in a zig-zag and provides only 28% of the display space. Some shows therefore charge more for tables than for panels. This upsets 3D artists, who feel discriminated against. Depending on your room size, you may be able to fit tables along the wall without losing too much display space, but for each free-standing table you give up about 4 panels. Double rows of tables improve the space efficiency of free standing tables (still only 42% as efficient as panels), but also make it hard to reach the center of the double row (most people can reach a bid sheet 30 inches away – until you put other 3-D art between it and them). Wide tables along the wall share this problem.
- Narrow (18”) tables can be placed along the wall in front of panels, but tall 3-D pieces will block the panel behind it and you can’t hang art below the table level. When an artist does both 2-D and 3-D work, this is a way to display them together.
Small shows usually have a single office while large shows may have multiple specialized offices. Office space is used for:
- art check in
- filling out paperwork
- awards voting
- bidder registration
- buying art
- data entry
- artist check out
- security station
- computers and printers
- packing purchased art
- answering questions
- storing office and art supplies
- picking up previously purchased art
- keeping records, both paper and computer
- cash registers and credit card machines
- a place to sit when you’re not busy
For almost all of these, you want your office near the entrance. In most cases, office space is carved out of display space, so you’ll want to keep your office small. But some office functions attract crowds and you need to arrange space for all the people. Fortunately, the functions most likely to generate crowds – artist check-in/out and art pick up – are not when the show is open for viewing, so you can often rearrange the office for them. If you have separated the entrance and exit, bidder registration, bag checks and bagging stations must be at the entrance, while bag seach must be near the exit. Cash registers should be near the exit.
Security and Room Layout
Security has three needs from the room layout:
- Aisle size and layout (sight lines)
- Entry / access
- Space for sacking, searching, or bag check.
Being able to see all parts of the show at all times is your best security. Try to arrange good sight lines from the office, security station, or wherever else your staff will be. This means you’ll want most of your aisles running in a direction that points to the office, rather than running across. It also means you’ll want reasonably wide aisles with no nooks or crannies. Wide aisles with no constrictions, nooks or crannies also help keep people from running into the art by accident - that's a part of security, too.
You want to control access to the show when it’s open. It’s simplest to do if you have only one entrance and exit. Fire regulations may not allow this, but try to keep the number to a minimum. And you don’t want to put artwork too near entrances or exits – in addition to inviting theft, these are high traffic areas and people are likelier to bump into things.
At each entrance or exit you will need to leave room for whatever security measures you want to place there. If you are running a bag check, you need room not only for the bag check, but also for the people who will be clustered around it checking their bags in or out. For sacking or searching, you need space and supplies for the security people to work, plus room for people who are waiting their turn. Bag check and sacking need to be by the entrance; bag search needs to be by the exit. (see Art Show - Security )
If you have decided you want a Print Shop, there are several models available. What they all have in common is that the pieces there sell for a fixed sale price, don't get bids, and don't go to auction. Pieces in a Print Shop do not even need to be prints - there's nothing to keep an artist from putting an original in the Print Shop (unless you make such a rule). An artist could achieve something of the same effect in the art show by having no minimum bid, just a Quick Sale price.
Other ways the Print Shop may differ from the Art Show proper:
- lower fees
- allow multiple copies of an image
- provides a worse display
- smaller percentage of pieces sell
Ideally, you would like the prints to be displayed on panels, so that people can see them. If there isn't room for this, you can put prints in bins, and allow people to leaf through them. While this saves space, it also decreases sales and increases the chances of pieces being damaged. This is your first major decision for Print Shop.
If you display the prints on panels, you must then decide whether to allow the public direct access to the prints. You can do this by putting multiple copies of each print directly on the panel (using oversize hanging hooks to either make bins on the panel, or by hanging multiple copies from the hooks. The latter works better but hanging pieces takes more work), or by putting bins near the panels. The alternative is to put one labeled display copy of each print on the panels, and all the rest in bins in your office. Buyers tell you which one you want, and you get them a copy.
Putting copies in your office requires more work and more staff, but reduces the chance of damage and pilferage (wrapping prints in plastic helps protect them, and good security reduces pilferage, but keeping the prints out of reach is more effective). A few people may be upset if the print they get is matted differently than the one on display. Having to go to the desk to request a print does reduce sales somewhat.
When using bins, my favorite setup is to use 18" wide tables along the wall or in front of panels, and tape a 2x2 to the front and back edge of the table. Put the tablecloth over that, and you have a "bin" as wide as the table is long.
If you allow the public access to the prints, you can use a mix of bins and panels. Plain table space is also useful for holding items such as bookmarks or cards, if you allow them in the Print Shop.
Print Shop options:
|Displayed on panels||Only in bins|
|Buyers have access||multiple copies on panel or bins near panels||Bins in public area|
|No buyers access||Bins in office||Pointless|
Displaying prints on panels takes more room than using only bins, although pieces are often crowded more tightly than in the art show. If you display only one copy of each print, you still need space for bins, in either the public or office area of the Print Shop. Much like the art show, you want good lines of sight so you can watch over the Print Shop, and you'll need a place for people to pay for Print Shop purchases. Sometimes you can combine this with the cashier for Quick Sales - sometimes not.
You generally want your Print Shop to be in the same room as the rest of the art show. This allows them to share security arrangements and office space, and if buyers see an artist they like in one, it makes it easier for to them to look for the artist in the other. But you also want to make sure people can tell which is which. This usually means some degree of physical separation and good signs.
I have seen shows combine Print Shop and Art Show, by putting artists' prints next to their panel displays. It makes it easy to find the artists' prints. It's also harder to lay out and confusing for many buyers. If you do this, expect to spend a lot of time explaining which is which. I'd only consider it for the smallest shows.
Room plan samples
This is a floor plan from MileHiCon in 1997. It fits 105 panels, 13 tables, and a small Print Shop into a 56' x 43' space, or 2,408 sq. ft. (it's the Bergen Park room at the Sheraton Lakewood). It's the most efficient room layout I've ever used. It has six foot aisles everywhere, which is the least I consider adequate (the six feet on the left is from table to panel row - it's 7.5 feet from wall to panels). Wider aisles would be nicer, but six feet gets you the 14 foot sight distance in zig-zag rows, and eliminating the tables on the left would only make each aisle 3.6 inches wider.
This room works better with zig-zag than bays - it's exactly the right size to fit four rows of zig-zag, but there is only room for two rows of bays running this direction (the room needs to be seven feet wider for a third row of bays - then bays would be more efficient. Another row of zig-zag would fit if the room was nine feet wider - then they'd be more efficient again).
The office and bag check are both near the entrance and have a good view down the aisles. It would be better if the office extended all the way to the right wall, but then we’d have given up what little Print Shop we had (or sacrificed art show panels for a Print Shop). There is only one entrance / exit. For a small show such as this, that doesn't cause backups and it makes security simpler.
I’ve shown labels on all of the display tables and a few panels. Tables 1-5 are along the left wall, in front of wall panels. They are small tables - 6'x18" - partly because that's what fits, but mostly because putting a wide table in front of a panel keeps bidders from being able to reach the panel. We put tiny items (e.g., jewelry) on tables 1-2, where we can easily keep an eye on it and it won’t block the view of panels a2 (labelled) through a4 (behind t2). The remainder of the panels along the left wall go to artists who have both flat and 3-D art, and had their table(s) in front of their panel(s). There are just 9 panels along the left wall, which leaves enough clearance for the door (which opens out, away from the art show).
Tables 6 - 13 are actually window ledge. This room has windows along two sides. The windows start about three feet from the floor and extend to the ceiling (which is 14 feet high). The windows have a wide window ledge (about 16 inches deep), which we use as “table” space. The ledge is fine display space. It's sturdier than any table and a bit higher, which is mostly good (bad for kids and people in wheelchairs, though). During the morning, work on the back window ledges is lit from behind. This can be good or bad, depending on the work. If it’s bad, we used foam-core to block the bottom portion of the window behind it..
This room is one third of a larger ballroom. The wall on the left retracts. Behind the bag check is a small “room” where the wall sections reside when the wall is retracted. Many ballrooms with movable walls have such alcoves, usually hidden behind a door. If the door is in the right place – as it is here – the alcove is a great place to store shipping containers and packing material. It’s inside the room but not visible (piles of boxes tend to be unsightly). Large shows with more mail-in art will need an entire room as a storage area, but here we can get by with the alcove.
The Print Shop, at lower right, is sufficiently separated from the rest of the show to avoid confusing people. It’s next to the office, which allows us to watch it. It’s not very big. It's mixed panel and bin style - four panels and three tables, plus some window ledge (the panels may not be obvious on the drawing. There are two on the bottom wall, extending to the office, and two on the right wall, blocking part of the window ledge). We we could have dropped the Print Shop, extended the office to the right wall, and picked up about three more tables. We decided to have a Print Shop.
Panels a1, b1, d1, f1, and h1 are visible from the doorway. We try to put large, colorful pieces there to draw people in. Our artist Guest of Honor would get panels d1, d2, d3, etc. (usually 4-8 panels), which is the most visible area from the door.
There isn’t enough clear space around the office to deal with a crowd during art pick up. Instead, we rearrange the office. We put the wide office table directly in front of the door, and let people queue in the lobby. We put the cash register on the table. We move a narrow office table immediately to the right of the door, to hold the computer. This is also where the room's phone jack is located (for credit card sales). We use the bag check as work space to hold a buyers' pieces while they pay.
The doorway is six feet wide - enough for two people to be at the "counter". We only have one line - rather than parallel lines, we use a pipelined system (see Art Show - Art Pickup).
The door at the back left is kept locked until we prepare for auction (it can be opened from the Art Show side). The auction is held next door. Having this back entrance allows auction runners to immediately take each piece to the art show as soon as it's sold. Very handy. It also makes it easier to move the art to the auction room.
After the auction, we let artists check out at the same time we're still letting people pick up art. We use the front door for art pick up. We can block the door this way because we could use the back door for artists wanting to check out (or for us to get in and out).
Inefficient and Awkward
You don't always want an efficient room layout. For instance, at Origins in Columbus in 1996, we arrived to discover they had doubled the size of our room. We couldn't double the size of the show one day before it opened. Setting it up as planned would have left half the room empty, and everyone who walked in would have wondered what happened to the other half of the show.
You usually don't have extra space, but when you do you want to make it look like you planned it that way. The left plan in this figure  shows that this room comfortably fits 132 panels. To fit fewer, the rightmost plan just drops one row. This makes the aisles grow from six feet to eleven feet. This plan is quite spacious and would work well for a high-end show at a con where most other functions are also spacious. But if the rest of the con is rather crowded, it looks like you planned poorly. The middle plan makes the aisles diagonal. Except in rare cases, this is less efficient - which is our goal here. The aisles only grew about a foot, instead of five feet, but it fits fewer panels than the two aisle plan. I think it's more visually interesting and it looks like a deliberate choice, rather than poor planning.
- * This is loosely based on our room at Origins '96, but leaves off tables for 3D art or miniatures, etc. Having our space doubled was an improvement - the year before, at Origins '95 in Philadelphia, Andon tried cutting our room in half. Months before the show, we had told someone at Andon that the show was half full. They apparently took this to mean we'd only need half as much space and, without telling us, cut our space in half. In the meantime we sold out the original room. We arrived the day before setup to find half our room gone. It took us over six hours of fighting with Andon to get the space back. Coincidentally, the 1995 DragonCon/NASFIC running over the same weekend also had space problems. The cause depends who you ask, but the result was aisles so narrow that they could only allow one-way traffic. That show became infamous.
All the samples thus far have been of basic rectagular rooms with no obstructions. Unfortunately, many rooms have obstacles you have to work around. There are efficient and inefficient ways of doing that, too.
This figure shows three potential floor plans for a room with many obstacles. It's the room used by the art show at the World Horror Con in 2000 (WHC 2000) - the Windows room at the Denver Adam's Mark. This room was a former restaurant. It had four pillars, two of which were embedded into a steam table. The large grey block on the middle of the right wall is where the kitchen protrudes into the room. Above and below that are partitions to hide the doors to the kitchen. The rectangle at the middle of the top wall is a section of raised flooring. The floor in that section is raised about six inches - we've no idea why. A detail I left off to simplify the drawing is that the left wall consists of floor to ceiling recessed windows in a series of crenellations. Panels along that wall would have had ugly backlighting and block the light to the rest of the room, so you see tables there in all the plans. This isn't so much an obstacle as a layout constraint.
- kitchen and partitions. You can't use the kitchen as a public part of the art show. We were able to use it to store all the shipping boxes for artwork and packing material, keeping unsightly clutter out of the public eye.
- pillars - The standalone pillars are in the middle of where you want to put panels. The efficient way to deal with them is to nestle them into the panels, and accept the loss of the few panels to which they are adjacent. This also keeps the pillars out of the aisles. In the leftmost plan, the pillars keep four panels from being used. In the middle plan, the panel rows have been placed to avoid the pillars, which is far less efficient.
- steam table - You can't move it, but perhaps you can use it. If you cover the top with heavy cardboard, fiber-board, or something similar, this just becomes a long narrow table. One plan uses it as 3-D display space, the other two use it as the office.
- raised floor - This is a safety hazard. People can trip over it, hurting themselves or nearby artwork. All three plans block access to it from both sides with panels or a table pulled away from the wall, to keep people from tripping over it. We aren't using this space - we're walling it off. If we'd had a large freestanding 3-D piece, we might have put it there.
All three plans put the Print Shop in the lower right corner. It's mostly a panel type Print Shop, with eight panels and three tables. It could also have gone in the upper right corner, but the upper corner is more open and gives better sight lines to large pieces, which we put there. The leftmost plan largely defeats this purpose by putting the cross of panels where they are - the table in the other two plans works better there. Why put anything there? Because otherwise, in the two inefficient layouts that section of the room looks really empty and is quite isolated from the rest of the show. There isn't much to encourage people in the rest of the room to cross the gulf and visit that corner. The table helps bridge the gap. In the leftmost plan the panel cross is mainly a demonstration that efficient isn't always good.
The first layout is about as efficient as you can get in this room. You could fit more tables by using six foot tables instead of eight foot tables. But as it happened, WHC 2000 was not a large convention and we didn't want to make the show too large for it (the show at the 1999 World Horror Con had something like 36 panels). So we didn't even consider the first plan - it was too efficient. The idea was to put a smallish show in a larger room without making it look empty. Using the largest size of tables (8'x30") helped. Diagonal rows also work well for this - the middle layout has 82 panels. The room is an awkward size for bays - the bay layout has 90 panels.
Of the two inefficient plans, which is better? Either is pretty good. It may come down to personal preference, or which is easier to set up with your panels. I personally thought the the radial aisles of the middle plan were interesting and outweighed the slightly emptier feel; I loved the sight lines from the office; and our panels did zig-zag more easily than bays. We used the middle plan.