I work at a big box home improvement store. Sunday, I had two young ladies and their parents come in trying to figure out an inexpensive way to display artwork. Face it, even if mom and dad say it's okay to blow $200 on a one-time only display, why would you want to? If you ARE going to spend money, it makes sense that whatever materials you decide to use, you can use again.
So here are some ideas for displays. I realize time is short, but I decided to put some ideas together. If you like them, spread the word!
CARDBOARD IS KEY!
For an impressive display, get your hands on a refrigerator box. If you can't find one, try and get a couple of range/dryer/washer/dishwasher boxes and paint them the color(s) you want, then tape them together. You'll have at least four sides, and a fairly tall display. You can weigh the boxes down with books for extra stability. Try and find boxes with flaps intact. I would suggest going to the home improvement/appliance stores in person to get the boxes. If you call the store, chances are you will be transferred to a department staffed by one person. They will probably be busy, perhaps too busy to look and see if there are any boxes to be had. If you actually show UP in the store, you stand a better chance that someone will track down some boxes for you. Cardboard is cheap (in this case, probably free) and is fairly lightweight. Be sure to use cardboard to mount your artwork on instead of buying expensive mats at the art stores. I think they still sell Post It note glue sticks, or some sort of adhesive that isn't permanent. Use that, or make corners for your artwork for temporary mounting.
Painting your cardboard: You will have better results if you use a primer. You don't want any printing on the box to show through. So if you are going with a black or red background, chose a gray primer.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE!
Try and think of unconventional ways to display your artwork. A patio umbrella makes a novel way to hang artwork, as long as you have a sturdy base for it. Use fishing line and duct tape to attach the artwork so it can hang from the umbrella's outside edge. No one will see the duct tape since it will be on the top of the umbrella. Make sure the umbrella is high enough so people can walk under it.
Bookcases can serve a dual purpose of displaying 3-D artwork, such as sculpture or jewelry, and you can use the three sides to display photos or paintings. Remember to mount your prints on cardboard, and don't frame them, so they aren't heavy. If you don't have a bookcase, look for inexpensive ones such as these. You can use them over again, and to save space when you aren't using them, they are easy to take apart.
If you don't have it, see if you can borrow it. If you have lots of jewelry to display, try using a dress form, and putting a cool dress or neat outfit on it. It depends on your jewelry. Funky, modern jewelry won't look right on a formal gown. Also consider hitting up the thrift stores for velvet jackets to use as cushions for pins. If you have satin gloves, try stuffing them with fiberfill and stitching them shut. You can use those to display rings and bracelets. Scarves would work too. Try using goldfish bowls or aquariums to display jewelry.
Wire shelving, the kind used for linen closets, comes in various depths. With some zip ties, you can attach three or more of them together and form a vertical triangle, or a cube. The wire is usually spaced in half-inch intervals, so you can attach a variety of things. Most stores can cut the length of the shelving. We have it in four, six, eight and twelve foot lengths. You can get one shelf for around $7 or so. Larger sizes cost more.
Something else you might want to consider is lattice panels. You can use zip ties at the top as a hinge, then either use more zip ties at the bottom, or twine to secure the bottoms to make a sort of giant sandwich board. It will look like a giant upside down V. You can then display your artwork on both sides. You can then use the lattice for its original intention, or use it for a garden-themed headboard or wall display panel for photos or award ribbons.
Pallets can also be used, if you don't want your artwork at eye level. You can zip tie pallets together to make an open cube about three and a half feet high. This might not be your cup of tea, but pallets can be had for cheap, if not free.
Go scavenging! People throw out all sorts of useful stuff. If you can find four doors all the same size, you can paint them. then hinge them together for a vertical rectangle (which will be pretty darn solid) for a variation on the refrigerator box theme. Screen doors are a lightweight alternative to traditional doors. I've seen brand-new screen doors for $21. But try to borrow or scavenge if you can.
If there aren't any boxes to be had, you can always go to Office Depot and get document storage boxes. I think they come in 10 packs, so you can save some money. You can paint these, duct tape them together, and make a giant wall to display your artwork.
Most home improvement stores have sawhorse brackets for about $7 per pair. A couple of two by four by 96 inch studs cut down can make a quick table. Just slap a piece of sturdy cardboard on top, and some fabric to hide the legs and you're good to go. you can also make a giant sawhorse by buying five of the two by fours, and a pair of brackets. The fifth two by four will go across the top. You will have a sparse looking frame, which can be painted whatever color you'd like. You can hang the pictures with fishing line, or clear line. Duct tape the line to the back of your artwork. Then, duct tape the line to the top of the two by four across the top, where no one can see it. The artwork will appear to float in the air.
Use your imagination! A lot of great artists were extremely poor before they became famous. Use this opportunity for making a display another way to be creative! Bear in mind, I don't know if you have space limitations, or how much time you are allowed to spend assembling you display. Not all of these ideas may work. Think about your artwork and if there is a theme running through it. If you need a little bit of elevation, borrow a card table or coffee table. Check out the thrifts for sheets or lengths of material to cover tops of tables, table legs, etc. Stepladders may be an option as well. You could probably make a 10 foot by 10 foot display booth out of PVC pipe. Depending on the circumference of the pipe, I saw pipe for less than $2. You could attach it with the little corner pieces. I would estimate if you did just the frame, it might run you maybe $25. Also, if you have one of those little pop-up canopies, you could use that as a display area. If it's advertising beer or some other form of alcohol, you may have to cover up the logo so you don't get in trouble.
A little bit about paint: It never hurts to prime! If you are using cardboard, it probably will have writing on it, or it won't be the right color. If you are deciding on a very dark color like black or a deep red or brown, please use a primer. If you don't, the brown or white of the cardboard may show through, and you won't be happy. If you come to Lowe's, you can get a gallon of black paint for about $21. It's called Olympic Icon, and I recommend getting it in flat, so it doesn't reflect light. I suggest using the color Black Magic, which is my favorite shade of black. It's made by Olympic. It's a pure black; if you look at our other shades of black, you'll see hints of green, purple and even brown. If you do decide to prime, get the Valspar High Hiding Primer, which is around $18 a gallon. It's white to begin with, so tell someone at the paint desk you'd like it tinted to a gray.
If you think these ideas are helpful, please let me know! My email is GloriaDcolumnist@aol.com. Please spread the word, and if you try something that works, please let me know! I will find out the date of the Fine Arts night and post it here on the blog. I just wanted to get this post up ASAP. Please spread the word if you know a Carroll student (and parents!) freaking out over displays!