Friday, June 20, 2008

Nuts and Bolts: Let's get you an exhibition!

This week is all about you, my dear readers...

As many of you may recall this past February, I wrote a popular post called Nuts and Bolts: How to get your work in a gallery. Please refer back to it, if you missed it. This week I am rethinking the concept. I know many of you work at jobs that require long hours and perhaps the whole gallery relationship scenario seems overwhelming or too much of a commitment. However, you still know that you have talent, and that your art is more than a hobby. Perhaps you feel if you don't catch a break soon, you may just give up. Well, today I want to help you create the break you are looking for, or at least increase your chances of being ready when it presents itself. I truly believe if you are willing to follow a plan, be a little uncomfortable, be willing to compromise and ask for help, you can make this happen and have your own exhibition sooner rather than later.

First, you do need a consistent body of work, your greatest hits so to speak- (but not the hits of every genre you have every painted). You need 10- 20 paintings that have obvious connections with one another. Perhaps you haven't even painted these yet. Maybe you have been idly painting away without focus because your work isn't leaving the studio and you feel defeated. I understand that. So, this is where the fun starts. I am telling you right now you have a show. Yeah- you have a show! How exciting...congratulations! You are finally getting your chance, this is not an open call or random charity benefit or even a group show, this is your show!

To quote Eminem's song- Lose yourself, "You only get one shot." (And yes, I do listen to this song when I need to psyche myself up for my own shows- try it.)

Okay, so now that you have a show. You need a title- think of hidden concepts within your paintings, think about what you are painting, think of words that move you or inspire. Perhaps a title of a particularly strong painting could also be the title of your show. Brainstorm on this for an hour or two. You are taking this at warp speed, and everything is a working title right now anyway- so don't freak out. If you really can't handle a show title, call your show something like Your Name: Selected Works 2008 or Your Name: New paintings. Keep it simple and not too pretentious. The title should give clues and tie things together not be its own separate entity.

Now, you are going to make a map, regular readers will recall my map from my post The Map, and then the Reality. You might think this is a waste of time, but I think this quick step will give you a blue print, cut things down to size, and help you to stay motivated to complete the task rather than get overwhelmed. This is simple, write the show title on top of a piece of scrap of paper and then draw the number of squares/rectangles representing the paintings you already have in stock or the ones you will need to paint in addition to complete the show. So, if you already have five paintings that look great together draw them on the map and then add the size and orientation of the work that is yet to be painted as well. I believe in narrowing down your variables and giving yourself direction. Remember all of this is flexible. In the end I did not paint all 36 paintings that I had drawn on my map. Refer back to that post for help.

An important thing to remember, let's not go broke while working on this show. Use the canvases you have on hand, use those paintings you have already done, you can update them, paint over them, or even just orient them a new way. Try to make the most of what you have right now and push it to the limits. Remember consistency is key, and even if you love a painting and have put a lot of work into it; if you prop it up with your others and it doesn't ring true anymore, pull it! Editing is essential for a tight body of work, and if you are not sure ask your friends, family, or another artist for their input. (I would be happy to review your proposed body of work( up to 20 images-online) for a $25.00 donation to my paypal account- see donation button up top to the right- or contact me for more details)

The map of your show will help you spend your precious time in the studio wisely. On your map you have a proposed time frame as well. Lets say your show is in six months, so in November or December, (it could be sooner, depending how quickly you paint, how many consistent paintings you already have in stock, and your personal motivation when it comes to finding a space to show etc.)

Now, how about your web presence? If you don't already have one, you know you need one. It needs to be clean and easy to navigate, and your name needs to be in the URL. So, go over to and make one- it only takes a minute (once you have your best photographs of the work uploaded). Visit my post Creating a free web presence and focus on the carbonmade section. You will need a website to put on your promotional materials.

Next, you need to create those promotional materials. How about a postcard? It is like a business card, but much larger so we can easily see your best piece to date displayed proudly. Here is an affordable online postcard resource, Vista Print, and for my UK readers go to this, Vista Print.You can upload your images, and design your cards right on the site, order them, and they will ship them to you, this is a very affordable service. Look around on the Internet for various coupon codes as well to make it even cheaper.

Find another artist's postcard you like, and use it as a template. Make sure your postcard has a nice image on the front, and your contact information and maybe even a short statement about your work, and of course your web address on the back of the card. Your card will be clean simple, easy to scan. Attractive enough that they will want to put it on the fridge, frame it, file it, anything but recycle it. I wouldn't recommend just sending your cards out to random galleries by themselves. I think a postcard should be a piece of your presentation packet (and you know what you need for a complete gallery presentation). If it is sent to a gallery by itself (and you do not already have a relationship with them) it is likely to get recycled and you and your work are worth more than that. Don't jump the gun and "cold call" with your card, all in good time.

You will have these postcards on hand to give to people who ask you what you do, or what have you been up to. "I am an artist and I am preparing for a show- here is a sample of my work" - done. You are going to carry these cards around with you, (this is where you will be uncomfortable) you will send/hand them to friends, family, co-workers, other artists you know or have shown with in the past, post them on bulletin boards at work, in coffee shops, libraries, anywhere they might get seen, be creative but smart about this- choose reasonable places, every time you put one up it should be worth the 30plus cents you spent on the card.

In addition, if you are a little more advanced and have actually sold work in the past, everyone you have sold to should be mailed a postcard ( yes- you have been keeping up with their contact information). You are just saying "Hello! I am still here, still painting- don't forget about me."

At this point, you have been or are now working on the body of work, the title, the map, the website, and the postcard, but for what? Well- for your show right? The one you are going to organize! We didn't say how long of a show it would be- maybe it is one night only, or a week. Ideally, it will be up at least a month or two. Maybe there will be an opening, maybe there won't be (read this if there is). So, it is time to be creative and do a little more brainstorming. Of course you want a gallery show, who doesn't, and maybe you will get one, but there are so many other alternatives to explore.

First, the coffee house, the classy restaurant, the classy bar or pub, even a deli if it has good walls. Look around your town and city for public spaces that you know would benefit by hanging some of your art. Perhaps, a city administration building, a furniture store, a bank, a music store, a funky boutique, a flower shop? Try your library, community center, colleges, universities and of course all art centers. If you are member of an art collective, studio, or have had pieces in community spaces already as part of a group, it is time for you to approach these places again. Be bold, here is a script: "Hi, I am your name, and I am a painter. I have shown my work with your organization as a part of several group shows, and I was wondering if you are accepting proposals for individual shows currently, if so I would love to apply." Call first and check, remember don't be one of those artists who show up unannounced and take up their time.

Other venue ideas: how about a local park or your own backyard or studio space. You must look at promoting your work as another way to use your creative skills. Don't just accept the gallery as the only place. Don't limit yourself by what society deems as "the" important or meaningful place to show. When showing your work in alternative spaces, you may be responsible for the hanging of your own work, and sometimes the lighting won't be ideal, but you will use the space to the best of your ability regardless and hold your head up high as if you were showing in the best space in town. However, please do not show your work in any place where there is an obvious lack of care or risk of theft or damage, and never pay to show your work!

When you do have your show, everything will be clearly labeled, priced, hung as straight as can be. You will have a statement, bio, and more of your postcards at the venue. If you still have plenty of your blank postcards you can print the show details on sticky labels and update your cards easily that way. You will promote your show in the local papers by submitting a press release as well. It is free and easy. You are going to push yourself out of your comfort zone and make this opportunity work for you as if it was your last. When this show is over, you will take a break, see what worked and what didn't, and then do it again and again. Each show will be better, each venue more inspired, you will probably get a gallery (if you want one) in the process, because you are going to keep track of your solo shows on your resume. Not to mention that people are now seeing your work, talking about it and your name has been in the paper!

I have employed all these techniques with good results. Once, I had a very successful show in my own backyard when I was just starting out. A one day only event, helped to put me on the map with the locals and I was able to donate 20% to the local animal shelter, because there was no gallery involved at the time. Keep in mind that your show isn't all about selling your work, maybe it is more about sharing it. More about proving to yourself that you aren't waiting around to be discovered. Proving to yourself that your work is worth the trouble, time, and the extra motivation and bravery it takes to put yourself out there. Any sales will be the icing on the cake.

Your work is worth it. Stop waiting and start fighting. You really can do this. I can't wait to receive your postcard for your upcoming show- Good Luck!

Next week we tackle the artist statement.

Pictured Above:
They Wanted To Be Seen
Mixed Media on Canvas
Megan Chapman
Evidence of the Disappearance
Blue Moon Gallery
June-July 2008
Hot Springs Arkansas

Oh and here is a little about me.. I just self-published my first exhibition catalog!
Check it out.. Thank you...

Exhibition catalog
By Megan Chapman
Look for coupon codes online for reduced shipping charges. You can buy this book in dollars, pounds, and euros.. So have at it!! Thanks for considering!


  1. there is absolutely nothing more you could possibly add to this post.. it is perfect, this is the kind of post that needs printing off and sticking to your studio wall, to remind, to motivate and to inspire..

    .. oh, and that catalog looks beautiful.. I'll be having one of those I think!

  2. Thank you Steven- I can't wait to see your postcard!!

    Oh, and to everyone else.. It is the 3rd Friday of the Month!! So, you know what that means.. Leave a comment and be entered to win a paper painting!! Winner announced next week!GOOD LUCK!

  3. Oh man Oh man Oh man. Draw number three.

  4. You would be number 2!! I won't be counting myself in the mix...

    good luck!! thanks for visiting..

  5. I really needed to read this stuff this week - it was timed perfectly for me. I'd lost a bit of heart this week, and avoided the easel with lots of u-turn excuses. I think you may have just helped me tackle the issue.
    Thanks Megan. I'm now going to set up a personal website at last.
    Debs :)

  6. The factory supervisor expressed my thoughts perfectly. There's nothing more I can add, except - my thanks!

    Thank you.

  7. Well, thanks to this blog I have now created a new website dedicated to my paintings, and I've checked my painting log and realise that I only have 10 paintings to do to complete a 30 painting exhibition in time for Christmas, if I get cracking!
    So thanks Megan. Also on Factory Supervisors recommedation I have printed this weeks blog out and pinned it up in my studio. Megan, you rock!! :)

  8. Oh yeah - and I bought your book cos I can't get to see your exhibition in person...
    So thats one sale...2 with Factory Supervisor's.... so you're rich I tell you!!

  9. I see only some of the hardcore regulars came out this week. ;)
    There is a 1 out of 3 chance of winning the small painting this week ( I have it on good authority that Factory Supervisor doesn't like to play these games...)

    Thank you all for reading this blog. I know it is a bit long- but I appreciate your time, and I just want people to have the information they need to succeed. Debs- you are very impressive, I am so pleased you were able to get so much accomplished this week!

    Next week(this friday!!) I will focus on the artist's statement and bio and I will announce the winner.. and I hope you know you are all winners in my heart.. Thank you!

  10. I look forward to my notice it's been shippped! AND I read this whole wonderful post. Very inspiring and so helpful; thanks Megan!

  11. Megan,
    Last Friday I printed out this entire post of yours and stapled the pages together so I could read it as time allowed. I remember when you posted about this topic last year - it was one of my favorites. And here you go again! I know you are speaking to every artist out there, but when I read this it seems like you are talking directly to me! Love the wisdom you share. And the inspiration you are. And the confidence you impart.



  12. Thanks to all the book buyers out there. I appreciate you.

    I am so honored that some of you have printed this post off, and are working towards completing the steps I suggested. You are very impressive and you inspire me greatly. I hope to hear about all of your shows in the near future.

    Stephanie- I am talking directly to you :). Are those cavases still waiting patiently in the garage?

  13. Meg,
    Can I keep you in my pocket? So I can pop you out when I need a talking to?
    Thanks for this. Perfect.

  14. Beth,

    I am not sure I can fit in your pocket, but my blog is here 24/7.
    Glad to help- thanks for reading!