The Savvy Artist here, still safe at home waiting the pandemic out. It's a Friday evening; I'm watching Blue Bloods, and I figured I'd pen a journal post about preparing for a gallery show.
I'll admit it was an intimidating venture when I first jumped into this market, and I wished I had some of the knowledge I'm about to disclose. Over the past few years, I have honed my skills and learned a few tips and tricks along the way in order to make the gallery showing experience a pleasant one; as stress can easily set in and become overwhelming...
1. Scout and Find The Right Venue
Just because a trendy gallery in your city seems to be well attended doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Sure, you want to get your feet wet and try it out, but I highly recommend ensuring the market/show you want to participate in has the right audience for your work.
Ask yourself a few questions:
Are the people attending this event similar to your customer/client base?
Is art the primary focus of the event?
Will people buy on the spot or contact you later for purchase?
Would you go to this event and buy art?
Is the art equal to what you create and priced in the same ball park?
If you haven’t defined who your client segment is, then try putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Participating in a art show is a big commitment and in some cases can be expensive, so make sure you pick the one best geared to your target audience.
2. Is Time On Your Side?
Make sure you allow yourself adequate time to prepare for said show. Don't rush your work just to be in a show. It's better to wait and plan for the correct exposure than it is to hinder yourself by showing stuff that isn't ready. First impressions defiantly count in this area, so make sure you stand strong with your ability and display no weakness.
I would honestly allow four to six weeks to plan for a serious gallery show. Marketing yourself and generating press interest via a press release typically begins about 2-3 weeks out from an event date. This gives the editors time to write up a story if they so choose.
Bottom line. Don't commit to a show unless you are absolutely sure you are ready. I strongly advise not to waste a gallery owner, or curator's time. They know other owners and curators in the area, and believe me they talk with each other about good artists and bad artist. You want to make sure your on the "good" list. Stay off the "bad" list.
3. Plan Out Your Show Space
Planning out your space at an event is key. After you receive the dimensions, determine not just how many pieces you should bring, but which pieces you should bring. That seems easy enough, right? Just remember that how you set up your space will impact how your art is perceived. Spaces that look cluttered and disorganized stick out like a sore thumb.
Consider different tastes and bring multiple sizes and color schemes. Consider the flow and space between pieces. And if you can manage, try to make your space interactive. I've done some live painting in past shows. Of course, you'll need to make sure to get approval from owner or curators before attempting something like this. Make sure at the very least that you attend the opening night reception. People who are in the market for original art also love to meet and get to know the artist behind the art. The more they know about you and your creations the more comfortable they'll be when it comes to pulling the trigger on buying a particular piece that may have caught their eye.
4. Show Me The Money!
No not like Tom Cruise from the 1996 American romantic drama sports film, "Jerry Maguire."
How you price your pieces is really up to you – I am not going to tell you what your paintings should be worth. What I will say, is that if you have not spent sufficient time researching and planning out your pricing model, you should, and just as you would in other markets - be sure to offer pieces at various price points.
A year ago I entered a gallery show and one of my pieces was selected to participate. I drove and delivered my art to the owner of the gallery. He asked me what I wanted to charge. I told him a figure, and he quickly shunned my price. Telling me it will never sell for that.
I smiled at his blunt nature and said, "okay this is your place, what do you think it should be?" He looked it over and countered with a much lower figure. So low I was shocked and almost walked right out, but I decided to counter back with a slightly lower price then my original. I should note that this particular piece was large at 30 x 40 in.
He said, "well its your art so you can price it at whatever you want, but I hope your prepared to come back and pick it up in thirty days as it most likely won't sell."
I said, okay and left the gallery slightly discouraged.
A month goes by and I'm ready to go pick up my art. I call the gallery and find out that my piece sold for my slightly lower asking price. So my advice in this example is to be confident in your ability and not let a gallery owner or curator demand something your not comfortable with. Most gallery owners and curators won't do this as most do have a knowledgeable experience about their clientele and what prices will work.
My work is priced by the square inch; which is a very common practice among artists So a piece that is 24 x 30 in. comes to a total of 720 square inches. I have a set figure in mind per square inch and I add in my material cost to come up with my original art price.
Your price by the square inch will come with time. As your accomplishments increase as an artist your price will natural go up. A new artist will little experience can most likely expect to garner somewhere between .50 to .75 cents per square inch. Also location plays a huge role in pricing art. Obviously art sold in a New York or Los Angeles gallery will demand a much higher price point than the same art being sold in a gallery in Oklahoma City.
5. Cream of the Crop
This should really go without saying, but ensure your work is polished and ready to hang. Are your pieces varnished? Are the sides painted? Or do you need framing? Are all of your pieces signed? Do you need to do any touch ups? The last thing you want is for a potential customer to walk away because your artwork doesn’t look professional.
This is also a good time to edit and update your artist bio along with a statement which most galleries will require either to get in a show or to provide to their clients who express interest in your art. Art is a very personal experience and buying art is no different.
6. Double Check That Pre-Show List
If you haven't already; make a list and check it twice even though most gallery curators will handle most of the details pertaining to the show for you. They'll hang the work how they feel it best fits within the gallery and they'll tag each piece with the proper info as well. More then likely they'll have a POS (point of sell) device to be able to accept credit cards. They'll market and advertise your work within the confines of the're normal exposure allowance. Understand that all these benefits do come at a price though. Depending on your location, galleries will typically take a 30-50% commission on art sales. They also handle shipping and customer relations very well. This commission will also dictate your asking price.
7. Market & Promote Your Exhibition
You’ve put all of this work into putting on a good show, now it’s time to tell the world.
Not everyone knows about all the amazing events that happen in your city, so tell them. There are several events that I have attended that I had no idea about until I saw them on Instagram or Facebook. Get on your social networks, send emails to your friends and family, tell your colleagues and help spread the word.
How often and how much should you post?
My savvy recommendation is not to post too far in advance for any event. Most people don’t plan that far ahead. Try two to three weeks prior at most, again a few days before and of course while you’re there. Be sure not to go overboard; the last thing you want to do is spam people with the same content over and over.
If you’re still a little intimidated about participating in a show. Don’t be. It might seem like a lot of work, but you won’t regret the experience. Whether you sell a lot of paintings or none at all, you’re putting yourself out there and that is in itself worth doing.