How to Prepare for Your First Art Show

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Have you been accepted into a group show? Are you showing your work in a local business? Did a solo show opportunity fall in your lap? Whatever display opportunity has been presented to you, congratulations! It is incredibly exciting to be able to show your work in public for the first time. Now you’re probably wondering how to prepare. Well, I’m going to help!

I have shown my art in a variety of venues. Group gallery show, large weekend art fair, small craft fairs, solo shows at a hair salon, tattoo parlor, library, breweries, and more. With each opportunity comes new preparation challenges. For this post, I want to focus mainly on how to prepare for an art show in a gallery or informal business like a coffee shop. First let’s look at:

Space Size and Location

Before I agree to a show or bring my work inside to install it, I always take a look at the space. I take pictures of the walls, get rough measurements, and even draw little diagrams. Some venues happily provide a drawn layout of their space with measurements (and I love those venues!), which makes things really easy.

When you are displaying in a group show, you don’t really need to worry about these details as much, but this will be very important for a solo show. Getting an idea for a layout lets you figure out if you have enough work to fill the space. Do you need to create more? Can you create a collection from what you already have?

Contracts, COmmissions, and Important Dates

Once you agree to do a show, a venue will likely provide a contract for you to sign. This will often include the show dates, the install and tear-down dates and time, a general waiver of responsibility of damage (if your art gets damaged, the venue will not be held liable), commission percentages, and any other important details. If a venue does not provide a contract, get the details that are important to you in writing. Whether that is through email, or by writing your own contract.

If your art is available for sale, decide who will handle art sales. Some venues will handle transactions and cut you a check once the show is over. These venues will also likely take a 10%-50% commission off the sale. The more informal venues like businesses that just want to support local artists will often let artists keep the entire sale, but they will leave you to handle the art sales on your own. Work these details out before installing your work so you are all on the same page.

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR WORK FOR A Group Show

If you are doing a group show, this will likely be the easiest experience for you. The show coordinators will usually give you a size range for your work and a time to drop your piece(s) off at the venue. They will usually install all of the work.

When you are choosing what work you want to display for a group show, first pay attention to the theme of the show if there is one. Show coordinators are trying to create a cohesive collection when choosing a theme, so choose work that will fit in among the other artists. If there is no theme, then choose work that exemplifies what you do all around. If your subject matter is all of the place and you really don’t have one distinct style yet, then choose the work that makes you proud.

How to Choose your work for a Solo Show

Solo shows can sound really intimidating at first. It’s just you and your art in a venue *gasp*, but take a breath. It’s going to be fun!

Depending on the venue, you can be super serious and intellectual with your show and have a show title, artist statement, and give a speech at a reception–or you can be relaxed and do things more informally. If you are doing a solo show at a legit art gallery, then prepare to be more professional with your show. If you are showing at a location where people primarily go for non-art reasons, then informality is more appropriate. Read the room and stay true to who you are as an artist. Here are a few things I keep in mind:

  • Choose a body of work that fits together– If you are doing a gallery show, think of a title and theme for your work. Make sure all of your pieces can tell a part of your larger story. If you are doing a more informal show at a coffee shop or brewery, then you can be a little looser with how things fit together. You can skip the title/theme and choose the same color scheme or other consistent design element.
  • Have a couple of stand out pieces– I will often plan a show around one piece that I really like and I will set that as the focal point (put it on the best wall in the venue!).
  • Create flow with how you hang your work– Let’s say you are all over the place with your art. You work with all sorts of colors and styles, and you don’t have time to create a whole new cohesive body of work for your show. Then, create flow from one piece to the next. Start piecing your work together like a linked chain on the wall. Your purple sunset can flow into the abstract geometric purple piece, then you add your geometric red piece to the chain, and a hyper-realism red delicious apple comes next. Connect your pieces however you can.
  • Use the pictures and diagrams from when you scoped out the venue and visually plan out your show. I will often draw pieces to scale into a diagram so I can install quickly and bring exactly the number of pieces that can fit in a space.

Create an Inventory List

Once you have decided what work you will display, put together an inventory list in a spreadsheet. I always include the following:

  • Title
  • Size
  • Medium
  • Price

When a venue doesn’t supply a contract, I will often use this inventory list to gather all of the show details. I then print off a copy for the venue and hand it over when I install my work.

Title Cards with Contact and Purchase Info

After I compile my inventory list, I save it and create a title card in a Word document. For my title cards, I list everything my audience needs in order to get in contact with me and buy this piece. I include my name, social handle, email, piece details, and the URL needed to make a purchase. I like to create a page on my website dedicated to the current show for my cards.

Some venues ask you not to list a price to protect art from being stolen in more public places, so don’t hesitate to ask your show coordinator what they prefer.

Once I create the card, I use the inventory spreadsheet and create a merge file so I don’t have to individually type out a card for each piece. Then I print on nice cardstock, cut, and hang the cards next to each piece using poster putty (see my Art Show Tool Kit list).

Bio And Artist Statement

Not all shows require a bio or artist statement. If you are showing in a gallery, yes, plan on writing both of these. If you are showing in any other location where art is a secondary focal point, then it’s really up to you if you want to put in the effort. Some locations will request this info if they are good with social media and promotions, but others are more chill.

For a lot of my shows, I will create a one page bio/statement combo and hang this sheet with poster putty near a high traffic area of my display. Those who are interested in your work will happily read more about you.

Always include your name, contact info, and directions for how to purchase your art.

How to Hang Your Work On Walls

When working with an event coordinator, I always ask how they want me to hang my work. If a venue has a wire hanging system, be prepared to wire the backs of your work. If they simply use nails, then a saw tooth bracket or hanging wire will work. If the walls cannot be touched at all and there is no wire system, 3M Command strips can work really well to hang lighter pieces. I have worked with venues who will hang all of the work themselves, but the majority of the time I am hanging my own art. (For more details on how to frame and hang your art check out this blog post.)

Anytime I got to a venue to install my work, I bring my own tool kit. I’ve linked the exact products I use, and some functionally equivalent products on my Amazon Associate Page (I will earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking that link).

Before I Install my work, here are the questions I ask:
  • Does the venue have a ladder if needed?
  • Wire hanging system or nails?
  • Do they want you to patch any nail holes you’ve made after tear down?

While hanging my work, I do the following:

  • Use a level to make sure pieces aren’t wonky.
  • Use a laser level if hanging multiple pieces that are the same size.
  • Use a tape measure to measure distances between pieces and distance from floor and ceiling if I don’t have a laser level with.
  • Stand back and eyeball the accuracy of each piece after hanging, and view entire collection as a whole.

Wire hanging systems are wonderful for making small adjustments to how your pieces are hanging. With these systems, you can raise, lower, and slide your art around easily. If you have to use a hammer and nails, then take advantage of your tape measure and level to make sure you’re not pounding a bunch of unusable holes in the wall for each piece.

How to Price Your work

I wrote a long post about this a while ago, and it still has some good info. In short I will say, price your work according to the profit you will make. When you sell at informal locations like a coffee shop, lower prices will work better. When you show at a gallery, they will take a significant cut of the sale, so your prices will need to be higher. Though, be careful to be able to explain why your prices are higher or lower. This could mean that you display your smaller and less labor intensive work in informal locations, and you save your high quality, labor intensive pieces for galleries.

There is no exact science to pricing, but that also means you can wing it and adjust accordingly from there. That’s what the rest of us do.

Opening or Closing Reception

Now you’re ready to party! Once you have a show planned, generate some buzz around it and have a closing or opening reception! For one, it’s fun! Two, this helps get more people in the door to see your work.

Work with your venue and get something on the calendar. Plan an event with food vendors, musicians, or even just a tray full of cookies. If your venue has high foot traffic already, then great! If not, you might end up having a party with just friends and family, but that’s still something to be excited about.

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And I think that about does it! Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions? I write these posts to help other artists, so I am always open to hearing your questions.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further reading:

How Artistic Perfection Can Hold You Back

Yesterday, I was randomly thinking about a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes–and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again.

If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming. 

What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?

All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action. 

This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience–and I was laughing at myself when I remembered how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.

What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?

You should want to do your best when you work on your passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when those worries will hold you back. Many many times.

Here are some examples of how how you can be held back:

  • Not moving onto the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
  • Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
  • Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
  • Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
  • Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
  • Not promoting yourself.
  • Not making business cards.
  • Not pricing your work.
  • Not launching an online store or website.
  • Not accepting compliments.

My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.

Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with it’s own barrier–then you might be trapped.

Like this:

“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”

Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–

Perfection is Bullsh*t

Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices–perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because, perfection is subjective. It’s definition is different for everyone.

The best example for the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally add salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.

Redefine Perfection if you are a perfectionist

Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your work? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?

Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.

So if you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smart phone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection–but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.

When you know you can do better, you still need to move onto the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.

When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources?

If yes, it’s perfect–move onto the next project.

No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move onto the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply it to the next. There comes a time where you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.  

Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.

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Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

Digital Drawing with an iPad and Procreate

*Links contained in this post are affiliate links for Amazon and I will earn a commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund more content like this, so thank you!

I am not a digital artist and I do not use my current digital drawing tools the their fullest potential. I am a glorified doodler. Though, achieving the crisp detail of my simple doodles in digital format proved to be more complicated than I thought when I started researching products to buy.

I spent months researching digital drawing pads. I wanted to find a way to create my crisp line work digitally with as much ease as I can with pen and paper. This has been a goal of mine for years, but I didn’t want to waste money on tech that I didn’t necessarily need. I tried to get away with cheap alternatives in the past, but ultimately wasted that money as the bargain products I bought were clunky and hard to use right away.

I wanted out of the box, intuitive, easy doodling. I finally convinced myself to increase my budget and buy a product that did everything I wanted (and more!). Through my researching, I binge watched all of this guy’s YouTube videos on digital drawing. Brad Colbow. He is super informative. If you are struggling with figuring out what digital drawing tool is best for you, his videos will help.

After all my research, I bought an iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate. My first ever Apple products.

My Struggle With Apple Products

I am frugal AF. If I can get away with a cheaper version of a product, I’m going to do it. Which explains why I have avoided Apple products most of my life. I bought a Zune instead of an iPod. I’ve always used Android instead of an iPhone. I’m Windows OS all the way. But, when I started playing with different drawing tablets, I couldn’t deny how perfect the iPad and Apple Pencil were at accomplishing exactly what I wanted.

I was torn between a Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 and the iPad (Check out Brad’s video on the Tab S4), but Procreate is only available on Apple products and after testing it out at Best Buy (because that’s what Best Buy is for now), I had to go Apple all the way.

The Products I purchased

  • Apple iPad Pro 11 inch, 64GB (Amazon)
  • Apple Pencil 2nd Generation (Amazon)
  • Procreate (You can buy this from the app store when you have the iPad)

Why I LOVE my iPad with Procreate

I have been using my iPad for around 6 months now, and I love it more with each doodle I make with Procreate. Here’s why:

  • It’s user friendly. Once you have Procreate installed and your Pencil synced, you can start doodling right away.
  • The 11 inch screen is a great size and I can rest my hand comfortably on it while drawing.
  • The Pencil mimics hand to paper perfectly. I draw a lot of lines, and I need a digital product that won’t lag. I also need the digital pen to make marks where it’s supposed to. If you try using cheaper options, you’ll notice how the line you draw can be a millimeter or more away from where you’re actually holding the utensil on the screen. That really messes with my line work. I have no issues like this with the iPad.
  • In Procreate, you can easily zoom in and out with two fingers and turn your canvas when needed. No shortcut clicks, no scrolling on a screen. It’s super intuitive and allows me to work like I do with physical pen and paper. I can go with the flow.
  • When finished, I can easily export jpeg files to my Google Drive and move to other devices.
  • When you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you can export your file from Procreate and open it in Photoshop or Illustrator on a different device. I sometimes switch between my iPad and my laptop when working on a file.
  • Procreate records your process while you work. You can export time lapse videos easily. This was one of the first things I did with my iPad in Procreate to test the recording feature:

There are a lot of other perks about the iPad and Procreate, but those options were most important to me and my drawing style.

Now–Here are a couple of things I don’t like:

  • The battery drains when in sleep mode. I usually get distracted and don’t use the iPad every day, so I always find a dead battery when I go to doodle. I should probably just power it down between uses…
  • My hand sometimes sticks to the screen, but I fixed that with wearing this weird half glove from a Huion tablet I bought a while ago. Works great!
  • The price. Yup. Like all Apple products, the price is inflated. You could buy an older model or try a generic digital pen to buy–but I just went for it and called it an early birthday present for myself. You could also explore the Android route or wait for Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals.

What I use my IPad with Procreate for:

  • Doodling on the go- it’s hard to make a messy art process portable, so when I travel, I bring my iPad with to create art when I’m away from the studio.
  • Mock-ups for clients- Instead of sending over pictures of a rough sketch on paper, I can create detailed and colorful mock-ups for commissioned work. I like to take pictures of a client’s space and then Photoshop the mock-up into the photo. See the example below:
  • Mocking up my art mid-process- Sometimes I get stuck on a piece and don’t know where I want to take it. When that happens, I take a picture of my work with the iPad, import it into Procreate, and experiment with a couple of different directions. It takes away the pressure of “screwing up” a piece.
  • Finished digital works of art for licensing- if you work with companies to get your art printed on every day items, you often need a very large file to preserve detail during printing. Creating digital works that are already hi-res or in vector form allows you to scale to much larger printing formats. (You can create vector work with Adobe Illustrator.)
  • Designs for sites like Society6– I’ve recently been adding digitally created images to my Society6 shop to expand the products I can offer.

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An iPad can be used for a crap ton of tasks. I bought it as a drawing tablet, but obviously it is so much more than that. Even though I will always prefer working with physical art supplies more than digital, using Procreate on an iPad has helped give me a new perspective on my creative process, and opened up new possibilities for my work.

Feel free to ask me more questions if you’re thinking about buying any of these products. I’m happy to share more of my opinions. Reach out through email or Instagram DMs.

If you want to learn more about the tools I use in the studio, let me know through Instagram or Email, or consider becoming a Patron of mine to support more content like this. Now go get messy and share your creations on Instagram using #messyeverafter!

-Kelly

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Further Reading: