My first botanical art and natural science illustration solo exhibition was at Cyanamid Corporation in Princeton NJ in 1999. I was so excited at doing my first solo show that I jumped in head first. The company had a huge hallway and I was given this great space to show my work. Cyanamid was a company that researched and manufactured insecticides so I was excited to show my insect and plant paintings. Here are 3 mistakes I made (and they were whoppers!) and 3 solutions I offer to you.
Mistake #1: I jumped at the opportunity before I really knew what it entailed. After looking at the corridor I figured I needed 50 paintings to fill it. I had an inventory of about 40 paintings and I had to produce 10 more. I had 6 months to do the paintings, but I hadn't thought about all the other things I needed to do for the show.
Solutions #1: Look before you leap. Check out the space. If you have 10 paintings and the exhibition space is huge think about how you could make the art fill the wall. For instance; grouping paintings together in sets of 2 or 3 and then leaving big spaces in between can be visually attractive. It makes more space for people to look at your work. Groupings give viewers the idea that they would make a wonderful ensemble together and may increase sales with multiple purchases. Furniture can also break up the spaces as well as plants or possibly a small table with business cards, promotional materials, resumes and price list. If the establishment insist that you fill the entire space with your work, perhaps it is better to look for another venue. They are out there so don't bite off more than you can chew. I did..indigestion and insomnia…not recommended
Mistake #2: I thought I needed to fill this enormous space so I chose 50 paintings which were all different sizes. Custom framing and matting is very expensive. I gained recognition, sold a few pieces and the corporation purchased a painting for their corporate collection. Sounds good right? I went broke doing this show. If you figure I spent $50 per piece on framing ( I know I spent ALOT more) the cost was $2500. It was probably more like $3,000- $3500. My sales were under a $1000 and this was when the economy was good.
Solution #2: Pick a few standard sizes and paint to those sizes. Your first reaction may be that you don't like the constraints of painting to a specific size but when your framing bills start to escalate out of control, you will think twice. Standard frames can be purchased at art stores and online. One of my favorite frame sizes is 20" x 24". I make my paintings 14" x 18". The mat size is 3 inches all the way around. This standard size can be bought anywhere and you can get a wide variety of frames from metal to gold leaf. You can even go into AC Moore, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Pottery Barn and find nice frames, use a coupon and get it on sale! There are other standard sizes to choose from. Go to these stores or shop online to see what other frame sizes are readily available if you want multiple sizes.
Mistake #3: I spent all my time, money and energy in painting and framing that I didn't save anytime to get promotional materials together, send out invitations or press releases. This was at the time when the internet was just beginning to be used for marketing but I was not computer savvy enough at the time to know how to take advantage of it.
Solution #3: Start backwards and give your self a time line. Let's say that the show is April 1, 2012 and it is now September 1, 2011. This gives you 7 months to prepare. Start by making a list of all of the things you would like to do for the show; how many pieces, framing, invitations, press releases, blog posts, e-mail blasts, postcards printed etc….. Then with a calendar work backward. All the frames need to be purchased at least a month a head of time if you are going to do the framing yourself. If you are hiring a framer,find the framer and what the shop leeway time is. Don't show up a week before the show in a panic and expect the framer to be available. If you have to put the framer in a time crunch it will cost you more in shipping fees and expediting fees. Find out deadlines for newspapers and internet sites.Mark them on the calendar and have the copy written a least one week before it is due. Make sure you have the correct person and an image to send along.
Are there any questions that you have about getting started in exhibiting? I would love to hear from you. Learning from my mistakes is always a valuable journey. I hope this helps and I see your solo show at a gallery soon!