The first time. . . you may feel clammy palms, accelerated heartbeat and a terrible itch in the back of the throat. The best way to combat the fear of your first art show (ahem, of course!) is to “Be prepared!”
I compiled a short 10-point check list for before, during and after the show as a short reference guide.
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Before your art show
1. Preview the space
Though the onus of hanging the art is usually on the gallery, you need to make sure that the space is well lit, the work is hung straight and there is adequate space between paintings and the captions including prices are visible.
A point to note is that the dimensions of the work need to be in H x W x D format (Height x Width x Depth) I am told by art curators that this is a dead give-away in terms of how professional you are.
2. Come up with your “elevator pitch”
It is always difficult to give words to art – and most of us think, shouldn’t our art be able to speak for itself? Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The only way I have found to get this right is practice, practice, practice. Have a short and long version of your “elevator pitch.” In a minute or less, can you describe your art? Your reason for creating it? That is the goal.
In a session at the cultural center, Paul Klein suggested to practice on 8-year olds or on a person sitting next to you on the bus. They’re a captive audience, right? However, I would probably check when they plan to get off, so I can time my pitch accordingly.
3. Be prepared for frequently asked questions
The ones I hear repeatedly are, “How long does it take you to make a painting?” “What techniques have you employed for this particular work?” “Who are your favorite artists?” “Why do you use the colors you do?” “What is your main source of inspiration?” and “How many hours a week do you work?”
I also like to have a couple of interesting stories for each painting that can make it more engaging for the viewer.
4. Promote, promote, promote
Send out a “Save the date” three weeks prior, an invitation one week prior and a reminder the night before the show. Post status updates on Facebook, create an event page, tweet every art site you can think of.
An old management adage says, “It is better to apologize later, than ask for permission first.”
On the big night
5. Appear successful and approachable
It is important to remember that making art and showing it are very different things. Dressing in paint-splattered overalls for your openings is literally painting the picture of a starving artist. Even if you aren’t successful (yet!) it’s easy enough to pretend to be. Chances are more people will want to own your work, if they think you’re already successful.
Hang out in the shadows and hear what people have to say about your art. This works pretty well in a group show, or if people don’t know that you are the artist. You can also note how much time on an average people spend looking at your art.
7. Collect business cards (or any contact info)
Stay in touch with the people who come for your show, not just those who buy your work. Besides the freeloaders (who just want the free wine and cheese) if someone has made the effort to come for your show, it’s probably because they like your work or want to support you.
A show is about building a community of people interested in you and your work, and business cards will help you retain that connection.
After your art show
8. Send a follow-up email
Make sure you send out a concise email to thank people for making it for your show. This will also let those who didn’t make it for the opening know how long the show will be running, so that they can have the opportunity to catch it later.
9. Analyze your visitor data
Over time (typically 5-6 shows), you can use the data you have collected to try to get an idea about your market. These dynamics – like the age of people who buy your work, how many artists vs collectors came for your show, countries where your show is more successful, etc – will enable you to understand trends and make more concentrated marketing efforts in the future.
10. Check your website statistics
Google analytics does a great job of showing the number of webpage hits, as well as which countries the people who reached your site are from, and how many minutes they spent on a particular page. This will be useful information to stow away for the future.
Every show is a learning experience, and as a result, I find that I am much more calm and confident as the years go by. . . by now, I am almost excited about opening night!
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