Having just spent six months painting for an exhibition, I thought I’d write down all the things I have done and learned, and I can because I wrote lists. Lots of lists.
Finding a venue
If you are thinking of having an exhibition, you may already have a venue in mind, but if not spend a bit of time researching galleries, halls, hire costs, space, facilities and parking. Decide whether the cost and the space will allow you to exhibit alone, or if you need another artist or group of artists to show with you to make an exhibition viable.
It might sound obvious but visit the venue, take photos and make a note of how much space you have as this will make it so much easier to plan the hanging of your work.
Other things to find out from your venue are if they can take money for you for painting sales, how long you have to hang your paintings at the beginning and take them down at the end, if they are insured for your work and whether they will allow you or provide a private view evening.
Picking a subject
You may have decided before you find the venue what your exhibition will be about, or you may have an opportunity to exhibit for which you have to create a body of work.
If starting from scratch, have a brainstorm to decide on your theme:
- What have you been successful at painting recently with regard to style or subject?
- Do you have a new subject you’d like to explore?
- Do you have the time and resources to prepare for a subject that interests you? Will you be able to collect all the source material (photographs, sketches) in time?
- Do you think your subject will connect with others? Can you explain it and communicate it with passion?
Planning your work
Once you have an idea for a theme for your work, start planning what resources you need to carry it out.
- How much preparation work do you need to do in terms of sketching out in black and white and colour? How much photography? Do you have a development plan for each painting and if so how long will it take?
- How many canvases will you need? What will this cost?
- How much paint and what colours?
- Will you need your paintings framed? Think about this well in advance as it will be a big expense and frames take a while to make, they aren’t a last minute job.
You might be convinced you have time to paint 30 paintings as the exhibition date is 6 months away, but you can’t know that until you plan your time out properly. Don’t guess!
- In a diary or planner mark out all of the times you will and won’t be free to paint. Give yourself some leeway for unexpected breaks
- Work out how long it takes for you to paint a painting
- Work out how long it takes you to plan a painting
- Add all of this time up
- Populate your planner with painting sessions, planning sessions, and breaks. Consider if you’ll be able to work on more than one painting at once or if you are able to start a few and work on them simultaneously
- Leave time for marketing
- Leave plenty of time at the end for varnishing, framing, mounting, photography and print ordering
- See how many paintings you can really fit in!
Marketing is something you really need to start as early as you are able to, and you may well be marketing before you have finished painting. If you have planned your theme and know the story you are going to tell through your work this will be much easier.
- Think about the story you are telling through your paintings
- Who might connect with this and potentially buy it?
- Where might the people who connect with your work be?
- Plan who you are going to tell about your exhibition and think about what sort of places and methods of communication you might need to use.
- Design marketing materials and have them printed in good time so you can write and invite people personally. Think of a reason why they might want to see your work that applies directly to them and communicate it.
- Update your business cards and website
- Plan your social media strategy and posts well in advance, what will be the best channels to use? Will you need to use paid promotions?
- Your marketing will be an added expense unless the gallery does it for you so make sure you budget for it.
Once your paintings are complete you will need to:
- Frame them
- Varnish them (if you are going to varnish them)
- Add hanging fixtures
- List them so you have an inventory of your work
- Write labels with titles, media, artist, date and price. Consider writing a ‘statement’ about the piece of work, telling the story of how and why you made the piece. This can help people connect with your work.
- Wrap for transporting (don’t forget to save cardboard and packaging materials for this job!)
As I didn’t hang my exhibition, I won’t add any advice about that, but it’s definitely important to have an idea about what paintings will fit where and look best together. I have an exhibition to hang in the spring, so will blog about that so you can learn from my mistakes!