There’s nothing quite as exhilarating than when you get accepted into your first show! My first show was not a juried show; it was a yearly member benefit that comes as a part of a membership I have with a local artist’s organization. Sure, I didn’t have to be accepted, but that didn’t temper my excitement—my work was going to be on display in my own town and nothing could take that feeling away!
Creating a piece for a show or a gallery shares many similarities with how you’re already creating; after all, the reason you’ve been asked to display a piece (or pieces) is because someone has seen your existing work and likes it. There are a few key places where gallery-ready pieces differ though, and we’re going to cover both sides of show piece creation today!
What’s on the Menu?
If you are creating a unique piece or group of pieces for a show, the first thing you’ll need to do is plan. To do this, you need to understand a few things:
- Who will your audience be? This can affect the tone of your work. Are your pieces hanging in a coffee shop? You might choose something mellow and muted. Will your pieces hang in a trendy gallery? Go for modern, unique and bright. Showing in a group show? Focus on the meaning and message of your piece. Dress your painting for the occasion and viewers to get the maximum impact.
- Lighting really matters. I like to use metallic flake in my pieces, which works great in bright lighting—not so much in a muted setting. Scope out where your art will hang to get a sense of the light, or if you can’t, make sure to ask lots of questions when you speak to the curator, and ask for pictures of the space if possible.
Do it Right.
I never thought I’d be someone who has a motto, but between parenting and art, I needed something to quietly chant when life gets frustrating. Take your time, do it right. Nothing good can come from rushing a piece, especially not a piece of artwork you intend to display before the world—or at least, your neighborhood. Don’t rush. Take your time with each step, allow the proper amount of time for drying and curing, and really put your heart and soul into creating a piece that can speak for itself when you’re not around to explain it. Even if you’re part of a show on short notice, remember: take your time. Do it right!
Sealing Your Painting
The fluid artist’s conundrum: to seal, or not to seal? That is the question. And the answer is…it’s completely up to you! Glossy, matte, Polycrylic or resin, your end result is in your hands. A word of caution though—if you have not used resin before, I heartily discourage you from trying it on a piece you intend to submit to a show. Resin can be tricky the first few times you use it. If you haven’t used resin before and you’re determined to seal your painting with it, please, I beg you…experiment first. If you don’t have time to experiment first, use a sealant that you’re used to so that you can produce a solid piece.
If you like to seal with spray sealants, it’s also important to remember that most galleries or shops will shine light from above or from the sides onto your piece. This has the potential to show any streaks that spray sealant can make (not that Polycrylic isn’t guilty of this too). Once you’ve laid down the first coat of sealant, take your piece into the light and turn it so you can view it from several angles; this will help you see any places that didn’t get covered by the sealant.
Finishing Your Painting
If you are submitting a piece on canvas, many galleries will ask you to submit a finished work; this means that a naked, open back canvas is probably not going to fly, Finish the back of your canvas with brown craft paper, recycled dictionary pages (my favorite) or another thin material to keep dust out and give your piece a professional look.
Finished usually also means ready to hang; I recommend using sawtooth hangers, or if your piece is heavy, use a wire hanger instead. Having the hardware in place makes your piece appealing since it’s ready for its new home!
The Hardest Part
I can write blog posts and journal entries all day long, but personally, I get a little bit stumped when it comes to writing an artist bio.
To keep your bio easy to read while still providing a good amount of information about your credentials and accomplishments, I’d suggest the following:
- Write your bio in the third person—this makes it seem less like you’re bragging about yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself though! Include any times your work has been published, or if you’ve won awards for your art. These are things to be proud of and can help your voice shine through your piece.
- Don’t include random accomplishments: for example, you should include the time you won a local award for your artwork, but should probably leave out the time you got employee of the month. Keep your information relevant and easy to associate with your work.
- Tell the reader why you do what you do. Why do you create? What drives you? This will round out your piece.
Some galleries or shops will have their own guidelines for bio submissions, but in general, try to keep your bio at about 300 words to stay informative, but not drawn out.
Your first show only happens once; in the midst of the pressure you feel to create a stunning piece and the sweat, tears and paint you’ll use to make it, make sure to be kind to yourself. Showing a piece in a gallery or a shop is a huge accomplishment, and you worked hard to get here—enjoy it!