Setting up your first solo exhibition on a budget – Getting ready

Part 1 – Ever thought about having a solo exhibition but weren’t sure how to go about it? Sometimes you just need to draw a line in the sand and bite the bullet. Some artists will organise an exhibition themselves while others will expect someone else to do all the legwork. But what does that mean?

These three posts are about the legwork I did organising my own solos while on a budget. I am drawing on my years of art exhibitions at small to medium venues.

As it is a very detailed post I am dividing it up into 3 different posts. Here are the headings.

  • Getting ready
  • Owning the room
  • Opening night

These are the items covered with this post;

  1. Preplanning
  2. Timeline for marketing
  3. How many for a solo
  4. How big
  5. Getting your wall art ready
  6. Labelling

1 Preplanning

  • What’s the best option for you? Check your budget to see how much you can spend.
  • Venue
    • Think about the location.
    • Easy parking?
    • Some councils provide free space but the wait list can be very long or the space is where there is no passing trade.
    • If commission is mentioned it is generally 10-20% in Australia.
    • Some venues want an upfront flat rate for hiring the space.
    • More commission and sometimes much more (around 50%) if done by a gallery. They know what they are doing and can provide your audience. To start out I wouldn’t recommend this. You can trial it later.

2 Timeline for marketing

  • How will you market yourself before the exhibition? Don’t rely on just friends.
    • Send hints out as soon as you find out you have the space so people can ‘save the date’.
    • 2 months out – Print off posters and ask shop fronts if they will let you put them in their window.
    • 2 months out
      • Start getting your artwork framing and custom mats made.
      • Start typing in each work’s details into Excel.
      • Set aside a weekend to focus on on your solo
    • 1 month – Send a text as a reminder with further details for those you sent the ‘save the date’ text.
    • 1 month – Hand out postcard brochures to local shops and noticeboards.
    • A few weeks before send your official invites to seal the deal. Go physical and digital with invites.
  • Business Cards – Do you have a business card? This would be a good time to make them up.
  • Postcards – You can have postcards about your opening with date and time. but you need to order these so they are received about 6 weeks before you intend to exhibit.

3 How many for a solo

Have around 30 to 40 artworks ready to go before contemplating a solo art exhibition. You don’t need to use all of them. Vary your sizes and type. It gives you choice.

4 How big

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is your budget?
  • Where will you store them safely before and after the exhibition?
  • Large
    • Stretched canvas 30″x 40″ look great but can take much longer to sell. I usually have 1 or 2. Can warp over time. I try to hang on walls to minimise risk when not in use.
  • Medium
    • Stretched canvas 12″ x 18″ or 18″ x 24″ most people can find a place for this size
    • Store bought wooden frame 12″ x 12″ (8 x 8 opening). Custom mats.
  • Small
    • Stretched canvas 8″ x 12″
    • Store bought wooden frame 9″ x 9″ (4 x 4 opening for miniatures) Custom mats.
    • Either group them together on the wall, or have them filling logical niches.

5 Getting your wall art ready

  • Store bought frames only [read my article Create to Frame]
    1. Get your custom mats made up at the framer. Frames with mats bought may be non archival and the wrong size. I stick to archival mat.
    2. Attach your work to the mat that has been made up. Use water activated gummed tape for paper and cartridge.
    3. If the work is canvas board you will need something stronger so it doesn’t fall off.
    4. Make sure there is no dust or prints on the glass before you seal the back.
    5. Will you sign and where? [see my article Sign or not to sign an artwork]
    6. Seal back using water activated gummed tape. Keep it neat.

Now for all your wall art

  • Put D-Ring eyelets on. They sit flatter.
  • Decide how far down you will attach the D-Rings. Too high you might see the hook. Too low the work will sit out from the wall at the top more. Attach string now or when you start to hang them.
  • Photograph finished work.

6 Labels

  • On your computer print off the details for the back of the work
    • Title
    • Short narrative about it but not essential
    • Medium (ie oil on canvas)
    • Your name
  • Print off the details for the wall under your work.
    • Title
  • Laminate the details and cut them with equal size margins so they look uniform across the exhibition.
    • Slice on a trimmer
    • Decide how you will attach these. I always use a couple of small rolled balls of something like Bostic as it will not damage the wall.

OK what’s next? Whoa hold on. Did I mention how time consuming that all this will be? You will need to dedicate a couple of weeks to get the labels and art ready. You want things looking good yet not be stressed out on your opening night because you left things until the last minute.

Dezzie 2022

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