Monday, July 18, 2011

Putting On Your First Show Part 2 Doing The Paperwork

 Doing The Paperwork

 Now that you have selected the work that you will be showing comes the real tedious part. Yes, I know you hate paper work, but for the show to be successful, you really must do it.

Another piec to the puzzle

 *The Written Part


Your show is going to require certain documents. Believe me, they will prove very, very helpful! And yes, they are necessary.

*Make a List, Check it Twice

You need to do the paperwork

The first piece you need is a list of the works you are going to show, an inventory. This is more than a simple list of names. It should list, in display order, the works you are showing. This can be done by hand or by spreadsheet, whatever makes you more comfortable. And yes, double check it!
But is should contain more than just that list. By numbering the work, you let others know the order in which they should be displayed, helpful if you are not hanging your own show, or you have help. These numbers should match the tags (more on that later)

In addition to the numbers and names of works, you should also list size, medium, price, date sold and who to and any other relevant information that would be of help to people behind the scenes. Date this for the start of the show. Also, you might record the ending date and pick up date. You keep a copy and leave one copy with the host company for this show. This can be kept as a back up if any tags are lost or if there is come discussion as to price, etc. You should go over this inventory with the place you have having this show. This inventory should accompany the contract for the show.

This inventory list might be related to your general inventory of what art you have of artwork you have done. Keeping a list of works, as well as information on them is helpful in the long wrong. When you first start you think you will keep track, and how many paintings will you do, after all. But inventory of any working artist quickly gets out of hand. On your master inventory, list name, date, medium, size, description, maybe shows you have entered it in, date first displayed, date sold and who it was sold to.

From this list will descend the catalog for the show. While you do want to list number, name, medium and price, there might be other information on the general inventory you don’t wish to share with the public, things like commission, etc.

*What in a Name?

 This brings us naturally to naming the works. Each work should have a name. I know artists who constantly rename pieces depending on which show they have entered them in. I don’t. I like to keep this consistent, then I know, not only what is being displayed, but where it is displayed at and when. It is fine to simply number your works. Many artists do. Like “Still Life 47” or “Landscape on the Hudson 23”. I do recommend you keep it rather short. Long descriptive names are easily forgotten and the last thing you as an artist wants is to be forgotten! If you wish to annotate the piece, giving more information such as location, etc, this is fine. You can have a place for this on the master inventory, and this can be added to the tag, but the name itself should be under 35 characters. Many shows now restrict the length of names, you getting into that habit is good.

*Price-A Weighty Subject

I won’t go into pricing. There are scores of formulas and such for this, but you need to price them realistically for your area. Other local artists and galleries are the best source for this information. Before you settle on a price, you need to know just what is coming out of it. Yes, your basic expenses, plus time but also any commission the venue will be taking. Usually the place the show is held will handle any sales, and they earn their commission! Also they are responsible for collecting any sales taxes, etc. But your pricing must be clear. If you and your venue agree that the price includes sales tax the tag should clearly state this. If not, both of you need to be aware of this. Today the majority of art sales is by credit/debit card. These services are not free. Understand if the venue is to absorb this charge or if it will come out of your portion. The larger the commission rate, the more the venue will pay. By the same token, if the venue is a friend who is allowing you to display your work in their place of business, you cannot expect them to collect sales tax and pay the credit companies fees. So be prepared for this.

Also, most galleries take some kind of commission. They earn this. This fee covers their expenses, which can be considerable. Never fool with your gallery! Sometimes people will take the artist aside, especially when it is someone they know, and offer to buy the piece after the show, less the commission. They wrongly feel they can save themselves money and Help you. Not so! This is unethical. And wrong. Many galleries, The Renaissance Art Gallery included have in their contracts and by-laws that any sales of any work displayed in their galleries sold within (and they varies by gallery) 90 days is still considered as a result of that galleries contacts and the artist still owes the gallery its commission.

Also, do not ever discuss commission rate with a patron. This is business and is none of theirs.

Brochures and Tags are simply
part of the package

*Tag it

All works should have tags, little pieces of paper or card that identifies each piece. Most galleries will have a standard tag that they use, but businesses will not, and you will be responsible for making them. They should be neat and legible. If you are doing them yourself, you can use templates for business cards and print them on those perforated card stock sheets. These are the easiest to use. Check with the place and find out how to mount them. Some don’t like scotch tape because it will pull of some of the wall paint. You can use masking take, etc. But they should be consistent. Meaning first should be the number of the work, which will go along with the inventory, name, your name as artist, medium and price.

Now for the really fun part, --the dreaded

**Artist Statement!

Do I really need this, you ask. Sadly, yes. This tells people about your views as an artist. People really read these things, especially if they are short and straightforward. So keep it simple, keep it true. And don’t sweat it. It can be written in the third person, awkward I know, but there is nothing wrong with simply doing it in a letter format, you writing to the people viewing this show. Dump the high-fluting big mega high-brow words. You are talking to real people here. Do you talk like that in real life? Why do so here? It can and should be a simple statement. You views on art and creating it. You can briefly go into how you work, how you feel, etc. but it is not necessary to go into details that reveal all of your secrets. Keep the mystery in your art. Non-artist think its magic anyway, so why spoil it for them. The artist statement should help them relate to your work. Helps make it personal. People want to know you!

Along with the artist statement should be a biography of you

Bio should be neat and short

*Yes, a Bio

It is really hard to think of needing a biography of ourselves. These things are for people in history. Czars and other public persons, not us. But yes, when we put our art out there for the public to see, they want to know us. So tell them.

This need not be a long document going back to distant ancestors, unless of course these said ancestors are relevant to you art. Keep it simple and keep it on art. Sure, go ahead and say you are married with 9 kids, but don’t dwell on it, unless you are doing children’s illustrations. Have someone else (non-relative preferably) read it. Relatives seem to think you need to mention all of them. Believe me, few in the art viewing public really want to know your great-aunts name. People like to know how you got started. Where you studied, what medium(s) you use. How long you have been doing this. This is where you mention any art associations, major awards, etc. Here a little editing might be in order. While an artist association will want a complete list of shows and awards, the general public does not. 3 pages listing shows and awards back 25 years, will simply seem overwhelming and off-putting. Highlight the major or local awards, summarize if you have been about it for a long time.


All you really need is a paragraph or two. Artist bios are generally written in the third person. Susan studied with Lynn McNeal at the ……..Hard and awkward, but that is how it is generally done.

But the earth will not come to an end if you write it in the first person. I studied commercial art with Lynn McNeal at the……

Put this in a nice document frame so it can hang nicely but not compete with the artwork.

*Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid of asking for help from people who have done this before. Most experienced artists are happy to help. If you belong to any artist group or association ask them for help in what goes on in your area. In may areas, the Bios must be in the third person. It is expected. And some galleries are more formal than others.
 *Focus On The Focal Point

When you were sorting your artwork, did one piece stand out? Do you have a signature piece? Maybe the largest, the newest for the best example of your new style? Pick a piece. This should be a piece that represents you as an artist.

A photo of this piece along with the basic inventory list and your brief bio and artist statement should be combined into a show brochure. This can also contain contact information or website address. This need not be large or expensive. This is a handout along with your business card (more about that in a bit) these handouts are printed on standard 8 1/2 x11 inch paper. They can be like a flyer or a tri-fold brochure or even a half-fold. These are for people to pick up and read while they are looking at the show, so you will need a bunch of them. And if your work is in color, it helps if the show brochure is also in color, but not absolutely necessary. If you are having the show in a mainstream gallery, they usually handle this, one of the many ways they earn their commissions. For a co-op or other venue you will need to supply these yourself. Ask for help. You will be surprised how many people do know how to do this! Even many print shops can put together a simple brochure. But you will be reasonable for proofreading and any actual writing that has to be done. They will generally have simple template available and usually these can be fine. But remember, these come at a price!

* Be Inviting

You will also need to have a contact list. This is a list of people to invite to the opening of the show. Invite everyone. Do decide for them if they are interested. People will surprise you. Invite relative, dentist, doctor, etc.

You can make up a simple, elegant invitations to either send by mail or e-mail to people you know. These should go out about 2 weeks before the show. The gallery might also have a standard contact list. But snail mail invites do generate more attendees.


Which brings me to another little piece of paper-


*The Business Card

It is helpful to have an artist business card and they are not that expensive any more. It does not have to be fancy, a simple white card with your name and contact information and maybe the type of art you specialize in is enough. I put one on the back of each piece. It can also be handed out at the show.


  1. Susan,this is a very comprehensive and useful post for artists who want to put up shows.You really have gone in to minute details here. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, there are a lot of details we artists don't know about and often have to learn the hard way! Next week I will be adding more. More details! and talking about the reception!


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