Getting a solo show is a big honor, and something you want to build for rather than have too quickly in your career. If you are not prepared for a solo show, it can be a set-back rather than a career builder. But a little planning ahead, and you can pole-vault your career to the next level!
Many of you know that I used to run a gallery, and had to work with many artists to prepare for their solo shows. Working with them, and from my own experience, I have compiled a timeline to help them and even use it for myself.
I am currently preparing for my own solo show in July at Woodfield Fine Art. Here's the list I am currently using...
1 year before the show:
_ Nail down the dates with the gallery and make sure you have the gallery hours, reception time, install & deinstall dates, and exactly what works of yours they wish to exhibit. Be clear here, don't surprise the gallery with a new series of self portraits when they are expecting colorful abstracts. The gallery knows its clientele; trust them to do their job.
_ Schedule events for the weekends that your work is on display to increase foot traffic to the gallery. Not all these ideas are appropriate for each space or artists but here's some ideas; demonstration, artist's talk, gallery walk, closing party, workshop, lecture, slide show, etc. Always good to bring people to the gallery while the work is on view.
_ Finish 6 big pieces or important works for the show. Make sure they are your best works ever, and if they are not, make a few more so that you have a few pieces you feel VERY good about.
9 Months before the show:
_Draft a press release that can be printed word-for-word (hire someone if you need to for writing) send it to the gallery first, and wait for their feedback. Do NOT send it before the gallery has a chance to proofread it and add their comments.
_Have scans made of the important pieces (3-6) for print editions or for magazine publicity shots. You will also need one for the postcards.
_Order postcards (make sure you proof the design and send it to the gallery to proof it as well) order some for you and for the gallery. Usually you have to pay for this, sometimes the gallery may pay for this expense-just don't count on it.
_Order frames if you are framing yourself, or send off your best works for framing. Try to keep the frame moulding similar or exactly the same on all the works so that they look uniform on the wall. Stick to something that will go with local decor.
_Send out a "save the date" eblast to your personal list (you should have one by the time you have a solo show) use the press release as the basis.
6 Months before the show:
_Send the press release out to print magazines like appropriate art magazines, local tourism magazines, and other places that would be attractive to your type of art collector.
_Make sure you have good photos of all works in the show, and that they are signed before you frame them.
_Determine different price points for your exhibit so that you have works priced in the lower range ($250 or less) for friends or family to purchase, midrange ($500-$1500) for collectors, and a few high-end show stoppers (over $2K) Having a good range of prices ensures that both you and the gallery make some money. Ideas for lower range items include notecards, framed or wrapped small originals, framed or wrapped small prints, print rack (with prints 1/5 the cost of the originals or less, otherwise you are competing with yourself).
3 Months before the show:
_Send the press release out tv, radio, newspapers. Include a three line "listing" in the test for calendars that scroll on tv news stations, or event calendars in the newspaper.
_Start setting stacks of your postcards out in places where your collectors might gather; public places like restaurants, interior decorators, or high-end furnishings places. Give your friends, family, and best collectors stacks of postcards to hand out for you as well. :)
_Put together a portfolio of previous press, or good photos of work that may not be included in the show. You can also make coffee-table style books of your work to have available at the exhibit.
_Order prints if you are going to sell them.
Month Before the Show:
--Mail postcards if you have a mailing list
_Send out reminder press release one last time to all press
_Start social media campaign promoting your exhibit
_Eblast info to your list again
_Make sure to have something printed to hand out to visitors; postcards, brochures, etc.
_Personally call, email, or contact important collectors and invite them to the reception, or a personal tour of the show if they can't make the reception.
_Negotiate catering with the gallery (who pays for wine, what can you bring, etc).
Week of the show:
_Shop around for a nice outfit to wear at your reception. You want to be at your best; hair done, new suit, polished and professional look and NAME TAG!
_Help hang the show, make sure your works are eye-level and visible to someone even in a wheelchair. Same with title cards. Group paintings to sell multiple pieces.
_final eblast and social media blast
_Once the exhibit is hung, walk through it with a video camera and document the exhibit. Focus in on the title cards and make sure the prices are visible. This will be helpful later for documenting the exhibit, and for promoting it on social media.
_Start practicing elevator speeches about your work-quick 1 minute explanations of what you do and why you do it. Practice in the mirror, or with family/friends.
While your show is on view:
_Email/call or send thank you's to people who came to the reception (will help remind them your show is still up and there is still time to get a painting).
_Send a personal letter along with a postcard to any art critics that may review your show, editors of local media who may cover your show, or other potential spaces you may want to exhibit similar work.
_Be present in the gallery on weekends especially, and have events planned to draw participants.
After exhibit ends:
_When de-installing show, make sure you have plenty of wrapping to save your frames. This is the place where frames get most damage.
_Follow up on any sales leads, or offers.
_Send thank you notes to new collectors who purchased at the exhibit, and a bouquet of flowers (or similar gift) to the gallery owners or curators.
_Treat yourself to a nice day at the spa or other way to make you feel celebrated. Even if you don't sell a thing at the show, remember that just to get to this point is a major honor. You've achieved a major goal and need to celebrate it!