Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Alternative exhibition spaces

Most artists strive for commercial acceptance and success. There are several paths to achieving those (often elusive) goals, commercial galleries being one of them. But if you’re having difficulty breaking into a commercial gallery or if you feel you might not be ready for one yet, there are many alternative spaces that you may want to consider.

I have to admit that I live in a town with two universities and a thriving art scene, so you can hardly go anywhere around here without seeing artwork from local artists and art students. But I’m sure you can find similar venues in your town.

I'm not going to cover rental galleries, vanity galleries, and community art centers. I'm going to focus on free spaces that might not currently exhibit art.

Some of these alternative spaces include:
Coffee shops
Wine shops
Hair salons/spas
Fitness clubs/dojos
Dance studios
Record stores
Bank lobbies

Basically, any wall is a potential exhibition space.

Do some research. Visit different businesses in your town and notice if they have artwork hanging in their space. If they have changing exhibits, ask to speak to the person in charge of the artwork. Ask him or her about submission guidelines – would they like to see slides or a CD, view your website, or see actual work?

Carry a packet of information (or brochure or business card or CD) around with you to leave behind if the opportunity arises.

Approach businesses or spaces that relate to your work.
If you paint floral still lifes, you might approach a flower shop, garden shop, or a botanical garden. Figurative work might lend itself to a day spa. Landscapes from your trip to Italy would look great in that little Italian restaurant. Asian-inspired work might appeal to the owners of a dojo or karate school. Photographs of dancers in a dance studio. Watercolors of historic missions in your local Catholic church. You get the idea…

Some businesses that currently exhibit artwork from local artists might also already do receptions. If they don’t, you might brainstorm about how to do your own reception. They might be open to live music, jugglers, dancers, etc. Try to find something that would be mutually beneficial to both of you – getting your work seen and bringing in customers to the restaurant or shop.

Unused and empty retail spaces
Consider approaching the owner of a vacant space that would lend itself to your work. Maybe there’s an empty store on your town square that you could borrow or rent fairly cheaply for a couple of weeks. You would need to consider how to staff the space – posting specific gallery hours and having someone work as a gallery sitter.

A couple of years ago I went to a show at a gallery space that was actually a house. A couple of art students were renting a house and realized that they had a room that they weren’t using. They emptied out that room as well as their living room. Then they invited artists to have short (usually one or two-day) shows. They also knew music students and invited them to provide music for the reception/parties.

Things to consider
Trust your instincts.
If a restaurant owner seems shady or untrustworthy, tell them thanks anyway. Work out the details of sales – if they handle sales then usually they will take a commission. If they don’t want to deal with sales, they might have interested patrons contact you directly.

Find out what the venue will provide.
Some restaurants or shops might already have receptions and PR in place. You can just hang your show and show up for the reception. But others might leave that all up to you. If so, then you'll need to decide how you want to market the show. Consider writing a press release and sending out postcards to promote the show.

Be sure to have contact info available during your show.
Frame and hang an artist’s statement. Leave a stack of business cards or brochures.

It may be a great opportunity to show, but not sell.
If you look at it as a way to show your work to people who wouldn’t normally see it, then you’ll have a good experience. If you expect to sell every piece, then you might be disappointed.

Strength in numbers.
Enlist a group of artists to have a show with you. Find artists who do work in a similar theme, similar format, similar medium, etc. Having a group and assigning tasks helps to alleviate the work load associated with mounting a show.

What are some other alternative spaces that you’ve exhibited in? Were they successful? What did you do to make them successful?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

MOO cards

My little box of MOO MiniCards was waiting for me in the mailbox today! I'm very excited. They're so cute!

They're packaged in a cute little box with a sleeve. Inside are 100, 2 3/4" x 1 1/8" cards - less than half the size of a standard business card.

The images on the backs can be all different (I think I got 3 of each of mine) - you can get 100 different images. This is what's so exciting to me. Maybe I'm easily amused?

You can put up to 4 lines of information on the front and you have a limited choice of fonts and colors.

They take your images from your flickr page, so you have to have a flickr account (they're free). You can select the images you want to use and select the areas that you want to print. Most of my paintings are square, so the format was a little odd - most of my cards ended up being essentially details of paintings.

You also need to make sure that you upload higher-res images than you normally would. They recommend 640 x 480. A couple of mine were only 300 x 300 and they turned out fine, though.

Oh, and I guess they were fairly pricey for only 100 cards ($19.99), but you can get 100 different images, for cryin' out loud! How cool is that? And did I mention that they're super cute?

Check 'em out!



Friday, October 13, 2006

Submission Guidelines

A bit of a diversion...

Everything about McSweeney's is great. Especially today's Submission Guidelines for Our Refrigerator Door.

An excerpt:

We are no longer accepting robot-monkey-themed work, be they drawings, stories, or whatever. We've had it up to here with robot monkeys. Yes, robot monkeys are "funny" and "cool" and they make "amazing" beeping sounds, but enough is enough with the robot monkeys. Robot monkeys are so last July. And no saying that something is a tree and then later telling us it's a robot monkey. That will lead to immediate removal from our refrigerator door, and no amount of crying and spinning wildly on the floor will make us put it back up.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Math, accounting, record keeping, and taxes. I know. Yuck. Most artists hate all of this, but it’s important that you understand at least some of the issues so that you’re not paying too much - or (maybe) worse, not paying enough - which could result in an audit, fines, and penalties.

A few years ago, when I set a goal to make a living as an artist, I decided that I would keep track of my expenses and income. Partly as a psychological boost – to show that I was serious about being an artist.

Recently my local art group, VAST invited an accountant to talk to the group about tax issues for artists. I wanted to let you know what he said and give you some basic ideas to get started on your record keeping. I want to stress that he was talking specifically about issues related to artists in Texas, and he was just answering general questions. So if you need to know something specific to your situation, please contact an accountant in your area.

So here are some of the things he suggested:

Get a separate bank account for your art business
This helps simplify record keeping. Pay for your supplies out of this account and deposit your income from art sales, teaching, commissions, etc. into this account.

Avoid using a debit or credit card
People tend to spend more when using plastic as opposed to cash or checks.

Keep good records with financial software (like Quicken)
It’s easy to use and you can set up categories like art supplies, meals and entertainment, travel, education, etc.

Tax exempt status
Use tax exempt status to buy consumable items such as paint, paper, canvas, wood (anything that becomes part of your artwork). You have to pay tax on things you use but keep, such as brushes, tools, easels, tables, etc.

Forming a corporation doesn’t usually benefit you
Until you’re making $30K or $40K per year.

You can claim mileage but you must keep accurate records. The going rate right now is 44.5 cents/mile. You can keep a notebook in your car and jot down your odometer readings every time you drive to your studio, to meet a client, visit a gallery, etc. It has to be business-related.

You’re responsible for sales tax on your artwork
If you’re not charging your customers sales tax, then you have to pay it. Most gallery owners will take care of the sales tax, so sales through a gallery usually aren’t a problem. But when you’re selling at an art fair or out of your studio, you need to be charging tax. This is a subject that I’m not really clear on, so definitely consult a professional.

Studio space
It’s best if your studio is a separate structure that is solely dedicated to your business, but you can also get a deduction for studio space within your home. The benefit to claiming an in-home studio is that you can claim mileage on any trips you take away from your studio on business. The example he gave was a musician – if the musician travels to different locations to perform or give lessons, he/she can’t deduct the mileage. But if he/she has a separate studio (even just a section of a bedroom), then any trips away from the studio are deductible. Presumably you can deduct rent, utilities, etc. You definitely want to consult a professional on this question…

Hopefully some of these tips will help you – or at least alert you to things you may need to look into.

Here are some resources with more information:
NYFA article on taxes

Lots of articles from All Creative Portfolios

The Artist Help Network has a listing of helpful books

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts has lots of info

Friday, October 06, 2006

Group Show at exploding head gallery

My work is part of a group show called Architectural Forms at exploding head gallery in Sacramento, California.

The show runs until October 28th. The reception is October 14th from 6-9 pm.

If you're in the area, check it out!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Postcards are a great way to advertise an upcoming show. They’re also great to have later, to tuck into your packets that you send to galleries. If you’re having a show in a commercial gallery, art center or university gallery, most likely they will design the postcards and have them printed. They will probably give you a small number that you can mail to select people on your mailing list.

But if you’re organizing your own show (in an alternative space, rental gallery, student gallery, etc.), then you’ll probably be on your own to design and print your postcards.

Steps to creating an effective postcard

1. Put a striking image on the front
Start with a great photograph or slide of your work. Pick the best piece from your show and get a great shot of it. An intriguing detail shot can be interesting and mysterious. If you don’t have a good camera or you lack photography skills, hire a professional photographer to shoot it for you.

It’s important to start with a good quality, high-resolution photograph (slide or digital). If you attempt to print from a 72 dpi jpg, you’ll get jagged, fuzzy, ugly results.

It's also a good idea to put your name on the front.

2. Include all important information on the back
I can’t count the occasions where I’ve gotten postcards for art shows that left out something crucial – like the artist’s name, the dates of the show, location, etc.

What you should include:
Your name (preferably on both sides)
Title of the show
Date (including the year)
Gallery hours
Reception date, if there is one
Information about the work you featured on the front of the card (title, medium, size)
Return address (the post office will return any with bad addresses – important to be able to keep your mailing list current)
Your website url

All of this information should be clean and easy to read. Don’t use funky fonts here. The title and your name can be in a larger size and bold, and possibly in a different (but not too different) font. Try to limit yourself to 2 or 3 sizes and no more than 2 different fonts. Don’t use any sizes below 8 point.

I don’t think there’s any reason to use color on the back of a postcard. Seems like a waste of money to me. Black ink is effective and readable.

Here’s an example:

3. Follow postal guidelines
The post office won’t mail anything below a certain size (3.5” x 5”) and there’s a maximum size for mailing at the postcard rate (4.25” x 6”).

Size guidelines: http://pe.usps.gov/text/qsg300/Q201.htm

There are also certain areas that the post office designates for printing their own barcodes, etc. In the example above, the grey areas are off-limits for text or graphics. The white area is free.

Printing your own
If you’re having a smaller show, or just want to limit your mailing, it’s possible to create your own postcards on your computer and print them yourself at your local copy shop.

The easiest way to do this is to lay out your postcards 4-up on a page, copy them, and have the copy shop cut them for you.

The resulting postcards will be 4.25” x 5.5” – a little under the standard postcard size (4.25” x 6”), but still within the accepted size for the post office.

You’ll need a decent illustration or page layout program such as Illustrator, FreeHand, InDesign, or Quark – even Photoshop, in a pinch. I wouldn’t recommend designing them in Microsoft Word (shudder) or PowerPoint (cringe) unless that was your absolute only choice.

Enlist the help of a graphic designer if you don’t feel that you can do it yourself. Your local copy shop probably offers this service.

Professional printing
For slick, colorful, glossy, professional results, get your cards printed by a commercial printer. If you know and trust a local print shop, then use them.

Most artists use a company called Modern Postcard. They’re great quality and pretty quick. You can get 500 4.25” x 6” postcards for $129 plus shipping.

You can design your own and send it to them or send them all your info and they’ll do it for you (but I think it costs a little bit more).

If you don’t need 500 postcards, check out Overnight Prints. I recently discovered them and they’re my new favorite. Their shortest run is 250 (a much more manageable quantity - for me, at least). I recently got 250 postcards for around $50 (including shipping).

They work the same as Modern Postcard – send them a file or have them create the postcard for you.

Both companies have templates in different programs that you can download. They also offer design advice and will show you examples of good and bad postcards. If you intend to design your postcards yourself, be sure to follow their guidelines (file formats, software programs, dpi, cmyk, bleeds, etc).

The postcards are printed in big batches (they’ll gang 20 or so different postcards onto one sheet), so it’s possible that the quality (especially color) can suffer. I’ve always gotten good results, though.

I would recommend getting your postcards professionally printed as opposed to running copies. The main advantage is that they look much more professional. A disadvantage is that you will be stuck with a bunch of leftover cards.

You can extend the life of a card by leaving the back blank. You can print your specific show information on a sticker and adhere it to the back before you send it. As long as the image on the front is not too specific and will represent your work for a couple of years, this is a good strategy. You can even use them as regular postcards, thank you notes, etc.

Useful beyond the show
I have quite a few postcards left over from past shows. I send them out with my marketing packets, leave them out for people to pick up at shows and at my studio, and hand them out to people every now and then. They’re a great marketing tool.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My process

Tracy Helgeson, one of the wonderful new bloggers that I've discovered lately has been using her blog to document her painting process. I find it intriguing to see the different stages that a work of art goes through.

With that in mind, I'd like to share a bit of my process.

For the last 2 years, I've been working exclusively with the encaustic process. I create what is called wax medium by melting beeswax and adding damar crystals - a natrual resin that damar varnish is made from. The resin raises the melting temperature of the wax and makes it a little more durable.

I will often use the medium without adding any pigment, brushing it over collage elements and then working back into the wax - scraping, scratching, adding oil paint, oil pastel, more collage with tissue paper, objects, etc.

But sometimes I will create what is called encaustic paint. You can buy encaustic paint in hundreds of colors, but I like to create my own by adding oil paint. This method is usually not as opaque and bright as the prepared paints, but I prefer more transparency, so it works for me. Oh, and I'm also really cheap - the encaustic paints are a little pricey. :-)

Here's a photo of my studio. Note the fan in the window - this helps to draw out harmful fumes from the wax. It's a bit ghetto - just a bathroom exhaust fan in a piece of scrap wood - but it works.

I melt my wax in electric skillets and mix paint into small tins that I keep hot on a pancake griddle.

I use a heat gun (that scary hair-dryer-looking thing) to fuse the wax to the surface and to each layer of wax that I add.

I normally start with a prepared board - I love the Ampersand "Cradled Hardbord" boards, but sometimes I can't find a good price. I will often buy the "Gessobord" boards and cover them with paper in order to make them compatible with encaustic (wax has to have something absorbent to adhere to, so it's not recommended that you apply encaustic over acrylic, glass, plastic, metal, etc. - although you see people doing it all the time).

So this is a Gessobord with paper glued onto the gessoed surface. I use Yes glue, which is a great glue for collage. I put something heavy on it and let it sit over night. I drew some state border lines with oil pastel - you can't really see it in this photo...

I then painted on some tinted encaustic paint and then fused it with the heat gun. I was going for a bit of a blended look, much like the colors on the weather radar.

I then scribed some circular shapes into the wax surface.

The detail shows the circles...

Rotation 1 - 12" x 12" - collage, oil pastel, and encaustic on panel

The finished piece - I rubbed oil pastel into the lines of the circles.

I was influenced by the weather radar when a big storm was blowing through the Dallas area. I was intrigued by the circles that kind of pulsated, indicating rotation in the storm (and a possible tornado). I don't know if that's a new development in radar technology, but I had never noticed it before.

So while my son and I were cowering in the hallway, listening to KNTU, I was thinking about this painting. Well, mostly I was saying, "No, there's probably not a tornado. They're just being safe..." But in the back of my mind...