“Email online blogs and websites who list up-and-coming exhibitions, and again use contacts you already have,” urges London-based illustrator Hattie Stewart. And while it’s tempting to leave all the work to the gallery, a printed invitation with a personal touch should not be underestimated.
“Nothing says ‘I’d love you to come’ more than a personal invite. With this you can really get creative, whether it be a small book, print, sticker pack, the ideas are endless, and the benefit of this is they’ll already have something to remember you by,” she continues.
“Just go for it,” says illustrator David Litchfield, whose self-initiated A Drawing A Day project prompted an exhibition of 365 illustrations last year. “With Twitter and Tumblr, it’s easy to build up a bit of a following, but you also need to get people involved and talk to the people around the community that you hope to show in.”
With many bright-eyed graduates leaving university with little experience or knowledge of how to price their work in the real world, Jon Cockley points out the importance of knowing your worth. “The key is not to undervalue your work. Anyone can sell prints priced at £10, but it can mean that the person buying the print doesn’t attach too much value to their purchase,” he explains. “My advice would be to invest in good quality print and paper, and to sell a premium product (at a fair price).”
“Think about who the audience at your exhibition will be – students, art collector, business people, and so on. Then estimate a price” Katrin Rodegast
Illustrator Katrin Rodegast advocates research to get a feel for the market. “Visit galleries and watch the works and their prices to get a feeling for it,” she advises. “Each city has a different price range for art, so that should be considered. Think about who the audience at you exhibition will be – students, art collector, business people, and so on. Then estimate a price you feel comfortable with.”
Belgian artist Sam De Buysscher – aka Toy Factory – adds: “I try to find the middle between a fair price and what I would like to get for my work.Of course, the financial rewards are perhaps not the best factor in judging what defines a successful show. The value of publicity and increased engagement in your work is worth more in the long run than cash in your pocket, as Handsome Frank discovered after its recent Tweet-A-Brief exhibition.
“It’s this subsequent coverage that makes hosting an event so worthwhile,” explains Jon. “I recently heard this described quite neatly as ‘the blast radius’. The idea that the ongoing effect of an event can be long-lasting. People may well have found our site, bookmarked it and will commission one of our illustrators a year or two down the line as a result of finding out about us via our show.”
Making valuable contacts and new friends is an enjoyable byproduct of hosting a show, and it’s sometimes these chance meetings that lead to paid work. Tado are self-confessed networking-phobes, but recognise the value of chatting to visitors. “We’re not good at selling ourselves, creating a fuss or hobnobbing. However, what we enjoy is meeting people who have made the effort to come and see a show, and talking about what interests them and hearing their reactions to our stuff,” they explain. “We’ve certainly met a lot of lovely and amazing people at openings, and some of those have led on to work, as well as becoming great friends of ours.”
Zombie Collective has curated numerous group exhibitions, workshops and events working with clients including Tate Britain, The Design Museum, House of Illustration and The Ministry of Stories. Maggie’s advice is simple: “If you lack confidence and avoid approaching people, then get people to come to you. At our private view, we labelled ourselves with Zombie Collective name badges, which invited easy conversation.”
It’s also wise to use the opportunity to capture as many assets as you can for future promotional tools. “Film the event, photograph the event, interview people,” recommends Jon Cockley. “You can use this content after the show to inform people that couldn’t make it along.”
So, after months of hard work, careful planning, sleepless nights and last-minute alterations, the launch night comes and goes in a flash and suddenly it’s time to reflect on the success of your first endeavour. While sales are encouraging, it’s important to appreciate all you have achieved – whatever the final outcome.
As Jack enthuses: “It’s never a wasted experience in my opinion. The bad shows I’ve been a part of have given me a harder skin, and have helped me to see where I went wrong. It’s all a huge learning experience.”
“Unless you are a hugely established name and have accumulated a host of private collectors, it’s hard to reach the people who are willing to spend money” Jon Fox
Working out what you can afford is often one of the least thought out items on an artist’s to-do list, but planning ahead can help you avoid mistakes. Costs for hiring a gallery, getting your work framed and printing flyers can all see your modest budget rapidly reduced to pennies, so what should you do?
“I think the key is to start off small,” recommends printmaker Graham Carter. “Maybe approach a local café or pub, with no hire costs and a modest commission on any work sold.”
Illustrator Hattie Stewart agrees. “Pop Up spaces are now a common occurrence and a lot of places can offer this for free or at a good price, whether in an abandoned shop or well-known institution. If you have no budget, think outside the box,” she argues.
Since graduating from Kingston with a BA in Illustration, Hattie has exhibited her vivid pop-surrealist works in London, Berlin and Miami, and believes that it’s all about working with what you have. “I’ve known people who’ve held exhibitions in their own front rooms,” she explains.
Illustrator David Litchfield, who chose an empty shop for his A Drawing A Day show, agrees. “The downside was that it had no electricity. So for the evening opening the place got pretty dark, but even then there was something a bit magical about people looking at the work by candlelight or using the glare from their phones to see the drawings.”