In-depth: How to make your gallery show a success

Staging your first solo show is exciting, challenging, but above all incredibly rewarding. And it can revitalise your day-to-day client work by offering you a rare opportunity to explore ideas without any constraints.  

Illustrator Jack Teagle believes the experience frees your mind to relax into the process. “I have a lot more freedom,” he enthuses. “There’s no censorship. That on its own can give me a lot more motivation because the work is my true voice.”

Artist Jon Fox agrees. “I find it inspires me to push myself – to try and better myself and my work,” he argues. “I think it gives you a lot of confidence and courage to be ambitious. To try out new things, new ideas. To really experiment and take chances.” 

Working out of his studio in France, Jon takes pleasure in allowing his work to grow organically. “To me this feels like the most natural way to progress and work,” he enthuses. “Building up ideas and momentum by developing a number of pieces at the same time. Some are oil paint on a large scale canvas, others smaller using pens on paper, but they all feed into one another, and effect, inspire and bounce off one another.”

Build your Enemy was Jon Fox’s second solo show


David Shillinglaw held his Hobo Chic show at London’s Negre Gallery

Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2002, London-based artist David Shillinglaw has exhibited his work in galleries around the globe, in locations as far afield as Japan, China, the Netherlands, New York, Istanbul and Berlin. “I enjoy working outside my comfort zone. Challenges and obstacles push me in new directions,” he explains. “For example, the surface of a wall can change the way I work, or if the work is in inside, outside, on a roof top or in a bar, these factors force me to accept or reject ideas.” 

His work moves between street and studio, from small handmade books, to paintings on canvas and large-scale wall murals. “I often make work for shows (especially installation work), right up to the last minute before they opens. This keeps the work fresh and exciting, and responds to the space, rather than just filling a space with work that was made somewhere else,” he adds. 

Defining a theme or title for your exhibition can be difficult at first, but it plays an important role in linking the work together. “There’s a quote by Marcel Duchamp: ‘The title of a painting is another colour on the artist’s palette.’ I feel it’s important to give your exhibition a title/theme, but one that simply hints at something, leaving the rest to the imagination,” says David. 


The Yeti Show by Graham Carter

Tado’s exhibition was part of Sheffield’s Pub Scrawl

Printmaker Graham Carter hosted his third solo show earlier this year, and recognises this challenge. “It’s a completely different mind-set you have to be in really. In some ways, it’s easier with a client because there’s a set end point you have to reach,” he explains. “For a show, you are just making everything up from scratch, and I constantly struggle with justifying why I am doing it and sticking to a theme.” 

Some illustrators relish the freedom. “There are no revisions, because there isn’t a client. This automatically speeds up my process by about 50 per cent,” says Jack. Of course, if working to a theme is important to you, it’s the perfect opportunity to try something new or work on that idea you’ve been itching to develop.

For Katie Tang and Mike Doney – aka Sheffield-based duo Tado – it allows them to explore new ideas. “The best part for us is the chance let our hair down a little and play around with ideas that have been at the back of our minds, or characters that we’ve been keeping back for ourselves,” they enthuse. 

“As the majority of our work is commercial, we relish the change to just do our own thing once in a while and get some stuff out of our system.”

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