Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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05/28/2004: "Putting on your first Exhibit"

Stacy had some questions in the comment section of the last post but I thought I'd make my reply a new post. She is in charge of hanging the pieces and doing the labels for her first show, which is a group show she'll have several pieces in as well. She wanted to know what to include on the labels, she has:

Artist's name
Medium $price

She also wanted advice about business cards, commissions, and pricing. (you can read the comments from last post if you want to see the whole enchilada).

I'll just mention how I normally do things but i could be doing it wrong so anyone else feel free to correct me. Anyway, I like to have the titles mounted on foam core...i just think it looks more professional but I can't remember how they do it at the Empire Gallery. An easier way to do it is just have them printed out on clear contact paper that you just peel and stick on the wall.

The only thing missing from your title list is the dimension of the pieces.

If you wanted to have business cards you can buy Avery business cards and just print out some simple ones, your name, and contact information, the type of work you do, and if you want to do commissions, then put that on there too. Ideally you'll have a picture of one of your pieces on there but since you're stretched for time, just simple black text on white business cards is fine.

I wouldn't build up too many expectations about doing commissions from a show. I mean, it could happen but it's never happened to me. I've had people contact me after a show, sometimes months later, wanting to commission a piece but I've never been approached about it at an opening, but I've only started doing commissions this year so I never mentioned it or had it on any promo literature so who knows.

As for pricing, even though you'd like to have the buyer set the price, I think you should list a price on it; a lot of people are too intimidated to ask. Check out this good article on Pricing Your Art Realistically. It's a website called and has lots of other helpful advice you might want to try reading this writing an artist statement etc. If you really wanted to you could print (negotiable) under the price, to let people know you're flexible in your pricing but I wouldn't really recommend that.

Anyway, I really hope you sell some work but don't be discouraged if you don't (easier said than done). Selling work as an "emerging" artist depends on a lot of factors. Certain kinds of paintings seem to fly off the walls, sometimes there is a feeding frenzy type mentality, if pieces are selling people want to buy one more than if they aren't. The whole law of supply and demand.

Plus, some artists can really work a room, go up to people, talk to them about the pieces, put them at ease etc. Iím not good at that. I usually just get drunk and (as Iíve mentioned many times before) hide in the bathroom as much as possible. That is NOT the right way to sell work, particularly at a gallery like the Empire, where an attendant isnít going to be walking around making pitches to people.

OK, itís late and Iím tired. Iíll leave any other advice up to othersÖanything Iím forgetting. Good luck by the way, I would come to the opening but next Friday Iíll still be in Boise. You'll have to let me know how it goes.

Replies: 8 Comments

on Friday, May 28th,">Stacy said

Thanks Elise, sounds good. I am not taking this show as seriously as I would have if it was a solo show. I don't expect to sell anything, although there is that twinge of hope. R Claire sold have his stuff his opening night at the Friendly Planet.

I'll definitely give you an update after First Fridays rolls around!

on Friday, May 28th,">John said

Well, for the show I have my work in currently that I helped out with each work was labeled:

And there was a printed catalogue which reiterated this information. For some reason medium wasn't included. I would have gone with:
(although I can't decide if I'd want artist before title)
The other show I had work in this past semester, they used numbers for each piece with a printed catalog (really a one sheet list)
that had title, artist, medium, and price.

Remember, NFS means not for sale, and POR means Price on request (for stuff you're not sure how to price, or whatever. If you're really trying to sell something then labeling it POR is a bad idea I'm told, most people won't bother to request the price. My simple formula, gathered from opinions of other artists is:
cost of materials + (time * hourly rate)
Just figure out how much you think you're worth per hour. Don't set your prices too high, nor too low. Believe in the power of positive thinking, if you think you're worth a certain amount, then others will too. I agree with Elise, getting drunk is not a good idea for talking to folks at the opening, unless everyone else is drunk (and if everynone else is drunk, you should be sober, it'll be a lot easier to sell then :) ) . Unless you're really good with people when your drunk, high, or whatever, I'd certainly suggest remainign sober until after the opening. If you're still thinking of doing business cards you don't have to have them printed professionally or buy the special "business card paper" you can print on normal paper and glue-stick it to bristol, or, you can feed bristol directly through an ink-jet printer, you may have to cut the sheet down to the width of a letter-size sheet however.
hope this helps.

on Friday, May 28th,">Elise said

I didn't even know that POR means Price on Demand, and I go to a lot of openings, so chances are the general art going public might not be familiar with the term either. NFS is more generally understood for "Not for Sale" but all of your works are going to be available, right? I've tried having title cards with the title, medium, artist, and dimensions only...with a separate price list (once mounted on the wall near the artist statement and once on little sheets of paper kept at the sales counter) but that doesn't seem to work as well. I had a bunch of people ask me after one of those shows why I had decided to not make anything for sale that time! And for whatever reason, people are afraid to ask.

And sober is better I'm sure. I only start drinking wine at the beginning because usually there aren't that many people at first, and my nerves are all on end and I start panicking that no one is going to show up so I drink a little more...the only good thing about it is that it does help you get over pre-show jitters and in my case, I don't work the room, or identify myself as the artist, or have my photo up anywhere in the gallery, so I can sort of just hang out and talk to a friend while getting drunk and no one is ever the wiser. It's not like I'm putting my skirt over my head and running through the gallery yelling "BUY MY ART"!!!

on Friday, May 28th, John said

Yeah, I didn't know about POR until a few weeks ago. It didn't seem like a good idea to use it, since even if people know what it means, they're unlikely to ask.

on Friday, May 28th,">Jackie Madsen said

Stacy: for the title cards, Title, Artist's Name, Medium and Price are fine. At the galleries I've shown at, we never put dimensions. That is good info for a portfolio or web gallery, though. It really is best to list your price. Some people I've seen put really inflated prices - and it looks like they don't really want to sell the work. If they don't, they should list it as NFS. Business cards are great, especially if there are multiple artists showing. That way, someone who likes your work, but isn't necessarily in the market for a piece at the time can take your card and file it for later use. I do that all the time. Other galleries or artists collect cards as well, for lining up future shows. (you can ususally buy interesting paper at an office supply/paper store that is heavy enough to print business cards on, and will go through ink jet or laser printers). I follow the work of artists whose work I admire. And definitely have a guest book - either your own (if it's a multiple artist show) with room for comments, or at least a gallery book that people can leave their names & addresses in for your mailing list. Good luck! :D

on Friday, May 28th,">Stacy said

Thanks for all the advice. I've never seen "POR" before, but I guess I'll stay away from unknown acronyms for now.

"R Claire sold have his stuff his opening night at the Friendly Planet."
He sold HALF his stuff, not have his stuff... :)

Elise, you'll be the first to know if I ever encounter an artist with a skirt over their head running around yelling to buy their art! :D

on Friday, May 28th,">Elise said

I went to Rick's show and saw that he had sold a lot of stuff. Actually it made me feel quite positive, because his stuff is not your typical fish and fur art, very colorful with an element of fantasy, so I guess there is a market for it. I spoke with the gallery owner Richmond later and he said that Rick is fairly well known in Juneau, takes a lot of time to put out new work but is respected in the local arts community etc.

What kind of work will you be doing?

Plus, I've just received a couple emails from Richmond regarding my July show. They only charge a %15 commission, can you believe it? Also, they provide advertising flyers, wine and coffee, and there will be live jazz and blues music at the opening. Cool or what?

He made a comment about the low commission rate they charged would allow me to price for a local audience. I'm not sure what he meant by that?

Anyway, I'm starting to really look forward to it.

on Friday, May 28th,">Stacy said

Yes, Rick's art is very eye catching and unique. He seems to be doing very well with several of his pieces in the Heritage Coffeehouses.

Well, this is my first attempt at "marketing" myself and my artwork. It is quite a different business rather than just making art...

The artwork that I'll be showing are mainly classical studies and copies of a (only one) contemporary and masters of the 1800-1900s. I have a Chagall reproduction, Degas, van Dyke(?), Bargue drawings and only one completely original piece that is stylized. I am not sure if I should expect to be hit with the criticism that my work shows very little artistic creativity or self- expression. In fact, I really have NO idea how people will react to my work. The pieces I've selected are by no means at the level of a master, but it is that level that I am striving towards that maybe people will be able to see and understand.

Is a 15% rate good? I'm not sure what normal galleries use (maybe 50%?). How do you feel about having your show during July, which is the busiest month for tourists and all?

Also, how important do you think it is for artists to hold a sketchbook in their hand everywhere they go and sketch? Since I've been working solely on copies for awhile now, I feel like I need to get back into doing those free loose sketches.