Urban Scrawl the de-brief – part 2

Well, it’s all over, bar the fantastic memories. The art has been taken down to make way for an exhibition by The Stuckists and I am moving on.

There are plans afoot for an interactive Graffiti Project at my next exhibition with Etcetera in the Stockport Museum in September ( details here) and for a new series to be revealed when it is more than a tiny seed germinating in the dark recesses of my mind.  But before we leave Urban Scrawl, here are a few thoughts from my experience which might help you with your first solo show.

  1. Send ‘wild card’ invitations to anyone you can think of.

    Then Sings my Soul- a wild card invite sale
                                   Then Sings my Soul- a ‘wild card’ invite sale

It is no secret that I was shy ( very, very shy) about ‘coming out as artist’, but once I learned how to do so, I started to send invitations to people other than my family and closest friends and colleagues. I did keep it to people I had a personal connection with, but some of that was pretty tenuous. And it worked. I sold art to family and friends, colleagues and book club members and my builder but also

  • a former work contact I had not seen for years until I bumped into him at a dinner to celebrate my friend Nisha’s restaurant’s first anniversary some months ago and whose invite I had to send via Nisha.
  • the parents of my first boyfriend who I had not really seen since I split up with him when I was at University in 1989 but who I saw again at wedding a few months ago.
  • a vicar who is also an artist who I met once, very briefly because he accompanied his son to an event I happened to be involved with and he was pointed out to me by a colleague who also knew him.

And of course I have the more important benefit of connecting with them on a personal and social level too.

2.  Don’t assume anything about how the gallery works.

About ten minutes before the show preview started the gallery said to me “Oh By the way, we don’t take credit cards. All payments are by cheque”. Well of course, no-one carries a cheque book these days so, the arrangement was that they had to send the cheque in to the gallery later. Which I suppose does work, but had I known, I would have set up a credit card reader on my phone for the night. That would have stopped me having to deal with all the emails I am now getting checking who the cheque is payable to and how they get their art and in some cases, asking which one they had bought! Alternatively, I would have  printed out a little sales sheet for people with the details of what they needed to do. But I made an assumption everyone takes cards these days, so I didn’t do any of that. I did make a list of who was buying what though, which turned out to be smart.

3.  Plan ahead what to do with the unsold art. And clear out a cupboard.

Paving stones grouping

I had a pretty big room to fill and I choose to do a few grids of small art rather than all big expensive pieces. So in total I had 79 pieces of work on the walls ranging from one huge quilt to 6 inch squares pieces.  I sold 17 at the opening and I know the gallery wants to retain some but still,  that’s a fair amount of art coming back. The gallery wish to retain some for Liverpool and also their new outpost in Penrith, I am going to enter two into a local Open show and some will come to the Stockport exhibit.  All of the work is for sale via my website ( and I am just dealing with a query for a possible sale from the US as I write) Oh and, shhh, its a secret, but when I get back from my holidays I will be able to announce where the rest will be going! But still, there’s going to be a need to rejig my studio to have an organised and safe storage space for art that is not currently on display.

4. Be clear: are you making primarily for sale or display?

One of my collectors examines the Overhead railway pieces.

The block of Overhead Railway pieces I made looked fabulous beyond my dreams on the gallery wall. Making that series taught me so much about my ability to make a large number of connected pieces without getting bored or running out of options. I got huge satisfaction from making something that had significance to the place of the exhibit. However, I always knew that if they didn’t all sell at the show they were going to be difficult to place  elsewhere. The subject matter does not translate particularly well out of Liverpool and three sold so now I have an incomplete set that will never exhibit in the same way again. But that’s OK because I knew that beforehand and I have something up my sleeve for the future ( NO! I am not telling you my secret yet. stop asking!) that may assist in sales. Plus, I kind of like the idea of some of these hanging in my own office at work! So, my experience was a deliberate half way house between making for sale and exhibit but I think its good to be clear in your head what you are aiming at and take that into account when making your creative decisions, especially if you are dependant on sales income.

5. Have a system to photograph your work. And your party.

Guests mingle at the preview
                  Guests mingle at the preview

It’s good to have photos for your own records as well as for online sales or magazine use. Many people will recommend that you use a professional photographer and I certainly looked at that option but decided it was cost prohibitive and unnecessary given the quality camera equipment and software I had myself. I have gone for ‘good enough’ rather than perfect images though so it’s always going to be a cost/benefit analysis.

Plus, consider time as a factor. I will write a separate post about my art photography workflow later but it is a multi-step process which does take time and I have learned via many mistakes. Even if you get someone else to do the photography  though you still need a system or getting it done and then storing and backing up the images.

Finally, the best thing I did in regards to the party was asking a friend, Paul Hart, who is a good amateur photographer to photograph my guests. You can see more of his images in my first debrief post and I now have a lovely set of recorded memories that I could not possibly have done myself, which include moments I didn’t even see. It was fun to see later who was talking to who!

6. Use a database system. And start it before you think you need one.

GYST screen shot showing Empty Streets IV
                                     GYST screen shot showing Empty Streets IV

I use the GYST Pro software but others use a simple Excel spreadsheet and there are other software packages on the market. I set it up a while ago when really I felt like a kid playing shop, because there was no real need keep that much track of the few pieces I was making. Then I had the two group exhibitions with Etcetera and sold 8 pieces from there. And then I made 79 pieces and now they and some of my earlier pieces are going in all different directions and suddenly, yes, I need to keep track. Especially as I can never quite remember for myself the names I gave some of the more abstract pieces!

Putting the information in the database is time-consuming and repetitive and, I found, best done in one determined session with some lively music playing. A database helps you recall with a click of two of a mouse where your pieces are, what you priced them at, their size, the media used, where they are stored/loaned/exhibited, which exhibition they have been in/ are promised to, who your collectors are and what they bought and a whole host of other useful information. You can link images and files such as your artists statements to the pieces. Of course its only of any use if you keep it up to date so I know I am going to have to develop the habit of updating it as soon as art come and goes. Once the basic information is in there its really quick to do that.

That’s all I have to say for now but if you have any questions about my experience or anything you need to know for your own shows, please don’t hesitate to contact me either with a comment below or via my contact page and I’d be delighted to correspond with you.

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