Getting the Show on the Road

Regular readers of my blogs may wonder if I’ve been turning the cold shoulder, but you can blame my “silence” on that mysterious “Right Brain” thing we artists are always talking about.

You: “Did you hear what I said?”

 Me: “Uh…what? Hmmm, sorry, no….I was in my right brain.”

Earlier this spring two artist friends and I agreed to hang a show at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa.  It is a wonderful storefront gallery that can hold many paintings. Our show was to open August 17th, and each artist agreed to provide 15 – 20 paintings to display.

Hanging a show of 45 - 60 paintings is big deal! Since artists expect to hang their newest and best paintings, that likely requires spending extra time creating new work! Even if an artist has paintings on hand, they are probably not all matted and framed and ready to hang. My friends Liz Fluehr, Omaha  and Karen Young, Waukee and I worked several months to be ready for this show.

Creating new work is paramount, but not the only aspect of hanging a show.

We brainstormed to choose the title “Paint on our Shoes” for our show. It seemed unassuming, and, well....since watercolor is liquid and rather sloppy, it was TRUE of each of us.

We spent time taking high resolution photographs of our paintings and ourselves, and chose which we would submit for publicity. We fine-honed our artist statements and a short bit about ourselves to include in layouts for 3-fold brochures. What we wrote could also be used in news articles about the upcoming show. Another day each artist answered about 10 questions in an email “interview” for a newspaper article. Even with the expert help of the gallery staff and newpaper reporters, publicity necessarily takes a big chunk of time.

Composing mailing lists was another important task for each of us. Our lists were long because we chose to mail postcards even to people we knew would not be able to attend the opening reception. It is important to let everyone know we are active, producing artists.

We underestimated how many postcards we would need and ordered another run printed. There was a stressful learning curve regarding postal regulations before these cards were ready to be dropped in the mail. There was some question about whether our cards would reach their intended destinations, but happily, many recipients told us they received our beautiful postcards.

It seemed I visited the local frame shop almost daily. My mom, who no longer drives, often rides with me as we both run errands. One day she asked, “Don’t we have to stop at the frame shop today?!”

Finally it was the day to transport our work to the gallery.

We met at the gallery to unload our paintings and simply lean all the work against the gallery walls. It was apparent that we had too many paintings. We chose to remove enough so our display would not be crowded. Having too much work on hand was advantage, though. We put the extra painting in storage at the gallery. That allowed buyers the luxury of taking a painting with them immediately, when they must normally wait until the end of the show to collect their purchase. 

Once we had limited the number of pieces we would hang, we started changing the order of the paintings to make the display cohesive, with a visual “flow” – an orange painting followed by an orange and brown painting, followed by an orange and turquoise painting, followed by a turquoise painting with a bit of green… and so on. It took over two hours to finish this process.

The following morning we met to actually hang the paintings. A laser level, a gizmo that projects a level red line on the wall, was a great help! One of us would hoist up a painting and hold it in place relative to the projected red line.  Another of us would use a push pin to mark the middle just above the top of the frame. The painting was then lowered to the floor so we could measure the distance from the top of the frame down to the wire. We measured that distance below the push pin, drove a nail or two at that point, and then hung the painting. We repeated that process for 54 paintings! By the time we finished we had little time to have a late lunch, freshen up, and change clothes before the opening reception started at 5PM.

Each artist prepared and contributed 40 greeting cards to tie 3-card gift packs to present as parting gifts for up to 40 guests at the reception. My mom and aunt bundled the cards tied a ribbon on each bundle while we hung the show.

Our reception was well attended. In fact, it was a nice crowd! The hors doerve table was soon out of crackers and wine. A gallery staff person made a quick trip to get more of each, and the party continued.

Each artist was called on for a short speech to the assembled group. Even though we thought about it in advance, we chose to keep the presentations short, informal, and “simply speak” rather than speak from notes.

Karen, Liz, and I had so much fun preparing for this show.! We shared images of our paintings by email in advance. But each of us were astounded at the impact of seeing the actual work in person once the show was in place. A small image on the computer in no way does justice to a large painting.

If anyone is in the Spencer area we would be pleased to have you visit our display at Arts on Grand at 408 Grand Avenue in Spencer where our show will remain on display through September 25.

Stay tuned! We three artists started planning our next show the day after our opening reception.