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My First Solo Show

Hi everyone, welcome back to the blog.  You know, one of the goals of our social media outreach is to connect with other creative entrepreneurs as we all learn how to build and sustain an art career, particularly in a post pandemic world.  We have been running our fine art business now for about six years, and our objective is to show you what we’re doing, what we’re learning, and introduce you to the amazing people we meet along the way.

This week, we have a couple of those introductions.  The first is someone we’ve introduced you to before.  Stephan van Kuyk is an artist, gallerist, art seller, teacher, vlogger, writer, publisher, and all around creative bad-ass living and working out of Berlin.  Stephen did an interview with me on my vlog a few months back, and I’ve been hanging out in his wake ever since.  He has created an online forum called Artist-Stop-Being-Poor, where he hosts weekly video podcasts of interviews with remarkable people in the art world.

Last Wednesday, he interviewed Patrick Shanahan, the marketing manager of ArtStorefronts, and the session was life changing for me.  That may sound overly dramatic, but I don’t think it is.  In his role as marketing manager, Patrick speaks with hundreds of artists weekly, and offers real, concrete, actionable advice on running your art business via guest appearances like he did with Artist-Stop-Being-Poor, workshops, Zoom meetings, and apparently other forums as well.

I have to say, I’ve listened to countless “free” informational sessions, and almost never do I walk away with anything more than a high pressure sales pitch.  Patrick is different.  In a very approachable way, he gives solid advice, based on experience, in a way that is accessible and meaningful.  If you haven’t dropped in on any of Patrick’s presentations online, stop by their website where there is an archive of his podcast shows.  You’ll be glad you did.

The other thing that has been dominating all my time is the launch of my first ever solo exhibition in July.  I think I’ll do a series of videos on setting up for an exhibition, because the amount of work and pressure is pretty overwhelming.  

Title: I’m calling the exhibition Panca Marga, which is a Buddhist concept that recognizes that when one reaches the level of Bodhisattva, like a Buddhist saint, instead of being an ending, arriving at that level is rather a new beginning.  The teaching says that when a person has reached that level of spiritual maturity, a whole new set of journeys begins in his/her quest for perfection, for Buddhahood.  I’m now 61 years old, and have had a long and happy career behind me.  As an artist, I bring with me a lifetime of experience, of professional and technical development, and yet now I am beginning again.  The Panca Marga legacy series is an attempt to celebrate, and honor that journey.  To that end, I’ll be creating 20 paintings, every 5 years, for the next 20 years.  That’s 100 paintings, between the ages of 60 and 80.  The hope is to create a very collectable series that tracks my professional career as an artist.

Venue:  The venue was an easy one this time.  The complex where we rent art studios has opened a small gallery space that once was just dead storage.  They have refurbished the area, and are now allowing tenants to have month-long exhibitions at no cost to the artists.  That’s huge.  The building is in a great location in the arts district of Houston, with plenty of parking, bathrooms and the like.  It’s a huge gift, as often the rental on an exhibition venue can be crazy expensive.  All I have to pay for now is catering, and marketing… oh yes, and for the production of the art.

Marketing:  As we’ve discussed here before, marketing is a rather large term.  I’ll be spending my time and money to create marketing materials to invite people to the show, to publicize the exhibition to the press, and to create historical reminders of the event to use in promoting future exhibitions. That means I’ll be promoting the event in local calendars, through general postcard invitations, through personalized invitations to collectors and gallery owners, and the creation of a printed catalog of the exhibition.  Video content promoting the show ahead of time, as well as one as documenting a historical record of the event will also be created.  I’ll also be promoting the hell out of the exhibition on social media, trying to create a bit of a buzz.

Branding:  I want to make sure that anything that goes out to the public with respect to my exhibition is branded.  Although I certainly want anyone who attends to say; “I had a wonderful time looking at art.”  What I want even more is for them to say; “I had a wonderful time looking at John’s art.”  I want them to know who I am, I want them to recognize the event as something special, and I want them to associate any memories of the event with me.  To that end, I’ve developed a certain graphic design “look”, created a logo for the show, and will use that “look” on everything I do.  That means the invitations, the certificates of authenticity, the stamps on the paintings, the brochure and press releases, and even the cocktail napkins will scream that this is my show.  

Art:  I have prepared my 20 pieces of abstract art in a variety of sizes and price points.  Particularly because I’m still an emerging artist, I’m still building a collector base and can’t demand the high prices of someone more established.  I have pieces for $400, $500, $600, $700, $1,000 and $1,500, with the smallest measuring 16x20”.  Each piece of art will be framed, stamped with the Panca Marca logo, and will also come with a certificate of authenticity.  If everything went perfectly, and I sold out the entire collection, I would stand to make $10,600.  

Reception - Event Planning:  The reception itself will be from 6-8pm on July 9th, 2021.  I’m expecting between 50 and 100 people, but with Covid still lingering out there, I’m not sure how many will venture out.  To that end, I will also have a virtual experience available as well.  The hope is that those who won’t come out in person can stop by online, as well as those who are abroad.  We worked overseas for many years, and a lot of my friends live elsewhere.  I truly believe that people come to exhibitions for an art experience, as much or more than to buy art.  My job is to create an experience of my collection, both in person and virtually.  There will be good food, music, a speech, video content, printed materials, and an easy way to purchase what people want to take home.  I’m also considering a sneak-peak event for VIPs, and Gallery Owners.  My only concern there is that I really can’t afford to cater two events, and if my VIPs come on a different night, they won’t return for the main event.  I’ll have to decide this quickly, but I may just schedule individual viewings with VIPs, and have some champagne and nibbles ready in the studio.  What do you guys think?

Remember, you need to have someone dedicated to taking photos and video of the event.  I’ll be way too busy, and trying to depend on friends to take photos, and get them to me in a timely fashion only complicates things.  I won’t need to hire a professional photographer or videographer, though I happen to be married to one.  I just don’t know if I need Bogdan to be my support during the evening, and adding the job for him to do photos might divert his attention.  My thought is that there should be someone whose job it is to watch the crowd.  Someone to welcome people, to move them to the guest book and drinks table.  Someone to watch to see if anyone there is alone, not really mingling, and reach out to them to insure that they’re not feeling left out... get them a drink, chat with them, introduce them to me, or to others in the room.  As I mentioned, people come for an experience, so it’s my job to make sure it’s a positive one. I may give that responsibility to Bogdan, and ask someone else to shoot photos and video.

Buyer experience: I want to make sure I can imagine in detail the process a buyer will go through when purchasing my art.  Firstly they’ll have been invited, and welcomed to the reception.  There will be scheduled events during the reception to hold their attention.  They’ll start off at the table for refreshments, then I’ll give a little welcome speech, then there will be a video explaining the series, then some live music?  I want to fill the time in such a way so that just about the time they think they should be leaving, something else makes them want to stay.  If they’re online, there will be similar activities for those folks as well… minus the drinks.  When someone falls in love with a painting, they will be able to immediately swipe their card, or pay online, and get a red dot on the piece.  They won’t be able to walk out with the picture, but I’m thinking to have a packet ready with materials and a certificate of authenticity ready to hand them… Everyone who buys a painting will also get a lapel pin, marking them as official collectors of the Panca Marga series.  After the show, I’ll make arrangements to deliver the paintings to each of them, with the added offer to hang the piece in their home.  Not only does that create another opportunity for me to visit with them after the sale, but hopefully to build a relationship with them.  These are the folks who will be most likely to buy again in 5 years.  

So that’s the plan anyway.  I still have so much to do.  If anyone has any sage advice, this would be a really helpful time to share it. I’ll keep you updated, have a great week.

John Bishop Fine Art's "Conversations for Freelance Creatives" is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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