Preparing for the show
Preparing for a show of sketches is surprisingly more involved than a show of paintings! Things to consider are:
- Does the show call for individual sketches or sketchbooks?
- Does the show plan to display sketches flat in display tables or hanging vertically on a wall?
- Does the show call for original work or printed copies are accepted?
Individual, original sketches and prints on paper can be displayed flat in glassed display cases without major preparation. If the original work has reasonable margins, it is good to go. If the image is developed to the edge of the paper, it will look more professional if attached to a bigger sheet with an inch of border showing. Attach the original work with framer tape or low adhesive drafting tape, positioning it at the back of the work hidden from view. I prefer not to use glue, but if you want to go this route, spray adhesive and a brayer tool will work well.
Alex Zonis with her sketches in a display case
If the original work will be printed, it is a good idea to use paper that resembles the paper of the original. I prefer my prints of sketches to be on matte paper. Leave at least one inch border on all sides.
If the show calls for the work to be hung on walls, then we get into matting and framing. The expense of framing can rise rapidly, but it does not have to. There are a lot of good possibilities that will not break the bank. First, consider using a standard frame, not a custom built one - standard are more affordable. For pen, pencil, marker, or watercolor work, simple narrow frames with clean geometric profile work best. Don’t even think of metal frames! While less expensive, metal frames look tacky! Narrow wooden frames in natural colors - white, black, light wood - are probably the best because you can reuse them for the next show. Colored frames are an interesting approach if the color works with the image. I’ve seen watercolors in red and yellow frames that looked very good. Still, I prefer neutrals.
Framed sketches on a wall from Observational Drawing blog
If your image is not a standard size, you can still use a standard frame, but have your mat cut to a custom size opening for the the drawing. It is cheaper to customize the mat than to have a custom frame made. A different way of using the mat is to not cut an opening, but place a drawing on the uncut mat, on a correct spot, secure it unobtrusively with a piece of framing tape on a back and set it in the frame behind glass or plexi.
Framed sketches (uncut mat) from Urban Sketches Kuching exhibition
Any framed work on paper has to go behind a glass or plexiglas. Glass looks better, but is more expensive, heavier, and requires more care in delivering and shipping. Plexi is lighter, cheaper, easier to handle, but you can tell that it is not glass. As a rule of thumb, consider this:
If it is an important, invitational, or career-making show, then splurge and frame with glass.
If it is a local show or a pop-up gallery or a cafe show, plexi is probably a better way. Besides they do plexi very well now, it is very clear.
It is a good idea to learn basic framing and do it yourself. I have a framing point driver and a small power drill and do a lot of my framing tasks myself. I do not build frames, that’s a different level entirely and requires expensive equipment. But I buy frames online and set my pieces in them myself, switch work from frame to frame, in and out for different shows. This is simple to do and saves a lot of money.
Framing point driver, power drill, box of framing points
Delivering or shipping work
Packing work for delivery or shipping is rather straight forward. Avoid using crumpled paper for padding and protection. Many galleries ask for no packing peanuts - too much cleanup. Once you start showing, you will find yourself on a constant look-out for cardboard boxes suitable for framed work. Better to find and re-use a box than to buy new and waste more paper resources. A tip for box-hunting: if two dimensions - length and width - are suited for your piece, you can cut down the height with a box cutter. Another tip: Amazon has great boxes!
Galleries are lately beginning to ask for a specific type of box. As a precaution against shipping damages, they may ask for Airfloat box or StrongBox - airfloatsys.com. It is a great reusable box with foam cushioning, but expensive. Something to think about.
Artwork packed into an AirFloat box and ready to ship
Be sure to have your work signed on the back before packing it. Put your name on the box in big letters using a wide Sharpie. The gallery will thank you when packing your work to send back to you.
If the show is local, you are in luck. Even a long drive is better and more reliable than shipping. I have driven 50-60 miles to deliver work, and I know artists who drove 100-120 miles to avoid shipping. If you can, do it.
But if the show is in Italy or South Africa, then the work must be shipped. Choosing a carrier for your shipment is always an agony. USPS is the most affordable option and also most unreliable. USPS works well for domestic shipping, it is the international delivery where things can go haywire. They have never actually lost my work, but have often been very late delivering it. Case in point: I’ve been promised 10-14 business days to deliver an envelope with drawings to Cape Town SA. It is now 4 weeks later, the show already started, no sign of my package. Allow ample time!
UPS and Fedex are good and reliable carriers. They get high marks for delivering on time, but they are expensive!!
Galleries also ask for prepaid return shipping label to be included with your work. The cost of doing business….
Attending the opening
Do attend your openings as much as you can! It is a great opportunity to connect with other artists and perhaps establish business connections.
Bring your business cards and give them out liberally! If you are an introvert, brace yourself and make the effort.
Visit your showing gallery early, before the opening, and meet gallery director/owner, introduce yourself and chat. Do not engage the gallery staff in a chat during the opening, leave them to do their job promoting and selling your art. Have your portfolio handy, but not in an obvious way. If the opportunity presents itself, you will be glad you had it.
Do your research before traveling to the opening - are there other galleries in that city that could be of interest to you? If yes, make an appointment to visit. That portfolio will be useful again.
Most important - enjoy!
Most of the time the gallery is doing sales, you pay them with a percentage of sales. 50-50 split with a gallery is customary, if the gallery asked for less - it’s great, more is considered gouging. Pricing work is a whole another topic, better addressed separately.
Smaller venues and art fairs require you to be responsible for your own sales. The easiest way is to accept cash and checks. But art browsing public likes to pay with a credit card. This used to be difficult and require an awful gadget that would always get stuck at the worst moment, but not any more. Get PayPal Here app on your smart phone, with or without a swiping device, and you are in business!