How To Do Your First Art Show!

Published by Divine Ikpe on

How To Get Your Art in a Show

I recently presented my work at the Yes Ma’am art show (Sunday, July 21 at The Bakery). I’ve been following the venue on Instagram for awhile and a few months ago, they put out an open call for artists. 

The Bakery, Atlanta, GA.
Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

I submitted an application alongside 77 other artists. In the end, around 50 made the cut. To apply was a relatively easy process, but required a lot of pre-show preparation. Although it may seem like a daunting task, you can relieve some of the pressure by following these steps!

Step 1: Create a Body of Work that You are Proud Of.

I know as an artist you can be immensely critical of your own work. Something that you loved, when you first created it, may turn into something that you hate later. This is natural seeing as your inspirations can change, your style can change, and your life circumstances can become different as well–all of which affect your artwork and how you perceive it. 

Regardless, create artwork that is true to you in this particular stage of your life and make note of your best/favorite pieces. Then comes the difficult part: Creating a cohesive portfolio. 

Most likely, you will end up choosing artwork both from this current year along with a few older pieces too. It’s best to do a digital portfolio, so that you can effortlessly make prints of your work when you need to.

An art patron at The Bakery, Atlanta, GA. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

Step 2: Apply to an Art Show!

The main way to know what shows to apply to is through networking and social media. The art and entertainment industries are all about who you know. Of course talent is an important factor as well, but there are plenty of successful artists and entertainers who have mediocre work, and are only where they are because of their connections. So be sure to befriend your fellow artists and follow every local art venue on social media. This way, you’ll be one of the firsts to know when these events are accepting applicants. This is only really the case for collective shows, If you want to do a solo show, the process is somewhat different.

Regarding solo shows, having a large following and having good connections is  a necessity. Otherwise, you’ll just spend money on a show that only your family and friends will attend. Money is another main difference between collective shows and solo shows. For collectives, they generally don’t change you. You just bring your art and sell what you can. But with solos, you have to look up venues that might want to host it, book the venues (which includes a potentially steep price tag), and market the show like crazy.

For your first show, unless you already have a ton of support, I would definitely suggest a collective.

Use the portfolio that you curated in your application, for this will be the main criteria for entry. It’s really important to have a strong portfolio that showcases your strengths and versatility. In addition to that, you should also draft a great bio for your application. 

Your art will speak for itself, but it’s important that you speak for yourself as well. It could possibly make your artwork even more compelling. What motivates your? What inspires you? And so on, and so forth.

Step 3: Wait to Hear Back.

This is the worst part of the process. Intrusive thoughts slip into your consciousness and you wonder if you’re actually talented enough to get into the show. 

Don’t listen to your self-doubt! Chances are you applied to the show because a part of you thought it possible for you to get in, so do stay optimistic. 

If you’re accepted, awesome! If  not, don’t let it bring you down, and instead try again!

A patron waits on her phone at the Bakery, where the Yes Ma'am art show was hosted.
Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

Step 4: You Got In, congrats! Now What?

Now, you have to narrow down your portfolio selections even more. If you have a lot of favorite pieces [like me], but not a lot of money [also like me], then you’ll probably have to pick out the best of your best work to print out for the show. 

Hands down, the cheapest option for prints is Costco! If you or someone you know has a Costco membership, use it to your advantage. The second cheapest option is Walmart; they have decent quality prints for decent prices. The third option is Walgreens. 

Honestly, only use Walgreens if you don’t have easy access to a Walmart (or Costco) because there is a dollar difference. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly (specifically if you’re doing 8 inches by 5 inches or up). 

For a show, you can either do a variety of sizes (like I did) or keep everything one size–it’s really up to you (unless the showrunners otherwise specified). And if you’re not attached to your original work like I am or don’t make any digital art, then you don’t have to worry about printing anything.

Step 5: Drop off Your Work.

This step is pretty straightforward. If the show’s curators ask you to drop off your art at some point before the show, simply go to the venue (or other specified location) and drop your work off in an envelope (if they’re prints) or a portfolio bag for larger pieces. And they’ll take care of it from there. It’s best to plan ahead for this, especially if you use public transportation.

A collection of Divine Ikpe's work presented at the Bakery, where the Yes Ma'am art show was hosted. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth
Divine Ikpe sits with a friend, Garrett Jaeger, at the Bakery's porch area. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

Step 6: Attend the Show!

The last step is obviously the most exciting: Arrive early to the venue and do whatever pre-show things are required of you. Then when the hour comes, attend the show! Feel free to admire the work of your fellow artists.and Try to be comfortable enough to talk to attendees about your work as well, as people tend to be interested in your artistic, creative process. Enjoy the moment, and be proud of your work.

Avant-Youth's Editor-at-Large Alex Schumacher speaks with Divine Ikpe, the writer of this story, about her recent collection of works at the Bakery. Judith Y. Kim | Avant-Youth

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