Preparing for solo shows


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Catherine Jo Morgan of Clarkesville, GA, wrote, “As soon as I finish a piece, it has a gallery eagerly waiting to receive it. Whoosh. I photograph and ship it. Big checks are coming in regularly from galleries selling my work to eager collectors. But every year or two, a gallery gives me a solo show. The show has a series of works — at least twenty. The works enhance each other’s power by being together. A synergy is created. It’s a “wow” show. But if I’m selling pieces regularly, how do the pieces ever accumulate for a solo show? Do I need to hold back pieces — the best ones, maybe? Is there truly a way to do both? If there’s a way, what is it?”

Thanks for that Catherine. There are several useful things you can do, but the underlying strategy is self-control and willpower. Prepare in advance for shows by earmarking remarkable works and hiding them. One way to do this is to build a stash and keep it in the safekeeping of a friend or relative. Put an “S” on the backs. I believe in home-collecting and living with my current paintings — but always with an eye to eventual change and exchange. Somehow, when they go into the home for a while, they’re off limits. Another ploy is to put works into a slower-selling gallery and retrieve them just before your show in another city.

By pre-assembling a collection of work by size and theme your show gallery can know framing sizes and promo possibilities. As the date nears, you can infill with more current works. This system gives supply security and somehow frees you to make those spectacular works that often come about in the weeks leading up to the show.

The solo show, while often a vexing experience, is nevertheless a catalyst that can bring out the best of what is currently in you. Shows help to define an artist. The “wow” feeling that you mention is worthwhile on all fronts. Having said that, regular steady production and sales are the ideal because you are left to your own daily joy without the concerns of deadlines and ballyhoo. If there is a way, it’s called strategic planning. Ordinary businessmen with little or no imagination do strategic planning every day.

Best regards,


PS: “Artists live in an imperfect world where affairs of the heart must sometimes be compromised with business.” (Sara Genn)

Esoterica: In our self-starting and self-managing game, there’s a vital condition for most artists. It’s called “peace of mind.” Its maintenance is your main job. Peace of mind flatters the muse and makes it possible for her to bless you with better work. It’s not just a matter of ringing the register. There’s an opportunity for creative integrity and putting your best foot forward.


Vision more than actuality
by Catherine Jo Morgan, Clarkesville, GA, USA


“Aliveness Prevails”
acrylic, 8 x 10 inches
by Catherine Jo Morgan

I was pleased to get such a complete and helpful response to my question about how to accumulate work for a solo show. I’d like to clarify that Robert was quoting my “vision of success” rather than the status quo. I’m not as far along with gallery representation and shows as my vision statement suggests. I wrote to Robert when I realized my vision was fuzzy when it came to putting two parts together: regular gallery sales, and solo shows every year or two. Robert’s answer will help this vision come about, since a clear vision of success tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks to everyone!


How does she do it?
by Jacqueline Rada, New York, USA

I would love to know how she whooshes every painting off her easel to an eagerly awaiting gallery.

(RG note) After going to her website, dozens of artists wrote to ask this question. Certainly, low prices can contribute to fast action — especially early in a career. People may find it hard to pass up a bargain. The question in front of many artists is “Do I want to have my work in people’s homes, or do I want my work to build up in my studio?” Many artists choose the first path. In Catherine’s case she is also attempting to fill a specific niche with her paintings — she offers nothing less than “Art for energy.” To put it her way: “There are times when we need certain colors. They nourish the soul in a way nothing else does. So I paint with colors that feed my soul, knowing that you may need these colors too. This is a small way of helping the world to become more alive.”


Private package for solo show
by Jeanne Krabbendam


mixed media on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
by Jeanne Krabbendam

I recognize Catherine’s problem. This fall I will exhibit in The Netherlands with a new show called “Space” (“R-u-i-m-t-e“). I will ship the paintings before I leave in August. Since last year I staple finished canvasses for this show on top of one another on one stretcher. This way they are hidden for anybody who visits my studio (and even hidden for me, until I open the ‘package’ of paintings in Europe before the show). It works for me, this way the Dutch show doesn’t get ‘broken up’ before it sees its premiere.



Can’t understand her problem
by John Ferrie


“Ambient Wallpaper 1”
acrylic, 60 x 40 inches
by John Ferrie

So, there is this artist, Catherine Jo Morgan (she would be the one with the horseshoes in her pocket) who goes from every single painting being photographed and shipped to “woosh” BIG CHEQUES hurling through the mail at the speed of light and at a regular basis at that! Well, sounds like she has her contract signed for rich and famous. And then the added trauma of galleries wanting a solo show. How does she cope, especially with all that wowing going on? You would think with her formula for being so successful she would have a work ethic sorted out so a solo show would be something that would happen in her sleep. I can’t understand this woman’s problem.


Long term planning for shows
by Linda Blondheim


“Shired Island II”
oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I have had to prepare for two solo shows this year. One in the state capitol building of Florida and the other coming up in a museum in Georgia. Both required large paintings. It is very important to start planning very far in advance. Frames must be ordered; an extensive inventory must be done. Promotional materials require images, bio, resume and statement. Both institutions will send out a large mailing. I will also send out a large mailing for my own email clients. It is a tremendous undertaking. I started saving paintings for exhibition only, two years ago. I display those paintings in public buildings but not in my galleries until after the solo shows.


Prints fill the need
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“Oregon Coastline”
oil, 20 x 16 inches
by Brad Greek

Years ago, I was in this same dilemma, selling as fast as I could paint. I couldn’t build up enough work to show at shows or festivals. At the time I thought it was a problem to have. Then I moved to another state. All that stopped almost immediately. I had to start over with building up a new client list. It gave me a lot of time to build up an inventory of paintings. I decided that the print market would be better for my situation. So for years I didn’t sell my originals. Stockpiled all my work. Just selling a piece here or there. My point is: Why worry about doing a solo show, if you are already selling everything that you are painting? I do many juried shows. I’ve not yet had a solo show.


Advancing art prices to moderate sales
by Warren Mitchell

Pricing is a key item to address when your creations are selling as fast as you create them. Slowly move your prices upward to the point where your income is comfortable and your creative pace a joy to your spirit. Also, keeping your very best work on your walls will add inspiration to creative directions as well.


Hitch your wagon
by Moncy Barbour, Lynchburg, VA, USA

In reference to “Preparing for solo shows” — to me the springboard of art and life is to dream and to live each day as if it was your last. A poet once wrote, “Hitch your wagon to a star.” I ask artists to envision those words and to see what colour their wagon is. That could be the dominant colour scheme for the next painting. The one wagon colour that could find its star. Dreams and stars are free.


Juggling dealers
by Anonymous NJ, USA

I have trouble because my dealers always want new paintings and ones that have not been in other galleries. Sometimes I cannot make enough new ones for a show because they are being constantly eroded in the galleries. How do you handle this?

(RG note) Particularly since the advent of the internet, dealers and some customers become aware of what is available at your various galleries. Virgin paintings at solo shows are the most desirable and I try to have the majority in that category. However, it’s the artist’s business to balance shows with relatively recent and better works, and sometimes these are right there for the taking — on consignment in other galleries. A couple of days ago we retrieved some paintings that had been sitting around in one gallery and sent them on to another. One was sold in the new location in about twenty minutes — the dealer made a special phone call to us to report the excitement. It’s one of the mysteries of our business. Couple of things: When you get dealers to ship back to you, make sure that they remove images from the internet. Be straight up with dealers: Tell them where the work has been before. Some of them take it as a challenge. Also, don’t move work around in mutual or overlapping gallery territories. Put and take in other cities, preferably ones remote from one another.


Who removes the veil?
by Anonymous AL, USA

The elderly doyen that I’m painting tells me that when my portrait of her is finished, she plans to have a social soiree and an unveiling at her home. She expects me to know the details of how it is done. My question to you is, who removes the veil? Do you have any other words of advice about my participation as the artist?

(RG note) My first choice would be to have the Queen of England over, but if you can’t get her, Philip or Charles will do. Generally the artist hovers in the background, shy, proudly embarrassed, not seeking the limelight. If there are no crowned heads or other celebrities in the doyen’s address book, you may have to pull the unveiling string yourself. For you, a royal graciousness might be to announce at the soiree that you are donating all of your fees to the doyen’s favorite charity. Win, win, win.


Validation connected to dollar
by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada


“Sunset Sentenils”
soft pastel, 19 x 16 inches
by Gaye Adams

Money seems to be the only recognition and validation an artist gets within the non-artistic community. I’ve painted part time for the last twenty years and made a living at it as well as keeping a house and raising three energetic boys. I’ve gotten into some good publications and earned some nice designations. The kids are teenagers now, and I am forging into the territory of full-time painting. The expectation from those around me is that I should now make a full-time living. I’m suddenly feeling pressured and quite uninspired. I’m having trouble working, knowing that if I do not succeed in a monetary sense it may mean returning to the workaday world at an actual job. Perhaps I am immobilized because I’m afraid of not succeeding in a monetary sense, and that may mean I’m not an artist after all, that I don’t have what it takes. Validation as an artist seems to be closely connected with the almighty dollar.


Taking the leap
by Sarah Cannell, Norwich, Norfolk, UK

My current dilemma is one that I’m sure an awful lot of artists struggle with daily and wondered what your thoughts are on the matter. I am fully employed as an Arts Development Manager for a property development company based in the UK. This means that I am working closely with the ‘hard nosed’ business world as well as diverse arts communities on a daily basis. The opportunities that I am able to create for artists are wide-reaching… exhibition space, commissions, exposure to business world and the work is extremely interesting. The problem lies in the fact that I am also an artist who is desperately trying to work toward exhibitions and build opportunities for myself, although this is being restricted more and more to evenings and weekends. The frustration is immense, especially as I am constantly viewing other artists’ work, a pleasure but also a reminder of my own work sitting in my studio alone. Answer? I require money to cover living expenses (I am the main earner in my household), hence job, but also I ache to paint. I have sold work but not enough to realistically live off. How do artists make the leap, when do you decide to go for it or is a second income the only answer?

(RG note) While the circumstances are different for every would-be artist, very often it’s a matter of saving your pennies, then jumping in and concentrating at home for a period of time. At the end of that time — six months or a year — you will probably know one way or the other and you will be none the worse for the experience. Some people simply learn that they’re not self-starters and go back to a regular paycheck, and that’s okay too. One of my letters, responses and reference to an excellent book called Taking the Leap. The letter is at





First Union

Matter painting by
Craig Mullins, Hawaii, USA


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