Saturday, May 23, 2009

Doing painting demonstrations

Above you see the rubber chicken that I wore out doing painting demonstrations. He actually had a beak at one time but it fell off. He was a very handsome chicken in his day. My beak is also loose .

I have done a lot of painting demonstrations for art associations, churches, schools and workshops.They are a good way to promote yourself and make your name known in your local art community. They often pay, not big money, but if you figure it by the hour it's pretty good. Here are some points to remember ;

  • If the demo is in a distant town, know how to get there and leave an enormous amount of extra time for yourself. If you get there early, go out and get something to eat, or have a book in the car and read in the parking lot of the organization for which you are doing the demo. You must be on time, I have arrived late on one or two occasions. One time I was met with at least a hundred people waiting impatiently for me. I felt really stupid.
  • Bring a drop cloth. You don't want to get paint on the carpeting. Just in case though have a tub of Goop hand cleaner from the auto supply store, in your pack. That will usually get paint out of carpeting or off the lady in the front row.Your easel may be unsteady and slide around on a slick linoleum tile floor and a drop cloth will help with that too. Always bring that dropcloth, they may tell you the floor is tile and its OK , then when you get there its a 19th century Sarouk.
  • Remember that you are the entertainment for the organization for that night. You need to talk while you work, tell interesting stories and be as engaging as you can. I do what nearly amounts to a standup act. I have all sorts of verbal gags and one liners. If you aren't comfortable with being ridiculous ( I am) at least smile, and try to be animated.
  • Usually the organization will have announcements before introducing you. When they do ,you go to the front of the room and thank them all for coming to see you. If you look out and see familiar faces greet a few of them. I begin to set up my easel and I invite them to ask questions as I work. Usually you have amateur painters for an audience and they will ask lots of questions and that gets an interaction going with the audience. It also lets you know what they are interested in hearing about.
  • I begin by telling them this as I put a canvas of middling size, big enough to be seen from the back row, " It takes me about a week to make a finished painting this size, are you willing to sit here until next Thursday?" They will of course laugh and say no, then I tell them "What you will see me do tonight is START a painting, I will have to finish it later".
  • I lay out my palette telling them what each color is and what brushes I use etc.
  • I paint out of my head.I do not get out a photograph to look at. I don't intend to give them the idea that is how paintings are made. I usually just "wing" a seascape, however a version of the last landscape or still life you have been working on works well too.You will still remember enough to start your painting.
  • Now these two things are real important.They will make or break your demo. They are; Keep talking, don't just paint and leave them sitting and watching. You need to keep up a near constant patter. If you have got them asking questions it will help a lot. But most importantly, You paint for ONE HOUR. Never longer. No matter what you have on your easel, after one hour you throw down your brushes and your done!
  • Don't worry about what they think of your painting, audiences of this sort are often very noncritical and are easily impressed. Its mostly about entertainment unless you are playing to a roomful of professionals. Never apologize for your work. Do your best work and let it speak for itself.
  • At the end of the demo some organizations want to auction off your piece. I tell them up front before I agree to do the gig that I will not allow that. Sometimes I will bring a small print and let them auction that. But not my painting. If you look back through my posts and find the one on charity auctions you will read about why I don't.
  • I have a book of photos of my paintings, as I started to paint, I handed it off to someone in the front row and let them pass it around the room as I work.
  • When I have finished as I am packing my easel, generally people will come up and talk to me, and I hand out business cards to possible contacts.
  • They pay me and I drive home exhausted.


Sandra Galda a Daily Painter said...

I was just thinking of asking if you ever demo at Rockport...I went to quite a few last summer. I was glad to see this topic here today. You seem like you would be quite the character. I would risk the oil splatters and sit in the front row!!!

Deb Pero Daily Paintings said...

Hmmm.. I'm still wondering how the chicken fits in to all this?

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Carl and I need to get you a demo gig in Cincinnati so you can come out this way and hang out with us for a while.

I just did a demo myself and am finally getting the hang of the fact that it is a performance more than anything. I paint and talk, and tell them that I can usually do one of those things well and not both, and as I would rather not sound like an idiot, the painting usually is not as good as would be done in the studio where I am not trying to entertain a crowd.
I never thought of just painting something from memory. I usually set up a little still life, which can be difficult as the lighting in these places usually is wanting. I will have to think about doing something like that in future.
I also need to get one of those chickens as soon as you explain how it is put into use.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I haven't done Rockport recently.I have painted a woman in the front row. Only hhappened once, and she took it nicely. I mailed her a framed print later with a letter of apology.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It doesn't matter how you get a rubber chicken into a demo, just getting it there is enough. I have done it several ways. I have at my feet, as always, my backpack in which I carry solvents, paper towels, my brushes etc. I throw the chicken in there and then while directing their attention to it, as I pull stuff out of the bag and discuss it, out comes the rubber chicken! You get the same people at demos, there are folks who will travel to see an artist do demos and you will see them in different clubs. They know the chicken is coming and if I don't bring it thruy will actually request the thing. At the end of a demo people like to photograph you and your completed painting .There must be a million photos of me holding up,that stupid chicken. They all want to get the chicken in the photo. I couldn't care less about my dignity.

willek said...

Hi, Stape. Great advise. I just did my first painting demo and it was both rewarding and humbling. Rewarding because a biggish room of people seemed to hang on every work, That does not happen at home. and humbling because I could not do all that I thought I could. I thought I could complete a smallish still life in 2 hours, but with the questions and the explaining I could not. But I brought along my practice piece, from the same setup to show as a finish. So my demo was more about process, materials and equipment than it was about a dash to the finish. We will see... if I am invited back. Willek

Deb Pero Daily Paintings said...

Stape said: "I couldn't care less about my dignity."

I'm thinking you're going to be my kind of teacher.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think anybody who wants to be a recognized artist in their community needs to be able to do a demo. I think it is great fun.
Setting up a small still life is just as good. If I can do the demo outside, like in a workshop I paint whatever is in front of me. I paint from memory because I don't want to paint from a photo.The whole point is to undo the idea that painting is about copying photographs.For some people it is a real epiphany that you are not copying one.The chicken is pretty silly, but you can see even in thi forum,everybody wants to know about the Goddamn chicken.I think it is really importanty to be entertaining and very informal. But I am sugarcoating very serious information and trying to be an ambassador for traditional painting,that I do not want to appear stiff and pretentious. That's so,like, 20th century.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Did you lose em after the first hour?
If you want to go for more than an hour, you need to get some of those little Pomeranian dogs that run around and jump through flaming rings.Or maybe an anteater,one of the really big ones!