Sunday, July 12, 2009

Being the artist at an opening

Fredrick Leighton, The painters honeymoon image

I have done this more than a few times and it is a role that I am comfortable in. I love doing openings as the artist. A whole gallery full of people, all of them paying attention to ME. I do have a few thoughts on how to do it, and perhaps they will be useful to you.
  • Make a point of speaking to everybody who comes to the show. Shake their hand and introduce yourself. Hi, I'm Stapleton, thanks for coming, will you let me know if I can answer any questions for you? if they want to start a conversation stay and talk to them for a while but then keep moving. If you have a big crowd you will need to.
  • A lot of the people who come to an opening are college age and like a glass of free wine. Its a free party for them. Greet them, nicely. Never assume anyone can't buy your art. That's a very expensive habit. Its called prequalifying your customer and it's a sales no-no. You never know. That kid with the barbed wire neck tattoo may tell his girlfriends mother about your paintings because she collects.
  • I used to wear a dark suit for openings. No more. Now I wear khakis and a shirt with a collar, and no tie. When I wore a suit and tie, all night long people came up to me and said,"I'll bet you don't wear a suit very often do you?" Me in a suit clashed with their idea of an artist. In my case they were right too. I usually am covered in paint and wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. I have gone to one of my openings in blue jeans and a t-shirt and it was fine, but unless you know you can pull it off, don't.
  • I don't imagine you are going to do pushy sales moves, but I think it is a big mistake. If someone is going to be pushy let the gallery do that.
  • Drink the soft drinks stay out of the wine. I have been to many openings where an artist has made a fool out of themselves because of liquor. It can sometimes be a very emotional event, and if you are loaded you might lose your cool.
  • So never drink at your opening.Never.
  • When someone buys a painting, congratulate them and shake their hand. Its nice to pose for a photograph with them in front of their painting. Tell them where it was painted and why. The gallery can send them a copy of the picture later.
  • Sometimes you will get amateur artists who are seething with resentment against you because they aren't having a show, and they paint better than you do! They may want to argue aesthetics with you, or give you advice on painting. Listen to them for a minute, thank them for coming and move on. Don't allow them to rattle you.
  • If someone comes up to you and wants to cut a better deal on a painting, tell them that all transactions are handled by the gallery and that they do all of the sales, introduce them to the dealer, and clear out.
  • Don't give out any business cards, your phone number or tell people your address. People will try to go around the dealer because they think they can get a better deal from you. Allowing that is a breach of ethics and when it gets back to a dealer that you have done that, you may well be out of the gallery. If you get a reputation for doing that, you can really damage your career.
  • At the end of the night, help the dealer clean up, and then you will often go out to dinner with them.That seems to be the custom. Thank them for doing the show.
I am sure I have forgotten something, but I don't remember what it is. If you have a question, ask me in the comments.

I am finalizing arrangements for a New Hampshire workshop in September, more about that soon.

It is getting to be time for another reader critique. If you would like to submit your paintings to my scalpel, e-mail an image or images to Put "image for critique" in the subject line please. In a week or two I will do the critiques, These are a regular feature of this blog and I enjoy seeing what you are making out there.


armandcabrera said...


One thing that I think needs mentioning is if alcohol is served, leave it for the patrons. There is nothing worse than seeing an artist drink too much at a reception because the crowd is small or sales are slow. Artists have a reputation for over-serving themselves in stressful situations.
Group shows seem to bring it out more than a solo show but I’ve seen it happen at both.

Gregory Becker said...

Great post. I can really see the how these shows unfold through the eyes of an artist.
Maybe it would also be beneficial to attend shows just to observe behaviors.
Thank you for the experiential advice.
As for submitting work for critique...No Way. I'm not into punishing myself. I already know where my skills are. I may be too sensitive for a harsh critique.
Maybe you could do a post on how to survive a harsh critique. That way I can muster some courage and afterward have the right frame of mind to use the critique to get better. I am afraid of having my confidence shaken. Or what if I start believing that I'll never be good enough.
I've seen your work Stapleton.
You really are good.
I think the thing that scares me the most is that someone will tell me that I have no potential.
I have a picture in my head of a bad American Idol audition, where I'm told, "Don't come back."
I sound absolutely neurotic.
I would seriously have to think that through. I would have to be prepared to hear the worst and take it in stride.
Have you ever had a really harsh critique Stapleton?

Mary Bullock said...

Greg, I've seen your work - it is beautiful!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks.You are right about that. I have seen some really regretable things done. Stick with the soft drinks. I will go back into the post and add something about that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Go back and look at the critiques from the past in the blog. I don't think I have been terribly harsh. Although my perception and that of the receiver might differ.
The crit is a regular feature, why don't you watch one and see if it is scary?.
I have had some nasty critiques, perhaps I will write about that soon. I love it when you guys provide me with subjects to write on!

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are right.

craigstephens said...

Hi Stapleton,

My friend, Frank Ordaz, introduced me to your excellent blog a few months ago and I've been slowly working my way through it. It's packed with useful information presented in a clear and entertaining way. This post is no exception.

Thank you so much for taking the time to put it together!

Todd Bonita said...

Thanks for the well wishes on my show, these posts have been phenominal for me and I am personally grateful. Are you sure you're not related to yoda. Either way, I regard you as the wise 'ol owl, you're very generous to share your experiences and knowledge.
One thought I had was to give the gallery owner a small token gift before the show...I was thinking a bottle of champagne, wine or home baked goods. A token of thanks and good luck on our partnership.

willek said...

This is all great stuff, Stape, and it is bringing out great comments. Sorry about yesterdays comment. I did not make my point clearly enough that the whole decoy thing was a sinking stepping stone and the next stepping stone in farther away and harder to jump to.

But you would have been in luck because of the 200 different kinds of bird carvings I did, only 9 or so were ducks. I was a shorebird decoy specialist. A rare niche.

You might talk about niches sometime. It seems a lot of artists have a specialty. I think it is an art school thing to take a theme and play the bejesus out of it, exploring and delving til the happy accident transports the work to a yet unachieved plain. (Plane?) I think a good hand should be able to work in a lot of different genres and styles to suit what he is trying to get across. I think of Wyeth working across all those different media, and Cassat exploring print making and not just doing children. Henri Fantan LaTour specialized in flowers, but his portraitss were OTW. You do marine work as well as landscapes. I'll bet you are good at still life and protrait, too.

Also, I've sent in a few pictures for your disection and I am grateful for your critiques. I get a lot out of them. You always see aspects that either I was not aware of or that I missed. The Photoshop adjustments are a terrific way to get your points across. A hell of a lot better than having somebody paint over your canvas. I have a couple more that will follow shortly. I have paid lots of hard earned money to get weaker crits than you have provided for free. Your crits are the biggest bargains amid the current economic crisis.

I have gone on too long.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I don't believe anyone has read it all.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Yoda, wise old owl? Perhaps geezer or pops? I wouldn't give them anything until you have sold enough to break even.

Stapleton Kearns said...

My favorite bird is a chicken.

Gregory is worried may crits are harsh, I dont think I am.All I do is landscape. I am a specialist. Many years ago I did portraits etc. But I decided to concentrate on one thing. All I do is work on those and there are never enough good ones ..............Stape

Mary Bullock said...

I have real ALL your blogs, Stape.

willek said...

I have read em all and am the process of reading them all again. I always see something new each time. Willek.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I am flattered. How long did it take?

Stapleton Kearns said...


I wonder if anybody has printed them all out?

Woodward Simons said...

Stape, great post about shows. Thanks.

Gregory... make sure the person who critiques your work wants to see you improve and succeed and you will do well. Every artist benefits from the advice of those who are more experienced. Even those who are at the top of their game can occasionally gain something from a true and helpful comment.

Critiques are not about being put down, but about how you can make your work better. However, if you are feeling insecure, it may work out that you will only hear negative words. You have to be in the right mood to benefit from a good critique.

And not all critiques are good ones - especially if they come from peers who are jealous. Make sure you really admire the work of the person you're asking advice from.

My 2 cents :-)

jeff said...

I just say this Leighton today at the MFA. This one gem of a painting.

How Leighton uses textures and edges to move you through this painting is masterful.