By Kati Mai Seiffer
Talk about starting 2011 off with an unexpected bang: I'm having my first gallery exhibit. I will be showcasing my photography at the Parish Center for the Arts this month.
Like many amateur photographers, I have been sharing my photos with family and friends, placing them on my laptop background, sharing with the RAW community, and submitting to the occasional online photo contest. But that's about as far as my photographic reach went.
Then last year I moved to Westford. While doing some online research about the community and activities, I noticed that the Parish Center for the Arts (PCA) had an art gallery that featured a different artist each month. While looking at the upcoming artists, I saw a link for "Want to be Artist of the Month?" so I clicked on it. I reviewed their submission guidelines, selected a small number of images for consideration, created a brief artist biography, and sent the email on its way.
I never thought it would lead anywhere. I was hesitant to submit my work for consideration since I had a slight fear of disappointment about getting rejected. I decided to go ahead anyway, knowing that art is a very subjective thing. Just because I like something doesn't mean that everyone else will like it. After all, that is the beauty of art.
About two or three months later, I was pleasantly surprised and excited to receive a letter in the mail stating that my submission was accepted and that I will be the "Artist of the Month" in March. I followed up with a representative from the PCA to discuss details for the exhibit and as the conversation continued, my excitement shifted to an overwhelming sensation of terror. I've never done this before, so how do I make this all happen? The list of things to do just seemed never ending; selecting the photos, prepping the photos for hanging, hosting an opening reception, publicity for the exhibit, and so on. But I broke down the "to-do" activities into steps. I hope these will help any of you who are thinking of exhibiting your work.
Step One: Knowing the Gallery Space
Being new to the town, I had never been to the PCA, so I needed to go there. I had to get a feel for the size and layout of the gallery space. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to visit the gallery during an opening reception of an exhibit for a photography society. This gave me a good perspective on the potential quantity, layout, and size of photographs to include in my exhibit. It was also very handy to have a floor plan of the gallery space to know the measurements of the walls.
Step Two: Selecting the Photos
I have always been fascinated with photographing nature, specifically water, so that is the main theme of my exhibit. I created a digital version of the gallery. Nothing too fancy. I didn't use high end CAD software; I just created some scale versions of the gallery walls and photo sizes in Microsoft Powerpoint and began to place photos on the walls. This was a huge help in determining how I wanted my exhibit to look and feel. It also helps me determine what photos I wanted to display on what walls.
Step Three: Preparing the Photos
There are 3 parts to this: printing, matting and framing.
Printing: Like most photographers these days, everything is sitting in an electronic format on a hard drive somewhere. Sure, there may be a few photos you print out here and there, but usually not enough for a gallery exhibit. Now that I selected my photos, I needed to get prints made. There are many services out there for photo printing, but based on some recommendations on the RAW community forum, I utilized Mpix and was extremely pleased with the results.
Matting: Following what I saw at the photography society exhibit at the PCA, I determined that a majority of my exhibit photos will be 8x10 matted to 11x14, with a handful of larger prints. I decided to mat the 8x10s myself and found an online company, ClearBags, where I purchased all the materials. It's important to buy acid-free or conservation materials so as to preserve your photos, and avoid cardboard as backing - it absorbs moisture and your photos will warp. Other places to buy materials include Redimat and Blick. There's a Blick in Boston down the street from Fenway Park.
To learn how to mat and mount my photos, I found Framing4Yourself to be a wonderful online resource that provided a number of free tips, techniques and tutorials. They also provide hands-on training courses; they were in the Boston area in 2010, so keep an eye out to see if they will return.
I won’t lie to you, this is a time-consuming and tedious task, but the labor cost of doing it myself could not be beat since it was free.
Framing: This is probably the most costly part of the preparation process. Since 50% of all artwork must be for sale at this gallery, I decided it would be best to frame everything. For my larger pieces, I utilized a framing company to do the work for me. For the 11x14 photos, I purchased frames online.
After many hours of online research and comparison shopping, I decided to use Wholesale Arts Frames for my framing needs. I prefer to showcase my photographs in wooden frames, and this company provides a number of wood frame options at a reasonable price.
Along with my frames, I also purchased my non-glare pre-cut plexi-glass sheets from them as well. If you need an overnight rush order, this is probably not the place for you, but I received my frames and plexi glass in about 3 weeks and they did an amazing job wrapping and shipping the materials to ensure they arrived without a scratch.
There are many companies out there that sell frames, so do your research before buying the first thing you see. You can find some really good deals on nice wooden frames if you put in a little research time.
Step Four: Publicity
The PCA provided me with a list of contacts for publicity purposes, which was a huge help because I wasn’t sure where to begin. One of the hardest things about publicity is determining what you want to say and then figuring out how to condense that into two or three short sentences. Then the rest is following up with the contacts and reaching out to other people and resources you have available.
I generated some postcards via Vistaprint that contained detailed information about my opening reception and the gallery exhibit and sent them to my family, friends, and co-workers. I am even looking into having local businesses post the card on their bulletin boards. There are many options on how to spread the word about your exhibit; you just need to think creatively.
Overall, a lot of work has gone into preparing for my exhibit, but I know it will all be worth it once I see my work displayed on the gallery walls. It is an honor for me to have been selected to share my photographs in such a manner with others. Whether the gallery is large or small, in the heart of a bustling city or in a small town, having an opportunity like this is something I will always treasure. It's a chance for others to enjoy the work that I have created and it brings me much happiness.
This Sunday, March 6, 1 to 4 p.m.
Parish Center for the Arts
10 Lincoln St.
Westford, MA 01186
Gallery hours are every Sunday in March from noon to 2 p.m.
To see more of her photos, visit her website, Kati Mai Photography.