On September 22, 2018 I threw myself an art show. By "threw myself," I literally mean I did everything myself. I'm not one to do things the traditional way (ie: approach a gallery about having a show). Nope, instead I decided to host my first show in my soon-to-be empty studio apartment.
For the past year, I've been focusing on making art, something I never thought I'd do. A lot of people close to me know me as a graphic designer and not an artist. I wanted to come out to my friends, family and the world with an event that offered a glimpse into the world of Ponnopozz.
I opted to host the event myself because I wanted total control of the experience and I didn't want to give half my hard earned profits to an art gallery. I'm not knocking this approach – I do believe galleries grant you wonderful exposure and validation – but something didn't feel right about that path for me. This whole art thing has taken me to unexpected places, so why would my first show be normal? Plus, I typically resist authority or traditional approaches so finding a way to do something different felt more authentic.
I thought of the venue while cleaning yoga mats at Corepower in July 2018. I was fretting about moving in with Seth and getting an apartment way before my current lease ended. To me, paying for two apartments over the course of a month was a complete waste of money – until I thought of hosting the art show there. It made total sense – I'd be moved out by 8/15 and had the apartment until 9/30 so it gave me plenty of time to do something.
How did I do this?
After confirming that the idea was amazing with several friends and my therapist, I selected a date and started planning. Just like that. Honestly, committing to put yourself out there is the hardest part. Once you do that, the rest is peanuts.
I'm pretty ambitious and once I decide I'm going to do something, I fucking do it and will go to any lengths to ensure it's perfect. I started advertising for the show at the end of July, on Instagram and Facebook. I wanted people to have the date saved (this is critical). If you're planning your own event, allow enough time (if possible, of course) to advertise on social media and elsewhere.
I teased the event throughout August and once September came, I posted a bunch, especially the week leading up to the event. I was a little worried about being annoying but it didn't seem to offend anyone and it kept the event top of mind. I shared pictures of all the paintings I was planning to sell, along with their discounted prices (I offered a discount on everything for pop up attendees to encourage attendance). I wanted people to know what type of event they were walking into up front. Prices were affordable and within a good range ($10-$300) – there really was something for everyone.
My biggest AHA! moment happened during set up. I was over at the apartment late one night hanging The Grid (the 100 small paintings you see in the pictures) and midway through, I paused and appreciated the intense feelings of happiness that were taking over. There is something very powerful about creating something and doing it exactly the way you want – with no boss hovering over you and with no expectations from anyone but yourself. I'm grateful for that little moment because it erased any doubts I had about the show and I was able to continue preparing with unseen force propelling me.
Setup continued for a week. If I could offer more advice, it would be to include your friends and family when it makes sense. One night, my friend Jonathan came by to see how things were progressing. It was his idea to remove both my closet doors so people could go in more easily – brilliant! Something I hadn't thought of. And, he took the doors off himself which was incredible and really did wonders for the space.
I decided to hang my loose watercolors from the closet shelves and set up a small area where ceramics could be displayed. Since these two collections aren't my main focus, I wanted them off from the main room but still accessible.
I asked my partner Seth to bartend, which in hindsight, was the best idea ever. He loved having something to do for the entirety of the event that didn't include following me around and mingling with people he didn't know. I set up his bar by placing my old desk in the doorway of the kitchen so that he'd have his own space and room to serve drinks.
On that note: DRINKS. I felt very strongly about serving free drinks to attendees. Listen, ya gotta know your audience and Chicago is a drinking city. Plus, I'm asking people to come and participate in an experience that's all mine so the least I can do is provide some booze.
My Italian side came out because I WAY over-provided. I knew I wanted to have a special cocktail so I chose my favorite (the Paloma) and made a 3.5 gallon batch. I also bought two cases of wine and 3 cases of beer. Luckily, I purchased from places that accept returns on un-opened alcohol (Target and Trader Joe's) which turned out to be awesome because I returned a bunch of it. To me, the worst thing would have been to run out, so I went big to ensure that didn't happen.
The day of the event arrived and I was nervous af. Mostly nervous anticipation, though. Feelings of doubt or that no one would come had passed since I had a healthy serving of friends that I knew would be there. I spent the day going over final details, like making the batch of Palomas and setting up a supply station for when people bought things. Can you believe that I didn't have a plan for retail bags? I had to rush to Blick the day before the show to buy plastic sleeves and paper bags (both were lifesavers).
A few days prior, I had left flyers about the show in local businesses on Damen. I also taped flyers to street lights and threw some in Red Eye bins. Would you believe that I had several attendees come because of those flyers? One couple said they saw a flyer on a post and were intrigued enough to come up – now if that's not successful guerrilla advertising then I don't know what is. I never thought that approach would get people in the door!
Wayfinding was VERY important in this case. Remember, I'm having this show in my old apartment that's located in a giant brick building with 40 other units. This isn't some street-facing art gallery. All my flyers and social postings told people to enter on the alley side, so I made sure to have balloons and large signs over the back door. I also put signs throughout the stairwell (since the show was on the second floor) so people knew exactly where to go. It worked and I got several compliments on the signs and how detailed they were :) Make sure you have wayfinding if your event is in a weird spot – it's critical to a good experience.
Before folks arrived, my friend Mark photographed the space and me with my works. Right at 6:15, I got my first guests and wouldn't you believe, they were neighbors in the building! They'd seen my signage in the hallway and wanted to check it out. People are so awesome!
And then at 6:30 ~ SHIT EXPLODED.
By exploded, I mean people started coming AND buying things! The most popular piece was the grid of 100 Ponno Patternzz – people were asking me to pull them down left and right. Several folks bought 5 or 6 paintings! It got so crazy at one point that I had to enlist my sister, Kim, to bag up orders while I helped the next person in line.
It was exhilarating and overwhelming. I felt a little out of control, like I couldn't play my usual role of Hostess with the Mostess because I was too busy helping people! A lot of friends came out to support me and I felt a twinge of guilt for not being able to socialize much with them. Luckily, my friends are awesome and of course, they understood.
And by 8:00pm, the place was full. Time was going by in a blur. I seriously can't believe how many great new folks I got to meet. It was validating to see my art sell – and not just the small things! By the end of the night, I'd sold nearly all my ceramics, two of my large 30x40 works and 76 of the 100 Ponno Patternzz!
Around 11:00pm, the show had dwindled to a handful of people so we left and went to the bar next door for a few more drinks. The next day, when I went back to clean up, I couldn't believe how much had sold. It was a feeling I can't really describe – and incredibly validating. It showed me that I actually AM an artist and that I can make it on my terms.
The hustle didn't end when the show did. There were many folks who couldn't make it so I extended my promotional prices for the next week, aggressively sharing what didn't sell and offering free shipping to anywhere in the US. Because of that, I sold another large piece (30x40) and 2-3 more of the Houseplants. And several more of the small patterns.
I learned so much because of this show. It was the highlight of my Year of Creativity and I can't wait to see where this momentum takes me. Because of the show:
1) I met a bunch of new people who are interested in what I'm doing
2) I got the balls to apply for Renegade Craft Fair and I got in! (thanks Phil)
3) I learned that I'm a real artist who can put on a kick ass event
4) I learned that I can likely make a living off art one day
5) I learned that I most fucking definitely want to do another show at an equally weird venue sometime next year
This post would not be complete without a very special list of thank yous:
– To Mike, for traveling all the way from NYC to support me
– To Seth, for constant emotional support and for being an amazing bartender
– To Kim for helping me during the show and always supporting me
– To Jonathan for helping me set up that one night
– To Ricky and Heather, for taking me to Costco and lending me your beverage dispenser + about a million cups
– To Mark for taking awesome pictures of the event!
Thank you, everyone!