Elaine Luther: Painter, Teacher

On prioritzing: opportunities and applications

A friend asked me the other day how I’ve managed to get into so many shows lately. Here’s the quick answer:

I quit Facebook.
I apply to a lot of shows.I’m applying to a wider variety shows, not just shows for fine crafts.

Years ago, felter and author Pat Spark said in an online forum that she applied to 24 shows a year to get into the number that was her goal. So I’ve always held that in my mind as a goal number. Anything under 24 means I'm not trying hard enough. In evaluating an opportunity, the single largest factor for me is, “Is there a fee?”  At one point, I added up all of the shows I wanted to enter and the total was $150. That was out of the question.

Now I apply almost exclusively for shows with no fee to enter. This happens to mean that I apply for mostly shows in nonprofit spaces.  Last October, one of my paintings was in the show A Testimony to Being at Swedish Covenant Hospital. That show, which had no fee, included a free copy to each artist of the printed show catalog. There can be unexpected benefits from participating in shows at nonprofit or unconventional locations.

Another factor that has increased my success rate in getting into shows is expanding the type of work I do. Previously, I made only wearable jewelry. Now I make sculptures that happen to be jewelry, such as my series of medals now on display at the Harold Washington Library.

I also started painting. I now create acrylic mixed media collage paintings. Having work in more than one category gives me many, many more opportunities to apply for. Getting to know a whole new category of materials—acrylic paints and mediums—made it possible for me to apply for the Petri Dish show at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. This was a rare show that I did pay a fee to enter, partly because I was intrigued with the topic, and partly because I visited the Torpedo Factory as a child and was absolutely enchanted with it.

If I still worked only in metals, I probably wouldn’t have made an entry in time for the Petri Dish show. With acrylic paints, gel mediums, and collage elements, I was able to quickly make four experimental pieces inside of actual plastic petri dishes. Now I’m thinking of a Petri-Dish-a-Week Challenge! I could create a Flickr group and invite others to join me. The idea wouldn’t have occurred to me if I hadn’t been consistently applying to be in shows.

Here are my current strategies for applying to shows:

1. Keep up the pace of lots and lots of applications. Don’t care about rejection. Have so many applications in that I'm always waiting to hear about the next one.
2. Have enough work to apply for lots of opportunities.
3. Don’t limit myself to certain categories, such as just fine craft. When I saw Vickie Hallmarks’s post on her 2011 Year in Review, I thought it was interesting that she got into seven shows last year, and in different categories—not just jewelry, but also quilting. Clearly I’m not the only artist this strategy works for.

I find listings for shows primarily on this very site (Chicago Artist Resource), Art Opportunities (Carnegie Mellon), and Art Opportunties Monthly.

Once you’ve committed to applying for lots of opportunities, the next step is to manage all those deadlines. While there are many systems for keeping track of deadlines, I use Basecamp, a web-based project management software.

I’m a list maker, always have been, so why bother to make my assorted lists on a web app instead of paper? Or in a word processing document? First, I should tell you what you can do with Basecamp. You create your free account, and then on your own personal page with its own unique address, you’ll have these tabs to choose from: Overview
, Message
, To-do
, Calendar/Milestones, and Writeboard.

Milestones are deadlines, basically. So you enter in the deadline of the show (or the date you need to mail your application by), and the name of the show. Now Basecamp will automatically email you a reminder of this milestone 48 hours before it’s due. And it automatically creates a calendar where you can see all the milestones you’ve put in. This is extremely handy, because you see visually, right away, “Oops, I’ve got three deadlines in one week; I’d better plan ahead.” If you’re late in doing one of your To-do items, or Milestone, they turn red! Ack! I hate that! That makes me get them done, so I can check them off.

The To-do list feature is just what you would think it is. You can make lists, and these don’t have dates associated with them. So I could have lists for:

Clean up Studio
Steps to Opening New Etsy Shop
Steps to Completing that Specific Piece for a Big Show I Want to Enter

And under each one, I have the specific first steps needed to accomplish that goal. Once you complete a To-do, you click it, and it very satisfyingly goes to the end of the list, in the “crossed off” section. Oh! The feeling of satisfaction! (I admit that may sound silly, but it works!)

The other reason I love Basecamp is that all my projects are in one place. It can be hard to focus; it’s nice to have a pared down website that’s all my own, password protected, where I can log in and see, “OK, what deadlines do I have coming up?”

Messages are another tool on Basecamp. If you’re sharing your Basecamp with someone else—say, your website designer—you could use it as a place to share information and ideas. I use it as a place to store little bits of information, things I want to make sure I don’t forget. Messages is also where I store the details of the shows that I’ve put into Milestones.

Here’s what I do: I get an email with a Call for Entry, or I find one online. If it’s something I want to enter, I go to my Basecamp and put the deadline date with the name of the show in Calendar/Milestones. Then I copy and paste the details into a message (and under the message, it asks, “Is this message associated with a milestone?” I click "Yes," and select which milestone it corresponds to.) This is much cleaner and easier to deal with than bookmarking all those sites, and I have a custom calendar with all my dates in it. Since I also put in my teaching dates and conferences as Milestones, I can see potential problems in advance and see, “Whoa, I’d better enter that show early. I’ll be out of town.”

Writeboards are just a simple text editing place where you can write or paste larger bits of information or longer projects. The simplicity helps, because you’re not distracted by formatting like you might be if you were using MS Word; you’re just focusing on writing.

You can use their free version for well, free, and it’s probably plenty for most artists. If you ever outgrow the free version, you can upgrade without having to move any of your stuff.

Elaine Luther is an artist who blogs at All Things Metal Clay, paints as much as she can, teaches art and art history to kids and is always thinking of another medal to make in the series.

Published by CAR_Laura on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 2:39pm
Updated on Wed, 02/10/2016 - 4:08pm