A year ago I produced a 24-page full color catalogue to promote my art work to galleries, customers, and dealers. After years of brochures, this was to be my first big fancy book. Though my catalogue's unusual 8.5"x 8.5" square format is eye-catching and well designed, I have been dissatisfied with the overall product in many ways. Here's What I Would Have Done Differently (If I Had Known):
I would have commissioned a critic to write an introductory essay. That would have given me an introduction and some extra credibility.
I would have included a small black-and-white photograph of myself -- people like to know who they're dealing with.
I would have used a different printer. I went with my loyal provider of postcard-type printed products, and they just were not set up to do a fine catalogue. My main beefs were the oversaturated and inaccurate colors, and the paper stock -- the paper should have been a bit heavier, and maybe less glossy. It doesn't quite have the weight and substance of a first-class fine art catalogue -- in fact, it's a little reminiscent of a mail-order catalogue.
I would have focused the catalogue on specific subject matter or a specific show instead of having it be an overview of all my work.
However, this spring I got two interesting and instructive responses from dealers who are interested in handling my work. At first I was a little put off, but luckily I am learning to shut up long enough to see if there's valuable information to glean from these situations. One New Jersey dealer said she responded because she liked the work in my "booklet." And an art consultant in Washington, D.C., curated my work into a two-person show in a corporate space owned by major arts sponsors after seeing, she said, my "brochure."
And so, a slightly cheesy catalogue has become -- voila! -- a first-class "brochure" or "booklet." I am very happy with this brochure and in the future will perhaps arrange for the production of small first-class catalogues for my solo shows. These devices will feature a small grouping of 10-20 works within one time period and thematic series.
A sample page from Blakeslee's catalogue
So far I have sent out my catalogue-cum-brochure to 30 gallery directors and curators (as well as a couple hundred friends and associates). Two area galleries have picked up my work, and I have a solo show scheduled for July 1997. My work was curated into a two-person show which opened in Washington, D.C., in June 1996. In addition, my work is currently in a group show at The World Bank through February 1997. Though pleasing responses, this percentage of response -- 4 out of 30, or 13% -- is probably lower than I would have generated by sending slides directly.
However, there was one step I left out of the 30 initial mailings -- the inclusion of a stamped, self-addressed postcard offering the recipient several choices: (1) please send slides, a price list, and further information; (2) not interested at this time, but contact me in 6-12 months; (3) you're barking up the wrong tree. I suspect that including this postcard in the future will make my brochure-as-promotional device much more effective. It also will ensure that I won't be wasting my time blindly sending out slides which might never be returned.
In terms of using the booklet as a public relations tool, I can report substantial successes without the need for readjustment. First, I leave piles of the brochures with my dealers so they can give them away to interested clients -- there's room on the back cover for dealers to stamp their own names, addresses, and phone numbers. In addition, I've taken to including a booklet with most of the correspondence I send out. It costs more to send my mail, but people really appreciate getting the booklet, especially in the offhand way in which I give it, with the attitude of sharing what I do rather than asking for a show, a sale, or significant attention.
I have given away scores of the brochures to friends and associates, from neighbors to my doctor. These folks seem to treasure it -- the last time I had my annual check-up, for example, everyone in the doctor's office had seen and appreciated my brochure, and I was treated like royalty. As it had been nearly a year since they had received it, I was surprised they even remembered. So, like scattering seeds, I'm scattering these brochures around freely and joyfully; it's good to contribute to others' good feelings and to be treated to their good feelings in return.
By readjusting my approach and including the postcard reply device, I think those seeds will take root and grow into more numerous concrete exhibition opportunities. I'll let you know what happens.
Carolyn Blakeslee is the founding editor of Art Calendar, a business magazine for visual artists. She was profiled in the September 1991 Inc. article "Can Carolyn Blakeslee Have It All?" She lives on an island in the Chesapeake Bay with her husband, daughter, and son. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Copyright (c) 1996 Carolyn Blakeslee.
This article appeared in the July/August, 1996 issue of Art Calendar. It has been adapted and reprinted here with permission.