Ten (plus) lessons I gleamed producing my debut solo exhibition (Children of Nature: Find Your Wonderland held at the Owatonna Arts Center in Owatonna, Minnesota). This project was more than a year in the making, starting with an invitation, influenced by a business partner, a milestone birthday, the pandemic, and a large slab of butcher block.
Things I Learned Launching A Solo Exhibit
IT’S A LOT OF WORK. Think of it like a project, a year-long project. I had planned out what I would be showing as well as the new work I would be producing for the exhibit. Intuitively, I knew I had to set an end date when all the work would be finished and framed. There is nothing worse than scrabbling at the last minute. I’m sure that would have turned me into an awful person.
PLANNING. After being offered the opportunity to show at the Owatonna Arts Center back in June 2021, I spent time thinking about a name/theme for the exhibit. Naming would help in promoting the show and give it cohesiveness. I knew I wanted there to be music. People mingle and linger when there is music playing. Holding a raffle was something I had not heard an artist do before at an exhibit so there was planning involved with what I would be giving away. I wanted adult food and drink and above all a certain look and feel for the exhibit. That meant curating artwork I already produced and preparing for creating a new body of work.
BUDGETING. I would be framing 18 of the 24 pieces I would be showing in my solo exhibit. Realistically, I couldn’t frame that many pieces retail, so I found a reliable online art frame source. Because so much of me is about storytelling, I wrote stories for most of the pieces and produced them as part of the labeling for the artwork.
Other Things I Budgeted For
Materials to Create Story Art Labels: Foam core backing for the labels because I wanted a professional-looking presentation; high-quality matte print paper (I used my Epson printer for printing out the story labels).
Music: I purchased a JBL speaker so I could play music via the Pandora app on my iPhone. Sounded wonderful!
Raffle Stuff: I planned to raffle off three native plants. Native plants are connected to some of the stories and pieces in the exhibit. I wanted people to think about how they use their yards, think about how they can create more bio-diversity in their spaces, and the benefits native plants provide. I also raffled off two original framed prints. Artists normally don’t do this sort of thing. I wanted something different to draw people to the opening reception.
Printing Artist Postcards + Postage: Call me old-school but sending out colorful postcards showcasing your art still works. Comes in handy that I am alsoa professional graphic designer.
Food and Drink: Like any good hostess, provide your guests with refreshments.
Guest Book: I asked visitors to the exhibit to sign and leave their e-mail addresses. A big ask though it’s vital to collect this information. One to personally thank them for coming and two, grow my list.
Want the Grand Total for all of this? $2726.39. Yep, that’s right. The bulk of it went to framing the work. It would be worth considering going after a small grant to finance a solo show in the future.
More of What I Learned and More Tips…
TIP: Always save the boxes frames are shipped in. I know that seems like an obvious duh, but we are so quick to dispose of the packaging. Frame ship boxes can be repurposed for transporting artwork from shows to buyers, to galleries, etc.)
TIP: Place a name label on the back of each piece before boxing and delivering them to the gallery. This is a courtesy to those hanging the show. You don’t want them to have to guess which art label goes with which art piece.
TIP: Show up early to your own show. You want to make sure the work is hung where it should go, that it’s hanging straight on the walls and the labeling is correct. (Remember, I had written short stories to go with each work. It would have been really odd to have those mixed up).
Ask for Help. I am stubbornly independent. I tend to do everything on my own. I l found I had to give this up if I was to have any chance of saving my sanity. I’m so fortunate that my partner is an artist (though not currently practicing) as he was incredibly insightful in helping me with the placement and flow of the exhibit. I was too close to the work to do this. He could envision what piece showed well next to another piece and spacing between pieces, which piece commanded a full wall, and where others grouped nicely.
This quote, wanting community and asking for help, really speaks to me so I thought I would throw it in.
“Once upon a time people were born into communities and had to find their individuality. Today people are born individuals and have to find their communities.”
I was also fortunate that the Owatonna Arts Center had people come in to help set up tables and refreshments. The artistic director even brought in a bouquet of wild praise phlox. Given the exhibit’s theme, it was a perfect flower to have at the opening.
Things Can (and will) Go Sideways. If technology glitches are going to happen, they will happen right before your artist talk. The Owatonna Arts Center had a projector and laptop to show the PowerPoint presentation I created for my artist talk but the laptop refused to cooperate. Turns out the power to the laptop needed to be plugged in. Simple as that. 15 minutes later and a little rattled, I was on. The audience was patient. Such gracious people. My talk was well-received. Such gracious people.
Promotion. This part feels icky awkward and self-centered to artists. It certainly did for me. However, repeat the mantra: “Promote your show everywhere possible.” Get into that mindset. “Get creative,” I told myself. For example, I did Instagram stories of my packing up the work, and unpacking it at the gallery, as a teaser. I was lucky the People’s Press of Owatonna interviewed me about the exhibit. I posted the exhibit and opening date via the Minnesota Monthly online calendar. You just need to create an account to do this for an event. I wasn’t sure if the magazine would let it go live, but it did!
Keep Promoting After the Opening. You never know what will happen. Besides social media posts and video snippets, I figured out how to have my solo exhibit mentioned onMPR’s Art Hounds. With a little research, a thoughtful email to one of the contributing editors of Art Hounds and asking a good artist friend to give an audio review of the exhibit, Children Of Nature: Find Your Wonderland was on the airwaves. People who would otherwise not know about the exhibit ended up coming to see the exhibit.
Your Ego May Intersect. Let it go. Things will not go perfectly. There were so many things I want to say and say differently to connect with the message behind the art. I had to remember people won’t remember what I said or didn’t say. They remember what they experienced.
Post Opening Blues. After all that work, you might feel down after the opening. I know I did. I had to remind myself that was my ego complaining. Let it go.
Have Work in Progress. Have work ready and waiting for you back in your studio, and have planning underway for your next project to jump into. Otherwise, you could lose weeks languishing in post-opening blues.
Set Realistic Expectations. I wanted more people to show up. However, with the gallery space and the timing (June being a very busy month for folks), having 30 people show up made the opening enjoyable. Not too crowded so people could take in the art, read the stories I had written up, and visit.
Sales. Again, I had to set realistic expectations. Still, I wanted most of the work would sell. Not for my own bottom line though the sale of at least three pieces would recoup the costs involved in producing the exhibit. I want everything to sell so that 20% of the proceeds can go to support the Owatonna Arts Center (a rural cultural jewel) and another 10% I want to have to donate to three favorite Minnesota environmental non-profits of mine.
Have a Guest Book Available. A guest book I hope most people would be willing to sign and leave an email address. I plan to reach out to everyone who came to see the show and offer my sincere thanks and gratitude. By showing up, coming to see the exhibit, and experiencing the art firsthand, they have made the art complete. That’s huge for me. (I know I mention this in the budget section but it bears repeating.)
Be Open to People’s Opinions. They will have them. While most people openly tell me they see my artwork as beautiful, so fine and detailed, to downright amazing, there will be people who don’t get it, who are not moved, or don’t even like the work. That’s OK. Not everyone is going to be my audience. One woman at the opening expressed that she thought a piece of mine was “gross, really gross.” To my face.
Startled at first, I remembered that was the whole point of the exhibit, to ask the question of what is aesthetically perceived as beautiful in nature and what is not. Later someone else told me that same piece was her favorite of all the pieces in the exhibit. Art is so subjective.
This Is Just One Chapter in My Career as An Artist. Will it open doors? What will come next? I don’t expect phone calls or emails handing me to the next opportunity. In the current “The Art World,” I sense that I will have to create opportunities for myself, have a plan and go after it. Above all, I want to evolve artistically, improve how I show up in the world, and ways I can contribute to the greater good. That’s the biggest focus of all.
Children of Nature: Find Your Wonderland showing at the Owatonna Arts Center in Owatonna, Minnesota runs through June 30th. Gallery hours are 1:00 to 5:00 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. View images from the exhibit here.
WORKS ON PAPER BY KRISTIN MAIJA PETERSON
Was any of this helpful? Have questions you’d like to ask about the process of producing a solo exhibit? Are you an artist who recently created your own solo exhibit? How did it go? Would you suggest I did something differently or did more to promote the show? Please share, comments are welcomed!
POST-MODERN ECOLOGICAL VISUAL ARTIST’S DEBUT SOLO EXHIBITION AIMS TO RE-CONNECT US WITH NATURE, SHARES POSITIVE ACTION FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
DEBUT solo exhibition re-connects us with our eight-year-old selves, the miraculous and reciprocity in nature, and offers curiosity, action, and hope for our changing climate.
Globally, artists have expressed dire climate consequences. A new artist solo exhibition “Children of Nature: Find Your Wonderland” opens June 5 and runs through June 30, 2022, at the Owatonna Arts Center, Owatonna, Minnesota, offering an educational and healing perspective on the environment and climate change.
Educated in the Fine Arts and Art History at the University of Minnesota–Morris, self-proclaimed post-modern ecological and visual artist Kristin Maija Peterson approaches nature-inspired art with a mission. Peterson focuses on the valuable services wild and messy ecosystems provide that our aesthetics want to control with tuff and fertilizers.
A life-long artist, Peterson ran her own graphic design and branding company, Grand Ciel Design Co.for 25 years. Working with environmental-based clients (MN DNR, Metro Blooms, and Blue Thumb — Planting for Clean Water®) has influenced her new work. Ever curious, Peterson routinely researched topics beyond clients’ projects, blending creative solutions to explain science visually; it gave these projects authenticity. “I could openly advocate for the environment by sharing what I learned in a positive way,” Kristin says. “I want to continue that advocacy through my artwork.”
“Art and science are kindred spirits. Many artists throughout time were naturalists, discovering new species of plants, fungi, and insects, painting and sketching them, and recording the changes in life cycles known as phenology. With our changing climate, we’ve been witnessing more changes in life cycles, too. We are becoming citizen phenologists whether we realize it or not.”
In Peterson’s debut solo exhibit, she asks viewers to remember and re-connect with their eight-year-old selves – innately curious, feeling a sense of belonging and connection in nature. Her works are accompanied by short stories by the artist and quotes that expand on each piece, providing a deeper meaning for viewers.
“Our disconnect from nature is killing us. When we are out in nature, our bodies remember and respond by lowing blood pressure and stress levels, increasing our ability to focus and aid in our bodies’ healing process….If we take care of the natural world, the natural world will take care of us.”
Peterson’s graphite drawings are highly detailed, often representing small natural findings up to 300% of their actual size, taking on a miraculous effect. Many of her works take upwards of 80 hours. For her watercolors, Peterson works in layers of color until the pieces appear to glow. “The practice of making art becomes meditative…that slowing down we feel when we are out in nature,” says Kristin.
To encourage the community to get closer to nature, Peterson will be holding a drawing, and raffling off a hand full of native plants and two small original prints of her work after her artist talk which starts at 2:30 pm on Sunday, June 5, 2022. “It’s important to encourage people to create green spaces and know how it important it is to our health and well-being.” She will also provide a list of reading recommendations, the approachable books on nature and the environment that have inspired Peterson’s work.
IF YOU GO: EXHIBIT DETAILS
EXHIBIT DETAILS: Children of Nature: Find Your Wonderland Works on Paper by Kristin Maija Peterson Held at the Owatonna Arts Center 435 Garden View Lane, Owatonna, MN 55060, (507) 451-0533
Opening Artist’s Reception: Sunday, June 5, 2022, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm with an Artist’s Talk at 2:30 pm followed by a raffle drawing
Owatonna Arts Center Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 pm
Refreshments will be served. Artwork is available for sale. 10% of all sales will be donated to Minnesota environmental non-profit organizations and 20% of all sales go in support of the Owatonna Arts Center.
Kristin Maija Peterson is a practicing professional visual artist currently based in Lakeville, Minnesota. Since 2016, she has frequently shown her work regionally, in and around the Twin Cities in both juried and group exhibits. Web: https://terrakindstudio.com Studio: (651) 318-7100. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
At the urging of a long-time friend and colleague, I submitted my application to the Red Wing Arts 20th Annual Poet Artist Collaboration.I have created under similar parameters before where I would create the art after being selected based on my previous works. I love combining images with stories and so this felt like a natural.
I didn’t expect to be thrown out of my comfort zone (always a good thing, right?), nor did I expect to do a watercolor that is far removed from my usual approach and technique. More than anything, I wanted to do right by the poem I chose and to the woman who wrote it.
HOW DOES A POET ARTIST COLLABORATION WORK? It goes something like this. After being notified to participate, artists are provided poet-submitted poems that have been jury selected. Artists pick their top seven poems, ranking the order of preference from one being the top poem pick and so on down the line, choosing the poems that move and inspire them to create a work of art that will accumulate into a group exhibition. The poem lists are emailed in and through part lottery, part diplomatic process, and timing of poem pick submissions (kind of a first-come-first-served situation), artists are then emailed the “their” poem and then create a work of art based on their impressions of that poem.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER Besides being moved out of my comfort zone, there was considerable thought that went in to create a piece behind my poem choice. For the 20th Annual Poet-Artist Collaboration exhibition, here is my final watercolor painting inspired by my poem choice, Planted by Deborah A. Goschy, and my artist’s statement.
Planted by Deborah A. Goschy
At the plant nursery
grass seed lived in barrels,
silent and sleeping,
a cool soft touch
when I plunged my bare hand
into its silky abundance,
but we bought it by the bag,
this promise of lawns, lush and green,
and it spiraled in fanciful trails
from the seed broadcaster
onto the stubborn soil behind the house.
One warm summer day I carried it in a metal can.
My fingers savored the feel of the steel,
my eyes, the stripes: orange, brown, and tan,
behind the words “Butternut Coffee”
as I let the seeds drop from between my fingers,
and observed their curling descent on an eddy of wind.
“The wind’s coming from the southeast,” I said.
Dad said that meant rain, one of those facts
he had gleaned in his youth among farmers.
That night after the ballgame, the predicted storm came,
a startling shower of cold drops that pelted us
as we ran to our cars across pavement
washed as black and glossy as polished jet,
rain that came down miles away,
wetting rows of scattered promises…
the roots grew down and
the leaves rose up and it was home,
but my life carried me like a current.
I rode the breeze, as children will,
and took root somewhere else.
ARTIST STATEMENT I have a confession. The initial painting I created for this poem was wrong, a failure. The work was too literal that it made it creepy — it didn’t feel true to me, nor did it feel true to the poem. On top of it all, the painting lacked movement.
Poetry, after all, is about movement. It’s how words move through the body and move through those listening. It’s how a poet moves when performing their work. Many poets talk about their process of writing involves walking. Poets like Mary Oliver, Maya Angelo, and others walk or pace, letting the poem’s words wash over them. After a month struggling with the first piece, I recalled what the artist Harriet Bart wisely said, “you don’t have to show the work if you don’t like it.” With that, I remember I have agency. And a deadline.
I got busy with a new and different approach. This one relied more on feeling and instincts than needing actual references to guide me. I went through all the lines involving movement again and again “spiraled in fanciful trails,” “their curling descent,” the wind, we ran, “the roots grew down, and the leaves rose up.”
Because I am curious, I tend to research as part of any project I am working on, and in doing so, I found connections to grasses that play a role in Planted. I vaguely remember the brand Butter-Nut Coffee, not so much brewing in our kitchen, more just an old can storing the odd assortment of nuts and bolts in my Dad’s basement workshop. In looking into Butter-Nut Coffee’s origins and its disappearance from store shelves, I discovered it began in 1887, in Omaha, Nebraska, a state I think of having prairie grassland as far as the eye can see. In one interview I read about Butter-Nut Coffee, there was a comment that before being gas-roasted (as opposed to coal-roasted), the beans smelled very much like “freshly cut grass.” But like so many things we take for granted, coffee not only starts our day, it alters the places where it is grown.
I also found diagrams labeling the many parts that make up a grass plant. The offshoots from the parent plant arecalled daughter plants, apropos to the poem’s author.
Planted is also a poem about memory, and because of that, I wanted colors that felt nostalgic. Six layers of watercolor paint created this piece, perhaps to mark each decade I have lived and suspect the poet has too. In the end, it feels more like a tapestry than a painting. If you tilt the work just so, you can see the “fanciful trails” swirling across the surface.
IF YOU GO: In-person viewing of the Poet Artist Collaboration exhibition is possible during gallery hours, NOON-4:00 pm, Thursdays-Sunday at the Red Wing Arts, 418 Levee Street, Red Wing, MN 55066. The Red Wing Arts gallery and shop are located in a historical train depot situated behind the St. James Hotel. In-person poetry readings are being planned for each Saturday afternoon starting on May 1st through June 19th. Check out the RWA’s Facebook page for details. The Poet Artist Collaboration runs from April 30 through June 21, 2021.
Shortly after Christmas and before the New Year, I received an announcement congratulating me that I am selected to participate in the upcoming Mississippi River Stories Exhibition to show at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) in NE Minneapolis.
The stories were collected and recorded in the Elm Tree Booth, a marvelous design created by The Natural Heritage Project. I can tell you first hand the craftsmanship that went into building the Elm Tree Booth is stunning.
Each of the stories varies in length, complexity, detail, and perspective. It is up to each of us artists to create original artwork illustrating the diverse interrelationships of people and the river. Exhibit requirements are that the work must be two-dimensional and sized at 18 x 24 inches unframed. Other than that, artists are free to visually translate the story they receive as best they can in the medium of choice.
In anticipation for my story to arrive, I have been working with watercolors and diversifying my color palette. I am not one to paint landscapes, rather landscapes within a landscape. The story could instantly bring images to mind or leave me utterly struggling with the challenge.
Along with samples of my current artwork, I needed to respond to two questions. Why would I like to participate in this exhibition; what is my connection to the Mississippi River? The answers I hope are as inspiring as the story I will be receiving.
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS EXHIBITION?
Stories are the stuff that unites us where we have a chance to share knowledge and experiences and create connection and empathy. I weave stories alongside my artwork to give it meaning and to make it more relatable to others. What I find intriguing about this exhibition is the challenge. Can I, with care and respect, translate the words of another’s story into a visual representation that is clear and true? Translations often miss the nuances of meaning in the spoken word. As an artist, I believe there is a language between stories and art that everyone can feel.
WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER?
Throughout my life, I viewed the Mississippi River as a character found in books, poems, songs, and film. I have learned of its power, its perilous polluted conditions, and how organizations and individuals strive to preserve and restore a healthy river ecosystem. For a long time, it’s been an acknowledgment, yet a detached relationship with the river.
Not until my stepson and his young wife introduced me firsthand to the Mississippi River did I fall in love. They took me on long hikes along the area known as Crosby Farms and Fort Snelling. We all expressed how we love to hear the water lap at the shoreline, watching the water flow between its banks. The experience brings a sense of peace and groundedness. It’s like being ”away-away” without having gone anywhere.
Someone recently told me about a “Mississippi Meander,” something of an art crawl between studios dotted along the Mississippi River. I tried to find a write-up about such an event online. I didn’t find a thing about an art crawl. What I discovered were these most beautiful full-color maps illustrating how the Mississippi River meanders. I had never seen a topographic like it.
The song may call the river “Old Man River,” but I see her as a woman – with all the complexities and power to shape a nation. She has done that well. It’s our turn to treat her right.
Like all events in this COVID era, the showing dates for the Mississippi River Stories Exhibition remain flexible. It’s expected to run in the fall of 2021 or if fate has it, in early spring 2022. Watch this space for updates!
Terra Kind Studio is the creative working home of visual artist, writer, apprentice poet, and graphic designer Kristin Maija Peterson.
“I write stories about of my work to bring you a connection and understanding of the thinking that goes into my work. As a self-proclaimed “Beauty Hunter,” I seek to represent the wild, the messy and the misunderstood places and spaces that are either ignored or destined to be controlled or developed. There is such beauty in the natural chaos of things. I hope your visit here is an inspired one.
Be kind to the earth. Be kind to others and especially be kind to yourself.
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