5 Alternatives to Art Exhibits During a Pandemic

a still life painting of a row of lemons and one lime in a vertical line up on a blue patterned cloth, painted in watercolor

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Alternatives to Art Exhibits during a Pandemic (for Artists)

We’re among thousands of artists who’s exhibit schedule went dark this Spring. What tools do you have in your marketing arsenal for artistic exposure during a Pandemic? Just like other creatives – musicians, entertainers and teachers – we can polish our presence and serve our offerings online.

In the previous post, I mentioned scuppered plans to show watercolors and printmaking at several art festivals this month. Being bummed about it won’t help me.

Especially when I compare this hiccup to bereaving families around the globe. Instead, let’s take a look at alternatives to in-person art exhibits, so we can increase exposure, and potentially generate income. We artists need a plan.

a bud vase woth bright red roses on a sunny windowsill in watercolor
Rooster Comb, 16 x 12 watercolor on paper – available here.

Create an Online Art Sale

Host an online art sale. Use your mailing list (here are some tips for creating and managing a mailing list on MailChimp) to let your followers know you’re having a virtual art exhibit. Find it in yourself to stretch beyond your norm, and replace the in person exhibit that got scotched by the pandemic. Find your collectors too.

Launch an Etsy Shop. Announce your new shop to your mailing list with a discount code. Here is an article about opening a shop on Etsy, and here is an online course with tips and tricks specific to Etsy marketing.

Not interested in Etsy? Create a separate Page on your blog to list your art for sale. Insert an image, and a paypal button, with the price next to the title, size and medium of each piece of art. Set an opening and a closing date for a discounted sale to celebrate your new gallery page, just like you’d announce a Gallery show.

Cross post your art sale to all your social media accounts, and email everyone in your family and friends list too. Here are instructions to create a new page if you’re using WordPress.

a dinig room interior with windows throwing light across the table and chairs
Prong Setting 12 x 18 watercolor on paper (available here)

Art Studio Housekeeping

Use this time to get your art inventory sorted and accounted for.  Pull out every piece of art you’ve created, and make piles by subject (still life, figurative, landscape, etc.) Make sure each piece has your signature on the front. Sign it again on the back, along with the year you made it, the medium, measurements and the title. (If you don’t have titles, take this how to name your art course, and title them all.) 

Photograph, or scan, each piece of art (yes, all of them) at 300 dots per inch. Save each digital image file as title.8×10.300.jpg (That is: the title of the art, the dimensions of the art, and the resolution of the scan.) Then, reduce the size of the newly saved image file from 300dpi file to 72dpi – using image software on your computer, and save the file again with all the same title details, except change the 300 to 72. Read on….

a monotype with pastel showing an interior art deco bathroom with a bright, open window and a bouquet of flowers on the sill
Keyhole to Spring, 20 x 18 monotype with pastel on paper (available here)

Organize Your Digital Studio

By titling and scanning your art, you’ll have a digital image of each piece you’ve created, ready for both print use (the 300dpi version), and web use (the 72 dpi version).
You can also add tags to the image file that note genre: landscape, still life, figurative, abstract, etc. This step is helpful when searching for appropriate submissions for themed shows, preparing for upcoming exhibits, or kicking off a new series.

Print postcards, matted prints, greeting cards, phone cases, etc. with the 300dpi files. Use the 72 dpi files on your web site, blog, emails, newsletters, social media, invoices and show applications.

Keep all the image files in one art folder on your hard drive, and back it up to a cloud or an external hard drive. Sort and store all the original art in a safe, organized, dry place.

This sequence – title the art, then scan and save the file in two sizes, and then store the art – would be a good habit to secure each time you finish a painting.

With everything titled, scanned and documented, you’ll be totally prepared to add image files to a show application, an invoice, a newsletter or a blog post. You’ll know the dimensions of the art without pulling it out to re-measure. And you’ll have a record of everything you’ve created – sortable by date, by genre, by size, or title – all in one place on your hard drive.

an island along a horizonline with water in the foreground painted in watercolor
Secret Island Anchorage, 12 x 18 watercolor on paper (available here)

Exhibit in an Online Show

Research online art exhibits. Look for opportunities to submit your work to shows domestically and abroad. There are online competitions, fundraising exhibits, magazine contests and social media auctions. You can participate in an online exhibit with little more than a good scan of your work, an entry fee and a completed application. 

a watercolor still life of peach colored roses and green apples with eucalyptus leaves
Sage & Cider, 12 x 16 watercolor on paper (available here)

Print on Demand or POD

List your art on a Print on Demand site. Choose a site that fits your work, upload the image scans, fill out all the details and set the pricing. When your art sells, they do the printing and delivery. The company hosting the images takes a cut of your funds in exchange for printing and shipping your art as a print, a poster, a mousepad, a phone cover or a pillow, etc. Read more about some of the options for Print on Demand here.

a father and son (napping) in a cafe with a large abstract painting behind them - painted in watercolor
Cafe Coffee Date 15.5 x 10 Watercolor on paper (available here)

Serve Your Patrons on Patreon

Start a Patreon account. Patreon takes its name from the word patron – a person who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, or activity. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Pontormo were supported by the patronage of Cosimo di Medici.

In this modern version, you create priced tiers of membership, and then post instruction, art or something your patrons want on a regular basis. In 2019, Patreon creators reached a watermark of earning one billion dollars on the platform. That’s a lotta cabbage, my friend.

Patreon Examples

  • Heather Rooney is creating real time photorealistic drawing videos for ten dollars per month for almost 200 patrons.
  • Shayda Campbell is creating journaling, drawing and watercolor painting tutorials.
  • Melody Hoffman is teaching knitting on Patreon.
  • Louise DeMasi is creating watercolor and acrylic painting tutorial videos

Ophelia woman floating peacefully in water with her eyes closed holding flowers in her hand
Untethered Cultivar 6.75 x 8.75 Monotype Ghost Print with Colored Pencil (available here)

Bonus Actions for Artists During a Pandemic

  • Start a blog.
  • Start posting your work to social media with appropriate hashtags.
  • Update your Artist’s Statement.
  • Create a signature block for all your outbound emails that includes links to your webite, etsy shop and social media accounts.
  • Update your resume.
  • Build a new invoice template with a logo and a photo of you.
  • Redesign your business cards.
  • Start a YouTube Channel
  • Take a new bio photo.
  • Begin work on a new series of art.
  • Take an online art workshop on the same week as a bevy of your friends. Afterwards, arrange a Zoom meeting with all of them to try your new skills, make some art and drink wine.
a watercolor portrait of a caricature artist in San Francisco, painted in watercolor
Caricaturist 13.5 x 9.25 watercolor on paper (available here)

Action over Panic

If these action items don’t meet the mark to generate immediate income, or viral, global exposure, we will still be ready for our next artist-life chapters. Being active, having a plan, ticking ToDo’s from a list of worthwhile endeavors aimed at improving your artist life is far better than sitting slumped in a dark corner, mumbling incoherently into our beer. Capiche?

Try tapping into the part of your artist’s brain that is naturally curious. If you think the nature of the tasks listed above are too entrepreneurial for you, think again. You were curious enough to try a variety of art supplies, and art-making methods, so you can also be curious about building an online presence. If you hear yourself balking at the idea, try to make a little room in your mental cabinet by sliding out the “I can’t do this” slate, and replace it with “Maybe I *can* do this”. I bet you a dollar you can. Pick one task. Go slow, and stick with it. Just like learning a new art method.

Let’s get some work done.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post!


a kitchen counter with a window in the background throwing reflections of the sky across the countertop
Overture from the Sky 12 x 9 watercolor on paper (available here)

Art Quote

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Anne Lamott
watercolor paper sample pack
This sample pack of watercolor paper is a good way to test five different artist-grade watercolor papers (2 of each). If you try them, let me know in the comments which you liked best and why.
how to get more painting time into a tight schedule
Six Tips to Paint More Often
artists watercolor rinse cup
Need a personalized brush rinse cup on your art table? Of course you do!
Belinda Del Pesco painting a watercolor at an art festival

Practice Q&A for Artists to Talk About Their Work Before an Exhibit

Yield: A More Comfortable Exhibit Opening
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Even the most demure of artists can keep an internal script ready for exhibit conversations, or filling out show application forms.

Print this, and fill in your own answers. This will be your list of conversation starters for art openings, and your reference sheet for show applications.

Make a cup of tea. Set 30 minutes aside. Practice the questions and answers aloud with your family, just like you might for a job interview.  Stand tall, make eye contact, and be proud of your gifts.

No bashing the art allowed – only positive replies.

Keep your answer sheet handy to refresh your responses before openings, and show applications. After one event with your ready-made answers, you’ll be an Art-Chat Boss.

Existing, pre-planned answers are easier to launch, and then elaborate upon, with more specific details. You’ll avoid feeling tongue tied and short on words, and you'll get better at this with practice.

With thirty minutes of preparation for attention on your art from total strangers, you’ll be charming your patrons with much more confidence than if you wing it.

And you’ll have more fun at your own exhibit, because you’ll be ready.


  • a Comfy, Quiet Place to Sit


  • Paper and Pencil


  1. What inspired you to create these pieces?
  2. Did you take reference photos, or were they painted on site?
  3. Which media and specific techniques did you use?
  4. Do you usually work in this size, this format or this color palette?
  5. Do you work in series, or do you prefer stand alone, individualized media and styles?
  6. Is your art experimental, or do you plan with rough sketches, color studies or a specific palette?
  7. (NOTE: if you answer "no" to all of these, it's a good idea to ponder & find your "yes" answers, so you'll be chatting about what your work is, rather than what it isn't.)
  8. Materials used – (for title cards and show applications) include canvas type, make and surface of paper, professional pigments, media, etc. Example: Dark Field Monotype with Colored Pencil on BFK Rives paper
  9. Dimensions – keep track of both image and frame measurements for added clarity on show applications.
  10. Who are your artistic influences? (Ask your patrons who they love/collect in the art world too.)
  11. What do you like about this piece? What did you hope it would say - to you - and to the viewer?
  12. Remember - no broadcasting your shortcomings or disappointments about the art. Leave space for the patron to respond to the art in their own way.
  13. After a compliment, thank the attendee and ask a question to keep the conversation flowing. Example: Attendee: Your work is beautiful. You: Thank you, I'm glad it appeals to you. What style of art do you have in your collection?

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7 thoughts on “5 Alternatives to Art Exhibits During a Pandemic”

  1. What a wonderful amount of information. I’m a newby so don’t do anything yet…. but now I’ve got my list when I’m ready. So generous. Thank you. 🙏

    1. Hi Anna,
      We’ve all been newbies before, so welcome to the club! Wishing you all good speed in knocking ToDo’s off your list, and getting your game on soon! Happy painting!

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