12 tips for finding and working with a gallery to sell your art.
Let’s explore the signs that it might be time to work with a gallery partner, then follow along for tips on how to find and work with a gallery to show your art.
1. Recognize you may need help to exhibit and sell your art.
When someone asks you the price of your art, what happens? Do you prefer to avoid talking to the client about prices? Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the marketing and selling side of the art business. If so, you might not be the best person to sell your work.
Creation or promotion of art – where are you expending the bulk of your efforts?
From a professional perspective, it is important to recognize that the production of art is only half of the workload in an artist’s career. Conversely, some artists will admit to spending as little as 20% of their time in the studio making art. Working artists are some of the most prolific and productive people I know. While they book shows, schedule events, haul work to markets and art walks, promote events, negotiate prices and sale details, create emails, texts, and social media posts, and pack and ship art, they’re not creating art. Basically, that’s a lot of extra work that distracts from making art.
It might be time to step back and share the workload
If this sounds like you, it might be time to step back for a moment, evaluate your workload, and decide where to invest your time and talent. Basically, the main reason to seek gallery representation is to free up more time to make art. So, what do you need to evaluate before finding a gallery to sell your art?
2. Understand the gallery and artist relationship
Have you heard this expression?: “If you do not understand why a gallery earns a commission, then you may not be ready to work with a gallery.”
There are aspects of the art business we can’t ignore, such as sharing our processes on social media to build our brand; accounting, communication, and networking. It may become essential to find a partner or hire an assistant to take on a share of the workload.
Running a gallery requires the same investment as any small business, as well as the added cost of nurturing a client base while marketing, presenting, and hosting the artist. It is a niche business model and a vital partnership for artists.
3. Improve your professional presentation before approaching a gallery
A professional presentation and introduction can make or break any success you might have in engaging further with a gallery. In your search to find a gallery to show your art do not show up with your portfolio in hand without an appointment. In this situation, it is better to send a short, well-crafted email inquiry. At The Naess Gallery, we don’t appreciate emails asking us to view art on a website or Instagram. Who has time to look through old or sold art that is no longer available when a gallery owner knows exactly what clients are seeking? A single landing page is all they require to decide if you are a fit for them, so keep your proposal brief and present current work that you are excited about. This brevity will help make your website landing pages look clean and professional.
Here is what I, as a gallery owner, will look at:
- Your full name (which is your brand)
- An image of you (because It’s good to see a familiar face)
- 4 – 5 sentences to describe why you and your art or technique are unique (Use straightforward language to answer questions like what medium and technique you use? What is interesting to you about your subject matter? What do you hope, or believe people see in your art?)
- Images of 12 – 18 pieces of art, along with sizes, media, and prices clearly marked.
- Link to your CV (If your background has highlights like awards, travel, scholarships, or publications)
When you’re looking for a gallery to show your art it’s important to have a simple, updated website with links to your social media; then the gallery owner and its clients can follow you to learn more about your art. Can someone search your name on the internet and see images populate Google like these examples: David Shkolny, Dale Auger, or Oksana Zhelisko?
As visual artists, we know images are important. A gallery will require good-quality photos to use for marketing in print, magazines, and advertising, so keep high-resolution photos of work in a secure, shareable folder service, like Dropbox or Google Drive. Additionally, be sure to create consistent file names and have a spreadsheet to note sizes, media, and even a little blurb about each piece.
4. Do some research to find a gallery that will work to show and sell your art.
Research can help you narrow down the potential and possibility that exists for your art. Visit gallery websites to see the artists they represent. In doing this you’ll learn whether your work is of similar quality and different in subject matter or media, it might fit the gallery. There are many online gallery directories, but here are some comprehensive links for reference:
- Art galleries in Edmonton, Alberta
- Art galleries in Alberta, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon
- Art galleries across Canada
If the gallery is local, visit the space, and go to its openings. Interest and engagement help you develop a relationship with the owner, curator, and other artists. You can also follow galleries on social media; subscribe to their newsletters – see how they promote artists and nurture their client relationships.
Here’s what to look for while researching galleries to show your art:
- Is the gallery appropriate for your work?
- Do they already have other work like yours?
- Are they seeking new artists?
- How long have they been in business?
- Are they reputable?
- How far ahead do they book?
- What are their criteria for accepting artists?
- Does the gallery have an exclusivity clause?
5. Some galleries will ask the artist for exclusivity, but don’t panic.
Exclusivity is not necessarily a negative thing – it is all negotiable. Gallery owners are like talent agents, hence, their role is to discover, recruit, and help artists develop their careers. Rarity does add value, so for these reasons, an exclusivity clause is meant to protect the gallery’s reputation.
The gallery might ask to be your exclusive dealer, by city or province, or limited to a certain number of years. However, you may be able to negotiate that only select works or genres are subject to exclusivity. Accordingly, you might agree to give the gallery right-of-first-refusal on new works. Again, it is all negotiable. After all, contracts are simply agreements between people. Be comfortable discussing options while you find a gallery to show your art.
6. Beware of booking too many venues to show and sell your art
It is a common error for artists to spread themselves too thinly. It might be tempting to accept all invitations, but be careful. You might not have enough work to create as many quality shows as you think you can. For example, a gallery cancellation at The Paint Spot made it difficult to find a replacement artist on short notice.
Never double-book yourself, rather, ensure you have enough time to create art you are proud to show. Choose only one or two shows annually to stay focused on, while nurturing clients for better attendance at each show. Earn the reputation of being an artist with sold-out shows. Choose your exhibition space wisely – book fewer shows, and promote them strongly.
7. Consider if your art is ready to show at a gallery
A gallery looks for a consistent body of work in a unique, accomplished style that tells a visual story others can relate to. That was a big statement, and worth reading again! A consistent body of work means you have become known for a certain style (colour sense, texture, paint handling, subject matter, and genre.)
Some artists strive their entire careers to find their style while others seem to arrive at their niche easily. Perhaps it’s time to get advice from others to help you uncover your style and voice. Invite a couple of fellow artists to your studio to see your art and talk about your process. Join an art club to get feedback and critique from peers. They will help you discover continuity, and themes within your body of work.
It is important to create art that you love. As a result, when you love what you’re creating, your passion, knowledge, and experience will be evident in your art. Of course, you should continue to experiment using different media, explore new styles, or choose new subject matter, which is all part of growing as an artist. Continue seeking advice as you progress because others may provide valuable feedback to help you. Be aware that a dramatic shift in your work may mean a change in gallery representation down the road.
8. Quality art materials mean quality presentation and higher prices.
Many things affect the quality of your work, including framing and presentation. Are your surfaces archival? Are your paints artist-quality and lightfast (non-fading)? Is your work varnished to protect it? Accordingly, these are important considerations for collectors. Ready-to-hang art is essential for the gallery. Coupled with quality materials, framing is an investment, and just like any upgrade, it can raise the asking price of the work.
9. Take advice from the gallery on setting prices for your work
Most artists have difficulty pricing their art. It doesn’t matter whether you are self-taught or formally educated since experience and talent will show in your work. Some patrons are like investors and they like to see your prices go up periodically. Set your prices by researching your market to ensure you are neither priced too high nor too low. Read more >> Tips for pricing your art!
Does your pricing strategy consider that the gallery requires a 50% commission on all sold work? Do not undercut your gallery by attempting to sell art cheaper from your studio. Moreover, if a client tries to buy directly from you, preserve the relationship you have built with the gallery – direct the sale back to the gallery. After all, you’ve worked hard to find a gallery to show and sell your art.
10. Continue to provide content to the gallery to help market and sell your artwork
Quick snaps from your phone are adequate for social media where sharing the process of your work and providing sneak peeks into your studio may remain intimate and authentic. After all, they help your audience get to know you better. Record videos featuring behind-the-scenes footage from your studio and include interviews from the gallery; then embedded the video on both the artist’s and gallery’s website to save time, create continuity, and promote each other.
Mention and tag your gallery frequently in your social media posts and tag.
Top places to keep images of your work
- Artist Instagram
- Facebook business page with albums of your art
- Update your website often to keep new works at the forefront and archive, or even hide, older works.
- Put small art or prints in an Itoya portfolio.
11. A gallery likes to see that you have a client list.
Develop a spreadsheet to track people interested in your work. Collect emails and cell phone numbers at all events. Look through comments on social media posts, videos, stories, and reels because you can invite those fans to your shows too.
12. A fatal mistake can end an artist/gallery relationship.
A gallery plays an important role, deserving of respect and payment just like the artist. Therefore, if an artist tries to undercut a gallery, they will likely find themselves searching for a new gallery to show their art. Here is a true story: An artist was overheard proposing to their patrons and friends that they could save money and avoid the commission by purchasing directly from them after the show. As a result, this activity spoiled the gallery relationship and the artist did not get to show at that gallery again. It was not just about the money, but also a cultured relationship. Disappointed by the loss of the relationship, the gallery owner claimed that the deadline of the exhibition date, as well as their encouragement of the artist, provided the confidence they needed to create the new body of work.
Once you find a gallery to show your art, nurture your gallery relationships for the benefit of yourself, the gallery, and your shared patrons. Share in the work and you will share in the success.
If this article helps you find a gallery to show and sell your art, we would love to hear about it. Are gallery owner with more advice for artists, please send notes. We would love to quote you and link to your gallery in this post.Contact Kim Fjordbotten
Show your art in more places
- 15 Tips for Showing Art in a Business
- Cafes and Diners that Show Art in Edmonton
- List of Art Walks in Alberta
- How to Join an Art Club?
- Curated Exhibition & Calls for Artists
- How to Use Social Media to Sell Art?
Kim Fjordbotten: As the owner of The Paint Spot, Kim Fjordbotten is passionate about helping artists use materials and make art. She is available as a speaker and educator for teachers and art associations. The Paint Spot offers exhibitions, classes, and beautiful art materials to inspire your creativity.
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