12 tips for finding and working with a gallery to sell your art.
1. Recognize you many need help to exhibit and sell your art.
When someone asks you the price of your art, what happens? Do you prefer to avoided talking to the client about price? Are you uncomfortable with the marketing and selling side of the art business? You might not be the best person to sell your work and its time to find a gallery partner.
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; and some artists admit spending only 20% their time in the studio making art. Working artists are some of the most prolific and productive people I know. They must book shows; schedule events; haul work to markets and art walks; promote events; negotiate price and sale details with buyers; create emails, texts and social media posts; pack the art; and navigate the shipping process. It is all extra work and a distraction from making art.
The main reason to seek gallery representation is to have more time to make art. I suggest stepping back for a moment. Evaluate your workload and decide where to invest your time and talent
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 cannot ignore, like sharing our processes in 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 some 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 vital partnership for artists.
3. Improve your professional presentation
Please do not show up (with your portfolio in hand) without an appointment. It is better to send a short, well-crafted email inquiry. At The Naess Gallery, we do not like to get 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? 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. It is best to keep your proposal brief and present only current work that you are excited about. This brevity will help make your website landing pages look simple and professional.
Here is what I, as a gallery owner, will look at:
- Your full name (It is your brand)
- An image of you (It good to see a familiar face)
- 4 – 5 sentences to describe why you and your art or technique are unique (Use straight forward language to answer questions like: What medium and technique do you use? Why do you paint 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)
It is important to have a simple, updated website with links to your social media; then a gallery owner and 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, magazine and advertising so keep high resolution photos of work in a secure, shareable folder service, like Dropbox or Google Drive. 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 for you.
Visit gallery websites to see the artists they represent. If your work is of similar quality and different in subject matter or media, it may fit the gallery. There are many online gallery directories. Here 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 openings. Develop a relationship with the owner, curator, and other artists. You can also follow galleries on social media; subscribe to their newsletters; and see how they promote artists and nurture their client relationships.
Here’s what to look for while researching galleries:
- 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 booked?
- What is their criteria for accepting artists?
- Does the gallery have an exclusivity clause?
5. Don’t panic if a gallery asks for exclusivity.
An exclusivity clause is meant to protect the gallery’s reputation. Gallery owners are like talent agents; their role is to discover, recruit and help artists develop their career. Rarity does add value. Focus on creating better quality or larger works by booking fewer shows.
Exclusivity is not necessarily a negative thing; it is all negotiable. The gallery may ask to be your exclusive dealer by city, or province; or limited to a certain number of years. You may be able to negotiate that only select works or genres are subject to exclusivity; or give the gallery right-of-first-refusal on new works. It is all negotiable. All contracts are simply agreements between people. Be comfortable discussing the options.
6. Beware of booking too many art shows
It is a common error for artists to spread themselves too thinly. It might be tempting to accept all invitations. Be careful. You may not have enough work to create as many quality shows as you think you can. A gallery cancelation, at The Paint Spot, made it difficult to find an replacement artist on short notice.
Never double-book yourself to ensure you have enough time to create art you are proud to show. Choose only 1 or 2 shows annually to stay focused on 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 ready to show in 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 career to find their style while others seem to arrive at their niche easily. Perhaps it is 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. Your passion, knowledge, and experience will be evident in your art. You may continue to experiment using different media; explore new styles; or choose new subject matter. It is 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 materials means 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. These are important considerations for collectors. Ready-to-hang is essential for the gallery and framing is an investment 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 artist have difficulty pricing their art. It does not 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 or 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. If the client tries to buy from you, direct the sale back to the gallery.
10. Continue to provide content to the gallery to help market and sell your art work
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. 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 the comments on social media posts, videos, stories, and reels. You can invite those fans to your shows too.
12. A fatal mistake can end a gallery relationship.
A gallery plays an important role and deserves respect and payment just like the artist. Do not try to undercut them. Here is a true story. An artist was overheard proposing to her patrons and friends that they could save money and avoid the commission by purchasing direct from her after the show. This activity spoiled the gallery relationship and the artist did not get to show at the gallery again. It was not just about the money. Disappointed by the loss of the relationship, the gallery owner claimed that the deadline of the exhibition date, and his encouragement of the artist, provided the confidence she needed to create the new body of work.
Nurture your gallery relationships for the benefit of yourself, the gallery, and patrons. Share in the work and you will share in the success.
If this article helps you find a gallery to show 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
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- 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 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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