Why Make Art?

View From The Goat Mountain, acrylic, 20x24



For me, art is all encompassing, sometimes lighthearted, bubbly and joyous. Sometimes it's solid, sobering and clever. And sometimes I don't understand it. Maybe it has a story to tell, or maybe it's just a spark of an idea. Maybe it's a premonition or a crack in the memory, or an inkling of a desire. But the answer to why, is always the same - because it is necessary. Because it communicates. It is always more deserving and rewarding than talk.

Redeemed Artist Part IV - Galleries!


Pyramid Lake, Tatjana M-P,  Lando gallery, Edmonton
Do you want to become rich and famous? Do you dream about creating art that will be featured in national museums? Do you want galleries to compete for your attention? 

Well, too bad, I haven’t got a clue about accomplishing any of those amazing goals. But, I picked up a thing or two on my road towards becoming an artist later in life, and all I want to do now is share that with my fellow travelers!

This is the last of four articles about this topic, and today I am focusing on galleries. 

How to get accepted by galleries, how to work effectively with galleries, and what to do when things don’t work out? 

Here is what I have learned so far.

How to get accepted by galleries?

 Generally, you either get into a gallery by your submission, or they invite you to join.


Submissions 

  • Upside of submissions is that you can submit and re-submit to as many galleries and as many times as you wish. The downside is that you will get many rejections, which is always unpleasant, but I am getting too old to fret about unpleasantness. I used to send about ten submissions every January over several years. This effort got me into four wonderful galleries. I am still represented by two of them, and through ups and downs we forged our mutual loyalty and overall we have been doing good business.
  •  Carefully prepare your submission package exactly the way they explain in gallery requirements. If you really want to get into a gallery, but they don’t offer any instructions, use other gallery’s instructions. The point is to put your best art forward and be professional and straight forward. Imagine if you had to review hundreds of submissions in one day, how you would want them to look like. You only need to be different and original with your art, not with the way you send submissions – that needs to be simple and efficient for the person who reviews it.
  • Be patient with submissions – it took me four years of submitting and being rejected by one of those galleries until finally a new owner enlisted me. Persistence pays off. But, I have to say that rejections from this gallery were always very kind and constructive, which gave me courage to keep submitting. I was convinced that we would be a good match and I was right. If a gallery sends a rude rejection, I don’t bother resubmitting. One of the advantages of becoming an artist later in life is that we have enough experience in dealing with people, that we can easily decide not to work with those that we don’t like.

Invitations

  • You get invited to join gallery either based on someone’s reference, or when a gallery proactively searches for artists. In both cases, someone needs to know and like your art, and believe that you are a good person to work with. This kind of reputation can be earned by exhibiting in non-profit spaces, working with art organizations and collaborating successfully with other artists. So it pays off to be a good team player. More importantly, networking with other artists can be the most rewarding in other ways as well. My experience is that artists, and most of the people who work in arts are fun folks, and extremely supportive friends.
  • Upside of gallery invites is that you are wanted, and we all love that. The downside is that galleries which invite emerging artists are usually new venues that are still learning the business, so be prepared to learn together with them, and know that not all projects will be hits. Also be ready to support the gallery in all kinds of projects, as they are trying out various strategies to attract clients. If you are not a people person, this could be very difficult. Know that the survival expectancy of new galleries is very low, and only the most talented survive and thrive. Over years, I have joined four galleries by invitation. Three of them folded, while the third one is doing very well.


How to work with galleries effectively?


My policy has always been to do my best and to be accommodating as much as possible, which gives me the right to expect the same attitude back. This is another advantage in becoming an artist later in life. After we have gained experience in dealing with people and businesses from our previous endeavors, we know how to confidently stand behind our work.

Productivity 

  • Firstly and most importantly – make lot of paintings so that you always have them ready when gallery needs inventory. I have to admit that I haven’t done so well with this, which caused me major frustrations and bumpy relationships with some galleries. It is very embarrassing when you don’t have enough paintings or when you don’t have enough time to assure quality of your work. The key is to learn to work faster, to be very regular with your working hours, and to never over commit. Easy to say, but extremely difficult to achieve! Over the past 10 years, I have made about 30 good paintings per year on average. This is not enough if you want to be represented by several galleries, especially if you are not good with working under pressure. These days I have improved my painting process, so I can create enough paintings for my galleries, but it's very tough to stay consistent.  So keep an eye on this one!

Quality

  • Whatever you make and send to a gallery, make sure it is the very best effort you could possibly do at the time – in every aspect. The way you finish, frame, package, communicate your art – it all counts and helps the gallery sell your work. So I’ll say it yet again – put your best foot forward every single time. If you don't, it's not only that someone will take notice and your reputation will suffer, but most importantly you will never forgive yourself. I know that my paintings are not heading to the Guggenheim, but I know that I am sending my very best to the world at any time, so that collectors end up with authentic samples of my life's work throughout my career. In my books, that's the whole point of being in the art market.

Business Stuff

Contract

  • Most of my galleries initiated a formal contract at the time I was accepted, but not all did. It's a nice summary of expectations and responsibilities, so I think it's a good idea to have one. But for me, the actual behavior of the gallery (and the artist) makes or breaks the deal. Diligent, open and straight forward communication and mutual respect are essential. Delivering good quality paintings on time is a must, but artists getting paid in a timely manner is also a must, but more about that in the next chapter. 

Clients

  • I see it as my job to direct clients to my galleries, without worrying if they will buy my art or someone else's. Good business partners always reciprocate. This is another benefit of becoming an artist later in life – if we have our finances in order, we can afford to be generous.

Pricing

  • Set your own prices and clarify all aspects (e.g. framing, shipping, taxes) in a clear itemized list that you give to the gallery every time you deliver paintings to them. Sometimes they proactively do this for you, and you just sign off a form if you agree. If you don’t, make a change, it’s your art. I set my prices in 2005 to match my closest peers, and increased 5-10% most years. Right now my prices are based on $2,5 per square inch for unframed medium sized paintings. The challenge is selling your art in different areas - for example, one province may run strong while the other one may be at a weak point, so the gallery in the first would like to see your prices higher, the other one lower. My stance is that the value of our art has to be determined, so prices must be consistent across the board. Imagine if you are a collector and you learn that your' favorite artist's paintings can be acquired for less than what you have been paying! 

Gallery Fee

  • I have almost always paid 50% gallery fee, a bit less at few places which was very sweet, but 50% is a norm. I think this is fair because the artist and gallery should be equal partners. The way I think about it, each painting is a precious object that needs to find a home, and each of us has the same incentive to make that happen. The matter of expenses is separate from this partnership. I wouldn't want to be involved in managing gallery's expenses and I am sure they don't want to manage mine.


What to do When Things Don’t Work Out?


  • Calamities with galleries range from disagreements about art or business, to gallery closing down, to the worst possible scenario of not getting paid and even ending up with loss of paintings. I have never been not paid or lost paintings, but I know a disturbing number of artists who have, so keep your eyes peeled and if something doesn't look right, call it out immediately. I had several galleries that closed down, few due to insufficient sales and  few due to health issues or retirement. This is a bad time for artists but even worse for the gallery, so I try to be considerate. It can look like chaos, but as soon as you are confident that you are getting paid your outstanding money and that you are getting your unsold paintings back, try to be helpful. If I had a good business with the gallery over several years, I gift them a painting of their choice as a token of friendship.
  • Disagreements can be very frustrating and drain energy and good will. Disagreements most often pop up about pricing, gallery fee structure, or managing of direct sales between the artists and clients who don’t want to go through the gallery. I was lucky to avoid most of these situations, but I have friends who went through all these challenges, so I know they are not uncommon.
  • Always be thoughtful about pricing advice from a gallery, consider their point of view, but make sure that you make the final decision in a way that is best for your career. 
  •  Only once was I asked to pay more than 50% gallery fee and that business folded in a matter of weeks. Basically, if they can’t make business with 50%, they won’t be able to make it with more either.
  • Galleries are always sensitive to artists who sell directly. They simply don’t want to be undercut. Can you blame them? Neither can I. I direct all direct queries to my nearest gallery, because I decided once and for all that I can afford to pay 50% fee as the fair cost of good business.

And finally, of course, galleries are not the only way of selling art. There are many interesting ideas with direct on-line sales. For example, some of the daily paintings artists are doing really great. Kudos to them! Many of those artists also generously share their experiences so you can learn all about their journey by following their blogs. Each of us is a part of the art world, and the more we share, the better our world is!


Thanks for reading my blog. I will keep sharing my experiences, and if there is some particular topic you’d like to discuss, give me a shout! 

To round it all up, here are my fabulous galleries that sell my fabulous art!







Plain Air Panels



Aren't you amazed how an hour of painting in the nature, in a park, or just in the back yard can yield a stronger and more joyful painting than days in the studio? Guess what! Plain air painting season is around the corner! I bet that the toughest ones are already out and about! Good for them!

It’s easy and inexpensive to make a very good quality panel support for acrylic or oil paintings that is especially handy to use for plain air expeditions. You can carry these panels with you, or you can mount loose canvas on them after it has already been painted.
Here is what you need:
-          Sheets of plywood
-          Sandpaper
-          Ready-made acrylic gesso
-          Loose canvas of your choice
-          Acrylic medium

Plywood


By 1/4 inch thick sheets of plywood form any lumberyard (Home Depot, Rona, etc.). Sheets come in various sizes, so buy a size that can fit with your chosen means of transportJ. Pick sheets that are not warped, but don’t worry too much if the surface isn’t perfect because you will mount canvas on it anyway. Some people buy thicker plywood with the idea of leaving the pieces unframed. This can work nicely, but you will have to take a good care of the edges to make sure they don’t get chipped while cutting. Don’t buy MDF because it’s super heavy and I am not sure how it behaves in moist environment.

You will need to cut down the sheets into smaller pieces, which you can do at home if you have a good saw, or you can have it cut for you in the store. Since the goal is to make plain air supports that are easy to use, I like to cut them down into standard ready-made frames sizes. Opus store has plain air frames in a few standard sizes 8x10, 11x14, 12x16, 16x20. If you live elsewhere, just check what’s available in your area and plan accordingly.
Frames are costly so I won’t say that ready-made ones are “affordable”, but some are less expensive than others.

Be economic in how you mark your sheets for cutting – make sure you minimize waste. Once your plywood is cut in pieces, slightly sand the edges.

Acrylic Gesso



Store bought acrylic gesso comes in a very thick consistency. Dilute it with water to get consistency of a milkshake and brush or roll it onto the panels on all sides (that’s front, back and all the edges). You only need one layer and it doesn’t need to be neat – the purpose is to prevent the panels from warping. When the gesso dries, your panels are almost done.

Canvas


Now you need to decide if you want to mount blank canvas on panels right away, or if you will mount it later after you painted on it. It’s best to use pre-gessoed canvas, although I see no reason why you couldn’t use any sort of fabric of your choice. In either case the process is the same. Place your panel on the fabric back side and outline its shape with a pencil. Then cut the fabric to be the exact same size as the panel (make sure you mark the sides of the canvas and panel that go against each other because nothing in this world is exactly symmetrical as you will find out if you get this wrong J).

Adhesive

Brush a neat uniform layer of acrylic medium on the back of the canvas all the way to the edges, position and press it on the panel and smooth the surface with your hand to remove any air bubbles. Then place the panel face down (or canvas down), and press the panel on the top with something heavy. I usually stack a few of those panels on top of each other and place a heavy weight on top. This dries fairly quickly, but to be on a safe side, I leave it overnight. It’s so good to come to the studio next morning and find a wonderful heap of lovely new painting supports!

Finish

If you were using gessoed blank canvas, you are done, pack up and go out to paint! If you used raw canvas, you will need to brush or roll a few layers of gesso over it, and leave it to dry. Then you are ready to go!
If you have mounted a finished painting, the next step is to seal and varnish the piece. I seal all sides (front, back and edges) with a thin layer of acrylic medium. Once that dries, you can put a layer of varnish on top.
Sometimes I want the edges to be black, so I paint them with black paint or gesso before sealing the piece.

Framing



These panels are a breeze to frame – just use a few framer bits or small nails on the back and you are done. Ready to hang and be admired! They also pack and ship easily and don’t take much space in the storage.


I am hoping that this spring will be a beginning of a wonderful plain air season. Happy painting!

Painting In Paradise

Lake O'Hara Park, Yoho National Park 
It's hard to match scenery of the Lake O'Hara Park - a piece of paradise in Canadian Rockies! I am just now starting to plan a series of paintings featuring this magical place. No problems with getting inspired here!

Any time now the spring will arrive so it's a good time to start preparing panels for plain air painting. For those of you who have never made panels yourself, I'll describe how I do it in one of the following posts. It's easy, inexpensive, and you end up with good quality painting supports that are handy to carry, pack and also easy to frame.

Not My Baby


North View from Mt. Seymour, acrylic, 30x24

The other day I went to the art store to stock up. I get anxious when I am low on art supplies so I recommend avoiding that situation if at all possible. There was a young girl working in the store who helped me drag big canvases from the shelf. She was very enthusiastic so we started chatting about making art. She said that she is an artist and a photographer. The photography she defined as her immediate “in the now” creation. She said that she also makes acrylic paintings, using her photographs as inspiration, but that she has lately been overwhelmed with the idea of transferring the realism of the photo into the artistic vision in the painting.

 I kept thinking about her, remembering all the times when the same thing was overwhelming me. It sure does every once in a while. How to translate the inspiration of a reality into my unique artistic vision, and make a great painting? And then, how to stay committed to doing this day in and day out for years and years. How wonderful and how scary at the same time!

There are a few things that can help with the scary part. Firstly, let’s remember that this has been done by many artists, so it verifiably isn't an impossible task. Then, remember to trust all the skills that we have acquired; yes, sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back, but overall we can’t help making progress. The actual translation of the inspiration into a unique image is magic – it’s a puzzle that we create for ourselves to solve. Sometimes we say that paintings are our babies, but the thing to remember is that they are not! They are things that we make, love or hate, keep or destroy. Some puzzles don’t work out, but the best thing of all is that we can think of another one tomorrow! Isn't that terrific?


I wish I thought of saying all this to the girl, but I guess I am not very good with thinking on my feet. I think I said something like - take it one step at the time…ugh. Perhaps I’ll remember this for the next time I run into someone with the same struggle, which is bound to happen. Wouldn't it be great to write down all those thoughts about art that we wish someone had told us years ago? Well, this is as good a time to start as ever!