|Pyramid Lake, Tatjana M-P, Lando gallery, Edmonton|
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!