So you want to sell your work in a gallery?
As Jenny and I approach our anniversary of running a gallery, and having been submitting and selling work through galleries for more than 10 years we have some experience of both angles.
Just how does an artist get their work shown in a gallery, and what can an artist do to help promote their work?
Are you ready to sell through galleries?
Before even thinking about which galleries to approach, it’s time to think about what stage of your artistic career you’ve reached. Do you have an identity as an artist, does your work have a style of its own? Do you have a body of work that the potential buyer would recognise as the work of one artist?
It seems harsh to say this but…. if your work looks like a random collection in different styles and media when shown on the same wall, then perhaps it’s not ready to be sent to a gallery.
Do you have a website (with a proper domain, not www.angelcakes21.wix.com), up to date with your latest work and great photos? Proper business cards?!
Next – do your research. Find galleries that have work at a similar price point or feel or subject as yours – don’t expect a fine art gallery to take watercolours of local scenes, or prints. And high-end work isn’t likely to be suitable for a gallery that majors on affordable art. Visit galleries, figure out which look to be a good match, and pay attention to their stock and artist selection.
Presenting your work
We see this as two related but different subjects – getting your work ready to be shown (and sold) and getting your work in to a gallery.
Firstly – it’s an old cliché but it’s true – the frame (at least partly) sells your work; a good frame, sympathetic to the art, well made and stylish, will significantly enhance the saleability of your work.
The converse – a frame that doesn’t fit the shape, size and colour of the work, or one that is cheaply or poorly made – cheapens the work, and reduces its wall appeal.
We often see work shown to us in a varying range of frame styles.To the gallery owner this says – doesn’t care about the work sufficiently, doesn’t imagine it being bought and hung in a customer’s home, isn’t serious about selling their work.
I’m sure that’s not you, is it?
Take a look at art by known artists in local galleries. Now compare the standard of framing with yours. Be honest with yourself!
And where you’re offering mounted work without frames – how is the quality of the mount? And does the cellophane wrapper look neat? Have you included a card or some info about you in the wrapper?
Un-framed or un-mounted prints are meant to be lower in price than originals, but not cheap-looking!
And what about photos? Great photos really help sell art – on your website, on artfinder, when pitching to galleries or submitting work to exhibitions. A photo of a framed and glazed piece with poor lighting, reflections, keystone distortion or a distracting background will do the opposite!
Even established artists sometimes forget to take photos before they send off their work to be framed but new artists can’t afford to make this mistake.
In our gallery we rarely accept work from artists who can’t supply good photos. Once a piece has been framed it’s very hard to get a decent pic to use on websites, social media and promotions.
And as for getting your work considered by a gallery….
Most days in our gallery an artist will call in with work they want to show us. And almost every time, we’re busy with customers, or working on a piece of our own on the workbench, or up a ladder, re-hanging….
The chances are, if you call at a gallery without an appointment the gallery owner won’t be able to take the time to talk to you and look at your work.
A much better approach is to call or email and ask how the gallery likes to be approached. At least you then know how best to get an audience! Most galleries will ask you to send a few photos and a link to your website.
The photos you send may well be the determining factor so we suggest do as you’re asked, and send good piccys!
If the gallery owner likes what you send you’ll hear from them – galleries are often looking for new work of sellable quality so make sure your photos do justice to your work.
Remember – the gallery only makes money on art that appeals to customers enough to get them to part with money; work that is unlikely to sell isn’t going to be accepted!
A response that is guaranteed to fail is – ‘my work can’t be photographed / has to be seen in person / I’m worried my images will be copied’. Really?
If you’re invited to call in with examples, make sure your work is ready to sell – framed, mounted, wrapped, clean, un-marked and your best current work. Work that is old, marked, damaged or just lack-lustre may well shut that opportunity down before you’ve got started.
And be prepared – artist statement, expected wall prices, stock list, info and photos the gallery can use to promote your work…
Pricing and commissions
Here’s a thorny one a lot of artists get wrong – offering the same work for sale in a gallery and on their website at different prices. Don’t do this please! Decide on a price that leaves room for the commission the gallery charges, and make sure that price is THE price – wherever else that piece is pictured.
And if someone contacts you and asks if you can offer a reduction by trading directly, we suggest you politely decline and direct the customer back to the gallery. You may get a sale this way, but you’ll damage the relationship you have with the gallery for the long term.
It’s important to be clear about prices – low priced work generates such a low commission any respectable gallery is likely to turn the work down – it generates too little income for the wall space occupied.
Most galleries charge 40-50% commission on sales – make sure your wall price (the price the piece will be sold at) allows enough for that commission and for you to make what your work deserves.
If the gallery puts someone in touch with you to commission a bespoke piece, paying the gallery a finders-fee will keep that relationship sweet. We don’t charge a ‘contact’ commission in these circumstances, but many galleries do.
And while we’re on the subject of commission, let’s deal with that question we’ve all heard – what does a gallery do for its 40 (or 50)%?
- It provides a safe place for you to display your work to the public, including potential buyers
- It covers its rent, rates, staff costs, insurance and utilities
- It promotes both your work, and you as an artist to buyers – working to bring in new potential customers for you
- It provides feedback – what’s being looked at, what’s not, what you could sell more of, what not to make more of
- It often will provide advice and pointers towards enhancing your professionalism as an artist
- It takes credit card payments and deals with the admin of sales and artist payments
- And many more intangibles….
We encourage you to also consider your approach to being an artist.
Have you registered as self-employed, for example? Even if you have a ‘normal’ job being registered as self-employed means you’ll be keeping on top of taxes, expenses and your business admin.
Have you run your own shows or open studios, or done some local press work?
Is your work well-presented and ready to sell?
Do you understand your market, and work to reflect the tastes of that market?
Are you organised with stock lists and prices?
Do you turn up to appointments or exhibitions or promotional events on time and do what you can to promote yourself AND the gallery you’re working with?
Promoting your work and the galleries you work with
That last point above prompts me to delve a little more in to this subject in another post.
For now, ask yourself – am I doing a good job of promoting myself?
- These days a personal, up-to-date business website is the minimum required.
- An active presence on social media promoting your work and your gallery partners is expected too these days.
- Do you email your contact list when you create new work, or get work accepted by a new gallery?
- Do you look for ways to mention your work and the galleries where it can be seen?
- It’s certainly not enough to get work accepted by a gallery and then forget about it.
The more you do to expand your audience, to engage with new customers and to direct art lovers to your galleries the better your sales will be, and the faster your reputation as an artist to be followed will grow!
Galleries have finite wall space – artists that actively work to boost sales will get more of that wall space, and will be invited to share in joint promotions, events, private views, and all sorts of other ways to grow sales and reputation. Don’t miss out!
I hope this is useful to you; good luck and happy selling!