Reprinted with Permission by Jason Horejs - Did you know that in an average week, I may be approached by as many as 20 artists looking for gallery representation? Most of them are ineffective, making several easily avoided mistakes. Are you making the same missteps they are?
Before I begin, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jason Horejs, and I own Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. I established the gallery in 2001, and since then I’ve been fortunate to build a successful business. I represent several dozen artists in my gallery. I specialize in working with artists who are early in their careers, and I represent some well-established artists. My gallery has sold millions of dollars’ worth of art to collectors from all over the world. I love working with our collectors, and I find great satisfaction in helping my artists achieve their dreams as they pursue their art careers.
Several years ago, I began to wonder why many artists struggle so much when talking to gallery owners. I quickly realized that most were unsuccessful because they didn’t know the right way to approach galleries – after all, there is very little information available explaining the best strategies for approaching galleries, and what steps are necessary to prepare to do so.
This lack of information leads to several common errors. As you read on, you may be surprised to find you’ve made one or two of these mistakes yourself!
Mistake #1: Presenting an Inconsistent Body of Work
Artists generally love their freedom. They want to experiment. They love a challenge. They crave variety. All good things, except when you are presenting your work to a gallery.
The work you present to a gallery needs to be unified. It doesn’t have to be repetitive or formulaic, but it must present you as a consistent artist with a clear vision.
Often I feel I am looking at the work of multiple artists as I review a single portfolio. To avoid this problem, you need to find focus in your work.
If you work in several mediums and incorporate a variety of styles, try to focus on just one for the next 6-12 months. Create a body of work that feels like a “series”. Once you have 20-25 gallery-ready pieces in this series, you will be ready to approach a gallery.
You can further create consistency by presenting your work in a harmonious way. Use similar frames for paintings and photographs, the same one or two bases for sculpture, and unified settings for artistic jewelry. Make it very clear all of the work is by the same artist.
If you simply can’t rein your style in, consider creating multiple portfolios, one for each style. Don’t confuse the galleries you approach by presenting multiple styles in one portfolio!
Mistake #2: Producing Insufficient Work to Sustain Gallery Sales
Many artists create marketable work, but in quantities too low to make a gallery relationship viable. Successful artists are consistently in the studio creating new works of art. You may be surprised to learn the results of a recent survey I conducted:
I asked artists how many new works they created in the last twelve months. Painters responded that on average they were creating 53 pieces every twelve months. Sculptors 31. Glass artists 500.
A gallery owner needs to feel confident you can replace sold art quickly and maintain a high standard of quality. They want to know that if you are successful, you can replenish their inventory without delay.
Don’t despair if you are far from reaching this goal. Rather, look at your creative production for the last year and set a goal to increase the production by 25% in the next 12 months.
Here are several suggestions to increase productivity:
Dedicate time daily to your art. Maybe your schedule will only allow for two hours each day, but you will produce more by working for those two hours than you will be waiting for big blocks of time.
Treat your studio time as sacred. Train your family and friends to respect that time. You don’t interrupt them when they are at work; ask them the same courtesy when you are in the studio.
Set a production goal. If I could tell you the secret to producing 50 to 100 pieces per year, would you listen? Here it is: just create 1 or 2 pieces of work per week!
I know it seems overly simplified, yet few artists work in a concerted and disciplined way to achieve this goal.
(A common objection I hear to this suggestion is that quality will suffer if an artist works this quickly. In my experience, the opposite is true. A certain level of quality may only be obtained by putting miles on the paintbrush, spending hours in the darkroom, or moving tons of clay or stone.)
Remove distractions from the studio. Relocate your computer to another room. Unplug the telephone. Nothing kills an artist’s focus faster than the constant interruption of technology. Your inbox and voicemail will keep your messages safe while you work.
Mistake #3: Delivering a Portfolio in a Format Inconvenient for Gallery Review
Your portfolio is usually your one chance to show your work to a gallery owner. Poorly formatted portfolios are rarely viewed. Your portfolio should be concise, simple, informative, and accessible.
25 years ago, formatting a portfolio was simple. A portfolio was either a literal portfolio with sheet protectors and photos or a slide sheet.
The choices have since multiplied. CD? Digitally printed photo-book? PDF file? IPad? Which format is the most effective? In my workshop, I will show an example of the perfect portfolio. Easy to maintain, easy to share. Successful!
Here are a few things to keep in mind about portfolios:
Your portfolio should contain no more than 20-25 of your most recent works. You should not create an all-inclusive portfolio. A gallery owner does not want to see your life’s work – they want to see your best, most current, most relevant work.
Include pertinent, relevant information about the art on every page. The title, the medium, the size, and the price should be easy to locate. Do not include the date of artwork creation.
Place a bio, artist statement, and resume at the end of the portfolio instead of at the beginning. Your artwork is the most important feature of your portfolio – don’t bury it behind the personal information. Limit press clippings and magazine articles to between 2-3 pages.
Include 2-3 images of sold artwork. You should try to include at least one photograph of an installed piece. These images will establish your credibility more rapidly than any resume ever could.
Mistake #4: Lacking Confidence and Consistency in Pricing
Is your work priced correctly? - One of the greatest challenges you will face as an artist is knowing how to correctly value your work. Many artists price their work emotionally and inconsistently. Galleries can’t sell wrongly priced art.
Worse yet, nothing will betray an unprepared artist like not knowing how to price his or her work.
Many artists mistakenly underpriced their work. They do this because they feel they are not established. They do it because their local art market won’t sustain higher prices. They do it because they lack confidence in their work.
Let me help you create a consistent, systematic formula for pricing your art. It’s not as hard as you might think!
Mistake #5: Approaching the Wrong Galleries
My gallery is located in an art market dominated by Southwest and Western subject matter. My gallery stands apart from most of the galleries in Arizona because I have chosen art outside the norm. Yet I am constantly contacted by Western and Southwestern artists. They seem surprised and hurt when I turn them away. They could have saved us both some discomfort by researching my gallery before approaching me.
I suggest researching galleries carefully before contacting them. A gallery will be a good potential match if they are carrying art that is complementary to your work, or work that might appeal to a similar clientele. You want to approach a wide range of galleries, but eliminate the ones that are presenting work in dramatically different styles or price points from yours.
Mistake #6: Submitting Art through the Wrong Channels
Conventional wisdom and even some highly respected art marketing books will advise you to send your portfolio with a cover letter to a gallery. You may also hear it’s best to call a gallery and try to make an appointment to meet the owner. You might visit a gallery’s website to learn of their submission guidelines.
In my experience, these methods are typically unsuccessful. I recommend approaching galleries directly, either in person or by email, with a well-organized portfolio of strong, consistent artwork. It’s important to contact a large number of compatible galleries (see #5).
About Jason Horejs:
My name is Jason Horejs, and I own Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. I established the gallery in 2001, and since then I’ve been fortunate to build a successful business. I represent several dozen artists in my gallery. I specialize in working with artists who are early in their careers, and I represent some well-established artists.
My gallery has sold millions of dollars’ worth of art to collectors from all over the world. I love working with our collectors, and I find great satisfaction in helping my artists achieve their dreams as they pursue their art careers. Their website is www.xanadugallery.com
By Carolyn Edlund, Guest Blogger - Galleries can be of great assistance to artists. They are your representatives, who display, market and sell your work to collectors. They have contacts and existing customers to whom they can recommend your art. And, they may provide feedback and guidance to help you present a portfolio of artwork that will sell to their audience.
This type of service saves you a lot of time and effort. Your galleries earn their commission by providing a venue, hanging your work, dealing with customers and closing sales. But once you contract to work with a gallery, do you merely hand over your artwork and wait for checks? Hardly. There is more to do because your galleries will get the best results when you act as a good partner to them.
Relationships are a two-way street. You as the artist can enhance your importance to a gallery, and provide assistance to them by being pro-active. Take these actions to help enable your galleries to sell more of your work:
Refer Clients to Them - Let the public know that the gallery represents you, and recommend that they visit the gallery to view and purchase your art. Include the name of your gallery when you post on social media, in your email newsletters, and on your blog. Mention your galleries prominently on your art website, and include their address and phone number. Link to their website - preferably the page where your art is shown.
Make an Appearance - Showing up at openings where your work is being displayed is a must. But appearances can go beyond that. Some galleries have a “meet the artist” series where you may join visitors for coffee and conversation. Others may invite artists to give a talk about their technique or another aspect of their work. Consider having a conversation with your galleries on ways that you can participate in person. The face-to-face connection is powerful. Many collectors love to tell others that they have met the artist in person and have come to know them.
Provide Great Photos - Do you have excellent photos of your artwork, or photos of yourself working in the studio? Make the gallery staff aware that you will be happy to provide these. Compelling images of your art may be used by the gallery on promotional postcards, in ads or even in magazine articles. When you assist your gallery in their marketing efforts, both of you win.
Tell Your Story - The more information the gallery staff has about you, the more they can tell their collectors about your inspiration, technique, and background. Is your work based on an amazing concept? How does it relate emotionally to collectors? Have a concise but interesting story written down for use by gallery staff when making the sale.
Share Selling Points - Galleries need lots of information to sell your work, and you should provide this without being asked. What type of materials are you using? Is this an heirloom which will last for hundreds of years? Is there any special care that your work needs? Can it be cleaned easily? Are there special installation instructions? Will it fade in sunlight? Is it tarnish resistant? Archival? Impervious to moisture? Consider carefully what buyers need to know in order to commit to making the purchase, and make a list of selling points. Include this when shipping or delivering your art to the gallery, so they can answer questions knowledgeably and share the benefits of owning your art.
Add Extra Value - Sometimes, small things can increase the perceived value of your work. An original signature on your art is important, of course. A Certificate of Authenticity also acts to convey that the work is from the hand of the artist. Small touches such as an artist’s chop on a piece of two-dimensional art, or words incised on the bottom of a handmade ceramic pot can add value as well.
Plan how you can build solid relationships with your current galleries. Are you providing information, resources, and service to them that will help both of you succeed? Each step you take to build that win/win relationship will pay off for your art business.
This article post is a summary of one of the courses which will be presented at the Art Business Workshop. This workshop is being conducted by The Arts Business Institute. This workshop event is co-sponsored by Skidmore College Entrepreneurial Artist Initiative & Saratoga Arts. The Art Business Workshop will be held on April 9th and 10th, 2016. This event will be held at the Saratoga Arts at the Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866. For further information on this event and an outline of all of the courses http://www.comsbusinessinstitute.org/saratoga-springs-new-york.
Carolyn Edlund is the founder of ArtsyShark.com and the Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute. She will be speaking about Gallery Relationships and other art business topics at the upcoming “Arts Business Workshop for the Entrepreneurial Artist” taking place at Saratoga Arts in Saratoga Springs, New York on April 9-10, 2016. This event is co-sponsored by Skidmore College. Students and alumni of Skidmore will be admitted to the workshop at no charge, by contacting Elizabeth Dubben at firstname.lastname@example.org.