Let’s be clear. This article is a no nonsense guide for artists on how to approach galleries. The ultimate aim is to give you a step by step guide so you come across in a professional way and galleries will have confidence to sell your work. It will not tell you what kind of artist to be or what you should be creating.
For art gallery owners, much of their time is spent answering e-mails and speaking to artists who come in with that hopeful expression. I know a few gallery directors and it is clear is that the vast majority of artists don’t know what galleries are looking for or how they operate. What surprises me the most is that many of these artists have completed a fine art course and still don’t know the first thing about approaching a gallery.
HOW DOES A GALLERY WORK?
Sale or return?
Most galleries will show your work on a sale or return basis. You deliver the work, the gallery shows it, and on the sale of the piece, the gallery takes a commission and sends you the remainder. If the work doesn’t sell after an agreed period, it is returned to you. Simple.
Commissions range from 20% up to 60%. Internet sites will offer the lowest but they have the lowest overheads and also the least chance of selling your work. One artist asked me what am I doing for my X %. You need to understand that galleries are taking a huge risk taking on an artist. Owners put a huge amount of money and time to building the gallery and if nothing sells, that’s it, no more business. As an artist you may have put some materials and time in but be very clear, the risk is on the galleries shoulders.
Do your homework.
You need to see which galleries would be most suited to showing your work. There is no point approaching a graffiti studio if you paint traditional landscapes. Go to the gallery and just have a browse, look on their website and read the extra material on the gallery to find out what kind of market it is going for BEFORE you do anything else. Don’t mention to the gallery on your scout that you are an artist because you won’t be at all prepared.
Put together your portfolio
All a gallery wants to see are some of your images. The number of artists that come in and say they are an artist but don’t have anything to show me is astonishing. An artist without any art eh? Perhaps even worse is showing me on your mobile phone. Do you think a professional artist would show something so valuable on their mobile phone?
Select your Images
Select 4 or 5 images, which best represent your style and are the most commercial (sellable). Ask several people for their impartial opinion of which images you should submit. There will nearly always be a consensus on your best work that may differ from what you would have chosen.
Prepare your images
Make sure the images are of good quality and not too big or too small (200k to 1.5mb is fine). Make sure you take digital images of your work in bright indirect sunlight. Crop them so that you have the art and nothing else. If your work has texture that isn’t coming across or is difficult to convey in a straight ahead shot then do a close up from a different angle.
If you have a website, that is a bonus if it is clear and easy to navigate. Web hosters such as Mr Site offer very reasonably priced ways of getting a simple but stylish site that will show your work off to its best.
Don’t e-mail the link if there are images you would rather the gallery owner rather not see. Also don’t make excuses for it not being up to scratch. Either get it up to scratch or don’t send the link.
Personally I prefer being sent images by e-mail but sending prints in the post is a very effective (if more expensive) way of grabbing the attention of the gallery owner.
Please don’t bring your work into the gallery unless asked. It has happened before and it is very awkward for myself and the artist when I know within 2 seconds whether it is suitable for the gallery or not.
Draft the e-mail/letter in a clear, succinct and professional way. I will only read a long e-mail if the images are any good but I really don’t want a life story.
Introduce yourself – A couple of sentences about your background.
State your intentions – This should be standard for anyone approaching a gallery. “I Frederick Blogs am looking for gallery representation and would like you to take a look at some of my work.”
Your work – The medium and anything that may be interesting or a selling point.
Career – List of prior/present exhibitions. Is your work for sale anywhere else, don’t mention it if it isn’t and don’t worry or make excuses or apologize about not having sold any work before.
Attach Images – 4-5 and keep total size below 5mb.
Add website link – only if it portrays the images you believe are commercial in a professional way.
Lay the seeds
This may be stating the obvious but the more galleries you approach the greater your chance of being accepted.
Make sure you write or type out a list of all the suitable galleries and methodically work through them.
Personalise the approach to each gallery and make find out who you need to address the email or letter to.
Don’t be discouraged by rejections. Ask for and take on board constructive criticism and keep going.