Friday, February 15, 2008

Nuts and Bolts: How to get your work in a gallery.

This week I want to offer my advice on how to get your work into an art gallery. In previous posts I mentioned several ways I had done this but I now realize that it was a bit vague, and I wanted to be more specific this time around. As you know by now, it is unlikely anyone is going to discover you and your art miraculously or offer to be your patron and brag about your work to all they know. There are so many artists out there, and so many galleries and all of this can seem overwhelming. Step by step, you can increase your odds of getting your work on the walls of a gallery for all to see and enjoy.

First, this requires you to have been painting a consistent and documented body of work.If you are looking for a gallery, you should be at the stage where you have been painting regularly, and have some type of vision and voice for your work.You may have shown in several group shows, juried exhibits, art centers, collectives, and coffee shops. You know a good deal about why you work, and what your work is about.You may have sold work to friends, family, and an occasional client through the places you have shown or through your studio. Your work is fairly consistent in the quality of materials you use. You have titles for your work, and you can talk about your paintings. This is more than a hobby, you are a serious artist.

Alright once that is all taken care of, as I mentioned above you will need to have this work documented. It would be good if you had 10-20 images of your work photographed to the best of your abilities (there are some good online resources to help you with this, or you can always ask another artist how they take their photos.) Taking good quality photos of your work is a long and tedious process at first, but it is well worth it in the end. Your photographs can make the difference of you getting into a gallery or an exhibit and it is time and energy well spent. These images will be cropped, in focus, color corrected if needed, without hot spots, and at a high resolution. All of your images will have titles. (I know some of you may go for the untitled thing, and I once had a whole show of untitled work when I first started out, but I really wouldn't recommend it.) You will burn these images onto a CD. Along with your CD will be a image list, that will include the name of each painting, the size, medium, year, and price.

Next, you will have a well formatted resume. You will list all your art related accomplishments (edited within reason) to promote your most recent or important exhibits. When you are just starting out put as much as you can on that resume. You want to show that you are serious, and that you have been at this a while. Things to include: solo and group shows, art fairs, juried exhibits, any awards or scholarships, any teaching you may have done, education, publications, and any collections you may already be in. You want this to be an easy to scan one or two pages when you are trying to get into a gallery initially. Remember, gallery owners are busy, so make it neat, easy to read and understand.Your name and all your contact information will be on all pages of your resume.

Next, you want to include a bio/statement. A biography can be a simple short paragraph, stating where you were born, where you have recently shown your work, any art education you may have, influences or any important artist you may have studied with. Your artist statement is crucial as it also shows that you have given this whole artist thing some serious thought, and that you can talk about your work. This is not a whim for you. There are also many online tutorials and books at your library about crafting a good artist statement. Keep it short, make it easy to understand, not too artsy in lingo. Also, you can always take a hint from another artist's statement that you like. Don't rip them off just use their bio and statement as a guide. My bio/statement fits on one page, broken down into two separate paragraphs.

Okay, so you have 10-20 images on a CD, an image list, a resume, a bio, and a statement. Also if you have any postcards of your work from recent shows, include them. Even if you made them yourself. It shows that you are serious about promotion, or that others were serious about promoting your piece to draw attention to whatever show you were a part of. If your work was written about in the paper include those press blurbs. Just keep it neat and clean. Galleries want a clear idea about you and your work, not an envelope stuffed with press clippings. You can organize all of this in a small 8x10 portfolio or just a simple folder for your paper items and then your clearly labeled CD. Again, make sure everything is clearly labeled, you have to imagine your items might get separated, you have to make this as easy as you can for whomever comes into contact with your packet.

Now, it is time for research. If you are an abstract painter, I hope you have been visiting your local and regional galleries that carry abstract work(and likewise for all other styles of art). Go and visit these places often. Say hello or make eye contact, go to openings and events, get on the mailing list. Show your interest and support of their gallery. Feel them out, how do they treat non buyers, students, everyday folks that walk into their gallery. Do you like the way the gallery feels and is set up? Can you see your work fitting in the gallery, would it make sense there? Would your work offer something they don't have yet, but that would click well with what they do? When you are doing this research you are not talking about your work or trying to get seen, you are just quietly observing. If they ask if you are an artist say yes, and that you love their gallery (if you do) but don't launch into your spiel at that time. So, go to many galleries and do this same process and then check the websites for the ones you do like and see about their submission procedures or call and ask if they are accepting submissions. If they do not have an online submissions procedure, always call the gallery first and ask! Never show up with your paintings under your arms, never come in and tell them your life story about how you paint etc... Remember this is a business. You are basically looking at them as an employer of sorts, and first impressions do count.

Also, once you do know their submission procedure follow it to the letter. A gallery's submission process can be used as a screen of sorts to filter out the flakes. They are trying to figure out if they want to work with you. If they want 5 images, that is what you give them. If they want them emailed, that is what you do. etc. If they want you to include a stamped self addressed return envelope, then make sure it has proper postage and do it. Make sure the images are sized appropriately, labeled etc. You will want to have an idea of the prices you want to sell your work for as well, this also shows that you are serious and mean business. Your prices will be noted on your image list. Do some research, look at the prices currently in the galleries you are interested in, see if you can spot trends, look for work of the same size and style and note the price, if you are just starting out expect your prices to be lower than an established gallery artist. Also remember that most galleries take a 50 percent commission on the sale of your work. If the gallery is interested in you, they may help you make better choices regarding your prices if they are too high or too low in the beginning, but don't expect this.

Also, another tip. If you know an artist that is represented by a gallery that you like or are considering, don't hesitate to ask them for a little help to get your foot in the door. They may or may not help you in the end; that is up to them, but it never hurts to ask. I had help in this way in the past, and I gladly give it today.

So, there is a lot of work involved in getting into a gallery, and once you get in it doesn't stop. There are contracts to understand and sign, business meetings to have, new work to take in and trade out, and openings to attend. You are also keeping in contact with your gallery via email or newsletter to let them know what is going on with your work or any new accomplishments. This will excite them and keep you in the front of their minds and give them talking points when they try to sell your work. Don't forget to keep painting! Remember this is just one way to make a go of it in the art business.

You don't have to go this route, you can sell from websites, Etsy, coffee houses, art centers, special events and studio sales if you want to. You need to decide what your vision is for your art career and stay true to that vision. Art galleries can expand your market capabilities, they can help you with the business aspects of larger commissions and breaking into corporate collections. They can help promote your work in publications. They have connections, clients, and trusted relationships because they are a reputable business that you as a lone artist may never create on your own.

Also remember that all galleries are not created equal, so be sure you feel confident in your research. Talk to other artists that are represented by the gallery you are considering before you get involved. You need to feel you have a trusted partner in your gallery, not another headache.

Wow- I hope you are still with me, and excited about the idea of getting your fabulous art into a gallery or two or more...You can do this, little by little. Good Luck!

Now, for an exciting announcement: I have decided that I will be giving away a small original painting on paper to one lucky reader that leaves me a comment on today's blog. I will mail to anywhere in the world. To enter, please leave a comment in this blog entry. I will randomly draw a number to correspond with the comments in the order they are received. The giveaway runs from today through Tuesday of next week, so get your comment in between now and Tuesday. I'll post the winners name in my blog next Friday, along with an image of the piece they will receive so please be sure to check back, so that I can then contact you to get your postal information. If the response for this is good, I will start doing this once every month!

I must give credit for this give away idea to fellow blogger and jewelry designer Julie Joliat, so check out her blog too.

A Veiled Understanding
10x10" mixed media on canvas by Megan Chapman
Coming soon to a gallery near you.


  1. Megan, I haven't even read half your post and I printed it out. Your inspiration and advice is like food for that creative part of me that I keep throwing my dirty laundry on. That part of my soul that is hidden somewhere under a pile of routines and everyday life.

    I still have those blank canvases I bought from you, they greet me every single day when I come home from work. Patiently waiting right there by the garage door, without any hint of judgement. Just patiently waiting.

    I've got a three-day weekend - maybe a good time to unwrap them and start working?

  2. Well, what can i say?
    Your blog is an inspiration.

    not only an in inspiration, an education.

    Your work is what originaly drew me towards you, your blog etc, and i am constantly amazed at how generous you are with, not only your time, your friendship but also your knowledge, with is absolutey priceless.

    some artists are like magicians in that they protect their knowledge of the 'insider' art world like a secret, they don't want to give away the 'workings out'

    you have always and consistantly been extremley generous with your knowledge, your tips etc..

    and it is a credit to you and your work.

    i will be coming back to read and re-read this post as it contains so much valuable information, everything laid out plain and simple for how to gather your work together & approach the 'gallery'

    i can't think of any book or publication that is a helpful as this single post.

    you have answered so much more than my original question and given me much to think about.


  3. Hi Megan, Since I can't afford your art right now, specifically one of my favorite paintings ~Something Once Before~ which I can hopefully purchase someday!...I thought I would try this.
    I'm not an artist but your work and blogs are an inspiration to me. Thank you for them!
    Have a wonderful weekend,
    joanna vaughan

  4. Megan, your blog today is so valuable to all who read it! The information you provide is pertinent and so helpful. Galleries, too, will appreciate this blog, because it will help artists to make a good presentation to them. I used to be part owner of a gallery in Napa Valley, and so often artists would come to the desk with a painting under their arm, hoping to get it placed on the wall. Your blog today encourages all artists to make a professional presentation and to be consistent.

    Bravo to you Megan for offering this to all of us!

    With Deepest Bows in Your Direction,


  5. I've been painting for over 10 years and normally I do summer art festivals and small galleries that typically only display local artists. For whatever reason I have always been very critical of my own work and haven't made that jump to start doing shows outside of my area. Maybe now I will.

    I found today's blog enouraging me to get my rear in gear on getting my portfolio updated and burning those images on a disc. I think sometimes I know what I need to do, it's just that someone has to remind me. Thanks!

  6. yes, the entry is wonderful and informative, but I want some art too. Great job, Megan.

  7. I am not commenting to receive a painting, as I am already lucky enough to own your work! But I thought this was a very clever way to get comments!

    As usual, this is my favorite place to visit on a Friday to receive inspiration and information.

  8. This info was very helpful and informative Megan. It makes trying to get into a gallery a little less daunting. I really liked the section on research, that is where I need to step it up.

    After reading, I may try this now. Thank you sooo much!!!

  9. I'm going to shamelessly comment just so I can be in the running for the big prize!

    Okay, I enjoyed this post and found it very informative as well ;-)....

  10. great post megan1 thanks for sharing all your "secrets"...

    to often i just focus on the actual process of creating stuff and not on marketing.

  11. Hi Megan - very interesting entry. I never considered how much was involved in getting a gallery (despite growing up watching all these things happen just as ou say).

    I want some art!

  12. Hey, Megan, I wish there had been a blog like this when I started writing seriously. You balance the practical with the inspiring.

    I also want to be in the running for some new art!

  13. RIGHT ON!!!
    It took me years to uncover some of what you're sharing in this blog! Thank you for being an artist that is willing to put it all out there for others- i also do this and find it rewarding to see my fellow artist friends succeed at reaching their goals!

    Might I add that when mailing a submission to a gallery whether it's going out of the country, out of state or down the street, i've learned it to be important to package my work as if it were a gift for the gallery director/other to open and view. There is a fantastic article on this in the Jan. 2008 edition of art calendar magazine.

    Thank you for the priceless information! I learn so much from each of your posts! Time to write a book Megan!!!

    Am I in the running for the painting, or is it too late? I LOVE your work!!!

  14. I really like all of the business advice in this entry!

    You should come by our studio and maybe we could host a workshop with you!

  15. Nice posting, and very good advice. Nice of you to share your experiences

  16. Another informative and inspirational blog Megan!

    Thanks so much for taking time and writing every week!

  17. Precise and invaluable advice Megan, you should put this in a book!
    Thank you for sharing this and your amazing work

  18. This information is insightful as well as enlightening. I think that this could help those that might be undecided as far as what direction to head in. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  19. Megan , How in the world do you have time to help us all out with this stuff and still paint? Your a super dooper lady,
    I mean: a new painting.

  20. Hola Amiga!

    I still have the paper painting that Ron gave me in class that you told me to keep. It is sitting framed on a little table in our guest room. I would love to have one of your prints to put next to it. Come on - you have that cheesey flower one I did! Love you! Karin

  21. Absolutely marvlous words of wisdom! Thank you for sharing:}

  22. hi megan
    thanks for sharing and putting down words on your thoughts/good advices about selling art. very helpfull! i l o n a

  23. I want to thank you for posting this blog. Your information for how to start being a artist for living has been very helpful. I appreciate your information.
    keep up the great work in your art.
    I love your paintings.
    I learned a lot from your blog information. Thanks Megan

  24. Thanks for being such a great role model.

  25. thank you so much for taking the time to help out the little guys!