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.