How to Approach an Art Gallery with Your Paintings (Successfully)
Your paintings are absolutely amazing. Even better, you know it! You want your paintings shown in a gallery, but do you know how? I mean, how do you even approach an art gallery to show your paintings?
That is a tough question to answer, especially when, while you create beautiful artwork, you have no idea where to begin. Well, we are here to help you figure out where to start. Keep reading to find out how to approach an art gallery to show your paintings.
Get Your Paintings Out There for Galleries to Notice
This can seem like a scary step to take, but you need to take it. The goal here is to get your paintings viewed by as many people as possible. The more people that see your paintings, the more references you have to give to your target gallery.
Exposing the world to your paintings may seem like a difficult task. But it is actually quite simple. Try entering a simple art contest, showing your paintings at festivals, or taking them to street fairs.
Winning an art competition is exactly the sort of reference you need to get your painting into a gallery. Some competition prizes include things like money, features in magazines, or offers to be in a gallery.
Those look great in your portfolio to give to your target gallery.
Know and Follow The Art Galleries Guidelines
The first thing you need to do is create a portfolio. Creating a portfolio is important because it shows what you are capable of and what your work is like. It is important that your portfolio also meets your target gallery’s requirements. Examples of those requirements could be:
- Meeting certain deadlines
- A particular number of paintings in your portfolio
- Academic achievements
If it does not, you risk them not even taking a look at your work. Follow an art gallery’s portfolio guidelines to a T. Galleries receive so many portfolios, that the easiest way to reduce the workload for the gallery owner and staff is to not even bother to look at the portfolios where it’s obvious the instructions weren’t followed.
What You Should Have in Your Painting Portfolio
A painter’s portfolio is a tricky thing to get right, but it is one of the most important things you need to have with you when you approach a fine art gallery with your paintings.
Now, we know you are probably thinking that a portfolio is as simple as having all your best paintings alone in your portfolio, but there is so much more to it than that.
Think of your portfolio as you would a resume for a job, except it is a resume to submit your work to a gallery. Below are a few necessities you need to have in your portfolio.
Hard and Digital Copies of Your Paintings
Within your portfolio, you should have copies of your paintings. You do not want to be walking around with 10 canvases. You need to have professionally made copies.
Digital copies are a must as well. They can be used to submit your portfolio through email or to put on your social media pages. Even better, have them on a thumb drive so that they are easier to transport from gallery to gallery.
Show Your Academic Record
You should highlight any studies you have completed in your field of art. Meaning, if you have taken painting classes, studied art in college, etc. Also, add any achievements or rewards received during that period.
If you graduated from an art school, took painting classes in a vocational school, or even online, those achievements need to be added. Anything you can add to help your portfolio look better is a huge plus.
Get Help From Your Community
Show off your paintings to your:
The community around you is going to love your artwork, and they are going to be the best support you have. Ask those people who have viewed your work to write letters of recommendation so that you have references.
Highlight the Exhibits You Have Been In
Add to your portfolio the exhibits that your art has been in such as:
- Art festivals
- Art Fairs
- Art exhibition
Make sure they are known art shows (at least known in your area) that have shown your work. Take the time to add any positive remarks about your paintings that you have received from others. This is an important factor to have in your portfolio as well. This leads to references.
Included References From Your Tribe
A portfolio is like a resume. Approaching an art gallery with your paintings is like going for a job interview.
In any job interview, you are going to want to provide the human resource department with a list of your references. You’ll to want to do the same thing when it comes to approaching an art gallery. Get your references from:
- College professors if you went to art school
- Friends and family who have viewed your paintings
- Other artists you may have shared your work with
- Collectors who have purchased your work
These references are going to be the backbone to proving that you are capable of the requirements that your target gallery sets.
How to Find the Right Art Gallery For Your Paintings
Finding an art gallery is easy, but find the right art gallery to approach with your work can be difficult. You want to be sure to find a gallery that not only fits your needs but you fit theirs as well. Your style of painting is unique, but there are similar styles of painting as well. Is your painting style:
The goal is basically to target a gallery that matches your painting style and long-term goals. A gallery that offers a good commission and reasonable deadlines. You want to look for a gallery that you can easily follow their submission guidelines and requirements, as well.
Check Out the Gallery’s Website
Quite often, we think that we should just go in and see what their displays look like. But a good start is to check out their website to see what kind of art they display.
Also, check to see if they have a submission form to get yourself started on the journey with your target gallery. This is useful, especially if you are a shy artist.
Gallery websites often have important information such as:
- Where the gallery is located.
- Who the gallery represents, and if they are well-known, or local artists.
- If there is more than one location, the website will usually let you know that.
- The type of clientele the gallery caters to, for example famous people, serious collectors, etc.
- You may also be able to find specific submission requirements.
- Dates of any events the gallery may be hosting.
This information is useful and helps you to decide if the gallery you are looking at is one that you would like to choose as your target gallery. Use the gallery website to your advantage and know all you can about the gallery before going in to speak to the curator.
Ask Around to Other Artists
It is a good idea to speak to an established artist that is already part of your target gallery, if possible. Their opinion is an excellent way to decide whether that gallery is for you or not. If the other working artists have had a hard time, do not get paid enough, etc., then you know that gallery is not for you.
Keep an eye out for artists that may be holding a grudge for any reason. Sometimes people end up having a bad experience, possibly at no fault of the gallery’s and it can cause issues. To avoid skipping over a gallery because of one artist’s opinion, remember to use multiple artists as resources before making your decision.
Visit Your Target Art Gallery
Take a trip to your target art gallery and explore. When you go, try not to act like a:
- Art Collector
Act like the artist you are and prove that you are professional. But at the same time, if you are not sure this is the gallery for you, take your time to view the art work and make sure it matches your style.
If you meet the curator, there are a few questions you could ask:
- What is the submission protocol?
- Is the commission rate negotiable?
- What is the average turnaround rate for selling art similar to yours?
- What are the deadlines like?
- Are you required to be at any specific events?
Getting answers for these questions will help you determine if that gallery is the right fit for you.
Develop a Relationship with the Gallery of Your Choice
What do we mean by developing a relationship with your target gallery? Well, you need to familiarize yourself with that gallery, but you also need to help that gallery become familiar with you. It is very important that you and your target gallery see eye to eye.
Steps to Building a Relationship With an Art Gallery
There are a few things you can do to help build that relationship with your target gallery. Have a look at the list of steps below, as these will help you to become a known entity to your gallery of choice.
- Go to any events the gallery might be hosting. Check out the style of art they are showing, what the gallery looks like. If you bump into the curator, that would be a good time to introduce yourself.
- Sign up for email alerts and put yourself on their mailing list. If you happen to receive a notification or letter, try to respond immediately to show your interest in the gallery.
- Give the target gallery your business card.
Be sure to follow those tips to help build a good gallery relationship. Building a relationship shows that you are truly interested in that gallery.
Try Calling The Gallery
If you decide to present your portfolio through a phone call, there are a few things you should do. But there are also a few things you should not do.
Our suggestion before calling is to make a list of things you may want to say during that phone call, so as not to ramble on. How you handle that phone call is key to how well the phone call will go.
When you call your target gallery, have a notepad of what you are going to say during that phone call. Be prepared. Try practicing your speech with a friend before making that important phone call.
Ask to speak to the curator of the gallery, be sure to speak loudly and clearly. Call during the week; avoid calling on the weekend, as the gallery will likely be very busy. Make sure the conversation is short and to the point. You do not want to waste the curator’s time and risk annoying them.
At the end of the phone call, be sure to let them know you are going to email the curator a copy of your digital portfolio.
|• Be sure to speak clearly and loudly.|
• You should take notes about what you are going to say before calling so as not to ramble.
• Go over your speech with a friend so you are fully prepared to say what you need to say.
• Try to call during the middle of the week. Avoid Monday and Friday.
• Keep the conversation friendly but short and to the point.
• Ask to talk to the curator.
• Let the curator know that you will be emailing or hand delivering a copy of your portfolio.
|• Try not to mumble, even if you are nervous or shy.|
• If you call and the curator is not
available, do not leave a message
if you do not leave a message,
that leaves the option for you to call back later.
Showing Off Your Work To Art Galleries
Showing off your work seems kind of forward. But it is very helpful in this case. You want to show off what you are capable of as much as possible. Knowing what you can do, and putting it into a portfolio is only part of it. Here are a couple of tips you can try to help showcase your work.
Get yourself together, gather your portfolio, and take notes. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do these paintings say about me? Maybe they say you are observant.
- Do these paintings represent my emotions? Anger, happiness, lust, love, etc.
- Are these paintings as simple as painting something I saw? Did you paint a sunset one evening?
Once you ask yourself those questions, you will know more of what you are going to say when you pitch your idea. This leads to the next step.
Presenting Your Paintings To The Gallery’s Curator
This is the scariest part of the whole process. The in-person presentation. This is challenging. Quite often, it is easier to express yourself through painting, but not so much in words.
Use your best work to encourage the gallery director or curator to continue looking through your portfolio. Presentation is the key to success. The minimum pieces of work you should have in your portfolio is five, while the maximum pieces of work should be around 10. Make your portfolio as presentable as possible.
Do not take in original paintings on canvas. Make sure to make a digital copy of all the work you will use in your portfolio.
Have no fear, though because I have a few do’s and do not’s coming up. But first, let’s go over the two ways you can present your paintings.
Call and Make An Appointment With the Gallery Curator
This is the standard way that artists first make contact with a particular gallery, and may in fact, be the best way if you’re approaching a large, busy gallery. By calling the gallery and setting up an appointment with the art curator, you can be sure to have a set amount of time to have his or her undivided attention during your portfolio presentation.
Part of an art curators job is to meet with an emerging artist and do a portfolio review, so most curators will have a certain amount of time set aside each week to meet with a new artist.
Walk in and Ask For The Art Gallery Curator
Walking in can be so much more terrifying than a simple phone call. But it is more personable. It makes a better impression and shows more confidence in your work to walk in and show off.
Check the gallery’s schedule and pick a time when the gallery is not in the middle of an event. Research your target gallery’s requirements. Make sure that when you do your research, you include in your presentation what you like about the gallery, lots of compliments are key. And remember to add to your conversation how much your paintings will complement the already terrific gallery.
Please do not show up during an event or during the weekend. This makes it hard for not only you to get the attention you need to do your pitch, but it is inconvenient for the curator.
|• Be sure to remember to look at the gallery’s schedule so that you are not interrupting anything they may have going on. |
• Try to call ahead of time and make an appointment if you are concerned the gallery may be busy.
• Familiarize yourself with the gallery and its protocols.
• Remember to add to your presentation what impresses you about that gallery.
• Leave them wanting more, so do not overwhelm them with all the information about your work at once.
• Dress appropriately and professionally. This is a roundabout job interview so dress the part.
|• Absolutely do not show up to speak to the curator during an event, a weekend day, or even a Friday. These are a gallery’s busiest times.|
• Please do not take in canvas’ for your portfolio. Have a printed copy of your paintings so as not to look too desperate.
These tips will help relax you before you walk into the gallery to propose your art to your favorite gallery. Also, do not walk in with all your paintings; leave them wanting more.
Use an Email for Your Proposal
This is a less common method of presenting your paintings to a gallery. Take the time to address it correctly, preferably to the gallery curator.
Then begin telling them about yourself and your paintings. This is a great place to include an artist statement. If you have a theme to your art, include that as well. Talk about what you love about their gallery and why you want your paintings to be featured there. Be sure to add a link to your artist website in your email.
When writing the email there are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure to always professionally address the gallery curator. It is important to write the email as professionally as possible. Talk a bit about yourself, but do not go overboard.
Explain your style of paintings and why you enjoyed painting them. Did something inspire a certain painting? Briefly explain that. But do not make the email all about yourself. Let them know that you know about their gallery and that you want to be a part of it.
|• Take the time to explain your style of painting.|
• Explain what you like about the gallery and why.
• Tell them about your paintings.
• Attach a link to your portfolio website and attach your portfolio.
|• Please do not make the email all about yourself.|
• Avoid any negative comments about your work or others.
Understand the Art Gallery’s Requirements Once You Are Accepted
Once you have gallery representation, there will be certain ongoing requirements you’ll need to meet in order to continue working with that gallery. Understanding your target gallery’s working requirements is a large part of approaching the gallery of your choosing in the first place. There are a few things you need to know to look at when you decide on your target gallery. Also, be aware of the gallery’s expectations and deadlines for artists they choose to work with.
Check the Gallery’s Submission Requirements
Each art gallery has its own requirements for ongoing submissions and deadlines. Follow the guidelines as closely as you can, or you may end up not meeting the gallery’s needs, and be stuck with no gallery at all. Know these things to help you along the way:
- Most decent galleries expect work to be submitted each week.
- Know the procedure for submitting your artwork.
- Be aware of anything else the gallery will expect of you, and make sure that you can (and want) to meet those expectations on a regular basis.
Knowing what it’s going to be like working with a particular art gallery beforehand will help you to decide if that’s a gallery you want to get into in the first place.
Understanding the Art Gallery’s Commission Policy
Each gallery takes a commission for showing your art. You get paid when your art gets sold, but the gallery that is selling your painting has to make money as well. So, they take a percentage of the sale called a commission.
What is the Average Art Gallery Commission Fee?
The average gallery commission fee in the art world is between 40-50%, meaning the money is split pretty evenly. A high commission fee would be around 70%, the gallery getting the higher, while a low commission fee would be something like 10-20%, meaning you would get 80-90%.
Be aware of this hidden factor when choosing to approach an art gallery. But most galleries will work with you as an artist to come up with a commission you each feel is appropriate for your work.
Negotiate Commissions with the Gallery
Negotiating is a part of buying or selling any sort of art. So, it is only natural that an art gallery is going to want to negotiate the commission percentage they receive for selling your work.
Do not sell yourself short, but also realize that you are just starting. Do not go too high, and keep in mind that if you negotiate too high, your target gallery may change their mind.
Failure is Not the Only Option When Approaching a Gallery
The reality is that the first time you try, you will probably not get into your target gallery using your paintings. But that does not mean that is a permanent thing. This process can be difficult and trying. Keep trying different galleries and continue to follow this process until you get into the one you want.
Do Not Settle For Just Any Art Gallery
Just because you may not get into your target gallery right away does not mean you stop trying. You have two options. You can either find another gallery or keep submitting your work to your target gallery. Build your portfolio, add to it, and chances are you will be accepted sooner or later.
But do not settle for a lesser gallery, and do not allow yourself to feel as though your work is not good enough. There are times when galleries just do not have enough space at the time to accept you. Keep trying, and you will succeed.
What To Do If An Art Gallery Approaches You
If you are lucky, a gallery may go so far as to approach you about your paintings. Maybe they saw your work in an exhibit that you attended, or on social media. Whatever way they find you, it is an honor and a sign that your work is great! It can be a scary thing. What do you say or do next?
Even though it is an amazing thing to have a gallery come to you about your paintings, keep in mind there are a few things you should watch out for or research about that gallery. These things are important before you accept any offers.
Review the Gallery’s References
Check their references. Call around to artists that are already in the gallery and showing their work with them. Discuss how they like working with the gallery that approached you. Ask if they are comfortable with the commission structure.
Beware of the Vanity Gallery
You most definitely want to avoid a vanity gallery. A vanity gallery charges its artists a fee to show off their work. This means if you want an exhibit, you will have to pay to show your work. This is generally a waste of time and money. You want a gallery that is going to split the earnings fairly.
Getting your paintings into an art gallery can be a long and challenging process. But it is something that is certainly worth it, and quite possible over time. Try to do research and choose a gallery that fits you and your needs; but also one where you fit their needs. If you do not get your paintings into the first one, keep trying. Do not give up. Follow these tips again and keep trying until you succeed.
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