Selling Smart: The Gallery Scene
. . part
2 of Marketing Your Art
With all the buzz about online
selling these days, I want to
say right up front that I love selling my art through galleries.
Gallery owners work hard in a difficult economy with extremely high
overhead. Many galleries have had to go out of business and
it's not only a huge loss for artists, but for our communities as well.
have my work in over 50 galleries across the country and, trust me,
there's nothing better for your career as an artist than great
gallery/artist relationships. Let's look at why you should be willing
to give a gallery 50% or more commission to sell your work.
My top 4 reasons for selling through
- Credibility: I believe every artist
that wants to make a
good living doing what they love needs some good gallery
representation. The better the gallery, the more credibility.
- The Touch Factor: Even the best
photos don't replace seeing
and touching the glass "in person."
- Exposure: Even with the best
website and online store, you
can't reach everyone and they probably won't be the same people
galleries reach. They know their clients, corporate and residential.
This leads to commissions as well as in-store sales.
- Community Health: Galleries are a
vibrant, important part
of any community. When you work with a gallery it helps keep their
doors open and money flowing through that city or town to everyone's
Give And Get
I co-owned a gallery with a good
friend and metal artist for
about ten years. It's not an easy business from that side either. Most
artists are a delight to work with but those who come in with a chip on
their shoulders resenting the gallery commission—well, not so much! If
you can come in with an understanding of the trade off, it can be
win/win for both of you.
What You're Giving:
- The Artist should agree not to
undersell the work,
regardless! That means not online or at art shows (other than
occasional promotions). In fact, if you sell online, price your work a
bit higher than the average gallery.
- 50% of the retail cost of the art
(wholesale items usually gallery priced at 2.5 times).
- Usually some kind of commitment not
to sell the same work
within that neighborhood or zip code. Different for different
- An agreement that you will leave
the work there for a
defined amount of time and will not remove it without
notice . . . usually
open to negotiation.
- Agree not to sell direct to
customers who contact you
trying to go around the gallery. (Best practice is to give a 20-30%
"finders fee" back to the gallery for commission work if you know the
client found you there.)
What You're Getting:
(Varies from place to place but this
is the minimum)
- Display! The gallery owner should
agree to display your work
- Sell! They should be excited about
your work and want to
- Pay! A defined date when you can
expect a check for work
that has been sold.
- Web Representation! This may not
come at the beginning but
is something you can ask for if you send good photos of your work.
- If you do commission work, they
should work with the
client, giving you clear directions and photos etc., allowing you to do
your best work without having to deal directly with the client unless
Do's & Dont's of
Approaching A Gallery
- DO: Do your research! Learn about
the gallery beforehand . . . in
person, if possible, or by website at the minimum.
- DO: Be considerate of the owner's
time. Make an
appointment. Many places have an online application for artists. Check
that out first but it never hurts to go in and talk to someone about
showing your work first . . . but never
if the owner or staff
customers need attention.
- DO: Be prepared! Have an artist
Bio/Artist statement, a
selection of your work and photos or slide show on a CD for the owner
to look at later and a price list and information about shipping if
- DO: Hope for a yes, but be prepared
if the owner says no.
Graciously ask why and be open to criticism. Find out if it's the work,
price, the medium or a lack of space. Ask what they ARE looking for and
if they might be open to it in the future, or to see new work when you
- DO: Ask if there are other
galleries in the area they might
- DON'T: Be discouraged! It's a lot
like dating . . . keep looking
until you find the right match.
Types of Galleries:
I see galleries in five categories
- Gift Store Galleries: Lower to
mid-ticket art priced for
quick turn around. May have a higher percentage of mass produced and
made in China work. Most work is purchased wholesale.
- Fine-Craft Galleries: Specializing
in handmade in the USA
work and often featuring local artist's work. Some wholesale and some
- Fine Art Galleries: Specialize in
sculpture and blown glass. Usually consignment only.
- "Hybrid Galleries" (my term): More
and more often in this
economy, Fine Art is mixed with handmade jewelry, glass and other fine
craft to provide a mix of price points.
- Pay-to-show Galleries: These
include Co-op Galleries, where
you have to be a member and contribute time and/or money to show; and
what are being called Vanity Galleries where you just pay to show on
top of commission.
Great Advice, Straight from the
Art & Artisans Gallery is one
of my favorite galleries
and best clients. They have been in business for over 20 years with
four great locations in the heart of downtown Chicago. When I reached
out to the owner of this busy gallery, here's what she told me to share
"As a buyer of American fine crafts, I
look for art that I
have not seen before. It should fit in with a variety of decorative
styles for home or office, with a perceived value that's in line with
the retail price which, with a gallery's overhead expenses, we have to
price at least 2.5 times the amount paid to the artist.
"A story always helps the sale, so a
catchy title and any
interesting information that makes the piece unique, and/or makes the
memorable helps. Even if an artist does not have a lavish art
background, they can create a bio story describing their inspiration
"Artists should show several items
that work well together so
that your buyer can merchandise a nice grouping of the work to make an
impressive representation of your pieces to impact customers.
"Re-ordering: A wholesale website,
digital or hard copy
catalog is a must for buyers to be able to reorder your work. Catalogs
should list images, sizes, colors, prices, care instructions etc. If
it's functional art, is it food and dishwasher safe? If it is left in
sunlight will the color fade? If it's a line of jewelry, what are the
base metals used? How do you clean them and store them to keep them
looking new? Are the stones real or lab grown? Do you create custom
"I highly discourage having a retail
and wholesale website
under the same name. Gallery owners don't want their customers
contacting artists directly and thus competing with them. If you must
sell online, distinguish your wholesale name from your retail! In the
same way galleries don't want your contact information on the work or
biography cards that accompany the work. With the Internet so
accessible, customers are always looking to find the work cheaper
someplace else. Buyers will be very impressed when you inform them that
set up your business keeping their best interest in mind.
"Consistency: Recreating an art piece
to look like the one the
buyer ordered is essential for continued sales. If you duplicate a
piece and it turns out much smaller, or faded in color, or has
imperfections, you are better off selling it yourself at a retail show
where you can discount it.
"Shipping: Shipping &
packaging materials, along with
your time to pack, should be paid by the gallery. Under shipping
charges in your catalog, give the buyer an idea of what to expect.
(Usually listed as a % of cost of goods.) Always include a packing list
or invoice with pricing in the box with the order so the gallery can
get the work priced and out on their shelves as soon as it comes in.
"Payment: Galleries should have no
problem paying by credit
card for the first order, but Net-30 (paying by check 30 days later) is
common practice after the initial order. However, if you do not have
anyone to take care of your accounts receivable, continuing to prefer
credit card payment is fine."