A while back, probably a month or so ago, I wrote a post on the state of the art market in 2012. I haven't written any updates until now because I had temporarily lost faith in the ability of artists to make a living from sales of their art, but now I realize that my emotions were based on only one segment of the overall market - those whose sales were continue to diminish.
I'm writing again because very recently, I spoke to two established artist friends who have had their best year ever for sales - and they sell through galleries and invitational shows at prices I know I can't afford... higher end around $10,000 to $15,000. Know what else they said? Their larger, more expensive works are selling very well.
I happily write this post, knowing that art collecting seems alive and well - at least for some. Neither of these artists knows why their work is suddenly selling so well this year, but they do know where it's selling from. It seems that a couple of their gallery owners are going beyond the call of duty and taking their work to collectors, rather than using the "venus fly trap" formula of waiting for folks to visit the gallery or attend openings. Yes, collectors do attend openings, but less often than they did years ago - because the Internet allows them to buy works without having to travel.
You might be thinking... well, doesn't a collector need to see work in real life before making a purchase? I would think that is true, but I'd be wrong. Today, more and more collectors are buying by phone after seeing works online, in magazines and articles. When they know the quality of the artist's work, and have worked with a gallery in the past, collectors seem confident having the artwork shipped - never having seen in real life. While this is the trend right now, it could change in the future. Who knows if collectors will decide they want to attend art openings - people get bored spending all their time at home online. At this point, it's becoming difficult to predict the future of art sales.
While these artists are experiencing great sales, other artists in similar career paths, with similar recognition are experiencing little if any sales. Why the difference? I'm not sure, but I'd be willing to guess the improved sales through galleries are happening because the gallerists are taking an experimental approach, working hard to contact and maintain relationships with past buyers and truly "going to bat" for these artists.
Moral of the story: If your sales were doing well before 2008 but are now slow, it might be that your gallerist is not open to change. Find out if your galleries are selling well for any of their artists. If the answer is no, there are some things you can do.
1. Use your website, email newsletter and blog to direct attention to your page on your gallery's website.
2. Ask your gallery for a show and split the cost of the advertising. If you do this, it's more likely that you can get an article in the magazine where you advertise. Make sure the ad looks like it's coming from the gallery and not the artist. Sure, I know they are supposed to do all this for you, but some galleries are still on the verge of closing. If you want to maintain your relationship with your galleries, it's probably worth teaming up with them. Ask for a larger check (less commission paid) in return for the advertising costs.
3. Make sure you set up an email newsletter on your website so that your subscribers know about new works and where they can see and/or buy them. Put links in your email newsletter to the exact work on the gallery's website - or even to the painting on their website. It doesn't do you much good to link to the gallery's main page where collectors get distracted by the work of other artists.
4. Post your work on your Facebook page or profile with links to the gallery or your website where collectors can buy the work.
5. Pinterest is a new social media option which is working for many artists. You can post a link to your website and/or gallery right on your painting's image. You can also post prices right on the image as well. I'm not sure why Pinterest works, but it does.
6. Stay in touch with your gallerist on a regular basis. Don't let weeks pass without a phone call. Discuss how you and they can help increase the sale of your work. If they are "unavailable" to talk most of the time, find another gallery. In my experience, that behavior has been a danger signal for me.
7. Don't send them too many works. Remember, the Supply and Demand principle still applies to art sales. Jack Whitehas recommend between 5 and 9 artworks hung on the gallery wall at any one time. You want to give your admirers and collectors the idea that your work is "hot" and not sitting around, unsold - or the gallery's closet.
If your sales don't pick up at the gallery, you can sell smaller works from your website unframed to get you through the tough times. The key here is that they generally need to be priced under $500 for them to move. If your small works have been selling for over $1000, this might not be a viable option for you. It's up to you to figure out what will work for you.
Stay vigilant! Try to find out why other artists (in your price range and style) are selling well. Learn what they are doing or what their gallerists are doing to sell their work. I'm seeing pockets of success in sales today! Don't be fooled by thinking that artists who are getting awards and visibility are selling well... in some cases they aren't. In other cases, they are. I do think it comes down to savvy marketing on the artists' and gallerists' parts. More than ever, artists and sales people need to know how to get attention from collectors and close the sale.
Please feel free to add your recent success stories here so others may benefit from your experiences.
@loriwordsComment on or Share this Article →
I spoke at the annual Oil Painters of America show and conference in June '12. I began the talk by asking how many listeners had applied the law of supply and demand to their art marketing plans. Only 3 people raised their hands, and know what? All three were magazine sales and ad directors.
The Law of Supply and Demand is a time-tested precept for marketing and sales for just about everything that consumers buy and acquire, and yet, this "law" is ignored by the majority of artists and galleries. I believe that it's an important concept to apply to your art sales and marketing efforts, whether you sell someone else's artwork or your own.
Before I get started with further explanation, I'd like to say to those who sell by painting small unframed paintings on a daily or weekly basis - it's OK to do this. The very fact that your supply is ample - for the most part means you will sell for lower prices. One of the precepts of the law of S&D is that the higher the supply, the lower the price. If you're a prolific painter, and you have dozens of pieces for sale at one time, it's difficult to get really big bucks for those artworks. Why? Because there is not incentive to pay a lot when there are many ways and places to get those works.
In the next post (probably next week), I'll discuss ways to keep your supply low and increase demand while continuing to paint as much as you like. Hint: this means taking care to introduce your work a couple at a time and then work at selling those. When they sell, introduce more of your work. I don't advise putting all of your available work on your website. Yeah, I know... you're thinking that you might find a buyer if you post them all - and you might, but serious collectors are going to think that you offer nothing special or unique.
How Does the Law of Supply and Demand work for artists?
Last week, I bought a small watercolor, done by a deceased artist, William Paskell (1866-1951). Framed, it was only $165.00. He is highly collected, but even though he's been dead for quite awhile, his work remains "easy to acquire" because he was such a prolific painter. He had a large family and even painted under a few other names so that he could produce and sell more work. His bio states that having so much work on the market all the time kept his prices low for the remainder of his life. He was a great artist! His contemporary artist friends were less prolific and painted large pieces for annual salons - while selling their smaller studies to the industrialists and wealthy clients who bought the large paintings.
Again, I'm not saying that painting and selling a plethora of works is a bad thing. What I am suggesting is that top collectors will not take interest in your work (no matter how good it is) if there is too much available "all the time".
For the point of this post, I'm going to assume that your work is truly amazing and professional. Having said that, let's say you've developed an individual style that collectors can recognize from across the room. You've got a body of work to begin to sell in the current year... ready to go! Let's say you've got about 20 works, various sizes and you've got your pricing worked out (usually by the size of the painting).
If you've got 50 unsold paintings, I'd avoid putting them all on your website at one time. Post only your best, since viewers will judge the entire body of your work by your least successful piece. Try not to feel desperate by posting everything while thinking... but someone might love and buy it. Stop gambling, know which of your works are truly remarkable, and put those out there first. Even the most famous and highly collected artists don't show everything they do. Some burn their less than favorable works so no one buys them for big bucks after they die.
The artists whom I've interviewed who are doing very well in a good and bad economy have two lines of work: They have high-end, larger paintings that are their best - to sell to the serious/wealthy collector, and they also have a second "line" of works that are quicker to paint, easy to sell and lower priced. While these artists do sell their larger works, they are more likely to make a living with their smaller works during hard times.
So you're wondering... doesn't this fact dilute your whole point Lori? Yeah, kinda - but let me reiterate that having many many paintings available for sale at once drives price down. That's not necessarily a bad thing because you can make a decent living by the sale of inexpensive artwork.
But what if you are a slower painter, and there's no way you can do the "daily painting" route? Then in a way, you're still in good shape because you are not going to saturate your market - your larger paintings can command a higher price, because the supply is low and they are not easy to get. If you're a slow, meticulous painter, your second line is most likely going to sell in the form of reproductions. I'm aware of painters who do sell their (10 or so) large works for $25,000 to $30,000 and they offer a series of limited edition prints (usually giclees) for $250-$500 unframed. Yeah, the prints are still expensive, but many more folks who love that artist's work can acquire the image of it.
The key to controlling supply and raising demand is to give people an incentive to buy soon... not wait... ! When art collectors think they have plenty of time and places to buy your work, they will not take action. That's why putting your work out, little by little, with an incentive to act soon is key to building a following for your work.
People are not inclined to take action unless they are convinced that they might lose out. So to raise demand of your work, you'll need to think of ways to create some aspect of urgency. There are many levels in which to do this, and many ways to create incentive. Artists who are utilizing the law of supply and demand are reaping income rewards. In a future post, I'll delve into ways artists at various price levels can raise the demand for their works... if I'm a good girl, that'll be next week!
Take care to make your work special. While you're increasing your expertise as an artist, work at increasing the demand - especially with a more affluent group of collectors. This will take time - getting rich quick doesn't work in art careers, but it can happen over time with knowledge and strategy.
Loriwords (AKA Lori Woodard)
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Painting featured in Watercolor Magazine
Well, I've decided to test out whether flexible pricing in economic downturns works.
I'm not currently showing at any commercial galleries, so I won't be lowering my prices behind their backs, and I hope my previous collectors will take advantage of the fact that I've lowered my prices for a time. Prices will rise next spring. My hope and test is to see if sales pick up. I'll still be making money if they sell, and the works on paper are not framed. Shipping is free.
I've never really had the opportunity to try this out because I've been working with galleries for the past 10 years. Now, I plan to take my sales into my own hands. I enjoy working with people and having direct contact with my collectors anyway.
So, I'll blog if I notice any increase in interest.
My Twitter Page:
PS if you want to follow my Twitter -- www.twitter.com/Loriwords
My Squidoo Pages are Coming!
I also plan to start a Squidoo page next week. I'm thinking about topics such as:
Famous Painter Friends - what they know about painting. Since I paint along with folks like Schmid, Guzik, Lipking, Pro, Baugh, Handell etc. They're all pretty much teaching the same stuff. I have a lot to share.
Landscape Painting Tips - I write an instructional column for Watercolor Magazine... maybe can share some of my accumulated knowledge on Squidoo. These are just some ideas, so don't hold me to them yet. I'll announce if I decide to set these up.
When difficult economic times seem to knock down art sales, I wonder why the price of art can't be flexible like the price of housing or gas? I realize that when artists are working with galleries that their retail price needs to stay rigid, so that collectors will pay the same price for an artist's work at any venue for that artist (including the artist's web site). I also understand that if galleries and artists lower their prices, that galleries probably won't be able to pay their rent, electric bills, and for ads - the price of these things never goes down.
With a 50% commission, if the price goes down too much, nobody makes any money with a sale.
But here's my question: If I, an artist who is currently selling through my own efforts, decides to keep my prices low or offer some works at bargain prices (maybe 25% down from regular), is there any reason why I should not do that? Is it ethical? I am not going below my previous gallery prices because my gallery sales took place a few years ago and those I've sold recently via galleries were priced very low as well.
One of my galleries routinely raised prices on artists' work - in this case, it was done ethically. The gallery dealer let the artist know about the higher price and paid the full 50% commission of the final sale to the artist. So... no problem there. But wait a minute! Now the retail price of that artist's work has gone higher and higher, and it cannot be lowered... ever? Not even during economic downturns.
Then the boom goes bust, and artwork seems too expensive and just sits on gallery walls. When the housing boom went bust, the price of homes came a tumblin' down, but not so with art prices. So some of these artists, who were doing fairly well in previous years, now can't pay their bills. So what's an artist or gallery dealer to do?I really don't know that answer... But here's my Question!
Why can't the price of artwork be flexible - especially in the middle range. If folks know that they can get an artist's work for less during down times, won't it spark a buying trend? Then when more money is flowing later, the artwork will increase in value (yeah, I know I already said that), What about the law of supply and demand? Demand is down for certain price ranges right now. I've heard from a dozen or so artists who've had successful careers but their sales have dropped off drastically.
However, there ARE artists out there whose pricing is flexible, and they're doing OK. For example: a few artists I've been conversing with who sell on Ebay have not experienced a drop in sales - just a drop in what people are willing to bid, but the number of sales are nearly the same. So those artists are making "some" money, while some I know, who just deal with galleries -- well, sad to say, haven't sold anything in months.
This isn't to say that there aren't plenty of folks out there still buying art right. Some artist have seen an increase in sales. Jeremy Lipking has had a great year! Artists who've made a name for themselves on a national level, don't seem to be affected, but what about the rest of us?
I'd like to hear from some of you - see what your thoughts are on this issue. Don't be shy now...
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Loved by a collector
Yesterday, I was made aware of the fact that there are still artists out there who feel guilty about making income with their artwork. I know at least a dozen wildly successful artists who make art for the sheer joy of it, and they make a darned good income too. They are not ashamed to get good pay by folks who may someday donate it to a museum or pass it on to their progeny as a cherished heirloom.
While some collectors buy art as an investment, the majority of art sales take place because someone falls in love with the work and has the means to purchase it. That's why we artists who are in the business of making art for sale owe our collectors our best efforts. I am elated when someone buys my work -- knowing that my painting has a good chance of bringing joy for... what... maybe a few hundred years. AND if it pays my bills while I'm alive at the same time, that's the icing on the cake!
For those artists who still feel a twinge of guilt after reading this blog, making income from my work also allows me to buy the best materials and make more artwork without going into debt.
Removing Stumbling Blocks
Defining personal goals can be a fun process, but as soon as one takes steps to pursue those goals, often the road to success gets rocky and those nasty stumbling blocks impede progress.
The more lofty the goals, the higher the stakes and the longer and rougher the road can get.
I donít write these things to discourage anyone, but to encourage my fellow travelers to eliminate, remove, or at least take measures to break apart our personal stumbling blocks. By the term stumbling blocks, I mean those things that keep us from attaining the results we set out for ourselves, and for this blog, I talking about attainting our dreams for our respective art careers.
Now that Iíve defined a few goals to focus on for the next year or two,(previous blog) if I donít also take time to name and address those personal idiosyncrasies that have been and will continue to deter me from my personal definition of success, I probably wonít make much progress in 2008. Now is the time honestly study and name those things that have deterred me in the past, so that they donít impede my progress any further.
Hereís a list of a few of the boulders in the road to success that I personally deal with. Yours may be completely different, but Iíll state these here to help explain what Iím talking about.
Fear:Both of success and failure. I procrastinate... what if I find out that I am not a good enough artist to reach my goals? What if I do reach my goals, what kind of lifelong commitment will that require me to make with my time? Am I prepared emotionally to dedicate a major amount of my remaining time on Earth to the making of artwork?
Too Many Interests: If I break up my most productive hours into more than 2 or 3 activities, the chance of my attaining any significant progress in any one area breaks down with the number of projects I pursue. For instance: I write articles, teach workshops, paint for galleries, like to travel, love spending time with my husband and friends Ė plus I have responsibilities that go along with daily living.
Daily Fatigue:I can only work in a focused fashion for 3 to 4 hours straight. My mind begins to shut down by about 2:00 pm every afternoon. I get a small burst of energy at about 7:00 pm, but I am usually not able to work on art or writing at that time of the day.
There are many more obstacles, but these are the ones that are likely to keep me from attaining goals in 2008 if I donít take serious steps to address them. Again, for you - they may be completely different, but if youíre honest with yourself, youíll be able to name them.
The next step in the process is to design a way to deal with these potential obstacles. After simply naming them in a list, I feel ill equipped to tackle them - they seem overwhelming. So, I need to break the mountains into molehills. The first on the list (Fear) is the most difficult to define. The other two - Interests and Fatigue are much easier to define, and therefore, easier to deal with, so Iíll tackle them first, and as I make progress with those, the fear will probably diminish - especially since Iíll be busy and feeling good about my daily progress.
Molehills: For the "Too Many Interests" topic, the answer is pretty straight forward... somethingís got to go! In order to see what will go, I ask myself, what one thing must I do to meet my priorities for the year? PAINT - thatís pretty simple. In order to paint, I need to have my supplies ready, my time available, and an idea of what I want to paint. If I book too many workshops, I have no time to paint. If I write too many articles, I have little time to paint. It doesnít mean that I canít visit with friends or travel, but it does mean that I need to designate work time first and then see how much time I have left for the other stuff. If I am not disciplined in this area, my goal of making great paintings is down the drain.
Fatigue: Well, this has an obvious answer too, and it is like the previous answer. My best "thinking" hours must be devoted to work in my studio... period. I can be social and do chores when Iím not at my peak brain power. I need enough self discipline and vision to make absolutely sure that I do my most mind intensive work in the mornings. Easy to say, difficult to achieve.
My hope for all reading this is that youíll take the challenge to address those demons this year that keep you from attaining your goals ,and by the way, as you take a long healthy look at your obstacles, youíll also discern how attainable your goals are for your individual lifestyle.
Whether you are the type of person who likes to make New Yearís resolutions or not, one can hardly resist thinking about what the upcoming year might bring in the way of personal success. Before I rattle off a "to do" list of goals for artists, Iíd like to encourage those who are reading this to concentrate on developing a personal definition of Success.
For the artist who is also a business person, there are numerous ways to realize a good income from creative output. There is no "one plan fits all" because we each have a personal idea of what success means. Some professional artists are happy with a specific monetary number for income, while others want to gain access to a high visibility gallery (you know the ones that advertise in major collectorsí magazines). Then there is recognition via national competitions; at the other end of the spectrum is selling prints to frame shops and painting local scenes for local galleries. The outdoor show circuit can provide ample income and direct communication with collectors. There is no shame in any sales venue for the aspiring artist whoíd like to make an income with his or her creative abilities.
However, it is sometimes a valuable exercise to ponder ideas concerning a specific and desirable path to YOUR goals. At the beginning of each year, I re-evaluate my feelings about what success means to me personally. This year (and it changes from year to year for me)... success means becoming an excellent painter of representational art. Incidently, I paint with Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Iíve watched Jeremy Lipking, Casey Baugh and Albert Handell demonstrate... and so my idea of what excellence is Ė keeps rising to what seems like a nearly impossible level for me to attain. But I have made good money over the past 2 decades selling art that is "pretty good", long before I knew Richard. One does not need to be the best artist in the world to make a living selling their work.
I donít need to pay the bills with my artwork at this point, but would like to in the future so that my husband may retire a bit earlier. If I were currently in a scary financial situation, I would not have the luxury of spending time further developing my skill set this year. Iíd probably be taking on portrait commissions. (And there is nothing wrong with that either). It sure beats working for someone else.
Iím writing this particular blog to encourage you to consider pursuing the goals that will make you happy in the long run. Thereís no sense in pursuing goals which do not fit in with your personality or lifestyle. Realistically consider the amount of time you can allocate to reaching your goals as well as your monetary needs.. Although this is not generally a windfall, get rich quick type of business, making a living at it is certainly do-able - especially if your work is desired by folks who buy art. At this very moment, there are artists who are realizing ample income from the outdoor show circuit, selling on Ebay, or selling in the gallery setting.
There are many paths to success; however, one person cannot pursue many of them effectively. So know who you are, what youíre capable of, and what you really want - then write it down and chart your own course to artistic contentment.Comment on or Share this Article →
by Lori Woodward Simons
A handful of my artist friends get nervous and feel panicked about the prospect of conversing with would-be collectors at an outdoor show or gallery opening. At outdoor shows, artists sometimes resort to reading books - therefore avoiding eye contact with those who venture into their booths, and these same artists will avoid "talking to strangers" at openings by engaging in a deep conversation with folks they already know.
As a follow up to Clint Watsonís recent commentary on why artists should hard sell, I recognized the seized the opportunity to write about a topic thatís been in the queue for a while... "how to talk to folks who obviously love your artwork".
Now, I believe it will be helpful to those who have fear of speaking to strangers about their work to realize that when folks show up at an art show, hardly any of them were dragged to it kicking and screaming. Attendees are there for a handful of reasons, but one of them is that they love and sometimes buy art. A number of times, my husband and I have arrived at an opening, saying... "weíre not buying anything tonight". Well, guess what we did before leaving? We love artwork, and it doesnít take much for us to fall in love at first sight with a painting. Weíre not super wealthy and buy only one painting or so a year, so when we stand - staring in front of a painting for more than a minute discussing it quietly between us, weíve gotten to the point of being quite serious about buying it.
Another encouraging note: collectors remember the event of buying a painting as a special experience... often they can tell you every detail of the day and event. We artists can feel confident that when we are selling our work that the buyers are having the times of their lives.
I did a lot of outdoor art shows in New England before moving my work into the gallery setting. It was in this venue that I learned to "sell" my work. Clint is absolutely right, someoneís often got to ask for the sale. All the art marketing gurusí books agree: art must be sold. It will not simply fly off the walls if no one is there to actively sell it. The good part is that folks want to be asked for the sale - when theyíve come to the point of wanting to own it. So what does an artist say or not say to prospective collectors?
Smile:offer a smile to everyone who passes by your booth or looks like they want to talk to you at an opening. Be interested in their favorite subject Ė "THEM". Be like a golden retriever... it doesnít hurt if they like the artist as much as the work. If I see someone contemplating one of my artworks, thatís my signal to engage that person or couple in conversation. I avoid using words that have a negative connotation by leaving out phrases such as, "I tried, attempted, goofed, worked, struggled".. Well, you get the idea. You wonít want to give any indication that you think your work is inferior in any way. After all, theyíre probably staring at it in amazement, and the last thing you want to do is insult their taste by implying that you think itís substandard. If you must, pretend that the painting was done by an artist whom you truly admire.
Clint suggests asking the question: "What do you like about the painting?" And I agree with him that the artist should not go down a rabbit hole - going on and on about the process. You donít want to bore your would-be collectors. Find out how the painting relates to their experience.
I donít have room in this blog to get into the fine details about what to ask, but before you go to your next opening or show, write down some non-offensive things to say about your work.
Think of open ended questions (questions that canít be answered with a yes or no) that you can ask those who seem interested in your work.
Then finally, when the collector stands, and looks and gets a bit silent, they are often expecting you to ask for the sale at that point. They want to be sold... so offer them the chance to buy:
Would you like to add this piece to your collection?
I take Mastercard and Visa, you can take it home with you today.
I can see that you love this painting - is there any way that I can make it easy to get it into your home today?
(If youíre at a gallery opening, take the person over to the a member of the staff to complete the transaction, and then be sure to chat with them briefly after they buy).
You can think of your own closing statements. A friend of mine often removed the painting from the wall or display and then let the interested folks view it away from the other works. If. after all this talk (and the prospect has not looked like they were trying to escape) - and they say well... no, ask them what is keeping them from owning the artwork and if you can be of any help. If they still say no... and donít offer me a reason, I let them go at that point. But before they leave, I ask them to sign my guest book with contact info and ask permission to send them my email newsletter. Most of the time, youíll hear - not sure because.... then you have an opportunity to help them solve that problem.
OK... very long blog today. Do whatever you can do to speak confidently about your work, and remember... if they stand and stare, they are probably in love with it.
Lori Woodward SimonsComment on or Share this Article →
Shopping For a Gallery
When artists shop for a gallery, they should avoid acting or looking like an artist, but take on the mood of a collector... why, you say? A few reasons: First, youíll want to know how attentive the gallery staff is to those who walk in the door. Secondly, youíll be able to assess how much they know about the artists whose work they carry. If the staff suspects you are an artist, you may be written off and even ignored (bad sign - as many artists are also avid collectors).
So, how does one avoid looking like an artist?
Over the years, Iíve gotten to know a few passionate art collectors who are not artists, and Iíve observed that they do not look at paintings in the same manner as artists do. When artists enter a gallery (usually in groups) - they all look at art in exactly the same way: Each artist covers the perimeter of the gallery, looking at each and every painting, then looking at the price, and additionally they get their noses up close to see how it is painted. Then they start to talk about how it is painted. Even if you never verbally mention anything about technique, this type of viewing will automatically give you away.
The typical non-artist collector walks in the gallery, smiles at the gallery personnel, and then surveys the entire gallery at once with glances in every direction. When something catches their eye, he or she will proceed toward the piece for a closer look, but mind you, not a CLOSE look. Collectors typically are not interested in every artwork on the wall or the prices of the paintings theyíre not interested in. OK... so when a collector moves in for a closer look, I mean about 5 feet away. If the painting is large, he or she may stand 10 feet away. That person is trying to get a feel for how it feels to live with a painting and perhaps how it appeals to them emotionally. If the painting strikes an emotional chord, theyíll look at the price tag. Some will look at the price tag a bit sooner because thereís no sense of falling in love with something that he or she canít afford.
Now, back to you... that artist. DO NOT let the gallery know you are an artist at this time. For me it helps to visit galleries with my husband (we are collectors) or a non-artist friend who doesnít know diddly about how to paint, but loves art. If there are works that interest you, or better yet, if you happen to know one of the artists the gallery carries personally... ask about that artist. See if theyíre doing a good job of promoting their artists. Incidentally, I visited a New England gallery with one friend who was showing there. Her paintings were sitting out but on the floor against the wall. There was no proof that they had been hung before we arrived. I did not let on to the gallery owner that I was an artist. I noticed another painting (by another artist friend of mine) Ė it was leaning on the stair railway, and sideways! What kind of representation is that? Well... Iíd not want to work with that particular gallery.
To sum it up: take a day trip with a non-artist, art loving friend to a gallery district, have a wonderful lunch, and play it like a collector.
Lori Woodward SimonsComment on or Share this Article →
6x8 study from life
What Galleries Want
About a decade ago, I wrote a series of articles for Watercolor Magazine called "Advice From Experts". The editors gave me full reign of the topics I chose to highlight. So, being intensely interested in the area of art marketing, I wrote articles that interviewed high profile gallery owners and what they like to see in artist submissions to their gallery.
In the years since, Iíve come to know and befriend many gallery dealers. There is definitely a protocol that dealers generally expect when artists approach them for representation. But before I talk about how to submit materials to galleries, it is important to put the cart before the horse and talk about the art work that is to be submitted. After all, you could have a best materials and portfolio, but if your subject matter and style is "all over the place" - in other words, too varied, you will be at a disadvantage. Before you approach galleries, itís wise to spend some time developing a professional looking, body of work that exhibits an easily recognizable and consistent style of your own.
Think about some of the artists that are listed in the high visibility shows and galleries in the U.S.. When I flip through magazines like Southwest Art, Art of the West, and American Art Collector, I see many familiar names of well known artists, and immediately, I know what each artistís work looks like and the particular subject matter each specializes in. Thereís no doubt about it, artists whoíve experienced success have a well developed, individual style. Many specialize in one subject matter. For example, Kathryn Stats paints landscapes, and so does Scott Christensen and Matt Smith. Robert Coombs prefers romantic figurative works. There are exceptions though - some artists paint figures, landscapes and still lifes, but these artists have a cohesive style that translates through all their subjects. Two come to mind. David Leffel and Richard Schmid.
All of this is to say that if you want to look professional and get a gallery ownerís attention, your paintings will need to look like theyíre all painted by one artist. Now, youíre probably gonna look at my website and say to yourself, well... she doesnít practice what she preaches! And, youíd be correct Ė at least for now. But I am currently on a journey to find out what I love to paint most. Last year, I had three galleries: one wanted only my still lifes, another preferred my landscapes and the third really didnít care but didnít sell any of my paintings. I should have never let myself get into this state of affairs, and I could have avoided it by first developing my body of work with the subject matter I love most, and then approaching the galleries, with the visual statement, "This is what I paint"... period. If you donít have a style that you are known for, gallery dealers will sometimes ask you to paint what they know their customers want to buy. Since I have the ability to paint a variety of subjects, I let them fragment my art into whatever they liked best. It emotionally wore me out, and I pulled out of all three galleries in order to begin anew -- finding out who I am as a painter without outside pressure.
I am currently developing a series of landscapes because this is the subject matter that most speaks to my heart. As I push the brush over yards and yards of canvas, my individual style is naturally emerging. Which leads me to the next statement... Paint what you absolutely adore painting, because if you get known and collected for it, youíre likely to be stuck with it. Collectors sometimes get nervous when their artists go off in a totally different direction. It makes them wonder if the works they previously purchased are devalued.
So let me finish up this segment with some encouraging words: If you havenít gotten to the point where youíve arrived at a style of your own, take however much time you need to get there. Seek the subject matter that you adore, and get better at it than you ever thought you could. Also, it doesnít hurt to set your best paintings aside for national competitions. When you get into those shows, it builds your resume, gives you affirmation, and lets gallery owners know youíre in it for life.
Well... to the easel I go! Landscapes it is!
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This afternoon an artist who read a previous blog on outdoor shows asked me the following questions: My answers follow - thought some of you out there in cyber art land might gain a bit of insight...
Hi Lori, I am contemplating doing outdoor fairs and shows next year for the reasons you mention, and am wondering how to discern what shows would be best for me and selling my work. How do you decide where to show, and how do I give myself the best shot at choosing shows where buyers in my price range buy? Is there a "best" price range to be in for outdoor shows, or does it vary by show and region? So much to learn to make this a successful adventure!
Some of the best juried outdoor shows are held in Ann Arbor Michigan and I've heard there are some great ones in Florida as well, but if you're just starting out, I'd stick close to home - within a two hour driving distance. Traveling hundreds of miles with paintings and equipment might require a van or a truck and trailer.
Some shows only allow the sale of original work, but if that isn't the case, a browse box with reasonbly priced unframed or matted prints or originals offers an incentive to buy. Even if someone buys a $5 card from you, be sure to ask them to sign your mailing list - (with their email included). That way you have permission to let them know about new work. If you take VIsa or Mastercard, it's a good idea to sell items under $20 for cash or check.
When you get a tax resale number from your state. You can purchase attractive standard size frames from www.omegamoulding.com but you'll have to buy them in bulk (boxes of 6). Check out their line of gallery frames. JFM Enterprises is another reasonably priced wholesale company for standard sized frames, but give JFM a lot of time to deliver. Finally, you can order custom sized frames in multiples at a 50% discount from New Jersey Frame and Moulding.
An artist who's been there, done that.
Mr. Stuckey at his first show
After reading Clint's blog for today - answering of 11 questions, I am reminded that we all must create our own markets to a great extent, and he's right - it takes time and there's no magic formula.
There are many levels of collectors and many markets in which to sell your work. When I started out, I did outdoor shows in New England. Before you turn your nose up at that, I just want to say that a friend of mine often comes home with $6K-$10K in her pocket with a $60 show fee. Some of these shows are small - like the one in Keene NH, and others are larger and draw a huge crowd... like the Portland Maine show (300 exhibitors), but that show is probably one of the best selling shows.
These shows are a great way to build a mailing list. I bring a nice looking guest book and ask those who are intersted in receiving mailings and emails from me to sign on. That way, I am not bugging them; They want to hear from me because they like my work. Another friend of mine made $60,000 this summer doing regional outdoor shows. Some artists who do the juried shows in far cities make 6 figures. It can certainly be lucrative, AND if you enjoy meeting people and getting the names and addresses of folks who buy your paintings, it's a wonderful way to go.
On the down side, it takes some physical strength to set up the tent and cart all those paintings to your space. I used to hire a teenage boy (or two) to help me set up and take down. Sometimes, my husband helped out. I bought my EZ up tent at Sam's Club for under $200. Looking professional is a must these days. You can buy stands from some of the companies that advertise in art magazines like American Artist or Art Calendar. When you do the same show for more than one year, you usually get the same spot - and collectors know where to find you. Also, there's prize money to be won! Gallery owners sometimes look through the shows for artists to carry - especially new galleries. I have worked with two as a result of being in a nearby show.
These days I am working more with galleries - why? Because my husband can't always help me set up and as I said, the shows are physically demanding. But if you have a way to do it and you're just thinking about selling your work, it's a great way to get started. It's fun to see which of your works are looked at again and again.... and you might just come home with lots of money in your pocket.
Oh, one more item. You'll need a tax ID number for each state that you sell in, so you'll have to register as a business with that state, but when you have a tax ID number you can buy frames wholesale - right from the distributor. This is just the tip of the ice-berg on outdoor show info. Feel free to send me email to ask specific questions about my experiences with shows.
If you have not been selling your artwork, then it may be wise to test how saleable it is before approaching galleries. There are a couple of straight forward ways you can do this: Do outdoor shows in your area and enter nationally renowned fine art competitions. Outdoor shows are a great way to learn about the business of framing and preparing your works for sale - and youíll get face-to-face feedback on what folks like about it. The competition is fierce with national competitions, but if you place at all - itíll be a good step in proving the worth of your work.
For example, if you enter an Oil Painters of America show (you must be a member), and your work is accepted, this lets you know that youíre on the right track. If your painting sells at the show... whatever youíre painting, keep on painting it. There are also great magazine competitions by American Artist and The Artistsí Magazine. For these, you only need the image of the painting. You wonít need to send the work to a show.
Your Body of Work
It takes some time to prepare for gallery representation. Hereís the part thatís hard to hear: You should have at least 10 spectacular paintings, same style, and preferably similar subject matter. These paintings should be framed professionally and ready to hang. Artists who sell well in galleries and gain a following of collectors have developed their own style. There work is not "all over the place" with subject matter or color or brushstrokes. The work is recognizable from across the room as this artist's work. Some artists do paint many different subjects, but they have a distinct style.
If you donít have a body of work like I described above, and you havenít developed a style, I suggest you look through art magazines and dog-ear or tear out pages that have paintings that you love. Most likely, youíll begin to see that these paintings have something in common - and itís also likely that your eventual style will be similar. Copy the works of artists that have been dead for at least 75 years (to avoid copyright problems). Then paint and paint .... paint your own compositions (from life or your own photos)... and you will arrive at a style after a time. How long it takes depends on how often you paint. Iíve been developing my style for a number of years - I enjoy Hudson River School type landscapes and realistic floral still lifes. That is who I am, and that is what I strive to paint.
There is a market for all kinds of subjects and styles, but donít try to get away with saying your paintings are impressionistic or abstract unless they are very well designed. It is far easier to paint in a realistic style than to construct a fantastically composed abstract work. There is so much more to it than what meets the eye.
Unless youíve built up some credentials through placing high in competitions or have had many sales at local galleries, submitting your work to well known galleries that advertise in magazines may be a waste of your time. Sure, if youíve had your work published in magazines and got honorable mention in American Artistís Cover Competition, you probably can reasonably submit to a top gallery. These galleries have such high rents and costs that they really cannot afford to take on an artist who is unproven with collectors.
The good news is that there are many, many other galleries in great gallery districts across the nation that sell very well. But before you call anyone up or send a letter, make sure you select a gallery that sells work that is similar to yours (not the same, but the same type of art). For example, I would not approach a gallery that sells abstract works. My work would fit in best for collectors who appreciate historical paintings or realism. If you are an abstract artist, donít bother contacting a gallery that shows realism. Good galleries donít have work thatís all over the place either... they know their clientele, and they donít try to sell to every taste.
Unless your work is known nationally on some level, itís a good idea to target galleries that are within a dayís drive of your home. For one thing, it saves on shipping costs, and itís easier for a gallery to stay honest with sales if they know you might be stopping by. The closer to home my gallery is, the easier it is for me to work with the owner. For one thing, I live in New England which means I can easily paint in New England - and galleries in NE will sell scenes that are local. Still life doesnít matter so much, but even so, tastes in New England have a traditional bent.
So once youíve found (and visited) several galleries you feel your work will fit well in, you might call and ask if they are accepting artists submissions. Of course, the person youíre talking to will say no... they have all the artists they need.
So, preface your question with, "I paint Hudson River Style Landscapes in oil, and my work won third place in International Artist Magazineís landscape competition. Iím looking to add a gallery in your location. Are you currently looking at artistsí portfolios? You have to have some ammunition to hit them squarely between the eyes to get their attention. That is why I say that it is better to prove your work by getting some credentials before approaching the better galleries. If they are interested. Ask for the gallery manager or owner - then ask if they prefer to see a portfolio (photos, bio, and resume) or your web site. If and when they ask you to bring work in for viewing, only bring a few of your very best works. Never show the gallery person everything youíve ever done... not only will you bore them to death, you wonít look like a pro.
Now some local galleries - that are frame shops or are not in art districts or tourist towns, are much easier to get into... especially if you paint realistic subjects that have a wide appeal. Most of these galleries sell prints and some original art. I advise not to let the gallery frame your work before itís sold, because if it doesnít sell, you may be stuck with hundreds of dollars owed for custom framed paintings. Always do your own framing or let the gallery buy your work at a 50% discount of retail unframed at the onset.
I HAVE TO MAKE DINNER NOW
Well, Iíve gotta run, so Iíll need to continue this talk at another time. Iíll delve into how to get ready for that appointment with the gallery.
Hope you enjoyed reading this and got something from it.
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So, you want to start making some money with your art, eh?
There are lots of ways to reach collectors in today's art markets... outdoor shows, Ebay, web site, etc. However, many of my artist friends who have done very well at outdoor shows in recent years want to show in galleries, and although most galleries take a 50% commission, they like the affirmation that goes along with having someone else sell their work.
Not all galleries are created equal. Ideally, a gallery that sells a lot of work has the following points:
The gallery is located where there is foot traffic, expensive restaurants, and usually, no where to park. Old Town in Scottsdale comes to mind. In other words, in a classy arts and shops district. These places are usually located in resort towns. Some galleries can be out of the way, but they usually spend quite a bit of money on advertising in art collector magazines in order to interest and attract good clientele.
Now donít fall for a gallery that boasts about car traffic on a busy street because folks who do end up visiting galleries generally need an alternate reason to be in the area. .. such as many shops and galleries, atmosphere and restaurants (which Iíve already said). No one will get out of the car to stop at a gallery while on the way to somewhere else. Maybe there are a few exceptions, but they are a few.
The ideal gallery should also have wonderful lighting, a glass front with paintings attractively displayed, and it should almost always be on the first floor. If it is next to another gallery, so much the better! Quality art is not inexpensive, and so a gallery needs to be in an area where wealthy people go for fun. Art collectors often like to visit as many galleries as they can in one evening. Art Walks are a great way to bring in folks on a regular basis. Where there is one successful gallery, it wonít be along before others crop up around it. Thatís when the rents go up. It is interesting to note that many rents in high end art districts can run in the tens of thousands per month. Add $5,000 full page ads onto the cost, and youíll see why gallery owners need to take 50%. They also can not afford to keep art on the wall for very long if it has not sold.
In fact, smart gallery owners do not let works sit unsold for months on the wall. They either call the artist and ask for an exchange of work or ask the artist to come pick up all of his or her work if nothing has sold. This is actually a good thing. Dealers who do this are interested in making a living and work hard to sell the work of the artists they represent. I have had to pick up work twice in my career - it isnít a big deal... Iíve seen it happen that an artist took work out of one gallery, went into a gallery on the other side of town and sold a ton of work!
Some owners donít like contracts, but I do, so if the gallery owner does not have one, I have them sign my own (2 copies) - one for me and one for them. Itís not complicated or unfair, but I expect to be paid within 30 days of a sale, and when it goes beyond that time, it lets me know there is probably financial difficulty or else the owner or manager is not good with paperwork. What that means to me is that I donít really want those kind of headaches, and I arrange to show my work elsewhere.
Can I afford to be that snobby? Yep... you bet! Iím in business to make money, and possibly let my husband retire earlier than expected. On the other hand, I donít see my art as just a commodity either... it has brought joy into the lives of art lovers. The way I see it: gallery dealers do not own me, nor are they my employers. They work for me as much as I work for them. It is a 50%-50% partnership based on trust and honesty;we depend on each other.
One time, a gallery dealer on the east coast delayed payment for almost a year (even though my husband called and so did I). She became permanently unavailable. Fortunately for me, one of the galleryís best selling artists happens to be a good friend of mine, and when she threatened to leave the gallery if I didnít get paid, the dealer made arrangements to see me in 2 days, and I got my unsold paintings back and check for those that had sold. I also found out later from a client that the gallery was asking way more for the retail price of my paintings than I had set. These kind of practices are illegal in most other business transactions.
Once youíve made an appointment to show your work (Iíll address preparing for gallery representation in a separate article), either contact the other artists in the gallery privately or ask the owner for a couple of references. If he or she gets annoyed - explain that you just want to be sure youíre getting into a stable business arrangement. If they look at you like youíre crazy... maybe you donít want to deal with that person. If your artwork is good enough to sell in the gallery, you certainly should be treated with respect by the gallery dealer. You are both professional adults and should display mutual respect.
Ok, thatís enough writing for today. Feel free to comment or ask a question.
Lori Woodward Simons
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