As a store owner, I really hope that you pay attention to this post if you’re thinking about approaching a gallery or store about carrying your work. One of my pet peeves is artists showing up without an appointment. Take a few minutes and find out the gallery’s policy for taking work, either on consignment or wholesale and follow that process to a T. Starting out on the wrong foot by just stopping by can really reduce your chances of getting your work accepted.
Do a little research first. Find several businesses in your area that you think might be good possibilities for your work. Look at their websites and see if they have a submission policy listed. Print it out and read it carefully. While you’re on the website, look at other artist’s work that they carry. Do they have work that is very similar to what you do? If so, you probably need to find another place as they will have their loyalties with that artist first and most likely will not take in work that will directly compete with something they already carry. Do they only show paintings? Unless your work is two-dimensional and a “wool” painting, the gallery will most likely not be interested in carrying work like felted soaps or nuno felted scarves. If the gallery doesn’t have information online about their submission policy, call and ask what it is. Again, make sure to follow whatever instructions you are given.
Once you’ve found a few businesses that you feel might be a fit for your work, do a reconnaissance mission and check out the gallery before trying to make an appointment. Don’t try to talk to the staff about your work, just go look at the gallery. Does it seem like a good fit? Do you know some of the artists whose work is in the gallery? Does the gallery carry your type of media and if so, what kind? Do you have work that you think will be a good addition to the mix that the gallery carries? If you do happen to know any of the artists, contact them and ask them how it has been working with the gallery. How has their work been selling? Do they get paid in a timely manner?
Next, you need to do a little planning and thinking about your work and what you think will interest the gallery the most. If you are submitting photos of your work, make sure to get good clear shots with a white or neutral background. If you will be showing your work in person, think about which pieces make a nice set and plan on taking enough work so that the owner or buyer can get a feel for what you do. Most galleries carry work on consignment basis which means that you don’t get paid for the work until after it sells. The gallery will take a percentage of the retail price since they are the ones selling the work. An average percentage rate is 60% of retail paid to the artist and 40% of retail paid to the gallery. Make sure to take this into consideration when pricing your work.
If you are submitting your work by e-mail, write a nice letter to accompany the photos and price list. Tell the gallery about yourself and your work process. Explain why you think your work would fit well in their gallery. Ask them to reply to the e-mail so that you know they received it. You could also include your artist statement and resume if that seems appropriate. Again, make sure that you follow all the directions you were given for submission.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss visiting a gallery with your work, what questions you should ask and what to do if you get accepted. The worst thing that can happen if you approach a gallery is that they say no. Don’t let that scare you off from trying. There are many reasons for the no and it isn’t always because your work isn’t good enough. Ask why your work was rejected. You might be able to learn from the situation and improve your presentation with your next try.