Artists: Are you Consistent? A Gallery Owner’s Perspective

How Developing a Strong Style and Laser-Like Focus is One of the Most Important Things you can do for Your Fine Art Career

A number of years ago, I was approached by an artist who was seeking gallery representation in Scottsdale. She had been into the gallery during an opening and after striking up a conversation, had asked if she might stop back by the gallery and present her portfolio to me when I had more time. I had agreed and she was now back in the gallery on a quiet weekday afternoon with portfolio in hand.

The moment I saw the portfolio I knew I was in trouble. I am not exaggerating to say that this portfolio was at least two inches thick and must have weighed a good eight or nine pounds. After a brief conversation and reintroduction, she handed me the portfolio and said, “this is really only a small sampling of my work – I’ve been painting for over forty years and I have hundreds more images.”

I opened the portfolio and began randomly paging through with the artist looking expectantly on.
There was simply too much work in the portfolio, and I felt as if I were taking a survey of the entirety of art history. The work literally encompassed every style from cave painting (granted, an abstract take on it) to the Renaissance, the impressionists and all of the modern movements since – expressionism, minimalism, and pop, to name a few.

“You’re work is quite diverse,” I said.

The artist took it as far more of a compliment than I intended. “I’ve always felt,” she said, “that it’s important not to get myself pigeonholed into one particular style or theme . . . I like to keep my work fresh.”

I don’t remember the rest of our conversation – although I’m sure I politely waved her off with a stock “we don’t have any room right now,” or “we’re not the right fit.” Looking back, I wish I would have taken the time to give her feedback on her presentation and body of work, as she surely went on to have a very difficult time persuading a gallery to carry her work using that all-encompassing approach.

While this is an extreme example, I encounter variations of this approach quite frequently. Now that I have been in the business longer and have more experience working with artists, I always try to  have a conversation about the importance of consistency (not to mention the importance of creating a concise portfolio).

So why is it important to develop a consistent body of work?

 . . . the decision I am ultimately making is whether I am willing to invest in the artist and their work . . .

Step into my shoes for a moment and view your art through the eyes of a gallery owner. You will quickly see that as I consider an artist for representation, the decision I am ultimately making is whether I am willing to invest in the artist and their work.
I am going to devote expensive wall or pedestal space to displaying the art. I am going to have staff spending time and resources promoting and selling the work. I am going to spend advertising dollars informing potential clients about the work. In order to make this kind of commitment, I have to feel confident that I can see a return on the investment.

This is not to say that I am not willing to stretch and take risks with unproven artists, but I am far less likely to make such an investment if I see inconsistency in the work. My concern is that I will make the investment and begin to build a following for the artist’s work, only to have the artist make a sudden and drastic change in their style, forcing me to start over again. It can sometimes take years to build a following for an artist, and during that time a steady stream of consistent work is key.

Of course, there are many other considerations – quality, creativity, and confidence – but consistency is actually one of the first indicators I look for as it often speaks to the other factors as well.

In fact, when asked what an artist should do to increase their odds of finding gallery representation and building long-term commercial success, consistency would be the very first factor to which I would point. That’s right. Even above quality and creativity, I feel that consistency is the key to long-term success.

So what do I mean by “consistency”? Many artists hear the word and feel a cold-sweat break on their brow. Most artists can understand the importance of consistency almost instinctually, but when it comes to actually creating a body of consistent work, they’re not sure where to begin. Does this mean they should only have one style and one subject? Does it mean they don’t have any latitude to experiment and evolve? Does consistency become a straightjacket to creativity?

To answer these questions we need only delineate our goal. While my ultimate goal is to sell an artist’s work and create a base of collectors who will sustain the artist over the long-term, the immediate goal in terms of consistency is much simpler: when someone walks into my gallery, I want them to see a number of your pieces and have them be able to instantly recognize all of the work as having been created by one artist. I want the artist (you!) to give them a strong thread running through the work that ties it all together. From the first piece they encounter to the last, I want them to look at each and see its relation to the others.

Furthermore, when that same client walks into the gallery a year from now, I want them to see and recognize the new work in the gallery at that time as yours. In the marketing world they call this “branding” and that is exactly what we want to accomplish with your work.

Seeing consistency this way, you will realize that you do have some latitude to vary your work. You can paint landscapes and still-lifes as long as the style or presentation ties the work together. You can sculpt figures and animals as long as the visual language is consistent across the work. You can even vary the media you employ to create the work if the subject matter and theme are unified.

A few illustrations from artists in my gallery will help to illustrate what I mean:

Guilloume. Even though this artist works in oil and bronze, his figurative subject matter and his consistent style translates across the mediums. There is no doubt in a viewer’s mind that this work was created by a single artist with a clear vision of his work.

 

An Evening Out by Guilloume
An Evening Out by Guilloume
Mutual Thinking by Guilloume
Mutual Thinking by Guilloume

 

Lorri Acott. Lorri produces in both bronze and clay mediums and sculpts both animals and figures, but her style is consistent and clear. Through the use of elongated limbs and a “cracking” in her forms, both humans and horses are easily identified as being Lorri’s work.

Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott
Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott
Deja Vu by Lorri Acott
Deja Vu by Lorri Acott

 

John Horejs (full disclosure, this artist is my father). Though creating desert and mountain landscapes, florals and still-life work, Horejs’ style and presentation tie his work into a cohesive body.

Salt River Vistas by John Horejs
Salt River Vistas by John Horejs
Colors of October by John Horejs
Colors of October by John Horejs

 

Dave Newman. Newman’s nostalgic Americana inspired style is both unique and consistent.Though Newman relies on random found objects to create his imagery, he has a very clear vision of how he will give these objects context and how the objects relate to one another. Again, presentation becomes an important part of the equation in creating consistency in Dave’s work.

Taking The Scenic Route by Dave Newman
Taking The Scenic Route by Dave Newman
V8 Road Trip by Dave Newman
V8 Road Trip by Dave Newman

 

Jeanie Thorn. It is easy to identify Jeanie’s work by the materials she consistently employs. While she varies the size and shape of her sculptures, there is an obvious unification amongst her work that allows visitors to the gallery to locate her work with ease, even when it is scattered across multiple walls.

 

Mandala by Jeanie Thorn
Mandala by Jeanie Thorn
Cross Cut by Jeanie Thorn
Cross Cut by Jeanie Thorn

 

“But Jason,” you object, “I’m afraid I am going to get pigeonholed into my current style or subject matter and frankly, I just get bored quickly.” I understand these concerns. Here are some considerations that will allow you to live with (and embrace) consistency:

  • Edit. The great allure of being an artist is that you get to try new things and you are your own master. I’m not suggesting that this has to end, that you are stuck for the rest of your life creating the same art over and over again. What I am suggesting is that you make a conscious decision that the work you are preparing to present to the public or to galleries must be consistent. You can do the abstract work if you are primarily a landscape painter, but don’t include it in your public portfolio. Edit your work down to only the work that is congruent.

 

  • Give yourself parameters. Allow yourself one experiment out of every 20 pieces – 19 are going to be the consistent, the twentieth can be whatever you feel like doing. This twentieth piece might end up hanging in your private collection or might become a gift to a friend or family member.

 

  • Evolve. “Look at Picasso”, you say, “he didn’t just stick with one thing throughout his life.” I will agree with you, but if you look at the arc of the lifetime of work Picasso created, you will see an evolution over years and decades. What I want you to avoid is the bi-monthly reinvention that many artists experience on a regular basis (you may be going through this now).

 Now here’s the secret about passion: passion isn’t that feeling you get when you first try something. True passion comes after you’ve sacrificed and devoted yourself; after you have been true to your commitment

  • Choose. Sometimes a lack of consistency comes not out of a love of variety but instead out of a fear of commitment. You might have three or five (or twenty!) different styles you have dabbled in and you’re just not sure which one is the right fit – which one will engender success and sales. I am often asked what style of art sells the best. My answer is simple: the style which any individual artist is most passionate about. Art taps emotion and you are going to be far better at selling if you can make a primal connection with your viewer. You are going to be far better at making this kind of connection if you are creating work that you are passionate about. Now here’s the secret about passion: passion isn’t that feeling you get when you first try something. True passion comes after you’ve sacrificed and devoted yourself; after you have been true to your commitment. There are no two ways about this and you are eventually going to have to make a decision when it comes to your direction – so why not make it now?

 

  • Cheat. If you have work that is close but not quite consistent, you can fudge a bit by simply using a consistent presentation. You would be amazed at the variety of work that can show together simply because it’s in the exact same frame or has an identical base. There are limits to how far you can push this cheat, but in a pinch it can maintain your portfolio’s consistency.

I met another artist several years ago who had made a commitment to consistency. She decided to focus on one subject for a year. Instead of becoming bored with the subject, she reported that the more time she spent with it, the more she began to see that there is an infinity of variety in the nuances of any subject.

If you have a problem with consistency, I encourage you to make a similar commitment. I promise you that this commitment will have a revolutionary effect on your work and your success as an artist.

What do you Think?

Do you feel consistency is important? What have you done to maintain consistency in your work? What are your greatest challenges as you seek consistency in your work?

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

13 Comments

  1. Jason, I have the utmost respect for you and certainly your success and that of your gallery carries great merit. I remember this theme of artists needing consistency from your book as well. I do trust your art business acumen. At the same time I must express that an artist may feel compelled to radically shift style/subject and even medium. In the case of this artist, a thirty year career has produced three different phases, as documented in this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhRmjZZbmsU. I found it absolutely impossible to continue creating as I once had. Thank you for your very informative blog.

  2. Thanks Jason. I am a mid career artist with a large body of work. I am trying to find ways of promoting my work and creating more sales. I find your insights very helpful. I am planning to update my website because I think there is too much work on it. Do you have a suggestion as to how many years to go back? Or assembling it in a series rather than genre? What would be the best approach?
    Thanks for your help.
    Warm regards,
    Laura

  3. I have struggled with consistency even though I know how important it is. I’ve been too quick to abandon one media for another, one technique for the latest and greatest.

    And yet, by the questions you asked in the article, I can see that there truly is one thing I’m passionate about–and that’s faces. In spite of all the different media, I do, indeed, incorporate faces most of the time.

    So that gives me something solid to focus on–faces and how I can be more deliberate in incorporating them into my creations.

    Thank you.

  4. Jason, thank you, this is a really important article and will help me as I go forward in my 2D art. I am trying cold wax after doing acrylics for years. My last year in acrylics was spent doing animals and landscapes with pretty much the same techniques and bold colors, so I think they are fairly cohesive, but now with the cold wax I am still doing landscapes, just more abstractly. I think if I build on landscape my work will remain cohesive. BUT, looking back over the years, I’m a little bit ‘guilty as charged’ lol! I will soon need another re-vamp of my website so it also looks cohesive. Thanks again for the wonderful article and great illustrations.

  5. If you don’t like capitalism, paint what you want and then give the art away or store your art in your garage or under the bed. If you would like to sell your art then you must learn the basic principles of marketing and advertising, “they are not the same thing”. Many artists, myself included, are in the research and development phase. I started painting early in 2017 after a lifetime in advertising. I sold 7 abstract paintings online through saatchi. I then started painting very large animal portraits, everyone told me how great they were, I won 4 best of show awards for the animal paintings and ended up selling 1 painting and one print. Moved on to a new abstract style with crows and hand prints and lettering in the paintings. In local shows I again received second place, best of show, honorable mention, etc, etc. but didn’t sell one painting, not even a shopping bag with my art printed on it. And now I have discovered landscape, honestly, does the world need another SouthWestern landscape artist? BUT, I like it. I have painted 11 pieces since July. Sold 4 paintings at a co-op gallery in St. George. So, I have been in product development mode, a natural process in any marketing plan. I would love to do the Academy thing and can’t wait to get to that stage. But I am in the final stages of R&D and not ready for marketing and not close to any advertising plan. My production plan is 20 more paintings in this new directions and then the academy. It has taken 2 years of painting (50 paintings) and a lot of enjoyment to get to this point and now I find myself focusing just a little bit more. So all my fellow new at it artists, relax, paint what you want, don’t force a style, let it happen as you create, work a lot and don’t worry about galleries and seminars yet, were not ready yet. Now shut up and paint. Take a look at my progress at http://www.kenchurch.art and you get 50% off all my work, just for RedDotBloggers cause I love you.

  6. I have only been painting 4 years, and have gone through a number of different “styles”, although they are all abstract. I tried many different looks and it is only in the last year that I have settled down and become more consistent in the way that Jason mentioned, where someone can pick your pieces out of a crowded gallery. I do like to maintain about 3 different bodies of work, though, because I do tend to get stale and bored if I stick with one style too long.

    One thing I struggle with at this point, though, is that I am not well known yet, and trying to sell abstract art in the Midwest! So that makes it more challenging to know how people will react to different styles, when you don’t have the quick feedback someone more well known would have.

  7. It took a few years, but once I found my passion of sea life, I was hooked!
    I knew I had “made it” when someone said I walked into a gallery and straight to one of your pieces. She said “I just knew it was yours when I saw it!”
    Thanks for the advice, I am saying the same things to other starting artists, unfortunately, they don’t always listen!

  8. Jason, I know you have discussed consistency before and I understand. Being a gallery owner you need to sell the art of your artists and if they start to wander all over the place, different media, different approaches to subject matter, different art techniques, then it not only confuses the gallery owner but also will confuse the gallery public, potential buyers or collectors. So consistency is a top level requirement from the gallery perspective .

    I do see that many artists hold this same attitude as they try to move into the art world and become involved with the sale of their art work. Many of them try out the marketplace to see what sells and then stick with that because they need the income for survival. Even some artists who have independent income and don’t necessarily need sales must go down this path because they realize the galleries and museums will be looking for consistency and this is what they need to do to gain entry.

    But then there is the other side, from the point of view of the artist. Many artists are explorers and change art directions several times during their lifetime. I did this, I started out in the late 1950’s as a black and white photographer, processing film and prints in the darkroom, and became very good at it, had many shows, and sold prints. But then in the late 1990’s I moved on into digital photography where I could explore digital manipulation and abstraction. And now because of my growing interest in abstraction I am pursuing painting. So the amount of work I have created and its range over the last 50 years has changed and is still changing. The question for me is how do I present myself? How do I show a consistent look to a gallery?

    Maybe younger artists have less of this problem at the beginning of their art career but then if they continue as artist their body of works will grow and change over time. Sooner or later they may find it more difficult to present just who they are as artists. Or some may pick a period or style from their larger body of works and claim this is who they are, or others will do it for them.

    So to me it seems almost like an unsolvable problem, how to create a solid consistent art that one needs to get into the gallery and museum world (and perhaps from there into the history books) and how to stay creative, exploring new ideas and methods and technology over a lifetime as an artist.

  9. Jason, your artcals are always helpful. I consider my work to be simple, lots of contrast, and limited colors. is this enough?
    Can you give more examples of consistency?
    I started as a photographer and was accepted in many juried shows and sold some I always wanted to try watercolor. I have about 20 books and taught myself. I found that I tend to
    approach this medium in the same way; but I’m not sure it is enough for consistency.

  10. Thanks, Jason, for this ultra-helpful post!!! Just in time – now I will go through my website and cull, cull, cull….!!! Perhaps, for those of us who like to do several types of art, it would be prudent to select those galleries to approach which would be most likely to consider a particular style. Even small boutique gift shops, at least those in my city, carry unique art, and an abstract acrylic painter who also does little watercolors, for example, could consider approaching this type of venue for those small pieces.

  11. Jason, I think I’ve replied to this before but I’m happy to reiterate.
    If you’ve followed my works since you first spoke at the 2013 AZ Fine Art Expo, you’d know that my career spans various decades and that I’ve garnered quite a few very novel styles and genres.
    Some have fallen by the wayside – and some have been in the forefront.
    NO artist should be urged to cull their collection of work they wish to present to any gallery. An artists’ personal opinion is totally irrelevant if that gallery owner wishes to stock one style of work from that artist – or another.
    The more the artist has to show, the more the gallery owner’s choice. A win-win situation for everyone.
    It’s like buying 6 lottery tickets, instead of just one. Nothing simpler than that.

  12. My art is consistent, I think. Especially my main concept. In a search for new methods to anticipate posturbanity, I’m focusing on the idea of a transformation where complex constructions of immense, larger than human-size dimensions evolve into ethereal and almost surreal edifices.

  13. Jason, your columns are always very helpful,
    I have been a professional artist for 47 years. I have always worked in Series. Within the Series, the work looks consistent. This satisfies the galleries I have worked with.
    However, when I go on to a new Series, there is sometimes an acceptance problem at first. People actually have told me to “go back.” However, an artist must grow and evolve. She must find new excitement and exploration regardless of whether it sells.
    Picasso said, “I have a horror of repeating myself.”
    There is always a temptation because a work sells to do another one in blue. This temptation is the Road to Hell for an artist. They will lose their inspiration and the work will look dead.They have “sold out.” This is the big problem! This is the tightrope artists must walk.

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