Ask a Gallery Owner: Is it Important to Work in Series?

Artists frequently ask me if they should work in series. I recently received the following question:

Is it important for your artwork to be in “a series”. I have a few different styles I like to work in my paintings (from bright/multi-colored to abstract/dark to light/muted). What do galleries like to see in artist’s portfolios?

Kirsten Reed

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I’m a huge advocate of seeking consistency in your artwork, especially work you are going to be presenting to galleries or potential buyers.

Consistency is bedrock for building a following for your art. Thinking about your art in terms of series takes this question of consistency one step further.  Consistency in your work is an attempt to tie all of the work together by being cohesive in terms of your style, subject matter, theme, palette, medium and presentation. A series is a set of work that is even more consistent, specifically in terms of subject matter and theme.

I want to say right up front that while some degree of consistency is a prerequisite for working with most galleries, working in series is not. Many artists will attain representation based on the strength of their composition and style, and the quality of their work, without creating work that could truly be called a series.

However, if your work lends itself to working in series, doing so can help create an extra level of interest in your work. Showing work from a series in the gallery can draw attention to an artist’s work. Some collectors will buy into a particular series and want to have multiple pieces from the series.

So what constitutes a series? As I said above, if you are creating pieces that are very closely related to one another in terms of subject matter and style, you likely have good candidates for a series.

So, for example, Xanadu artist Dave Newman has several different series that he works in, along with a range of other pieces.

Here are some pieces from his mixed media flag series.


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Flags by Dave Newman

And here are some images from his Matchbook Chief series

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Matchbook-Chief

It’s pretty easy to see how these piece make a series. It becomes even more clear that this work stands out as series when you look at Dave’s other work on our website. You’ll see a range of other work, including some work from other series.

If we look at another artist I represent, Guilloume, you’ll see that his work is very consistent, but it’s harder to discern series, because the consistency is strong across all of his work. I suppose you could think of all of his work as one large series, but I tend to think of a series as a unique subset of an artist’s work, not the body of work as a whole.

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My father, John Horejs, would be another example of working consistently, without necessarily having series.

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Yes, he does have florals, landscapes, desert scenes and sunsets, but I’m not sure that simply grouping work by subject matter can constitute a series. In my mind, there has to be something more intentional and specific to tie work into a series.

So, for example, if my father painted the same grove of trees in different seasons, I might consider that a series, whereas just having a variety of autumn scenes, feels too loose to be a series.

To a certain degree, this question of what constitutes a series is a bit subjective. I suppose that as the artist, if you call something a series and can point to what it is in the work that makes it series, it’s a series.

The Advantages of Series

Creating work in a series can help provide a framework for talking about and promoting your work. Telling the story about what inspired you to create a series, or what it is that ties all of the work together can be a great way to engage your potential buyers.

There are going to be moments in your career where you find inspiration or imagery that is particularly captivating, both to you and to your collectors. There are some images or compositions that transcend inspiration and become iconic. These images may deserve to be explored more than just once, and building a series around that concept gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the idea.

Series can also provide a marketing opportunity. A brochure or catalog of work in a series can help capture your prospective buyers’ imaginations.

By working in series, you can also find a source of ongoing inspiration. Often artists struggle with the question of what to create next. If you are working in a series, that question almost becomes moot, you just have to figure out how the next piece will fit into the series.

Are Series Important to Galleries?

Kirsten asks what galleries like to see in terms of series. This is a harder question to answer. As I said, there are many artists who don’t work in series and are extremely successful. While I can’t speak for other gallery owners, I can tell you that seeing work in a series is not a prerequisite for representation at Xanadu.

On the other hand, if you’ve created a compelling series, it may help you catch my attention, just as a series might help you catch the attention of buyers.

How Many Pieces Does it Take to Constitute a Series?

Another question I often hear in relation series is, “how many works do I have to have in order to constitute a series?”

Again, this question is subjective. I’ve seen series as small as three pieces, and others with dozens of closely related works.

I’ve seen artists who will create all of the pieces for a particular series in a brief timeframe, several months or a year, and then move on to other work and never add to the series again.

Dave Newman adds new work to his various series in an ongoing basis, over the course of many years.

In other words, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to working in series. My advice would be that if the idea of working in series seems intriguing and exciting to you, pursue it. If not, don’t sweat it.

Whether you are working in series or not, strive to create high quality, consistent and compelling artwork.

Do You Work in Series?

Do you create work in various series? How important are series to your creative strategy? What experience can you share about how working in series has helped you generate sales? What questions do you have about working in series? Share your comments, experiences and questions in the comments below.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and 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

11 Comments

  1. I do work in a series format, with several series being continually added to on a periodic basis, like Dave Newman. It may be two or three years before I add a new piece to a specific series, but I always have a new piece somewhere in the construction process for each of the series I have. Some of my various series include: Sound Waves, Abstract Textures, Twirling Leaves, Contaminated Water, and Aged Psychedelic. I actually have three new series that I have started two years ago but haven’t yet fully completed the initial pieces. Commission work overshadows my series work for galleries.

  2. I am working on a series now that ties into my general theme of birds in human spaces. I have always felt that birds are as curious about us as we are about them, so I pair a bird with a human-made object. I recently completed a commission that included the client’s grandmother’s sewing machine. Although the painting was done, I wasn’t ready to stop painting sewing machines. So I’ve started another and have thumbnails for several more. As for a following, one person is already commissioning a painting after seeing them. She reads my email newsletter, by the way, which tells me it’s important to be visible, be patient, and keep creating, so that when you create that series, all the pieces are in place for the money part to happen.

  3. I’m working on a series at this time. I’m two painting into it and not sure how many there will be. One is 4’x6’ and the second one is 6’x4’. So as you can imagine it takes some time to complete each one.

    In the past I’ve created other series with 4-5 paintings in each one. I try to name them so they kinda tell a story. The two that I have created so far in my new series are named “Strawberry Acid” and “Strawberry Acid / The Source” The next one will be entitled “Strawberry Acid / Euphoria”

    Not really sure how many there will be in this series, each one I do points me to the next one.

  4. I have always worked in series and I worry that may have been what held me back from really getting to know who I am as an artist. I am not sure if it was something that got programmed into me during college, but lately I have been trying to think beyond creating a “set” of things to hopefully discover new things. This blog post is very helpful in highlighting how consistency can be achieved in broader terms. Thank you very much for sharing real examples, especially your father’s work, which help me to visualize consistency in a different way.

  5. A number of years ago I created a series of multi-media work, incorporating metal with my usual medium of glass. I ended up creating 11 pieces. It was one of my most successful ventures – over the next couple years, I sold 10 of the 11, a couple times selling multiples to a single buyer, as well as creating two additional commission pieces to add to it.

  6. I have been working in series over time but it is not until it was pointed out to me that I realised how much and how many. A few years ago I was working on one and then another for a year and started to worry that people might think it weird doing same thing over and over but differently each time . Then I was visiting the National Gallery here in London one of my favourite haunts, and saw a Monet haystack on loan. This year gone there was a Monet Architecture exhibition there and so I got to see in real life instead of books some of his series. Several, Venice, Houses of Parliament, Rouen Cathedral for instance, it was astonishing to see them gathered all in a row! So now I do not fret and just carry on and have put a section on my new FASO website just for series pictures after learning more about artists who do series works. Another favourite, I was lucky to see here not so long ago; Georgia O’Keefe ; flowers, skyscrapers and then bones in New Mexico and then also did several paintings of Pedernal Mountain and its environs at Ghost Ranch perhaps following on from Cezannes’ example of painting Mont Victoire. Endless in a way. Standing on the shoulders of giants is inscribed on the side of a £2 coin in the U.K. Art is long life is short… P.S Jason thanks for putting me onto Miguels’ summit recently, it really got me going, getting a web site sorted at long last, getting on Instagram and learning more about moving forward. I would be very glad to hear any pointers you have .Cheers then.

  7. My mind is a bit wayward so I don’t always think about series vs. stand alone. But when I start work, possibilities for “side trips” in options to what I’m doing usually occur, and so a series idea is born.

    Mostly, my series works are like the musical form “Theme and Variations”. When I was able to reconstruct some very old geometries, those constructions are like my basic plan but the resulting images may not look anything like the plan or other images in the series, yet it’s there.

    I would mention two artists that did significant series paintings. Claude Monet in the late 1890s (Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, Seine, etc) and Josef Albers “Homage to the Square” which was his exhaustive color/culture study.

  8. This was a great day for me to read about series. I have a mixed media piece that was just accepted into a show and does not match anything else I’m working on. This morning I was stressing over how to build a series around it. In the end I decided to do stop struggling to match the theme and let myself do something different, using the same materials. In other words, to just be me and see what happens. It’s good to know I might still end up with a series…and, if not, it’s not the end of the world.

    Thanks for the guidance. I always look forward to your posts.

  9. I stumbled into a series concept when I decided on impulse to add a Raven into a painting I had thought was finished. The piece elicited tons of favorable reaction and someone suggested doing a series on that theme. Once in my head, I was astonished at how easily I could come up with additional ideas and I ended up painting 7 pieces of my Raven series. The first sale was to a couple who bought it as a gift for their daughter who was leaving home. The second sale was to someone else. Then the first couple bought four more, and after a few weeks they negotiated with the second buyer to buy the piece he had. They ended up with 6 of the 7 pieces in that series. I had never painted a series before and was surprised how focused it made me and how inspired I felt coming up with different ideas for the same theme. I just wish now that I could come up with an equally successful concept.

  10. I am beginning to work in a series in 2 different series within my abstracts, without even realizing it. I’ve begun to develope 2 different styles within my abstract painting, slowly dividing the paintings into their own individual “series”. My landscapes fall into occassional series of “seascapes”, or “minis”. Other than these groupings within my landscapes, I really don’t think there are any series there.

    After this last piece of abstract I finished I realized I was beginning to develope a series …or rather 2 sets of series. Thanks for this particular blog. It was quite informative.

  11. Storage? How does one cope with storing a series in development of say ten large paintings? I am working on a series of ten 5’x4’ paintings hopefully for a gallery to pick up.

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