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.

2015-11-16 09_08_08-John Horejs _ Xanadu Gallery Artist

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

30 Comments

  1. Hi there, My husband and I create wood sculpture.
    Recently, we began a series of natural Eagles. We now have 6 in progress. My husband is working out various ways to group and carve the feathers, while I am trying various ways to colorize them.
    Last week, I got a bit concerned, that we had too many Eagles, and might loose sales by being too focused on eagles.
    (Then I looked around, and realized we have a large body of work, so i chilled)
    I also thought of Andy Worhal and his many many series’ of portraits and soup cans. and again i chilled.
    And now your article. thank you.
    I’m So chill now, i can go out without a coat on.
    (its a balmy 24 degrees F, today, here in Southern Canada)
    thanks,
    Laurie

  2. I do sometimes work in series and I have several in progress at the moment (local landscapes, mythological creatures, creatures of folklore, animal spirits). I previously did one called strange birds and before that, I did one of 100 sacred symbols. I won’t be doing a series of 100 again though 😀

  3. I love working in series. For the past 2 years I have painted portraits and impressions of people playing music. This year I am expanding my figures into other creative passions, such as dancers, sculptors, artisans. I like to plan and promote a solo show each year, so that gives me a deadline and focus for my work. With each painting I try to dig a little deeper to tap into the emotion and movement of the subject, as well as reach further into my own inner voice and power. I also try a slightly different approach with each one in order to stay fresh and grow as an artist.

  4. After years of creating stand alone paintings, I’ve recently decided to give painting in various series a try. My first is exploring models under various colored lights, after which I plan to do a series of series based on travel, with a particular country/area as the theme. I don’t know if it will increase my marketability, but I have found that I’m more excited about creating around a theme than I have been in the past working one painting at a time. It feels like I have a direction and it helps me to focus. Plus, I enjoy the challenge of persevering through the long term commitment of creating a couple of dozen works along a common thread as opposed to working “one and done.”

  5. When an artist works in a series, it is far easier for the gallery to market them. The subject may vary, however there may be an over riding element which is consistent such as a play with color or technique, etc. The public likes to see that an artist is working in a direction. It shows integrity. At times the public will return looking for a companion piece by the same artist, or because they liked something about his or her work, and were hoping to find something similar to it. One point I need to stress about working in a series is to be true to your work. I will see artists who will make a sale and then think to themselves that since that one sold, I should paint another one like it. They may continue along that line for quite a while. Their heart is solely focused on making a sale and not really about growing as an artist. Those artists are production artists and do not really endure in the long run. Those that do have a long run at it, are never really taken serious over time. The artist Willem de Kooning said that you have to keep exploring. He added that you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. If you are working in a series, be sure you – yourself understand why.

  6. Working in a series makes sense to me. I paint my local landscape and currently am focused on Mangrove Forests. Every time I’m out plein-air painting there’s something new to see! I may go to the same area everyday and find the light is different or the tide is different, thus creating new compositions of the same view. It just doesn’t occur to me to only create one painting from one day in the mangroves. Too many ideas present themselves to me, so I create a series. During the creation of one series, my mind drifts toward what I’ll do for the next series. I may change the palette, or include wildlife next time, or make them all small, or large, or vertical, or something that separates them and defines the new series.

  7. Working in a series may help to sell your work. As a person may be looking to fill a room or wall with art and having a companion piece available for purchase may make it easier for them to decide to choose your work over someone else’s. Also, you may therefore end up selling 2 or 3 pieces instead of one. So far I haven’t worked in a series. But have noticed that fellow artist that do, tend to sell more. I think I’ll try it!

  8. From a creative point of view, working in a series, where certain parameters remain consistent, allows me to focus on tackling the problems that I set up for myself — the problems that compel me to paint to begin with. I’ll settle on a size, a medium, a subject, etc. and then explore various solutions without the distraction of infinite variables. As an example, how do you take a bird within a landscape which are both inherently horizontal subject matter, and put them into an extremely vertical format? That’s a compositional challenge of course but then there are all the pure painterly considerations beyond that. I find that putting limitations on a body of work makes it easier for me to enter and sustain. As long as my work is honest and interesting to me, the marketing and sales seem to take care of themselves, for exactly the reasons that Jason outlined.

  9. I have been working on a series of Jellyfish recently. My work is primarily watercolor on Yupo paper. This focus on Jellyfish began with a show theme, “Ocean Devotion”, which was a fundraiser for the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA.

    With a Biology background my paintings are typically focused on aspects of life. I started painting Jellies because of their aesthetic qualities and the fact that they are well suited for watercolor on Yupo. However, in the process of painting the series I dove deeper into the subject matter and learned more about these creatures and how their populations have been effected by the environment.

    I think working in a series helps to develop skills and a better understanding of the subject an artist is attempting to portray in their work.

  10. I am a hot glass sculptor. Over the past 5 years I have created 2 series: “Childhood” with vignettes of children celebrating the innocence of youth followed by “Mama’s Garden” consisting of life-sized flameworked glass flowers. I really enjoyed exploring these two series. Mama’s Garden has been far more successful commercially and has led to aquiring several collectors. That tells me that having a series may be helpful when it comes to sales, but it’s more important that the series appeals to my customers.

  11. I have more than one series and they have been on-going for most of my life after school. I tend to use the same “surname” for one, the other not so much. Sometimes a piece will easily fit into both series. I usually don’t make a choice in that case. There are also stand alones that have happened along the way.
    Usually when I’m working on a piece, alternatives and options cross my mind. When I explore those options, there might be some related works but not necessarily a series.

  12. An interesting article. I have often thought about doing my art in series, or editions. Particularly because my art (fractals) is done digitally and is printed much like photography. However, something I began doing out of necessity, and now by choice as part of the art, is unique framing. I look for and refurbish interesting frames and create a piece printed specifically for that frame (and mat). I have the fractal printed to my specified size, then do the rest of the framing myself. It lends for a much more interesting piece and all of my works are then “one-of-a-kind” even though they’re digital. In over ten years, I’ve never repeated a piece. I may use the same image, but it’s never framed or matted the same. My work overall has a cohesive look so it seems to work. I wondered if anyone else out there does the same?

  13. Series never really worked for me, until recently. I did a 3 piece because specifically asked by a gallery, but didn’t quite enjoy that way. I work on each painting independently from the others while keeping my style and traits in it. They are their own individual worlds. I made several versions of a drawing/same theme for multiple clients, and they were perfectly aware that this piece was not exactly unique, however were fine with it. Putting those drawings together would not have made sense at any point, as they are the same thing basically, therefore it is not a series, and I would call it duplicates (non-identical).
    I am now working on an oil painting that utilizes the same subject as some other works but I would not call it series either as the works are different mediums and scales.

  14. Yes, if what I am doing goes in that direction. I had a show in a DuPont circle Gallery in Washington DC, titled Passing Impressions. 12 peonies flowers drawn in graphite. From a tiny bud to full bloom, to weeping. I couldn’t help continue my detailed drawings of this beautiful flower, and it went on and on. I received a positive Washington Post review from Mark Jenkins in 2016, Flora and Fauna. Should still be under Lynn Mocarski Maurer on the web, scroll down into the article to see one of my 42 x 42 inch drawings. Be true to yourself as and artist and either a series happens as you find interest in your subject or it doesn’t.

  15. Thanks for your insightful comments on presenting a series. It is a timely subject for me as I completed a small painting 12 X 12 and it sold right away before I could even do another in the series I had planned. After reading your article and the other Artist comments, I feel I should still go ahead with three or four more as I had planned. Thanks again for the article.

  16. I almost always work in series I think it helps me as an artist for all the reasons you stated. I often tell young artists the same thing when they say “I don’t know what to paint” or “I don’t have an ideas”…..

  17. So I have to have “one” and only “one” style. I love to explore, try new directions and other styles……How is that being an Artist. I thought being an Artist gave me the freedom to create my art ,not be pigeon holed into one style………I followed my dream so I could allow my creative side to show.

  18. I became an Artist to be creative not to be pigeon holed into one style. I don’t understand why Galleries think the can dictate an Artist work. As an Artist I like to try new styles. Doing the same thing forever is no diffrent than working in a factory or on an assembly line……Please explain this to me.

  19. Thanks for another great blog, Jason. I began working in series about ten years ago after learning from California artist Mike Bailey how incredibly helpful it is in developing oneself as an artist. It is perhaps the single best learning tool I have ever found. It allows me to dig deeper, take my art farther, and make my art more personal than painting a single image and moving on possibly can.
    The better my art connects with my heart, the more it appeals to others, so it wins on the sales front, too, but it’s way more important to keep learning about myself through my art then it is to worry about sales. If your heart shows up in your work, the sales follow.

  20. I first started working in series as a way to increase my output. My technique of painting with tiny snips of paper is a time-consuming one. If I have a concept for several related pieces, I’m able to do at least part of the preparation for all of them at once. One unexpected benefit I found is that I feel I have more freedom, not less, when I work in series as long as I leave the size of the the series open-ended. I’m able to explore more facets of a particular idea, and I put less pressure on myself to get it right in any particular instance.The second benefit is that my series work has proven to sell very well. My work can be difficult to characterize; perhaps seeing a number of related pieces at once helps to people to get comfortable enough with it to buy rather than just admiring and moving on.

  21. Thanks for your create blog on paintings in series. It was good to read the experiences of the other artists in this subject. In my initial phase of artistic exploration I started to painting on isolated matters or subject. From the last 4 years I have been painting in a series related to a specific theme or issue I am concern with. My paintings are more abstract expressionism style with a lot of texture. In the “Four Seasons from Within Series” I was able to create 36 pieces related to this theme. In the “Struggle of Peace Series” I was able to create 15 pieces. These two series together, a total of 51 pieces, were exhibited at Goldman Art Gallery, at Bender JCC of Great Washington in Rockville, MD from May – July 2018. You can ask, “How these two series are related? They are related, because, if we stop to think about all the Struggles of Peace in the world and in our lives, they happened during the Four Seasons of the Year. The display of the Struggles of the Peace paintings in the exhibition were done between the Four Seasons from Within Series. This kind of display created an intense impact on the visitors of the show. The exhibition was very successful. The Director of the Gallery decided to extend the exhibition until August 2019. I was able to sell during the exhibition and after that also. Now I am starting another series with a specific theme I want to explore.

  22. I always work in a series because one idea leads to another and I follow those ideas to the end. However, the subject of my series always changes. No matter where I go there I am. So series’ subjects change but the style remains identifiable. I always keep one step ahead of those who imitate my paintings.

    Some people express a preference for one series over another but that’s OK. I keep on moving forward.

  23. I’m a photographer, painter and mixed media artist so, I often look at connecting these 3 media into a series.
    When I paint abstractly (always), every painting is new to me. I don’t want to paint the same thing again so, how do I create a series out of that?

  24. Bah. I paint what I paint. From my fish that I paint to the birds and the new paintings of clouds u can see that the same artist painted them. Today Im painting a vulture and I am also paint a Star Trek cloud over a city. Some things just need to be painted. I have consistency in that my paintings look like the same artist painted them. My drawings match with my paintings because they look like the same artist created them.

  25. After painting professionally for 45+ years and losing my beloved oil medium and paints due to an overexposure and collapse, I began to paint in acrylic and was running every direction not knowing who I would be as a painter. I could never have dreamed that I would be in this position, it was what it was. When I took a trip to Spain that inspired a series of work, it was then that I found my lane in which to paint and build on. This series has given me focus and I am excited knowing that the sky is the limit. I was determined not to just continue to paint as always but to explore the possibilities and not miss what may be waiting to arrive. I do chase a few rabbits here and there but I’m drawn back to the series to build a signature way of painting in acrylics. Vie Dunn-Harr

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