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.

2015-11-16 09_11_00-Guilloume _ Xanadu Gallery Artist

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 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

34 Comments

  1. Now you’re making me think Jason. Do I work in series, or do I work in categories? I paint parrots for example, or different kinds of palms, or southwest florals, or other categories, but I don’t paint the same thing in possibly a different color combination, or paint something to make it look close to another piece of my work. Interesting!

  2. I sometimes talk of threads that run through my work and it’s more obvious as time goes by. There are themes that I return to and series that may be produced with a common format, particularly in the industrial landscapes I draw to commission.
    Regards,
    Natalya Critchley

  3. I almost always work in a series. I start exploring an idea and try to envision it from multiple aspects. It’s really fun for me to see an exhibition of a whole series where each painting is like another piece of the puzzle

  4. I do indeed work in series. I might paint a group of hawks or a all the species of a certain genus. When I find an appealing animal or bird, it’s nice to focus on all the special attributes of each species. Sometimes I focus on the differences of the male and female or the young and the adult colors of a bird.
    It’s just a personal preference.

  5. I do think in terms of series, partly as a way of organizing and motivating my work, but mostly because I find that each piece is a springboard to the next part of the story. And also, if truth be told, sometimes it takes more than one try to get where I wanted to go…

  6. I call them “suites”. A series of paintings tied to a central theme. I like doing them because I love doing research into the theme. I have done ‘The Times of the Day’, ‘The Precious Stones’ , and the Neopolitan Suite which consisted of female figures representing chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I have others planned for the future and they always intrigue potential customers because of the interesting stories behind their creation.

  7. Dear Jason,
    As always, your insights are both inspiring and motivating (for me). Although I am not yet to that place (galleries and such), I am ALWAYS inspired to keep working on my art, especially after reading your fine offerings. The subject of “series” is particularly helpful, given that I, too, have moments of “what do I do NOW?!”. After reading this article, I feel a great sense of excitement to continue with the work I’m currently doing. I can actually SEE this subject matter in a series. EXCELLENT! Thank you, again, for your helpful words. One day, not too far in the future, I shall come knocking on your (gallery) door to introduce myself and share my works. Til then, I am profoundly grateful.

  8. To date, I’d say that I’ve created multiple series. Series from a red, gray, black figurative (5); green, blue, white figurative (5). Abstract structural study of Coupeville doc in Washington, a variety of scenery in series of 3. A series of 14 titled Beauty Out of Ashes where I just kept painting these beautiful colorful women. A series of six abstracts in which I used my personal symbols created just for that purpose.

    Lately, however, I’ve given up on series in favor of painting what I love; thinking perhaps that alone is sufficient.

  9. I love this topic! I really enjoy working in series. I just finished a series of portraits and will probably add my self portrait this year. I just am beginning s series of landscapes related to a Robert Frost poem. I am also branching each of my abstract expressionist works into its own series. I love to research and often need more than just one painting to truly explore an idea. I move easily from representation to abstraction so I believe that over time my work will be cohesive . Tied together not by style but by medium and shared concepts.

  10. I often paint in a series. Every two or three years I create a series called THE 150 CHALLENGE SHOW. I pick a subject or genre to take me out of my comfort zone and create 150 paintings in 150 days. I set up a blog for people to watch as they are created and there is s big show at the end when I finish the last painting. It is always s Challenge!
    2017 will be a series of 8×8 and 8×10 figures and nudes called “FACES AND PLACES.” Since I don’t normally paint nudes, I’m hoping there will be lots in interest!

  11. I tend to create small ‘stints’ of work that typically consist of 10-15 pieces. Usually by the time I’ve made it through to that number I can’t help but to be inspired to take a different direction and another series begins. Each of my series are related in some manner—almost always by way of the theory behind them and sometimes through the technical aspects of the materials. I initially expect to return to them but as more time goes by, the more I believe I may have abandoned them and might only refer to them to inspire new ideas.

  12. I occasionally work in series if I love what I’m creating and want to explore it more. My paintings are fairly small so I always like to at least do companion pieces or even diptychs. It gives the collector the option of arranging the paintings to suit the space.

  13. Painting in series has been running through my mind for a couple of years now. And it has become a goal to do more of. So I certainly appreciate this!
    White Buffalo Paintings -by- Gayla Hollis

  14. YEs, I too think this is a great idea. I am going to try to do more in the way of this. I paint from images now instead of on site, so it makes my resource pictures have more applications. I like that I am not having to re-invent the wheel with each new painting and can add figures or not and totally change the mood.

    THe problem is I a impetuous and sometimes go off on other directions. SO, discipline,discipline, discipline. THanks for the reminder.

  15. I really like giving myself assignments and work in series all the time, I think that it gives you a chance to explore and idea or subject matter. BTW with the examples of your dad’s work my favorite and the least like the others (in my eyes) is The Dut, maybe because it was a commission…..

  16. Hi Jason. Thank you for this article.
    Most of my work is done in series. I started a series called The Trento Mfg Co. back in 2001 which I’ve added to over the years. It’s an imaginary company for which poster-like paintings are made as advertisements for different products of the company. In each painting I give the product a name which is a variation and play on the word Trento, so all the works are related by their names as well as style. I painted 10 new pieces for the series at the end of 2015 and had a private showing of them for my collectors. The series adds to the interest in my work and gets the viewers to wonder “What’s next?”.

  17. Working in series in new for me and I’m really loving it. Last year I worked the same process idea many times, and in so doing, inadvertently created some series, which indeed gave me more to talk about with people. Currently I’m working on a new series which is exciting because it’s the first time the idea has come to me AS a series. This one has a chronological energy to it, and I’ve been compelled to produce new pieces quickly as the ideas show up (interestingly, they’re chronological in the story they make up but have showed up in random order). I’m currently at eight pieces for this series, and only one of them is decidedly finished, so I’m working alternately on the other seven, while open to the idea that more may well show up! This has been amazing, truly feeling like an energy coming “through” me rather than “from” me. I’m going along for the ride! Really looking forward to when the series is finished, and laying out the story on the walls around my studio in a way that can help me “tell it”.

  18. I have found working in a series gives me a broader understanding of what ever the subject happens to be. I have had several ongoing series for the last 15 years it is both fun and challenging and I’m starting a new one as of this week…

  19. The thing about a series that works for me is having the next painting decided upon. If I can get interested in a subject and explore it a dozen times I produce more work.

  20. I thought I could never find a direction to paint a series. Then, in a conversation with a very successful California artist, all of a sudden he stopped me in conversation and said “That’s it!”. He helped me work through a block and I clearly saw what it is that drives my art. I took a year and a half off from submitting and selling to focus on the study of this series. It opened my eyes to the theme. I am a slow painter but having a theme gives me direction in where the next piece will go. Now I can see how these almost 20 pieces can grow into a more expanded series of where I am now. Very exciting when you realize that current of direction.

  21. I do some of my work in series, but not all. Sometimes i need to create something without boundaries. Right now, I have three series going and I just finished my strange birds series yesterday.

  22. Thank you for this post! It’s a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately & want to implement in my work this year. I think it would help me personally to be more prolific and keep the ball rolling in a sense. I would want to work on many at a time though….not to be an “assembly line” artist but because OF keeping the ball rolling (keeping the momentum up). I also think this helps with technical things of the process….paint drying or not and having something else to move quickly to and in & out of, or if your using same colors then you can more easily make many come together cohesively while you already have the same paint out- or using paint that could possible go to waste otherwise. I think also if I’m not in the right mindset to tackle “that” painting then I can look a short distance away and KEEP MOVING! I think having multiples that go together to work on (at the same time, for me) would also keep your mindset from shifting as much when you’re working on things that are similar instead of many different types (Stay in the flow better is what I mean). I know for me, if I see a series that I’m interested in, of another artist…sometimes I like the idea behind it but one may call to be more than others in the series. If they would have only done one then I wouldn’t have had the choice (it opens things up for the collector, I would think) and also gives more opportunity to those that love many or all in a series, to collect multiples . I don’t know if this all makes sense, but that’s my “two cents” on it!

  23. Always love your posts Jason, not only for your insights and inspiration but for all the different creative souls sharing their ways of approaching the subject.

    I have thre bodies of works going on at the same time.
    My semi abstract landscapes are not exactly the same but have in common a high horizon theme.
    Then my Raven series is whimsical and very popular, specially the Dumpers’ paintings.
    This year I started the colourful and funky animals and has been a blast.
    One of my galleries requested farm animals, now the other two want some also.
    I am very fortunate my galleries are open minded.

    I used to do quite a bit of abstracts, mainly commissions, but not anymore.

    Some galleries did not accept me saying I am all over the place. They would like me to paint same, same subject day in and day out till I die.
    Some like one of my series very much…but …too bad I do other type of work…
    That would be very boring to me.

  24. Thanks Jason,
    I am doing a series, but was not sure to repeat the images of certain compositions in a little different way and was a bit hesitant and half minded to tie the series in a way I wanted. This article is timely and helps to clear my doubts just like Kirsten Reed. As always it is perfect and right on time for me !

  25. Jason, as an emerging artist I want to thank you for your blogs.
    They are so helpful. I appreciate your generosity with the art
    community. Well wishes, D Derek

  26. I have been working in a themed series for years now. I paint, sculpt, and do graphic pieces – varied in asymmetrical and symmetrical forms all on the same theme. It is natural for me do work in series because I love to see how far I can take an individual idea.

  27. Yes. By painting in a series, the work develops and gets better. I like the challenge of starting a new series but it is in the evolution of a series where things gell. Later, I can weed out my series so that only the best are seen.

  28. I started a series two months ago to see if I would like working that way because I came across an artist who works ONLY in series. I liked what she had to say about going into subjects in depth and looking at them from all sorts of perspectives, so I decided to try it. It has really helped me be more productive and to focus on a set of images that I really can explore in more depth. I was afraid I would not be able to do 10 paintings in this series (a number I chose), but I’m halfway through with no problems so far. I really like working this way and have already made notes about other series.

  29. I almost always create series works. Some sets are fewer than ten pieces and one series includes over 1,500 paintings!
    There are many advantages to this, especially if the unifying factor is a theme rather than variations on a repeated of nearly identical image (the exact same cat in different colors for example):
    1. If you are a new or emerging artist this is a great way to establish yourself quickly
    2. If you produce 12 paintings around a single theme you can reproduce them for sale as a calendar
    3. If you create a large number within a theme, something that can be sold inexpendively at art festivals and do forth, in a few years they will become ‘collectibles’ as prople who have a few will seek to acquire more. As years go by this will increase, the price of them will go up and will in turn drive up the value of your newer work, and your newer work will increase the value of the earlier work.

  30. Getting an idea and running with it has led me to doing series but after the fact. My original series of toasters from recycled materials was dictated by the abundance of cheap material I could use. But no one really wanted an objet d’art that was a mundane toaster. So I switched to doing paintings of toasters, initially to demonstrate to my students a Segway from modulation drawing to painting on black canvas. Then the coin dropped as they say and toasters and vintage coffee pots etc where surface reflections are the real challenge became my next vein. I like the vein analogy… kinda like mining gold. Especially when they sell. Thanks, Jason. We are on the same wavelength often.

  31. I like to work in a series because you may use the same palette, changing from canvas to canvas as one is waiting to dry. You also are in the mood of what you are working on, so continuing to do more than one is a no brainer for me. Right now I am working on Arizona sunsets. I have them over the mountains with cactus or palm trees, or nothing at all. I am obsessed with the skies, cloud formation, colors, etc. I will continue working on sunsets until my mind focuses on something else. I never know how many will be in any given series.

  32. I am a photographer, and I have a question about my work. I don’t know if you would consider it a series. I have had the same photo on canvas and paper, but lately I have been putting my photos on fabric and metal. I make messenger bags with the photos on fabric. Does the same photo on different mediums constitute a series?

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