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?
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.
And here are some images from his Matchbook Chief series
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.
My father, John Horejs, would be another example of working consistently without necessarily having series.
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.
I find that working in a series focuses my attention on concepts that may be a bit amorphus, such as man’s symbols and their importance throughout various cultures.
It also allows me to dig deeper into what I am exploring whether it be design, value, color or a specific subject.
Specifically just what do you mean by consistency?
Most of my paintings have a pretty detailed narrative centering around the culture clash between the indigenous Comanche tribe and the invading Texas settlers and are painted on hundred year old, hand written deed documents, glued to canvas, which conveyed lands once controlled by the Comanches, so in a sense, the whole genre of my work is a series. But a couple of years ago, I completed a painting, which sold immediately, that had such a compelling story to me that I couldn’t seem to get it out of my mind. It was called “Cry of the Prairie Flower” and depicted the recapture of white Comanche captive, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Chief Quanah Parker and her baby whose name was Prairie Flower. I decided that I had more to say and more ways to tell the same “story”. So I started a series, varying size, format, composition and color palette, but the story and the subject are the same. Each painting has the same title but adds #2, #3, etc. I have greatly enjoyed addressing this in a variety of ways. I live a few hours from the actual site of the incident and am planning a trip to walk the ground. I also plan to gather some soil from the location and grind it into pigment and incorporate it into the paintings in this series. I have found that this series, which is a mixture of history, experience and relic embedded in the work, have captivated my viewers and collectors and created an ongoing interest.
I have painted several series and find that it gives a defined direction to what you are painting; that being said, it doesn’t mean that I sold more work. I think it just depends on what the buyer likes and what draws them to a particular piece of art. Now that I’m working abstract where historically I painted realism, I find it different trying to paint a series or group because I’m not painting a certain thing or scene necessarily but a feeling or movement or interpretation and that’s not as easy to replicate from piece to piece. Again, it will always be what the buyer is drawn to.
It is wise for an artist to consider the business end of being an artist, as well as the creative side. Working in a consistent, recognizable style will generate a greater chance of success. It is easier for a gallery to market an artist working in a series, however the artist does not need to be locked into that series forever. The artist Dekooning once said that an artist can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. You need to be open to explore and grow.
You may find success in painting, one particular subject, in one particular manner, however don’t allow yourself to become a formula artist who is simply producing the same work over and over again to make a buck. There is a way to adjust your work, while at the same time keep it identifiably your own. Generally the more your name and reputation grows, the more latitude you have. If one creative avenue is not working for you, and your heart is not in it, then don’t feel tied to it.
I can find working in a series to be both boring and tedious with my work. Gourds are a unique canvas in and of themselves as each is different from the last in shape, color, and size. Then I decorate them with distinct designs. So, I do have a recurring theme of sustaining an art form of the islands and their people, and that is represented in my work. Multiple designs say in various hues might be a possibility or even three different octopi, so I’ll have to consider that. This is great advice going forward…
I just finished piece number 13 in a series I’ve been working on for a while now, called The Bridge Series.
In it, I explore the symbolic and spiritual meaning of bridges, and I find that this really makes people react to my art in a positive way. I get to hear all kinds of personal stories from people who saw the paintings and want to share what it makes them feel/think of/remember.
I also sold several paintings from the series to several different countries, so it seems to be a winning concept.
Before this series, I worked on another series, where every painting was inspired by a dream of mine. This was also something that people seemed to like, since dreams is a subject that everyone can relate to.
Also, like you said, it’s nice to not have to come up with a new subject matter every time I start a new painting.
Would a color family work as a series as opposed to specific subject matter?
I like working in a series of three. Right now for example I’m working on large 36×36 hydrangea It has been received with great success. If my audience knows three is the number, I don’t feel pigeon holed to keep painting a series I’ve grown bored with. And if I’m loving the series it’s fun to keep going a little longer in different sizes and perspectives.
Yes, I do work in series, I like to buy several canvases as a batch and then work on them as a series, the same with my paper-based works.
I work in broad ideas so a series of images seems a natural process. I’m at a point where I am working with a few “big ideas” which are presented in various guises. I’m currently engaged in a very large project that utilizes a couple of on-going series. It will be interesting to see where this production goes.
I’d like to hope work in series is a selling point, but recognize also that all my work has to be strong on its own individual merits as well as adding to a series.
I can’t remember when this blog first crossed my path, but it was interesting to re-read it and find my comment.
An update. The “very large project” has grown legs as well as width, depth, and breadth. The primary big idea creating the platform for the project is “visual Music”. My intent was to render a specific piece of improvised music, visually. The piece I chose was an organ improvisation from Notre Dame Cathedral.
The distillation of the intent is “See the Music, Hear the Colors, Feel the Space.”
So many media possibilities have presented themselves and my way of thinking about music and art has changed.
The eventual project will comprise about 2 dozen panels which are untied by the specific piece of music I’ve chosen. the project is titled “Bolero de Cochereau” and is in production.
This will be the most involved co-ordinated image making I have every attempted, the last being to weave 18 wall hangings of J S Bach’s “Art of Fugue” in 1985.
Series production has remained a natural process for me.
This is an incredibly complicated undertakings and I wish you great success with it – I’ve seen lots of attempts at these cross-media or cross-art interpretations, but very few work – though the ones that do are truly spectacular. Its very difficult to maintain a relation between two distinct arts that is actually significant, but yet not “too literal” – it’s a very fine path to walk, and I hope you succeed in it – where and when is this project taking place? It certainly sounds like something many of us interacting with this blog might want to see/hear/experience!! [and the fact that the musical piece is Bolero, is especially interesting to me because I love the work and it’s one of my favorite pieces of music]
I like to work in series as it frames my imagination and makes me focus. The series is like a framework for me that help me explore more possibilities, and channel my imagination. Needless to say, the idea/object must be of high interest to me intellectually and emotionally to inspire me.
I hadn’t really thought of my work as a series but rather as very consistent. However there are certain scenes and horses I’ll do again because I’m really taken with the subject or the scene and want to try to develop it a little differently but still within the bounds of a series.
Although when my profs suggested years ago I did a big eye roll, I now enjoy the focus of doing that. I generally go on photo shoots, collect collage materials and brainstorm from words to small sketches. Then work up pieces from there. Do I sell more art? I’m not convinced that I do. But I enjoy it more, and I think it shows in the work.
Jason, I’ve often contemplated painting in a series. Several years ago, I developed some designs and did some paintings using those. They are more contemporary than my usual style. That said, I quickly sold the contemporary works, and wondered if I would enjoy doing more. Your blog is making me revisit those ideas.
My question is this – I often have works that are an even tighter version of a series, in that they are actually different versions of the exact same initial image all rendered differently (see 1st 3 images presented below Bubbling
Up 1j10m, 1j10L, & 1j10k- ) which to me have different feelings. Will this be seen as too repetitive to show to a prospective collector and/or gallery owner, and will it cause someone to think “he must does the same thing over and over, and presents it as different works, when they are just differently colored repetitions of the same work” To me they are different works, and have different feelings, but this may be putting to fine a distinction on what would be different but related works. These works are also part of a bigger series – “Bubbling Up” series – which includes related works but clearly different images such as the following two works below – Bubbling Up 1j10e2 an 1j10b
Do you think it is detrimental to show the set of different versions of the same initial image? I know of two very famous artists who have multiple variations of the same exact image, Van Gogh’s 27 versions of the same image in his Haystacks series, where he literally painted the exact same scene in these 27 versions; and Andy Warhols many multiple versions of both his Elizabeth Taylor series and his Marylin series – but are these different versions of the same image only “acceptable” because both artists are super extremely famous, so it is acceptable, because everything they ever did is considered great and important, or is this really an acceptable thing for lesser known artists to do & show too?
3 versions of the same exact initial image – Bubbling Up 1j10m, 1j10L, 1j10k
2 other related images in the Bubbling Up series
I have four series that are ongoing. It helps simply because I get bored easily doing just one series while enjoying the freedom to explore different subjects. This way I don’t feel stagnant but I do try to keep them consistent so that viewers will recognize my work no matter what the subject is. That seems to be working from what people have told me. My biggest concern is what is needed for a launch of a series, like number of pieces and can it be open-ended (Yay!). Thanks for the insights, it really does clarify a lot.
I like the idea of a series based on all you generously advise, though I would add in a note of caution – I won’t name the artist but I know of one who devoted a large number of months including weekends and evenings, invested time and mediums, working on a series which sadly didn’t generate any sales, despite this artist having consistent sales and waiting lists for originals.
If I were to work on a series I would perhaps work on them over time in between other work, and either wait until I launched them together as a series, or release as they’re finished but add to in time, making it clear to potential collectors that more will be added over time – maybe an annual or seasonal release too.
I very much like to work in series for various reasons.
Subject matter varies and as I paint variably too, I like to group certain kinds of work, therefore a series. I don’t necessarily put a timeframe on when to do them, but rather go in and out of a series. In other words, they would be ongoing in a way.
For instance, at the moment I am working on some Abstract Expressionism that was inspired from the Covid-19 lockdown and it’s mental effect. Indeed, the subject matter is relative to everyday wellbeing, which still counts. I like doing this body of work for my own sake as well as it helps to extrapolate myself from other rigid painting.
Having said this, I am always able to return to the other kind of painting I employ when I need to. However, the Abstract Expressionism is my release and it will be an ongoing series, which will develop by time.