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.


93942

112832

39890

Flags by Dave Newman

And here are some images from his Matchbook Chief series

7bb2b1d863e199c28760283f71165a52

128763

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.

Starving to Successful

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

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

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

35 Comments

  1. When I’m painting landscapes or seascapes from photos, and I find I’ve gotten some really good shots of similar scenes, in the same location and time of day, it will sometimes naturally turn into a series. So far I’ve sold them separately, and only pointed them out as a series when I post them on social media. This works better for me and my style of painting than intentionally setting out to paint a series.

  2. I’ve hyped groups of similar paintings as “bodies of work”. Perhaps that’s the wrong term to use and I should have called them “series”, but “bodies of work” sounded more engaging and intriguing.
    Those exhibits were very successful for me and I had loads of fun preparing these them.

  3. You made a good point and many thanks for the oetson asking the question.
    Since I have worked with different alternative processes and different papers that have been phased out, many do not understand what are alternative photo processes that are fone by hand and from analogue contact prints. The colours work with some images and not with others. I guess the galleries do not like this and it is hard to explain my images are not photoshopped. Consistency is the key…

    1. I often have to explain that my photos are not photoshopped. They are done through the lens, with traditional technique but incorporate movement. I have begun to show some in series to focus on the intentionality of the work. It opens the door to a discussion on form that comes from a positive place, ie. what I am trying to convey with the form rather than what it is not (photoshop). Sometimes it is hard to avoid the latter. My personal feeling, and it is personal, is that captured through the lens, the abstraction I offer flows through my response to the image, to the light, the colour, the contour that attracts me…it has an emotive source. Thanks so much for your comments!

  4. Some of my work has been done in series. So far, I’ve done 100 sacred symbols in watercolour, 2 weeds, 15 strange birds, the zodiac, creatures from folklore, and mythological landscapes. Two of those series are still in progress.

  5. I enjoy working in a series. My current series is “The Art of Wine & Spirits.” Working in a series, I believe, is a great way to push my artistic skills and visual message. It provides an added incentive, while forcing me to think a little more about why I paint.

  6. In Western Colorado we have a wide variety of subject matter to choose from … high country stands of black timber, open rolling meadows, rivers, lakes, high desert and red rock monoliths. I simply choose a location, which is frequently based on weather, and then create a painting in my usual trademark style. When I look at finished work hanging on my storage panels, I can easily put together a series of anything … rivers, meadows, deep woods, red rock monument scenes … or not. My gallery can go to my web page to see all my available work and choose a show to their liking … series … no series … mood … size. To me, the most important factor is developing your very own trademark style so when a collector sees one of your pieces, they know immediately it is your work.

  7. The leader of one of the first workshops I took on marketing art used the term “body of work” as necessary to begin showing to galleries. He described it very much as you’re describing it here, Jason. He suggested creating perhaps ten to twenty pieces that could be considered a “body of work” with the consistency of style and/or palette that would make your work identifiable. I went home and realized that “I ain’t got no body” so began my first series of mixed media paintings (coming out of my work in collage). Not only did I sell some of these, but I also found it gratifying and educational to learn what worked best for me, what I wanted to do more of, and what I could leave behind.

    In the process, I’ve moved away from mixed media/collage and now do larger acrylic paintings knowing that I’ve located my style in abstract expressionism with a focus on color, always color. And I’m selling the work, too.

    Thanks for another great post, Jason.

  8. I have found that working in series has helped me develop a consistent “body of work.” The more I do it, the more I enjoy focusing on making a series of paintings of the same subjects painted in the same style. Even with a more narrow focus, I find plenty of room for creativity.

  9. Thanks for a great article. I keep attempting to work in series, but I get distracted with other paintings I want to do. I tend to work on several paintings at once, so I have ongoing series that I keep adding to over time. Yet the whole body of work over many years is somewhat related.

  10. I have found that when intrigued a certain way to express something with a particular focus over a number of works (in similar sizes, colour palette or application for instance) can be a good focus for an artist. And yes even just three pieces may be enough to spur on another series or build on constancy of a working method. In these the handiwork of the artist becomes more and more evident, even across subjects and mediums (such as in Newmans work). For me consistency is being true to how and why I personally paint.

  11. I sometimes paint in series and will do several at a time and weeks or months later do some more with the same theme. I have been using my own photo transfers in them and depends on when I have new images I can use, such as bridges or other architectural features. Have done them with birds and trees as well.

  12. I love to get a series going. Working in a series is challenging. You have to explore all the various possibilities within a theme. Sometimes you have said everything you have to say in this series and it ends, but it may come back years later. I don’t usually plan a series but often I’ll finish a painting and immediately see more paintings with the same theme or basis. I’m an abstract painter so I don’t have a common subject in my series. A few years ago I was struggling to get my colors bright enough so I thought about my favorite baroque painter, Caravaggio and how his subjects emerge from a dark background. So I painted a number of canvases black. Then I started an abstract painting on each. My colors were bright again. (Then I discovered I needed cataract surgery.). My ability to see the brightness in my paintings returned after surgery but every once in a while I still start on a black canvas. Recently the circle, one of my favorite symbols, has returned and is now the focus of a new series. I have finished six so far and still have more in my head.

  13. I always work in series, whether in concept (Transcendental Songs) or theme/subject (Humanity or Nature). The installations are all theme based. This has just seemed right for my work so far.

  14. I have been advised by one of my mentors, CW Mundy, that working in a series gives your collectors a reason to buy another piece of your work. They may have a piece from your ‘dancer’ series and may want something from your ‘Indiana Farm’ series. It works for him for sure. I like working in a series because I love seeing a body of work of the same subject. I also like going with a theme. Just my personal way of working.

    1. Hi Susie, CW is not only a genius of a painter, he’s got a good business head on his shoulders. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him in person. I listened to a podcast where Eric Rhoads interviewed CW – he had lots of great advice.

  15. As an abstract painter, I select a background color which I add to the canvas and then pick my foreground colors which I then add. I then often paint two, three or four paintings using these same colors but with different combinations of colors and brush or palette knife strokes.

  16. Jason, Thank you for this article. I have found that I tend to work in series most of the time. I usually end up with 4-6 works in each series. I have sold at least one out of each of the series and eventually most of them. I find that having a series makes it easier to have a cohesive showing because the palettes are consistent although of color variety. It also keeps me focused on the subject thus not jumping around a lot. Remarks from you other autists are most helpful. Thank you. Lana L Nelson

  17. Thank you Jason for your articles! I guess I’d never really thought about my work in
    a “series” but I guess my landscapes, marshes and beach paintings could be a series as they are all taken from Bald Head Island where I live.

    My still lifes are easily identified as mine but can’t really consider those a series.

    This was very thought provoking and I love your articles because they do just that!

  18. I’m in the middle of my first series. Decided to paint twelve images of wild horses and was given permission by my favorite wildlife photographer to use his photos for reference. Though animals, especially horses, are always my subject of choice this project feels intentional and focused. It’s also helpful having a goal. I’ll be doing more series!

  19. I have produced many works in series, one series including over 1000 different images. Some day, people who have inherited some will want to collect others. So, it’s s good selling point for even the casual collector/investor.
    However , doing a large number isn’t necessesary. But a painter should always do a minimum of twelve. Why twelve? So they can be reproduced as a wall calendar.

  20. I love working in series. I have been calling them “collections”. Probably not 100% correct, but it sounds fun. Right now I am painting “The New Renaisance Collection”. so many variations on a theme, it is exciting to see what comes up next!
    Thank you for the useful information Jason. Always apprieciated.

  21. It will take years to complete the series I’ve embarked on. I got sidetracked on other subject matter but I will eventually paint every Texas river. I just completed the fourth, and Texas is blessed with an abundance of waterways. Such gaps in time won’t allow them to be displayed as a related group (two sold), but that wasn’t my goal in wanting to paint them in the first place.
    I will also paint the missions on the Missions Trail. I’ve painted one, but completed the five not as paintings, but as a collection of reproduction drawings … they’ve done very well. There is historical impact in seeing them together verses separately.
    Each of these are different, rivers or missions; they stand alone. That was another objective … repetition is something I cannot abide.

  22. Wow, lots of great comments here.
    Jason, I always get a lot from your blog posts – because the make me think.
    I’m one of those artists who is naturally multi-interested. When it comes to focusing on one style of subject matter, I find it difficult to do so, and I never expect that to change. It’s one of the reasons why I am no longer working with galleries.

    Lately, I’ve been learning to focus by working on what I call projects. When I design the scope of a project, I know I will work diligently on it for 6 month’s to a year. That way, I exhaust the possibilities within the parameters of that project.

    For example, I’m working on a series of paintings from Acadia National Park. It’s a place where I’ve visited and painted since 2004. In fact, I’ve sold many works of Acadia. I’ve applied for their artist-in-residence, but with the number of submissions (152), I’m sure not counting on getting picked. But that won’t stop me from pursing my project – because I don’t really need anyone’s permission to begin.

    My long-range plan is to produce a book or catalog of these paintings – with some writing about the geology and history of the park. I’ll hang onto the originals for now and market the heck out of this project until a lot of people know about it. If it gets enough traction, then I’ll find a way to sell the originals.
    If this plan works out, I’ll repeat the same project with another park that I love to paint…

  23. My abstract art has no series, but I have a mini-series going at the same time. It comes and goes in waves. I started it as my subversive flag series, but it’s more a family flag series dealing with immigration and respect for all countries.
    I’m still kind of searching for the best name for it and expect it to evoloe as the number of paintings grows. Keeping it simple with Flag Series is probably best.

  24. I have a few over-arching themes that direct my image-making and at least one has led to a “series”. it is on-going across decades. “The Harmonic Square” started as an inquiry into the old irrational ratios the Greeks systematized and used. I came across these in art school in “Dynamic Symmetry” by Jay Hambige. So there are a number of art pieces more or less attached to those constructions. The mediums are varied but the appearance of a dynamically divided square is a common thread.
    I do find that if i start out with a planned series idea or media related, it becomes constricted but that is probably just me.

  25. Thank you, Jason and fellow artists. I don’t consciously paint a series. What happens with me:. I paint various shapes, brighter colors, have mentally the need to create from inner soul. Then I paint landscapes, low key, low energy, quietness. All with oils and palette knife execute these images, so I can see that groupings are compatible and a series possible.

  26. I put my series to a minimum of 10 paintings. Why ten? You can have a small show and this gives you some credence as a professional. Ten is also the start of more exploration for me. The impetus to push the work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *