Crafting Professional Emails for Better Art Business Communication

As an artist in the digital age, chances are you have to write emails on a regular basis.

You might have to use email to approach galleries, maintain current gallery relationships, touch base with collectors, or connect with other artists. Because you write so many emails, it can be easy to type out something quickly and send it off without taking the time to make sure you are communicating well and presenting yourself professionally.

It might not seem important, but if you are running your own art business, communicating professionally is key for having positive relationships. If you’ve ever had to work with someone who wasn’t good at communicating, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. Unprofessional emails can make you appear flaky, apathetic, or even rude, and that is not the reputation you want to have in the eyes of people with whom you are working or to whom you are trying to sell art.

The key to writing professional emails is to take your time to make sure you say exactly what you want to say as clearly as possible, but there are some other specific steps you can follow to craft better emails.

Come up with a good subject line.

The subject line you use should be unique and get the attention of the person you are emailing, but also make sure it is professional, polite, and appropriate for the situation. You don’t need to write a sensational headline to get someone to open your email, and it’s important to be honest about your purpose in writing it.

Use a friendly but professional greeting.

Typically, with the kinds of emails you’ll be sending, you’ll be able to use a friendly greeting like “hello,” “hi,” “good morning,” etc. However, make sure to think about your audience when you are writing a greeting, and if your audience requires a more formal greeting like “dear,” adjust accordingly.

Keep it short and to the point.

If you want your email to be read in full and not skimmed over, keep it as short as possible. Focus on only one or two topics in the email, and eliminate any unnecessary details. I would recommend keeping most emails less than 5 paragraphs long with 1-3 sentences per paragraph.

The more concise, the better. If you can get your point across quickly, it will be much easier for the person on the receiving end to read the email and respond.

Watch your tone.

Because body language and inflection aren’t present in emails, it can be easy for your tone to be misinterpreted as demanding or rude. To avoid uncomfortable misunderstandings, be careful with your word choice and sentence structure. Avoid terse sentences. Don’t write questions that sound like they are coming from an interrogation room. Use “please,” “thank you,” and other polite phrases graciously.

And certainly don’t write things that are actually meant to be rude or passive aggressive. Most problems can be solved through polite questions and discussions.

Use an appropriate sign off.

Leave the reader with a good impression of you by closing your email professionally. In some cases, it might make sense to close with a “thank you,” but when it doesn’t, use a sign off like “warmest regards” that is friendly but not too personal.

Don’t use emoticons.

Punctuating your message with smiley faces might be okay for emails to close friends and family, but emoticons don’t belong in professional emails. Leave them out of emails to gallery owners, clients, art instructors and students, and any other professional connections.

Double check spelling and grammar.

As in any written communication, spelling and grammar mistakes in an email can make it much more difficult for the receiver to take you seriously, no matter how good the content of the message is. Take a moment to read over your email again for grammar mistakes and typos, and for more important emails, have someone proofread for you before sending them off if possible.

Make sure any promised attachments have actually been attached.

We’ve all made the mistake of sending hitting “send” on an email only to realize that we forgot to attach a document or image we needed to include. While we all relate and will forgive this error, it’s much more professional and less frustrating if it doesn’t happen. Take a moment when you finish the email to make sure you’ve attached everything you meant to.

What do you think?

How important is email in your art business? Have you ever had a misunderstanding because of poor communication?

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25 Comments

  1. Hi Jason:
    I am just getting ready to email my gallery in Bloomington, because I will be there next weekend (3/9). So, I have been thinking about this. In the past, I have not really emailed them much, but when I do, I don’t get a response, but when they did email me to tell me they sold that painting over Christmas, they were very friendly. I responded saying that was good news and thank you for their efforts, etc. (Very short.) Then they contacted me because they needed my address since they were in a snow storm and could’t get to the gallery and were working at home. I of course gave them the info. Then I notified them when the check came, and asked if they could tell me if the person who bought it was a regular collector, a visitor to Bloomington, etc. No response. I guess they are just too busy. They do have a lot going on every week in the evenings, and weekends. Another concern I have is that they have my name on their website along with the other artists, but none of our work is on there. Is that customary, do you think?
    They still have ten paintings, and I am also wondering if I should ask them if they would like me to bring some of my very small plein air paintings, which are cheaper of course. They are on my website as well as my portfolio. Thanks!

    1. Evalyn, in all honesty, I would have reservations about keeping my work in a gallery that is that uncommunicative.

  2. I agree that it is important to be professional and concise in email, and often write it out first in a document editor first so than I can read it over several times to make sure it says what I meant before getting trigger-happy with the”send” button.
    It’s ironic that I spend much more time writing an email than the recipient will reading it.
    In my previous profession I was frustrated to find that most people did not seem to read beyond the first few words of my carefully crafted and informative emails. I could tell because they would respond with questions that were already addressed in the original. That’s when I got in the habit of highlighting salient points with bullets. Maybe not so appropriate in a letter to a gallery…

    1. Becca, I too am puzzled when people respond with questions that I have answered in my email … or don’t answer all my questions. They answer the first one and then send it. I find this happens largely when I cover too many topics or ask too many questions, so now I limit my questions to 3 max per email and ask the next three in another email etc. I think your idea of bullet points is excellent … I’m going to try it next time.

  3. I have learned most of these lessons the hard way. I have a tendency to want to go into detail, and I think detail will make me lose a potential sale or commission, because people just can’t process much info in an email. If I need to go into detail, I just try to schedule a phone call. Its a much faster way to get on the same page with a client/customer. Now I try to keep emails as direct as possible. Just ask one question per email, and there’s a better chance of getting a response. And avoid sending emails that don’t focus on one question. Such as ” are you interested?” “Would you like to schedule an appointment?” Otherwise you will never get a response.

  4. I’m guilty of long chatty emails that give too much information. Try as I might, they are still conversational.
    The one thing that does help me is that few emails are emergencies, so one can compose a response and double-check it later. I don’t always do that but when I do I feel better bout what I’ve sent and the recipient is left with a clearer message.
    Thanks Jason for your forbearance with my emails.
    I’m also guilty of the attachment issue. The operative term is “SLOW DOWN!”

  5. This is a good piece on personal email communications for business, but more often, artists and galleries are using business email services like Constant Contact, Mad Mimi, and Mail Chimp to get the word out. Much of your advice applies to this; however, the use of excellent photos and graphic composition becomes critical.

  6. Great post Jason and I think I may have the same issues as Christina and Stephen. I tend to include too much information or use words as an extension of my creative wanderings. I have finally asked my husband to check everything for me. It works so well that he now asks me to check his mailings as well. The other thing that I do is hit send too quickly, sometimes for fear that I will forget and have it sit in my draft box for a day or two. I have learned now to cc. myself for every business letter I send.

  7. Great advice as usual Jason… I am very meticulous with the way I craft my emails & it reaps great results! Buyers & collectors etc of my Artwork often express appreciation for my communications…

  8. Email is preferred because it gives prompt feedback; it’s a time saver. I like having a conversation record rather than verbal discussion … it reduces misunderstanding with both parties when I can go back and review our correspondence.
    Keep it short and sweet. Quite simply, people are busy. That is why they scan your emails rather than read them. I know a professional who maintains five email accounts that typically demand two hundred responses a day.
    Spelling, grammar, and punctuation must be right. You’re an adult in the business world and have no excuse for carelessness, especially in the Internet age. There are websites that teach and resolve grammar questions for you. You have dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, and thegrammerlady.com to help you craft a letter. You have sample business letters … use your own words and not an obvious copy. Ask for help if you’re unsure of yourself.
    A generation that grew up with texting and twitter sometimes defaults to abbreviations without thinking … I reminded a young friend who posted a community announcement with abbreviations and spelling errors. We had a good laugh – my IT geek friend is member of Mensa.
    I email very early mornings over coffee when I have no distractions. Never send emails in a hurry; that’s when you make errors. I separate paragraphs with double spacing … incidental maybe, but my emails are orderly and easy to read with concise sentences. I greet, go straight to the point, ask/state the reason for the communication, and sign off. Don’t make your recipient search for your contact information if they don’t know you well. My name is followed by my city, phone number, and website.
    Good stuff, Jason.

  9. The most important thing I do before hitting “send” is go back over my email and reduce the number of words. If I can say it in 3 words, not 5, it’s better and less cluttered communication.

  10. This is all excellent advise for any business communication. One of the most important points you make is about tone. A useful check after you’ve drafted your email is to read it aloud. Does it sound the way you intend? Also a good check for the writing; if you stumble over things, your sentences are too long!

  11. Thanks for the great suggestions! I would love to see examples of interesting subject lines. I’m thinking of emailing a gallery I’m on trial with to see if they would be interested in some small spring floral paintings and I can’t come up with a good subject line.

  12. Henry Jensen
    Your blog sums it all up neatly and is well written. Regarding the use of an inappropriate tone in the message or the chance of the occurrence of typos, I find that this happens when one’s emotions are aroused. To avoid this happening it is best to postpone writing the email until the next day or at least until one has calmed down.

  13. One thing I learned from working in a gallery is that the subject line for an email can be very helpful – I always appreciated when an artist identified the painting(s) they are emailing about or some other identifier so when I needed to later reference that subject it was so much easier to locate. I now do that as an artist communicating with the galleries that represent me. For example: “March in the Mountains” – image and consignment sheet.”

  14. A great reminder for all. I’m a published author as well as visual artist, so I’ve learned how to craft a good, concise submission or business email, but I know many people struggle with it.

    Another important thing to remember when crafting an email submission or request is to review the gallery’s website carefully and follow any online directions exactly. No more, no less. Also, address the email to the correct person handling your subject matter, and for heaven’s sake, spell the person’s name correctly (so many fail do do this). When in doubt, if not listed on the website, call the gallery and ask who to address your email to for the specific subject.

  15. Incorrect spelling and grammar scream incompetence and lack of professionalism, so I have always labored over proofreading. Until recently, something invariably escaped my notice until 1 second after I clicked ‘send’. An invaluable tool I now employ in everything I write is the free version of Grammarly. It is not a cure-all or catch-all, but it does far better than simple spell checkers commonly found in eMails or web browsers.

    Writers often get so involved with their message that they are blind to mistakes. Grammarly has helped me find and correct some horrid typos, redundancies, tense, spelling, and punctuation errors in my bios, artist statements, and CV. If I was, an author or editor, or writing a grant application, I would definitely opt for an upgrade to the pro version. (I don’t mean for this to sound like a commercial, but it really is that good!)

  16. On the flip side, as the recipient of an email, if your first impression is that the tone is demanding or rude, clear your mind and READ the email AGAIN! I had an employee come to me upset over an email she had received and she was going to slam a response back. Fortunately, I read the email and found that she had misinterpreted it. I shudder to think the harm that could have been done.

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