The Six Most Common Mistakes Artists Make When Approaching Galleries

Six Mistakes Artists Make When Approaching Galleries

Jason Horejs | Owner | Xanadu Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ
Jason Horejs | Owner | Xanadu Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

Did you know that in an average week, I may be approached by over 20 artists looking for gallery representation? Most of them are ineffective, usually making several easily avoided mistakes. Are you making the same mistakes they are?

Several years ago, I began to wonder why artists were often inept when approaching galleries. I quickly realized that most were unsuccessful because they didn’t know any other approach – after all, there is very little information available explaining the best strategies for approaching galleries or building an art business.

This lack of information leads to these blunders, mistakes I commonly see as artists approach me. As you read on, you may be surprised to find you’ve been making one or two of these mistakes yourself!

At the end of the article I will invite you to participate in my online workshop, to learn how to best prepare yourself and your art to approach galleries. But first, let’s talk about the most common mistakes I see artists making when approaching my gallery.

Mistake #1: Presenting an inconsistent body of work.

Artists generally love their freedom. They want to experiment. They love a challenge. They crave variety. All good things, except when you are presenting your work to a gallery.

The work you present to a gallery needs to be unified. It doesn’t have to be repetitive or formulaic, but it must present you as a consistent artist with a clear vision.

Often I feel I am looking at the work of multiple artists as I review a single portfolio. To avoid this problem, you need to find focus in your work.

If you work in several mediums and incorporate a variety of styles, try to focus on just one for the next 6-12 months. Create a body of work that feels like a “series”. Once you have 20-25 gallery-ready pieces in this series, you will be ready to approach a gallery.

You can further create consistency by presenting your work in a harmonious way. Use similar frames for paintings and photographs, the same one or two bases for sculpture, and unified settings for artistic jewelry. Make it very clear all of the work is by the same artist.

If you simply can’t rein your style in, consider creating multiple portfolios, one for each style. Don’t confuse the galleries you approach by presenting multiple styles in one portfolio!

In the “Starving” to Successful online workshop, I’ll provide you with 6 criteria you can use to judge the consistency of your art.

Learn More in our Online Workshop

Mistake #2: Producing insufficient work to sustain gallery sales.

Many artists create marketable work, but in quantities too low to make a gallery relationship viable. Successful artists are consistently in the studio creating new works of art. You may be surprised to learn the results of a recent survey I conducted:

I asked artists how many new works they created in the last twelve months. Painters responded that on average they were creating 53 pieces every twelve months. Sculptors 31. Glass artists 500.

Xanadu Gallery – serving collectors and artists since 2001

A gallery owner needs to feel confident you can replace sold art quickly and maintain a high standard of quality. They want to know that if you are successful, you can replenish their inventory without delay.

Don’t despair if you are far from reaching this goal. Rather, look at your creative production for the last year and set a goal to increase the production by 25% in the next 12 months.

Here are several suggestions to increase productivity:

1. Dedicate time daily to your art. Maybe your schedule will only allow for two hours each day, but you will produce more by working for those two hours than you will by waiting for big blocks of time.

Treat your studio time as sacred. Train your family and friends to respect that time. You don’t interrupt them when they are at work; ask them the same courtesy when you are in the studio.

2. Set a production goal. If I could tell you the secret to producing 50 to 100 pieces per year, would you listen? Here it is: just create 1 or 2 pieces of work per week!

I know it seems overly simplified, yet few artists work in a concerted and disciplined way to achieve this goal.

(A common objection I hear to this suggestion is that quality will suffer if an artist works this quickly. In my experience, the opposite is true. A certain level of quality may only be obtained by putting miles on the paintbrush, spending hours in the darkroom, or moving tons of clay or stone.)

3. Remove distractions from the studio. Relocate your computer to another room. Unplug the telephone. Nothing kills an artist’s focus faster than the constant interruption of technology. Your inbox and voicemail will keep your messages safe while you work.

Learn More in our Online Workshop

Mistake #3: Delivering a portfolio in a format inconvenient for gallery review.

Your portfolio is usually your one chance to show your work to a gallery owner. Poorly formatted portfolios are rarely viewed. Your portfolio should be concise, simple, informative, and accessible.

25 years ago, formatting a portfolio was simple. A portfolio was either a literal portfolio with sheet protectors and photos, or a slide sheet.

The choices have since multiplied. CD? Digitally printed photo-book? PDF file? iPad?  Which format is the most effective? In my workshop I will show an example of the perfect portfolio. Easy to maintain, easy to share. Successful!

Here are a few things to keep in mind about portfolios:

1. Your portfolio should contain no more than 20-25 of your most recent works. You should not create an all-inclusive portfolio. A gallery owner does not want to see your life’s work – they want to see your best, most current, most relevant work.

2. Include pertinent, relevant information about the art on every page. The title, the medium, the size, and the price should be easy to locate. Do not include the date of artwork creation.

3. Place a bio, artist statement, and resume at the end of the portfolio instead of at the beginning. Your artwork is the most important feature of your portfolio – don’t bury it behind personal information. Limit press clippings and magazine articles to between 2-3 pages.

4. Include 2-3 images of sold artwork. You should try to include at least one photograph of an installed piece. These images will establish your credibility more rapidly than any resume ever could.

In the “Starving” to Successful workshop, you’ll learn how to create a successful, convenient portfolio that you can provide to galleries via email, or in person.

Learn More in our Online Workshop

Mistake #4: Lacking confidence and consistency in pricing.

Is your work priced correctly?

One of the greatest challenges you will face as an artist is knowing how to correctly value your work. Many artists price their work emotionally and inconsistently. Galleries can’t sell wrongly priced art.

Worse yet, nothing will betray an unprepared artist like not knowing how to price his or her work.

Many artists mistakenly under-price their work. They do this because they feel they are not established. They do it because their local art market won’t sustain higher prices. They do it because they lack confidence in their work.

Let me help you create a consistent, systematic formula for pricing your art. It’s not as hard as you might think! Join me in the online workshop!

Mistake #5: Approaching the wrong galleries.

My gallery is located in an art market dominated by Southwest and Western subject matter. My gallery stands apart from most of the galleries in Arizona because I have chosen art outside the norm. Yet I am constantly contacted by Western and Southwestern artists. They seem surprised and hurt when I turn them away. They could have saved us both some discomfort by researching my gallery before approaching me.

Which markets should you approach first? How should you research these galleries? Is it safe to work with galleries in out-of-state markets?

During the “Starving” to Successful online workshop, you’ll learn how to create a list of qualified, appropriate galleries to contact and most importantly, how to approach them.

Learn More in our Online Workshop

Mistake #6: Submitting art through the wrong channels.

Conventional wisdom and even some highly respected art marketing books will advise you to send your portfolio with a cover letter to a gallery. You may also hear it’s best to call a gallery and try to make an appointment to meet the owner. You might visit a gallery’s website to learn of their submission guidelines.

In my experience, these methods all guarantee failure. I will share with you a more direct, simpler approach; this approach will tremendously improve your chances of success. The approach is no secret, yet most artists don’t employ it.

In addition to learning how to avoid the mistakes listed above, in my online workshop you will learn about how to optimize every aspect of your art business. I invite you to join me in this online, on-demand workshop. You can watch the four hour session whenever you would like, and review it as many times as you need. The online workshop allows you to learn at your own pace, and it also will allow you to submit questions directly to me.

I invite you to take the next step in selling your art more effectively by joining me for the “Starving” to Successful online workshop. Click here to learn more:


J. Jason Horejs | Owner | Xanadu Gallery