The Six Most Common 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 as many as 20 artists looking for gallery representation? Most of them are ineffective, making several easily avoided mistakes. Are you making the same missteps they are?

Several years ago, I began to wonder why artists struggled so much when talking to gallery owners. I quickly realized that most were unsuccessful because they didn’t know the right way to approach galleries – after all, there is very little information available explaining the best strategies for approaching galleries or managing oneself as an artist.

This lack of information leads to several common errors. As you read on, you may be surprised to find you’ve been making one or two of these mistakes yourself!

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

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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!

 

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.

I suggest researching galleries carefully before contacting them. A gallery will be a good potential match if they are carrying art that is complementary to your work, or work that might appeal to a similar clientele. You want to approach a wide range of galleries, but eliminate the ones that are presenting work in dramatically different styles or price points from yours.

 

 

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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 are typically unsuccessful. I recommend approaching galleries directly, either in person, or by email, with a well-organized portfolio of strong, consistent artwork. It’s important to contact a large number of galleries of compatible galleries (see #5) in order to ma

 

In addition to learning how to avoid the mistakes listed above, by joining our mailing list, I will send you timely advice that will help you navigate the art world.

If you would like to get a sense of the kind of topics I cover on the blog, just visit our home page to see the latest articles. Just don’t forget to register for the mailing list by returning to this page, or by clicking the “Join Our Mailing List” link in the upper right of every page.

I look forward to having you join the community!

Sincerely,
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J. Jason Horejs | Owner | Xanadu Gallery
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45 Comments

  1. Thank you for this godsend of a blog with actual helpful information. I am a senior artist who has never marketed through the gallery system because I worked in galleries myself and became disenchanted for a number of reasons. I was selling Inuit and Native Indian art to patrons who wanted to know who was at death`s door, or just piled them up under the bed to donate to a museum for a tax writeoff. As an artist I was offended, and also offended by the move to take art off the wall and into areas such as video, performance, installation…which I view as theatre or entertainment. I just could not follow that trend so continued in private in 4 provinces with my own studio gallery. I am hoping your advice will re-instill some enthusasism and better understanding of the system at present. Thank you in advance, Regards, Dale Fehr (Maccan, Nova Scotia, Canada).

    1. Jason Horejs,
      Thanks for taking the time to inform many artists on the most effective approaches to take …
      Quite frankly, I know a number of older artists who have just given up. I will save and share your information.
      Thank You.
      Claire Carew

  2. Very nice read, I should have read this last week. I think I blew a shot with a gallery because I committed mistake #3. Live and learn I guess, thanks for the advice.

  3. I have my own little country gallery and have been open for 13 years….I have lots of art to sell, but in my area, there is little interest in art…I teach classes and the students keep my place going, but I will be interested in learning more about how to market my work, so I am joining your mailing list! Thank you for sharing your knowledge…Kathy Cuiffi

  4. As the owner/artist of two very successful galleries in Bozeman, Montana, I read the article casually to see if this guy new what he was talking about. He is right on the mark! Following his advice will truly help your career blossom! Great article! (my website is down for repairs, sorry)

  5. Thanks so much for sharing these tips–I’ve been thinking of approaching galleries off and on for a while, but thinking I wasn’t quite ready. Now I feel much more prepared!

  6. This was very informative. I appreciate the honesty and valuable information you shared .Thank you Giancarlo.

  7. Thank you for such valuable advice. I would love to know though what the best way of contacting a gallery is?
    Debbie

  8. Thank you for your advice. Most helpful and needed at this time. I have joined your mailing list. Thanks again. Maite

  9. Great article. Straightforward information. I definitely need to build my confidence before approaching galleries so I am looking forward to learning more. I have signed up to your mailing list!
    Thank you. Netti

  10. I have been receiving your e-mails and I find them very informative. Thank you. I never approach galleries but have been in a few because they asked me. I am getting older and someday, I might want to show my work in a gallery instead of my summer Art-A-Fair show in Laguna Beach. Thanks again for the information.

  11. Thank you so much for the great and informative article. It is giving me a lot to chew on. Especially the area of pricing and producing enough work to support a gallery or even multiple galleries. Thank you again. I love your emails.

  12. Very interesting. I have just sold my first piece of art in a juried exhibition. With this info I will be able to dedicTe my time to a series with a view to approaching a gallery
    Many thanks

  13. Good Advice
    I have found galleries interesting to work with over time.
    Most of my successful placements have been thru cold call which is not generally how one does business.
    At present my website is set up for my art classes and mentoring /workshops.
    I am keen to make more time for me the artist
    Add me to mailing list
    Regards Kim

  14. Thank You for this information. Painting has started as hobby and I have some people interested in my art and I would like to have an exhibit one day

  15. NEVER approach a dealer or gallerist when they are at an art fair or otherwise trying to sell. It is NOT the time.

  16. Thank you for the six tips. It is nice to see other artists- helping artists to sell, or expose a work of art properly. We aften forget to true values of representation to our own work, and these tips- again, open our eyes.

  17. Also, don’t limit your artwork to galleries. There are many places that will hang artwork for show and/or sale. Both coffee houses I frequent in our area do this as well as some banks and restaurants.

  18. Love your posts. Having been in advertising – and painting too all my life – you’d think I knew how to market myself but no not specifically art markets! Your wise, experienced words have given me encouragement to carry on. I now have a lot more time and will commit to my work – and change my approach including the inconsistent works shown on my website. Love your posts. Having been in advertising – and painting too all my life – you’d think I knew how to market myself but no not specifically art markets! Your wise, experienced words have given me encouragement to carry on. I now have a lot more time and will commit to my work. I am in Australia and I feel things are very similar here. The market has been depressed for about 18 months for all those in the art work and our Federal government has completely changed the funding aid for our state galleries, this hasn’t helped. I plug on though!

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