After the following the 3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation, you should be ready to approach your ‘target gallery’ and sell yourself! There are a number of ways to approach an art gallery for representation. I have broken it down into 7 creative ways…
#1. Specific Gallery Requirements:
Check your ‘target gallery’ (this is the gallery you think is your best match) website and see if it has a specific protocol for artists’ submissions.
- If it does have guidelines, follow them (or be a rebel and do it your own way, but you might get shut down).
- Some galleries, especially within the high end fine art market have specific submission requirements and policies.
- Usually artists must submit work for review.
- This generally means a professional portfolio (more about this below).
- Remember, good galleries are inundated with artists’ inquiries and submissions each week.
If there are no guidelines then you can try some of the suggestions below:
#2. The Portfolio Submission:
If you chose to send a portfolio directly to your chosen gallery, be sure and follow the guidelines mentioned above.
- Still today, most artists simply send in a marketing package that includes a professional portfolio.
- The portfolio often times gets stacked up in a pile and overlooked. This is why it is a good idea to follow up two weeks later with a phone call.
- Don’t try and get too clever with the presentation.
- Keep your portfolio tailored, professional and filled with your best work.
- Generally expect to submit a professional portfolio of at least 10 slides, photos or transparencies or a CD depicting recent works.
- Always send a self-addressed, stamped envelope or risk never seeing your material again!
- Please read how to Create a Powerful Portfolio for up to date advice from Jason Horejs, gallery owner and author of the book, “Starving to Successful – The Artist’s Guide to Getting into Galleries and Selling More Art”.
#3. The Cold Call:
This is where you pick up the phone and call the chosen gallery and pitch yourself…
- Practice your pitch at home and rehearse it on a friend who will be honest with you!
- Have a notepad with your thoughts outlined so you don’t ramble.
- At this point, be ready to sell yourself because there is no artwork to hide behind over the telephone. Here are a few hints to help you make that call…
- Check the gallery hours and exhibition schedule.
- If there is an event scheduled, make your call at least a week before or a week after the after the event.
- You minimize the risk of interrupting a busy and stressed out director.
- It is best to make phone calls either in the morning or at the end of the day. This is when busy directors most generally are at their desks.
- Avoid calling on Mondays and Fridays…make calls during the middle of week.
- Ask to speak with the Director. If he/she is not available ask when he/she will be available and do notleave a message. (You might not get a return call) This way, you can call back later.
- Keep the conversation short, friendly and to the point.
- Introduce yourself, explain that you are interested in their gallery, and briefly tell them a little bit about you and your art and why you are a match for them.
- Follow up the conversation with an email linking to your website or attach a few jpeg images of your work – do this within a day so they don’t forget you.
- Mention in your email that if you don’t hear back from them, you will check back – give them one to two weeks.
- Or ask the gallery if they would prefer a portfolio, slides or a website to review.
#4. The Walk In:
Get ready to sell yourself! This is a more aggressive approach which may or may not work – it all depends on how attuned you feel with the director or owner. There are no set rules so be ready to go-with-the-flow. Here are some ideas to help you take that step in the door:
- Just like the ‘cold call’ check the gallery schedule and make sure you are not interrupting a major event or busy time.
- Hopefully you have done your homework and familiarized yourself with the gallery.
- Look your best.
- Ask to speak with the owner or director.
- Be informed and demonstrate that you understand the gallery program.
- Let them know why your work is a good match.
- Do not walk in with paintings tucked under your arm – this looks desperate.
- Leave a business card with your website information or a portfolio for their review.
- Don’t overwhelm them with too much information, leave them wanting more.
- Walk in with a good attitude.
- Be courteous.
Now let’s say they really like you and things have gone well…they might ask to have you send them a few paintings for their approval – or they might ask to see some work in person. At this point (this has worked for many of my artist friends, especially when they are on a road trip) have few small framed samples of your best work out in the car!
#5. The Look & See:
Invite your targeted gallery to visit a current showing of your work.
- Many artists show their art is art/craft shows, restaurants, banks, interior design firms, frames shops and their own studios.
- If you are lucky enough to live in a community that has a possible gallery for you this approach might work. I suggest you send a printed invitation with an image of your art to the director followed up with a phone call.
- This is the approach I chose back when I found my first gallery years ago! I had a sell-out show in a friend’s design studio. While it was still hanging, I invited the gallery director to view my art. She loved it and the rest is history!
#6. The Referral:
This is the best and most effective way of approaching a gallery. It has worked wonders for me in the past. If you network with other artists, you most likely have friends with good connections. And yes, just like in Hollywood – it’s who you know.
- Ask your artist friend to recommend you to their gallery.
- Make sure to have your friend send them to your website or give them a portfolio of your art. This will peak the gallery’s interest in you.
- Within a week it is up to you to follow through.
- Give them a call and remind the gallery that they were recommended to you by your mutual artist friend.
- From there, hopefully you can build a working relationship.
#7. The Gallery Solicitation:
“If the mountain can’t go to Mohammad, let the mountain come to Mohammad.” What do I mean by that familiar, old proverb? This is when the gallery approaches you!
- Yes, this does happen. It has happened to me!
- This is a supreme compliment, but before you say, ‘yes’, make sure to check the gallery’s references and business record.
- I usually call a few artists withing the gallery ‘stable’ and ask them if they are happy with their working relationship & if the gallery pays.
- If the gallery measures up and look like a good fit, this can be the best of all worlds. The gallery picked you – that means they are excited to show your work in their gallery, and this can lead to more sales!
- Beware of vanity galleries!
The above suggestions are advice that I have compiled from my years as an artist and talking with galleries and fellow artists. We all have battle scars and war stories to tell, but I hope these ideas help keep your pain to a minimum.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”
Good luck. I hope this all helps. Let me know if any of these suggestions work for you! ~Lori 🙂
PS. These are not ‘rules’, just some helpful guidelines…
If you like this article, I highly suggest reading:
3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation
How to ‘Jump-Start’ Your Art Career
Finding Your Own Artistic Voice
10 Ways to Develop Your Brand and Market Your Art
How to Prepare for Gallery Night: Tips & Advice
Newsletter Art Marketing Tips That Work!
10 tips to Bring Visitors to Your Open Studio or Art Fair Booth
How to Find an Art Print Publisher: One Artist’s Way
At any point in an artist’s career, they many begin to seek out representation from a commercial gallery. This has several benefits for the artist, including more exposure, a better venue to show work (presumably), less self-marketing, and hopefully more sales (if that is what the artist is after).
As many galleries are quite established and receive numerous submissions constantly, it can be tricky for artists to get a good “foot in the door.” The best first step is to do your research and approach a gallery to see if they are actually accepting submissions. This is best done with a respectful, polite email (with a link to your portfolio cleverly inserted).
Example of a good initial email:
For the attention of the curator,*
I am a Vancouver artist seeking representation** locally. I am writing to inquire if you are currently accepting submission proposals. If so, could you please let me know which format or materials you prefer.
The key points in this email are:
*Some people say you should address someone individually. I think this is fine, especially since it is your initial email and you shouldn’t be expected to know the entire staff and who does what. Hopefully, someone with a name will write back to you, and from there you can address them personally.
**Whether you are seeking representation from the gallery or an exhibition in their space, state clearly and simply what you’re interested in. If you just wrote “here is my amazing artwork!!”, you’re not asking for anything and you’re unlikely to get anything.
***Regardless of how busy the recipient is, there is a good chance they will click on a link to view your work, at least out of curiosity.
- Including too much information about your artwork or your practice in your initial email. Since you haven’t had the courtesy to ask whether they are interested in looking at submissions, you are like an unwanted salesperson at someone’s door. Regardless of whether you have quality goods or not, your pushiness is a turn off.
- Sending your inquiry to more than one gallery as a bulk mail-out either CCing or BCCing recipients. Although I don’t think it’s necessary to name your addressee on the first email, you should never email more than one gallery at a time. If you can’t be bothered to spend the time to write to them individually, why should they spend the time responding?
- “Please find attached 18 images of my work.” Unless a gallery has told you that they accept email submissions, or it is posted on their website, don’t send images as attachments. A link to your website or online portfolio is a much more subtle an non-invasive way to introduce your work.
- “My work would be suitable for your gallery because____.” It’s very presumptuous to think that you know what is suitable for the gallery. A curator or director will know what is suitable and what is not suitable. Many artists make the mistake of thinking that they will fit in a gallery because their work is just like an artist who is already represented. In actuality, it would probably make the artist much less desirable!
- “I would like to hear what you think of my work.” Unfortunately, the gallery does not owe you anything nor do they have any obligation to critique your work on their own time. If you are respectful of them as professionals, they will likely be respectful of you– you might receive a comment or two about your work or even suggestions of galleries to submit to.
Have you had any luck (or any disasters!?) when approaching galleries? Have you found any other helpful tips?