Over the next few days I am going to be writing on the topic of getting into galleries. I shall share my thoughts and my advice in the hopes that this will help you on your artistic journey.
First of all, be honest about your expectations. Getting into a gallery probably won't be your ticket to receiving a nice cheque each month. Many artists, especially those early in their career, have other sources of income and other ways to exhibit their work.
Be really honest with yourself with regards to the percentage of the sale price that the gallery will take. Can you live with this? Please be aware that artists don't increase the price for their work when it is in galleries. For example, it is considered a bad business practice to have your work in a gallery at one price and to show your work yourself at a lower price. Whether or not you think this is fair, in the professional art world this is frowned upon. The price of your art is the price of your art. Bottom line, don't get into the gallery game if you can't live with the percentage that is taken.
Also, getting into a gallery is just the first step. There is more to this than just showing up with your paintings. But let's start at the beginning - getting your art out there...
One of the first places artists look to to get exposure is a local visual arts gallery or some sort of public space. A local visual arts gallery can include co-operative galleries (which of course will require you to be a member) as well as arts and crafts shops featuring locally or regionally produced work. If you are looking at a visual arts gallery/gift shop, check it out first. Do they exhibit originals only or do they also sell prints? You might not want your $500.00 original painting next to several relatively inexpensive prints. If they exhibit lots of crafts, are the paintings displayed high up on the wall, close to the ceiling so there is room for the display tables showing pottery, jewelry etc.? I have seen visual arts galleries that are fortunate to have vaulted ceilings. What isn't great for the artist is that their work is often hanging up so high that the viewer can't properly see the work, the title of the piece, the name of the artist, nor the price. If the staff are too busy to answer customer questions, potential buyers lose interest quickly. With regards to percentages, these places usually take less than other galleries, usually around 40%.
With regards to other public spaces, I will leave out having your work displayed at the local library and that sort of thing. Let's stick to commercial venues. That leaves us with displaying your art work on the walls of local restaurants, cafes, and other such establishments. While sales may happen, it is good to note that people don't go there to buy art. They go there to eat and to socialize. Your art may just make nice surroundings. If you want to get your art before the public make sure that there is signage that clearly indicates you as the artist. The public should be aware that the art on the wall is for sale. Hopefully the establishment will also display your business cards, perhaps promotional cards and your bio. If they are taking a percentage of your sales, they should be doing some basic promotion for you. Again, check the facilities out. Does your art fit in with their business and their clientele? With these sort of establishments, the percentage taken varies. It can be as low as 25% but it can also be the high end too.
Reality check time. Let's say you get accepted into an establishment, do you have enough inventory to support the venture? Depending on space requirements, they may not be able to handle many of your large pieces. Do you have enough small and mid-sized paintings to fill the space adequately? What about other shows you will do doing? Will you need these paintings to fill your exhibition space? If so, how will the owner of the establishment feel about having bare walls for a weekend or longer? Are you going to have this permission in writing? Do you have enough paintings that you can offer fresh work every couple of months? Do you have the time to revisit the establishment to switch paintings around, to hang a few new ones and so on? Also, keep in mind that you will be working around their hours not yours. You will have to be available and willing to show up with your art when the business isn't open or at least isn't busy.
Tomorrow I will discuss the nitty gritty of preparing to sign contracts and other issues.