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 need 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 media and a variety of styles, 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 the work in a cohesive way. Use similar frames for all of your paintings or photographs, similar bases for your sculptures, or similar settings for your 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 with multiple styles in your 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 artwork. 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!!! Gallery owners need to feel confident you will replace sold art quickly and maintain high quality. They want to know that if you are successful, you will be able to replenish their inventory. 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.
Several suggestions to increase your productivity:
1. Dedicate time daily to your art. Maybe your schedule will only allow for two hours daily, but you will produce more by working for those two hours every day 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 or 100 pieces per year, would you listen? Here it is: Create one or two new pieces per week. I know it seems overly simple, yet few artists work in a concerted, 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, moving tons of clay or stone.)
3. Remove distractions from the studio. Move 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
Often your portfolio is your only 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? Digital hardbound photo book? Pdf file? Email? Which format is the most effective? None of these, actually. Each has drawbacks limiting effectiveness. They are either too much work for the gallery owner to access, too easy to delete, or too hard for you to maintain. In my book I will show an example of a perfect portfolio. Easy to maintain, easy to share. Successful.
A couple of things to keep in mind with your portfolio:
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. On each page you should include pertinent, relevant information about the art. Include the title, the medium, the size, and the price. Don’t include the date of artwork creation.
3. Place your bio, artist’s statement, and resume at the back of the portfolio, not the beginning. Your artwork is the most important feature of the portfolio, don’t bury it behind your info. Limit press clippings, and magazine articles to 2-3 pages.
4. Include 2-3 images of sold artwork. You should try to include at least one photo of your artwork installed. These images will establish your credibility more rapidly than any resume ever could.
Mistake #4: Lacking Confidence & Consistency in Pricing
One of the greatest challenges facing you as an artist is knowing how to correctly value your work. Many artists price their work emotionally and inconsistently. Galleries can’t sell incorrectly priced art. Worse, nothing will betray an unprepared artist like not knowing how to price his/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. Is your work priced correctly?
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 norms. 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. Which markets should you approach first? How should you research the galleries? Is it safe to work with galleries in out-of-state markets?
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 the 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, and yet most artists don’t employ it.