Our gallery advertises quite a bit and has a good reputation for treating artists fairly and for paying promptly, so, naturally we received quite a lot of portfolio submissions. While we have no hard numbers for you, there were times that it could have been as many as 20 per week. That may not sound like much, but trust me, running a gallery is a LOT of work. There are paintings to unpack, shows to hang, paperwork to do, artist biography information to organize (and usually to write for the artist), phone calls to make, frames to order, advertisements to design, employee problems to deal with....and when you're not doing all of those tasks - you're either with customers or on the phone trying to get more customers. So at 20 a week, they pile up pretty fast...that would be over 100 after just one month!
Why Portfolios Get Ignored
So what happens? New artist portfolios are thrown aside into stacks - while they are important, they're not URGENT. And if something is not urgent, then other tasks tend to take priority.
By the way, a lot of commentators will tell you the answer to getting noticed is sending in very professionally prepared portfolios. It's not. Being professional is always a good thing, but, frankly, we didn't care what the portfolio looked like. An envelope full of snapshots was fine (digital images were even better) because the determining factor for acceptance was the artwork itself....not the presentation of the portfolio. The nicely prepared portfolios got ignored just as much as the sloppy ones.
And here's what makes the situation even worse - if you call ahead about your portfolio, you're just interrupting someone with all those other tasks to do - so that's not really a good idea. If you just "walk in" with your paintings.....well you are taking a real risk if you don't have an appointment. Most gallery owners are not just sitting around waiting for you to walk in with your art. Think about it. Let's say you had a deadline to finish several paintings for a show by the end of this week. So you're painting, painting, perhaps dealing with a few other issues, but, for the most part, you have your entire week's agenda already set. Now let's say right when you were finishing the most important work....you've just gotten into the "zone", when into your studio, unannounced, walks your framer. He has a stack of 20 new frame designs and wants to spend the next 3 hours showing them to you, discussing them with you, he even offers to take you to lunch.
You're likely to be a bit miffed - why didn't he call ahead and make an appointment? You're busy! That's exactly what it was like when we saw an unannounced artist coming into the gallery loaded down with artwork to show us. We're certainly not advocating rudeness, there's no call ever to be rude . . . but perhaps you can see why it sometimes happens.....and why you shouldn't just walk in unannounced.
Summarizing the Problem
So, let's sum up:
1. If you simply send in a portfolio, it may get ignored, at least for a long time.
2. If you call ahead, you likely will be seen as a time waster...after all you're not buying art and the gallery has never seen your work.
3. If you just walk in - you're risking interrupting or upsetting someone....at the very least, you'll put the person in the wrong frame of mind to look at your work!
4. Email is unlikely to upset anyone, but it's really super easy to ignore and hit "delete."
Hmmm. The situation looks pretty dire...so what should you do?
Referrals are King
Looking back, however, there were a few times when a new artist got our full attention right off the bat. In fact, we were even looking forward to seeing the artist's work.
Here's what happened. First, we would receive a call from one of the artists we already worked with. Often, this would be just your standard business type call, updates on new artwork, reviewing sales figures, discussing clients etc. But sometime during that call the artist would say, "You know, I'm not sure why I haven't thought of it before, but there's another artist I know who I really think you should look at. She's extremely talented and I think you would sell her work well."
Now that gets a gallery owners attention. Talented and sells well...what more could we ask for? So, of course, we would ask for more details and usually end up expecting a portfolio in the mail. You can bet when that portfolio arrived that it was opened and reviewed immediately. Not only were we excited about it and expecting it, but we had made a commitment to our existing artist that we would review it and, no doubt word would get back to him if we didn't act upon the portfolio promptly.
We certainly didn't accept every artist who was referred in this way....but we did accept a very high percentage of them....much, much higher than "general" portfolio submissions.
It seems that the answer to "marketing" to galleries is just like marketing to customers: word-of-mouth and referrals are king.
Please check back next week for Part II of our series “12 Steps To Get Your Artwork Noticed by Galleries,” where we will jump right into our recommendations for getting your art work noticed by galleries.