Today’s article will explore the difficult (and often daunting) task of getting your artwork into galleries, or—if that’s not your bag—into the public arena where you can start raising your profile as an artist.
Two experienced and successful artists, Anne Magill and Cecil Rice, have kindly shared their advice, experience, and tips to help those starting out on this path.
So where does an artist start?
With such a lot of galleries now exhibiting all genres of work, how easy is it to research and select the right galleries for your art? Where should you start? Will they want CDs of your artwork or will they be prepared to look through your website?
Anne and Cecil have learned from their experiences of this stage of the process—and one key point seems to stand out with both of them: Do your gallery homework before you do anything else!
Cecil Rice: “To some extent researching galleries is spade-work. I don’t see that you’ll find the best galleries for your work unless you make these efforts.
The Internet appears to give more choice and speed of research but quite a lot of those leads are illusory or simply a waste of time. I don’t mean to sound cynical but watch out for dishonest dealers. There are some of these, and galleries sometimes do close suddenly, the owner becoming untraceable.
Try to ensure that whoever you are dealing with has a reputation for paying up reasonably promptly. I definitely rate phone calls over e-mails and don’t be afraid to try walking into a gallery with some work.
If you find someone busy, ill-tempered or tired it’ll just be bad luck. Sometimes you’ll get a good response. I tend to try to set up an appointment first by telephone, especially if I’m going to have to travel.”
Anne Magill: “Google the genre of work that you feel your art fits into and the country or city that you wish to exhibit in. Look at the websites or CVs of artists whose work you admire—see where they started out showing and check out those galleries.
It’s very important to get your website sorted so you don’t have to send discs of your work or printed examples; galleries can’t be bothered trawling through all this stuff sometimes. Prepare a brief email making contact with the gallery including your website address and contact details so they can browse through your work at leisure.”
Approach galleries with your work (and confidence).
Anne Magill: “Artists should only consider approaching galleries when they feel that they have found their style; that is to say a way of working that is comfortable and identifiable to themselves.
I’d go for quality rather than quantity; a group of works which are consistent in standard. . . about 10-15 for a gallery and about half that amount for a solo show.
A good gallery will be able to tell if there’s something there. . . some will want instantly sell-able work, and other galleries will want to nurture and help artists to develop in the long-term.”
Cecil Rice: “It took me quite a time to work up the self-confidence. The gallery will soon dismiss you if your work is very weak or not appropriate to their tastes. But many galleries will at least give you some kind of feedback. They may well reject you to begin with but you also stand to learn a lot about what they like and don’t like about your work.
One or two galleries spent hours talking to me about what they felt they could sell and what they couldn’t. I was turned away initially, but went off, did some slightly different paintings and the gallery took my work two weeks later. Those paintings sold almost immediately and the gallery staff became excited. They wanted as much work as I could give them.
I think that it pays to listen to what they say and to try hard not to take offence at ‘advice’, much of which does relate to their actual market.
Being genial seems to go down well, but don’t fall into the trap of working away year after year and letting shyness make you think that you just need to do a few more good paintings.
It’s remarkable how quickly you’ll see any actual problems with your artwork (and see you might just develop it a little bit in order to make it acceptable) if only you’ll summon up the courage to walk in there and talk to them!”
To call or not to call? Introduction etiquette:
Anne Magill: “I’d strongly recommend telephoning the gallery beforehand and ask who to send your email to. You could also send them an invite to your next art show!
It’s quite rare to get an appointment to meet with a gallery owner; sometimes a recommendation can help. You must remember that galleries are really busy so they usually in the first instance prefer to look at websites and then they call you in.
As far as cold-calling is concerned, friends that I know who run busy galleries really don’t want to be cold-called. If it isn’t a busy time you could ask for an appointment, but 9 times out of 10 they’ll probably prefer to see work first.”
Cecil Rice: “I’ve cold-called! I definitely rate personal phone calls over e-mails but don’t be afraid to try walking into a gallery with some work.
If you get someone busy, ill-tempered or tired it’ll just be bad luck. Sometimes you’ll get a good response. However, I tend to try to set up an appointment first by telephone, especially if I’m going to have to travel to see that gallery.”
Finally, get a “feel” for the gallery.
Anne Magill: “It’s such an important decision. They represent you—don’t touch a gallery unless you are at least 90% sure you want to be with them.
Trust your gut instincts and look at how they represent themselves. Is their website up-to-date? Do they print good catalogues? And is the gallery clean?! With buyers it is all about first impressions. If there is a vase of dead flowers on their desk and dust everywhere, people are hardly likely to want to hang around to browse or buy.”
Cecil Rice: “Can you get a ‘feel’ for galleries? Absolutely. You can. And if you’re not quite sure of the ambiance, you will be once you’ve had a little chat with the staff.
I approached two galleries a while ago, within the same thirty-mile area. One had colourful contemporary artwork, some of it quite pleasing and the pricing was right. The other was rather an old-fashioned gallery, but on closer inspection the artwork on sale there was really excellent and the prices were also about right.
What clinched it for me was that the more contemporary gallery had quite a number of really gaudy and sentimental art pieces that let any of the good work down badly.”
About the artists:
Born in County Down, Northern Ireland, Anne Magill started her career as an illustrator, working in advertising and was also a courtroom illustrator! Her many awards are testimony to the standard and depth of her work.
Mysterious, atmospheric and evoking emotions surrounding each picture, her art draws the viewer in, making them feel familiar with the subjects although the subjects remain shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. Anne’s work has been and is displayed in galleries in the UK and world-wide.
Born in 1961, Cecil Rice has lived in Brighton since 1974. He is well known for his evocative paintings of shoreline subjects and architecture, as well as his passion for Italy, especially Venice. Travel has been an important inspiration behind much of his painting. Recent painting trips have taken him to Granada, Marrakesh and India.
Limited edition screen prints of his work can be found in London and New York galleries. His work is exhibited regularly in galleries in the UK and abroad.