Do you just drop in and hope for the best, or is there another way?
Some people advocate drop-in presentations and there are good arguments for that. It takes a good deal of raw nerve to take this kind of “cold call” approach, and that can be seen as a positive; something that will help you market your work alongside the gallery (most galleries look for this in the artists they represent, by the way.)
But there are reasons not to take this approach. If the gallery is a busy one, the drop-in policy is probably not going to earn you points. The staff will be busy with day-to-day business and taking time out of their day to explain why they can’t review your art is going to be an inconvenience for them.
Besides, you want them to spend their working hours waiting on collectors, answering questions, and generally doing what the staff of a successful gallery does. Don’t be surprised if you drop in ready to show your work, and are simply asked to make an appointment instead.
(Something to think about. . . galleries that can look at your work at the drop of a hat may have the time for drop-ins because they are not busy. Is that the kind of gallery you want representing you?)
I recommend that when you’re ready to make a presentation to a gallery, call ahead. Or email ahead. Not only is that the polite thing to do, it’s the professional thing to do.
Even better, you can use that initial contact to get answers to questions that will make you look like you know what you are doing from the start.
Here are the 5 questions I recommend asking before submitting art to a gallery:
1. Is the gallery accepting new work?
This might seem so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated, but if you overlook this question, you may go through all the other questions only to find out that the gallery isn’t accepting new work. Ask up front and save yourself and the gallery personnel time.
A good followup to this question is to ask what type of work they’re currently accepting. (If they’re looking for large sculptures, your oil miniatures aren’t going to be a good match.)
2. How does the gallery prefer to view work?
If they prefer to review artists’ work online AND you have good digital images or a professional looking website, that’s a great first step. The gallery staff can quickly get a sense of your artwork and if they decide your work will not fit into their marketing plan, it’ll save both of you the time and effort of a face-to-face.
If they prefer to see your artwork in person, how do they want to see your portfolio? Are slides best or is a printed portfolio? Do they want to see originals?
Knowing how to best present your artwork will gain you points in the long run. Nothing can be more frustrating for the gallery person—or the artist—than to have the artist show up with a portfolio full of slides when the gallery person really wanted to see original work.
3. How many works would they like to see?
There’s no set number of artworks that every gallery is looking for, yet every gallery wants to see a cohesive body of work. The number will change from place to place, so find out what number they’re looking for, and pick your best pieces to show them.
If you can easily fit it into the conversation, this is also a good time to ask whether your originals should be framed, and if they prefer large or small works.
4. Are they willing to make minor exceptions?
Sometimes you won’t have exactly what they’re asking for. For example, perhaps they’re looking for animal artwork, and they like to see originals. And let’s say you’ve completed art like that in the past, but you’ve already sold those pieces or – for some other reason – they’re currently unavailable.
In a situation like that, it’s reasonable to ask if they would be willing to review non-animal originals accompanied by slides or digital images of your animal art. Only ask this question if you feel that the exception is warranted, however.
5. When is a good time to meet with them?
Once you’ve gotten through all the other questions, it’s time to talk about making an appointment. Like all businesses, galleries have regular cycles. They know what days of the week and hours they’re most likely to be busy and when they’re likely to have time to visit with you. If possible, make an appointment and find out who you’ll be meeting with. That will give both you and the gallery staff time to prepare.
Getting answers to these 5 questions will help you provide exactly what the gallery needs to make a good decision, and will definitely increase your chances of becoming one of the artists they represent.
However. . . always be mindful of the time you’re taking up. If you sense that you’re asking too many questions during your initial contact, pull back. When in doubt, stick with these basic questions and you should be fine.
After all, everything else can be discussed in person once you and the gallery have determined you’re a good match.
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