I had been painting for about 15 years and taking classes. One day, when I went to a critique class I was taking at the Santa Fe Community College, my teacher, Jakki Kouffman, looked at the three large paintings I had brought in that day and said, “Wow, I could see this work in a gallery.” So I asked, “What should I do next?” Her answer: “Paint 20 of them.” This was really great advice.
Here are six suggestions that I think are helpful before you should approach galleries:
1. Have at least 20 paintings that are in a cohesive body of work.
This provides you with enough work to offer the gallery. It also gives you an opportunity to really start to learn to repeat yourself. Not in the sense of copying the work but creating a solid series of work that has a very cohesive nature. This gives the gallery a clear vision of what type of work they can expect from you.
2. Create a website.
I plan to provide some hints on creating a website in my next blog. Most galleries will view your work from your website. You may send them a couple images to look at in an email but your website will provide them with all the information they will be looking for to decide whether you are someone they think fits in their stable of artists.
3. Enter some competitions so you can build your resume.
If you have a BFA or a MFA this step may not be necessary. There are plenty of calls to artists in Professional Artist magazine and on ProfessionalArtistMag.com.
This gives you the opportunity to get your feet wet so to speak. You will learn quite a bit about dealing with rejection in this process. If you win a prize or other honor, it shows the galleries that you have work that has been juried by others. You need to have a couple things on your resume, something that can set you out from the rest. Also, it shows that you are serious about your work — galleries don’t want to invest time, energy and money in someone who is not serious about their work.
4. Make sure you have very good images of your work.
This is so very important. In many instances you will only deal with a gallery through the Internet, and if your images don’t truly portray your work as it is, this will hurt your chances of getting into galleries and staying there. You would not want to have a gallery that is interested in your work after looking at your website be disappointed when the work is presented in person.
5. Be able to discuss your work with a gallery owner, including your process and what is it you are trying to convey through the work.
This is one that I can speak about from a personal experience. When I first started out, I got an opportunity with a gallery in Santa Fe. I had sent them an email submission and they called and said, “Why don’t you bring some work by and we will take a look.” So I went to the gallery and I brought all the work in, about five paintings. I was out of breadth and very nervous. The owner of the gallery asked, “So tell us about these.” I was not necessarily prepared for this. After a moment, I got my thoughts together and told her my story, probably not my best moment in explaining my work but it worked out.
6. Determine prices for the work.
This is VERY important. One of the first things a gallery representative asks is, “What is your price range?” I started out with a per-square-inch price for most work, but the smaller work had a larger number per square inch. I think the best way to decide this is to look around at others’ work with about the same experience level and figure it out from there.
Ultimately I believe that the work and how it appeals to the gallery director is the MOST important thing in gaining representation from a gallery. One time I asked a gallery director why she chose my work to represent. Her reply was, “I LOVED the image you sent me of your work. I get hundreds of email submissions a month and your work caught my eye.”