You now you have a better idea of how to find the right gallery. So, I thought you might be interesting in my personal ‘gallery shopping’ story.

But first, a few relevant thoughts:

Whether you want to admit it or not, being an artist is kind of like being in show business. We are in fact – entertainers or even celebrities of sorts. You will find this to be true anytime you put yourself out there in the public eye: i.e. gallery exhibitions, museum exhibitions, lectures, publications, etc.

Do you ever watch American Idol? On that popular television show, thousands of talented and not-so-talented young people put themselves through public scrutiny and humiliation while trying to reach for fame and fortune. It is very entertaining to watch the good-the bad-and-the ugly perform and then judged. Just in case you are not familiar with American Idol…a panel of 4 judges comment after each singing performance. Their personalities range from “Simon,” with his harsh realistic opinions that slash to the core, to flowery “Paula,” (now sense retired) who tends to ‘sugar-coat’ her comments with positive reinforcement.

Not to discourage you but, this is an analogy for what the gallery world can feel like. That is why I made the many suggestions in the article, The Right Gallery – How to Find One. Gallery directors and owners come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. I am trying to help you minimize the discomfort and artistic temperament that most artists feel in case you come upon a “Simon” while gallery shopping…

Back to my story:

I won’t bore you with my whole life story, but in short – I was born with a pencil in my hand and for as long as I can remember, I have always drawn. However, I didn’t start painting until the late 1980’s when my kids were babies. In between loads of laundry and nap-time I would paint. To motivate myself, I took painting workshops and illustrated (often for free) for the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and the Wolf Education Research Center. I also entered many art competitions including duck and trout stamps. This kept me painting, creating, and improving my craft.

Things started to happen:

  • My drawings & paintings were being published and my local newspaper and Sun Valley Magazine did articles about my art.
  • This got the attention of the art community.
  • From there, I had an introduction to Zantman Gallery in Carmel, California.
  • A mutual friend introduced my work to the director and the gallery started to represent me.
  • Also at that time, Kneeland Gallery offered to show my work too.
  • Before I knew it, I was in two galleries (each with 2 locations).
    • Great – right? Wrong. The problem was this…I WAS NOT READY FOR A GALLERY!
    • Why? I was such a busy full time mom; I could not physically produce enough fresh work to keep the galleries happy.
    • So, I pulled my work out of the gallery world for another 12 years. Even though my artwork was technically good enough to be in a gallery – I was not ready.

But, during that 12 year gallery break, I continued to work on developing my skill and own personal style. The quality of my paintings grew a lot as I studied with many world renowned artists, read great art books and watched inspiring videos.

Fast forward 12 years….here’s what happened!

  • After I read Kevin McPherson’s instructional book, “Fill Your Painting with Light & Color,” I was inspired to paint one small field painting every day.
  • As an exercise I did this, and by the end of summer I had close to 100 ‘little gem’ paintings!
  • Soon after, a girlfriend offered to show these little works in her interior decorating store –it was in a perfect location down ‘gallery row’.
  • I had a sellout show!
  • This caught the attention of two nationally recognized galleries in my hometown, Kneeland Gallery and Gail Severn Gallery.
  • Both galleries offered to represent me.
  • I chose Kneeland because I felt my work was more compatible with their current theme.
  • Before I knew it, I was having successful shows and advertising in major magazines.
  • An ad in Southwest Art Magazine caught the attention of Gardner Colby Gallery in Naples, Florida and soon I was represented on the east coast too!

Now I felt ready to branch out a little further…a fellow artist referred me to a gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – they took a chance on me and presto, another gallery! Then came Scottsdale and New York….but, my overachieving caught up with me and I had to drop them and went back to the basics.

I have learned a lot along the way and hope my story can help you. Most importantly, any successful relationship takes work and nurturing. I have great rapport with all my galleries and communicate with them frequently. I let them know I appreciate all they are doing for me.

A few personal tips:

  • I SELL MYSELF FIRST! I smile, I am friendly, and show my personality.
  • I am prepared and informed
  • I am professional
  • I look my best (but not overdone!)
  • I dress according to the demographics – if the gallery is in the city, I dress up a bit (basic black is always safe). In Jackson or Sun Valley I wear a nice pair of jeans and a blouse or sweater.
  • MAKE SURE YOU ARE READY FOR A GALLERY. (This means you have the time to devote to your art – learn from my mistake.)
  • REALIZE THAT GOOD GALLERIES NEED GOOD ARTISTS
  • Interview the gallery
  • Maybe you’d rather work with a Paula instead of a Simon
  • If you’re not ready but want to get your feet wet, you can set up occasional shows by approaching a restaurant, interior design firm, real estate office, bank or coffee house. Treat them as though you would a gallery.
  • Believe in yourself and remember it’s your choice.
  • And lastly…In the wise words of the strange but talented pop star, Lady Gaga (she was a struggling artist for years) – “Do what you love and the Universe will support you!”

Lori :)

by Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses. Lori is also a member of the CBS Entertainment Tonight & The Insider Tweet Team.

26 thoughts on “The Right Art Gallery – How I Found Mine

  1. Lori Woodward Simons says:

    Hi Lori,

    Great post and oh so true. I got into galleries early on not realizing how many paintings I’d have to do in order to supply them properly. I was totally unaware that I’d have to have replacement paintings ready to go when the ones that were hanging sold.

    Even today, because I have a dual career – half writing and half painting, I need to be cautious about how much work I can realistically deliver.

    I’m glad that you are able to fill wonderful galleries now that you can devote more time to painting.

    Keep up the great work and blogs.
    Lori

  2. Karen McLain says:

    Great article! I paint horses from life, and I am always meeting wonderful people. Those meetings have turned into friendships, and commissions as well. This has helped me be able to talk about my art, (to anyone), and focus on painting at the same time. And as you say, I love what I do! Thanks for an inspiring post!

  3. Jynja says:

    Found you on twitter when searching through artists. You posted your blog, I followed. Great suggestions. It is all about the packaging. Thanks !

  4. Amy Wise-Bacis says:

    Lori,
    Thanks for sharing such valuable information. It’s great to have artists like yourself willing to sharing experiences and offer insightful information. What a great help!

    Thanks,
    Amy

  5. Kimberly McDaniel says:

    Lori! Such great advice. I am a mother of 3 young boys and I’m exactly in that position. I am also a sensitive artist and am not ready to be judged by the world…I believe that cliche that “art is in the eye of the beholder” and I can appreciate the time and techiniques that it takes to create; therefore, not ready for a Simon! So, as a substitute to my creative outlet, I started an online Mexican Export(sign-up on list http://www.collectionsofmexico.com)business and now I support Mexican Artisans. I see some amazing pieces and it satisfies me for now. I know there is a time and place for everything and you just confirmed that in sharing your personal story with us. I so admire your show of patience and am happy for your success. Glad to of found you on Twitter! I think you are an amazing artist and person! Keep the tips comin’!!

    Kimberly

  6. Vickie says:

    This was very insiteful. I have had gallery representation while having a full-time job. I have learned it pays to be out there and networking. Sometimes it is primarily with other artists, but I learn valuable lessons. I found your blog because you posted on twitter! I love finding artists that post valuable business/marketing/sales advice for us.

  7. Kristine St.Clair says:

    I absolutley love your blog. This post is perfect. I feel like I can realate on so many levels, I am an artist and SAHM, who paints between naptimes and chores. This was full of information as well. Glad I follow you on twitter. Thanks,
    Krissy!

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  10. Gary Holland says:

    Nice article, Lori.
    I can add a story I heard from Kevin MacPherson about a decade ago. As we were comparing the relative merits of galleries, he said that he too had been in the O’Briens Art Emporium in Scottsdale. My understanding was that he got his start there, painting 100 9×12″ paintings, selling them for $100 apiece. He didn’t make money doing that, but he did collect 100 collectors, from whom he sold many paintings in future years. Instant collector list!

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  14. James Apichart Jarvis says:

    Tell you what, your blog is quite the resource Lori.
    I am glad that I came across it.

    I am now researching the best approach to make it as a professional artist, after 4 years of barely touching a paint brush.

    However, through my work in an architectural gallery as an intern, I have been given the opportunity to present my work for free in a prime location in London.
    I just need to to build a new set of paintings.

    In your experience, would you think that utilising the commercial gallery exhibit of my work as a vehicle to get gallery representation would work?

    Or do you have any suggestions of how a young artist (23), with only one minor gallery experience, and no real could utilise this fantastic opportunity.

    Check out my work on my new blog, I’m quite the painter: http://artstarting.blogspot.com/

    Thanks in advance.

    • Lori McNee says:

      Hello James,

      Wow, what a great opportunity you have been offered! You better get painting! Don’t be afraid to show your work even though you have only had minor experience. You are young and talented, with a bright future. I would suggest putting a coherent body of work together. Decide how many pieces, what size, what mediums, subject matter, etc. Look as professional as possible. Print up a bio and artist’s statement and have a portfolio available. There are quite a few posts on this subject within this blog.

      I hope these suggestions help you. Keep me posted and feel free to ask more questions if needed.

      Good luck! ~Lori

  15. Simone Moore says:

    Very helpful Lori and have been a few I’ve looked at where I was living thinking I was ready – so not! But here’s to new horizons.

    Also note that the link to the how to find the right gallery is not working and I’d very much like to read it.

    Cheers
    Simone

  16. Linda Eichorst says:

    Lori, thanks. It was really good for me to reread this post this morning. After reading it the first time, I thought I had a handle on how to get in a gallery. Well, it was harder than I expected. Rereading it, I am encouraged to try again. I am in one small gallery, but feel that I am ready to reach out for another. I am still extremely nervous about it, but realize I must be bolder, even if only for an hour or two at a time, to accomplish my goals.

  17. Judy Perrin says:

    Wow, what a fantastic story! I’ve only just found your blog whilst googling for general advice, and it’s great – I keep clicking through to the fantastic links on articles from other artists, it’s such a good resource and thank you for being such a good blogger. :)
    I’m only just starting to get back into oil painting and have quite poor confidence – not about my art, I paint what I love and have years of practice and training – but in myself. If I could hire someone to pretend to be me to approach galleries and collectors, I would!
    Also, as my subject matter is a bit odd, I think I’m going to struggle to find galleries willing to accept it. I do steampunk style fantasy paintings, but as they’re not super-realistic, or ultra-traditional fantasy themes, I’m at a loss as to how to sell my work to galleries/collectors. It’s more than a tad niche.

    • Lori McNee says:

      Hello Judy, thanks for taking time to read and comment here. I’m glad you enjoy this blog :) Meanwhile, it is best if you have a cohesive body of work to show. That will help look professional. I would search the web for galleries who might accept your style of fantasy art. Of, maybe try having your own showing at a cool coffee shop or restaurant. That is a way to get started too! I hope this helps. Good luck :)

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