7 Ways to Approach An Art GalleryAfter the following the 3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation, you should be ready to approach your ‘target gallery’ and sell yourself!  There are a number of ways to approach an art gallery for representation. I have broken it down into 7 creative ways…

#1. Specific Gallery Requirements:
Check your ‘target gallery’ (this is the gallery you think is your best match) website and see if it has a specific protocol for artists’ submissions.

  • If it does have guidelines, follow them (or be a rebel and do it your own way, but you might get shut down).
  • Some galleries, especially within the high end fine art market have specific submission requirements and policies.
  • Usually artists must submit work for review.
  • This generally means a professional portfolio (more about this below).
  • Remember, good galleries are inundated with artists’ inquiries and submissions each week.

If there are no guidelines then you can try some of the suggestions below:

#2. The Portfolio Submission:
If you chose to send a portfolio directly to your chosen gallery, be sure and follow the guidelines mentioned above.

  • Still today, most artists simply send in a marketing package that includes a professional portfolio.
  • The portfolio often times gets stacked up in a pile and overlooked. This is why it is a good idea to follow up two weeks later with a phone call.
  • Don’t try and get too clever with the presentation.
  • Keep your portfolio tailored, professional and filled with your best work.
  • Generally expect to submit a professional portfolio of at least 10 slides, photos or transparencies or a CD depicting recent works.
  • Always send a self-addressed, stamped envelope or risk never seeing your material again!
  • Please read how to Create a Powerful Portfolio for up to date advice from Jason Horejs, gallery owner and author of the book,  “Starving to Successful – The Artist’s Guide to Getting into Galleries and Selling More Art”.

#3. The Cold Call:
This is where you pick up the phone and call the chosen gallery and pitch yourself…

  • Practice your pitch at home and rehearse it on a friend who will be honest with you!
  • Have a notepad with your thoughts outlined so you don’t ramble.
  • At this point, be ready to sell yourself because there is no artwork to hide behind over the telephone. Here are a few hints to help you make that call…
  • Check the gallery hours and exhibition schedule.
  • If there is an event scheduled, make your call at least a week before or a week after the after the event.
  • You minimize the risk of interrupting a busy and stressed out director.
  • It is best to make phone calls either in the morning or at the end of the day. This is when busy directors most generally are at their desks.
  • Avoid calling on Mondays and Fridays…make calls during the middle of week.
  • Ask to speak with the Director. If he/she is not available ask when he/she will be available and do not leave a message. (You might not get a return call) This way, you can call back later.
  • Keep the conversation short, friendly and to the point.
  • Introduce yourself, explain that you are interested in their gallery, and briefly tell them a little bit about you and your art and why you are a match for them.
  • Follow up the conversation with an email linking to your website or attach a few jpeg images of your work – do this within a day so they don’t forget you.
  • Mention in your email that if you don’t hear back from them, you will check back – give them one to two weeks.
  • Or ask the gallery if they would prefer a portfolio, slides or a website to review.

#4. The Walk In:
Get ready to sell yourself! This is a more aggressive approach which may or may not work – it all depends on how attuned you feel with the director or owner. There are no set rules so be ready to go-with-the-flow. Here are some ideas to help you take that step in the door:

  • Just like the ‘cold call’ check the gallery schedule and make sure you are not interrupting a major event or busy time.
  • Hopefully you have done your homework and familiarized yourself with the gallery.
  • Look your best.
  • Ask to speak with the owner or director.
  • Be informed and demonstrate that you understand the gallery program.
  • Let them know why your work is a good match.
  • Do not walk in with paintings tucked under your arm – this looks desperate.
  • Leave a business card with your website information or a portfolio for their review.
  • Don’t overwhelm them with too much information, leave them wanting more.
  • Walk in with a good attitude.
  • Be courteous.

Now let’s say they really like you and things have gone well…they might ask to have you send them a few paintings for their approval – or they might ask to see some work in person. At this point (this has worked for many of my artist friends, especially when they are on a road trip) have few small framed samples of your best work out in the car!

#5. The Look & See:
Invite your targeted gallery to visit a current showing of your work.

  • Many artists show their art is art/craft shows, restaurants, banks, interior design firms, frames shops and their own studios.
  • If you are lucky enough to live in a community that has a possible gallery for you this approach might work. I suggest you send a printed invitation with an image of your art to the director followed up with a phone call.
  • This is the approach I chose back when I found my first gallery years ago! I had a sell-out show in a friend’s design studio. While it was still hanging, I invited the gallery director to view my art. She loved it and the rest is history!

#6. The Referral:
This is the best and most effective way of approaching a gallery. It has worked wonders for me in the past. If you network with other artists, you most likely have friends with good connections. And yes, just like in Hollywood – it’s who you know.

  • Ask your artist friend to recommend you to their gallery.
  • Make sure to have your friend send them to your website or give them a portfolio of your art. This will peak the gallery’s interest in you.
  • Within a week it is up to you to follow through.
  • Give them a call and remind the gallery that they were recommended to you by your mutual artist friend.
  • From there, hopefully you can build a working relationship.

#7. The Gallery Solicitation:
“If the mountain can’t go to Mohammad, let the mountain come to Mohammad.” What do I mean by that familiar, old proverb? This is when the gallery approaches you!

  • Yes, this does happen. It has happened to me!
  • This is a supreme compliment, but before you say, ‘yes’, make sure to check the gallery’s references and business record.
  • I usually call a few artists withing the gallery ‘stable’ and ask them if they are happy with their working relationship & if the gallery pays.
  • If the gallery measures up and look like a good fit, this can be the best of all worlds. The gallery picked you – that means they are excited to show your work in their gallery, and this can lead to more sales!
  • Beware of vanity galleries!

The above suggestions are advice that I have compiled from my years as an artist and talking with galleries and fellow artists. We all have battle scars and war stories to tell, but I hope these ideas help keep your pain to a minimum.

Just remember,
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”

Good luck. I hope this all helps. Let me know if any of these suggestions work for you! ~Lori 🙂

PS. These are not ‘rules’, just some helpful guidelines…

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If you like this article, I highly suggest reading:

3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation

How to ‘Jump-Start’ Your Art Career

Finding Your Own Artistic Voice

10 Ways to Develop Your Brand and Market Your Art

How to Prepare for Gallery Night: Tips & Advice

Newsletter Art Marketing Tips That Work!

10 tips to Bring Visitors to Your Open Studio or Art Fair Booth

How to Find an Art Print Publisher: One Artist’s Way