Preparing For Representation – Digital Images and Background Information
First you must have a cohesive body of work that shows a clear idea of what you are trying to say and indicates the direction of where you’re going with your content. The work should be technically well done, and each piece is signed on the front or rear. If your medium is painting or other 2-dimensional works, they do not need to be framed, as long as they have quality hanging hardware and wire on the back. Framing is a very personal thing and many collectors prefer unframed pieces because they will reframe it to fit their tastes. You really don’t want to spend money on a frame that goes into the garbage. If you prefer to have them framed or if you’ve been asked to submit them framed, select a simple frame with clean lines. Dark brown or black is fine; be careful with colored frames, you can limit your market if potential buyers don’t like the color you’ve chosen. If you’re media is small sculpture, you need to make sure your pieces are self-supporting with appropriate stand (if small and table-top size). Don’t assume the gallery will do this for you. They might, but they also might not display your pieces in the way you’d prefer them to be. Discuss how the gallery owner/manager will want to display and market your artwork. Make it easy for them to sell your pieces.
Some galleries (and juried exhibits-but, that’s another post topic) may want to see the original works in addition to your digital images. You can also create a portfolio of printed color images if your work is too large to take around, but make sure the images are very good. Include the title, size, medium and price with each image. You will need high resolution digital images of your work that can be used in all types of media marketing. Take your images in a large size so you won’t have to shoot it again if the need arises. You can make high res images small but can’t make them larger. Don’t’ scrimp on your images…poor quality images will not get you into good galleries and will keep you from getting into juried exhibits. A group of 5-7 images should be sufficient. From the beginning of your career, get in the habit of photographing your work or have someone else do it before it leaves your studio. You will use these images over and over and they will provide a valuable record of your artistic journey and output.
You can learn how to shoot your own images, how to manipulate them and save them in standard formats. Jpg’s are used by most every media outlet and for all purposes. PNGs, GIF’s and other formats are ok, but not everyone can use them. It depends on the software they are using. Shoot in high res and always keep one copy in its original (raw) form. You can always resize them smaller to fit the need. All print media require very large size digital files to make them print out crisp and clear. Label each digital file image to include your name, artwork title, size, medium. Keep these titles uniform, this helps with inventory and should meet most commercial entry requirements in prospectuses. Here is good example: John Smith-Title of artwork, 12×14, oil.
While your excellent artwork might get you in the door, you must also be professional in providing galleries with the details they need about you and your work. Providing a biography, photo of yourself, artist statement and/or current CV are standard. These will be used on their websites and to market you in general. Galleries don’t have time to hand-hold an artist who can’t provide this basic information along with good quality digital images. Established artists know this routine and keep their information up to date. Being organized and having all your art inventoried is extremely important and will make your life easier in so many ways.
Now that you’ve got your images and personal information ready, let’s talk about pricing.
If you’re a new or “emerging” artist, you might need some help setting prices for your work. Obviously you want to at least recoup the cost of your materials and labor. There are a few different models/formulas that are used and you can ask other artists how they price theirs. There is the “by the inch” and “by size” formulas but they don’t work for everything. Find art that is similar in size and medium as what you do and make note of them. Use these as guidelines. Of course, established artists sell for higher prices than those just beginning their careers.
If you are an established artist, beware the dealer who wants you to drop your prices because you are “new” to their area. If you have been selling your work at those prices, why would you lower them? A reputable gallery will want to know what your prices are and how long you’ve been at that level, which helps them sell the work to their clients and justify the pricing. They might advise you to raise your prices, which is ultimately what you are looking for; a dealer with thoughtful input on how to grow your market, build a strong collector base and earn you more money.
Next, ask yourself honestly if you are prepared to supply the gallery with new work on an ongoing basis. The quantities needed will be different for each gallery, but you should plan on providing at least 3-5 pieces at a time, a few times a year. Provide the gallery with a larger number so they can pick and choose the ones they believe will suit their client’s tastes. Also, consider your ability to produce 20-30 pieces for a one-person exhibition or 4-6 for a small group show. Are you capable of getting this work done on a timely basis? Be prepared to replace works with new ones based on the gallery’s schedule. Think about whether you have interest in creating works for themed shows, or, if you prefer to produce only subjects you are interested in. You are making a commitment when you enter into a business arrangement with a gallery. If you are not able to follow through, you won’t get very far.
Gallery contracts vary, but most likely you will at a minimum, be responsible for getting your work back and forth from the gallery at your own cost. You also need to be comfortable giving up a certain amount of control. A gallery will be making many decisions concerning the exhibiting of your work, and they’ll be selling to clients you will probably never meet.
You will be presented with a contract, which might (or not) require exclusivity within a geographic area, or, might prohibit you from selling out of your own studio. You will be paying a commission on sales which is deducted from the retail price before they pay you. Be prepared to wait for your money; some galleries pay within a few days of a sale; others may wait 30 days. Make sure the contract/consignment agreement you sign states what their payment policy and process is. If a gallery allows clients to purchase art and make payments over time, you might be waiting a while to see any income. Protect yourself by stipulating in the contract that these types of sales will be handled like regular sales and should be paid to you quickly. Your contract is with the gallery, not the purchasing client. If you already enjoy strong sales from your studio and you can’t do that any longer, your income will drop initially when first working with the gallery, but the hope is that they will eventually be able to increase your sales volume and prices more than enough to compensate. This is the ideal, but price increases are typically incremental and happen over a period time based on what the market will bear. If you are a new artist, your relationship requires patience while the gallery develops your market. The gallery will want you to use your existing client list for marketing and/or ask you to utilize social media to let people know you are now being represented by them. Remember, your reputation is a part of your marketability too.
The current trend of buying local also applies to art. People want to support their local artists and interact with them. Take advantage of this. Ask if your attendance is required at openings in which your work is displayed and if there are other events you might participate in. For example: painting demonstrations, lectures about your work, charity events, etc. sponsored by the gallery.
There are other important topics to discuss once you have reached an agreement and are ready to consign. Ask if they might place your work outside of the gallery and if so, where and under what terms. Confirm your work will always be insured while in gallery and off-site, and what the process is in case of theft or damage to it. Will images of your work be used in marketing the gallery or in other ways and where? Can you sell your work through galleries in other states? Can you sell your work through art fairs? These are only a few questions you might ask. Finally, make sure you get copies of marketing materials any gallery puts out about shows you’re in. Keep these for your portfolio…they will come in handy in the future as you continue to build your CV/resume’.