If my blog was one of my kids, it would have died from neglect. I can’t count the days that I had passing thoughts about writing something insightful or interesting but the moments passed and I guess I just got caught up in the day. Days fade into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it your online journal is old and dusty. It is not just being busy that keeps me away from blogging as much as one ‘ought’ to. The fact is, at times, I don’t think anything I may write is worth reading. I guess it’s better to say nothing than to just vomit out posts on the basis of being regular.
Regardless I’ll press on from where we left off at the tail end of August, galleries. I really don’t have much experience as an artist interacting with the art gallery scene. Initially I thought galleries to be a waste of commission money, but I have come to learn that a gallery can be worth the money. Promoting yourself as an artist requires many different hats, all of which require time to wear. Most painters I know just want to paint and we all wish the rest would just fall into place, but it doesn’t. To be successful as an artist, you have to be a marketing manager, a publicist, a web designer, blogger, a tax adviser, business manager as well as the crafter. Good galleries can wear a few of these hats for you.
Galleries and artists have to possess a symbiotic relationship in order for both to be successful. I have found such a gallery, The Pod. It is co-owned by artists Bekah Berry and Natalie Wetzel. The Pod opened last July during our local fine art festival which I was showing in. As it was a good show for me, I know the The Pod did very well and business was booming those first two days. Since then, I have established an art presence there and become friends with Bekah, Natalie and their great families. I have even learned a bit more about what a good gallery can do for an artist. Hold that thought, I’ll get back to this in a minute.
If you are an artist, ask yourself this: How do I get my art out there to sell? Online? Festivals? Contests and exhibitions? If you have read my blog enough, you will know that festivals are the most labor intensive and risky. The costs an artist bears is considerable and the ROI is as unpredictable as the weather. How much online sales have you garnered assuming your website/presence is even capable of e-commerce? Art exhibitions can also be expensive and usually require original work only. You have to give up a piece for the duration of a show. Often the exhibitions will take a little cut of your proceeds if your piece sells. You have to pay to apply, pay to ship and you wait. Sales during these events are uncommon if not rare and the competition is tough, so having expectations to take home some prize money is a foolish notion.
Exhibitions are a great way to get exposure. Often they are covered in national circulated magazines and can draw the attention of galleries, collectors and customers. They are also a great way to meet and greet other artists, patrons and society organizers. Most nationally ranked shows such as the AWS, NWS & the TWSA are located in very busy venues that get lots of traffic. Some even have traveling exhibitions where the show is displayed in several large cities around the country.
Now back to the gallery. Some offer a co-op where you pay for wall space or rent and keep 100% of your proceeds if something sells. Others take a commission and still some do a combination of both. Over the long haul I find the renter type of gallery to be cost prohibitive and in some sense counterproductive. Think about it, a gallery that is a wall rental operation only has to worry about getting the rent check. They don’t have to know you, your art, or even really value your craftsmanship. Their first concern is paying their rent from the rent checks they collect from the artists. There is less motivation to sell and often the more art this type of gallery can cram in, the better. I like to call it wall sprawl. You will know it when you see it. Art starts inches from the floor and will go inches to the ceiling, around corners and in places that are not really idea for display. Pushing maximum density comes to mind!
Combination galleries who charge wall rent and also take a commission tend to be even more costly to the artist. Often the rent and commission fees are cheaper but together they often surpass the other two types of galleries. If your art sits in a rental gallery for too long, you are more or less giving it away or losing money. This forces artists to either up their prices to compensate or bring in larger expensive pieces that can afford to depreciate over rental time and still make the artist some money on the back end of a sale. Given the economy, who wants to add yet another monthly expense?
When I first considered galleries as an option, my first thoughts were, “50%…. really? The hell with that.” Then I got myself going with festivals, and found that not only was I putting in travel expenses and the time and costs of showing at a festival, it was hard work and often unrewarding. Rinse and repeat this process and soon, 50% seems more appealing. I don’t have to setup a tent, sit in blazing heat for 12-20 hours and hope sales are enough to warrant the effort. There is far less risk in damaging my art in transit and I don’t have to worry about inclement weather, setup and tear down difficulties, hotels and all the other intangibles that spring up during a festival.
Alternatively I can walk my paintings down to The Pod gallery, and have them nicely displayed in a place that has far more foot traffic than my studio at a cost I can afford. The best thing is, Natalie and Bekah are honest, friendly and very energetic about my work. It’s an honor to be included in their repertoire of artists and I know they have my best interests in mind. Their rates are very fair and they are flexible enough to allow me to call the shots on what art I hang there and for how long. I’d go as far to say that they have bent over backwards to accommodate me.
I’m fortunate to have such a gallery just a block from where I paint. Not all artists are so lucky. The important thing to remember is what works well for me may not for you. You may find the festival circuit far more appealing, or the rental gallery option. Just be sure you cover all your bases before you risk your original art to the hands of strangers. The risks need to be shared, and if you feel your being steered into a deal that puts everything on you, then just say no. There are always greener pastures to find, just keep looking.