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How to Approach an Art Gallery with Your Paintings

Tips for artists on approaching an art gallery to represent their work.

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You’ve reached the stage in your development as an artist that you’ve a body of work, have started thinking seriously about selling your paintings, and see the next step as getting your paintings into an art gallery. So, how do you go about being represented in an art gallery? The tips and advice here have been gathered from a number of discussions on the Painting Forum about approaching an art gallery.

Is being represented by a gallery a good thing as far as exposure and recognition go, and is it worth the restrictions? I’m selling pretty well on my own already.
“Putting your work in a gallery is definitely a way to get recognized and build relationships with people, however, there are restrictions and other ways to get recognized. You could show your work in a gallery for a short while and then show in another gallery. Some galleries do that for a fee and there are no contracts to sign.” -- LaLuna131

“My cousin is a painter and is contracted with a big gallery, plus he has his own gallery in his hometown. From what I am told, he cannot sell any of his artwork on his own from his own gallery while he is contracted through this other one. All sales go through the gallery he is contracted with. Smaller galleries may not have as restricting contracts, but they do want to make money off of your work. If you plan to contract through a large, well known gallery, plan on playing by their rules.” -- LaLuna131

How Do I Approach a Gallery?
There are two opinions on this: either go in cold, in person, with some photos of your paintings on your, or phone beforehand to set up an appointment. Another option would be to send an email asking to set up an appointment with some small photos of your work attached or a link to your website (though doing this relies on your email being enticing enough for the person to click onto your website).

“The best approach is the ‘old-fashioned way’, that's to say: door to door selling. You must be aggressive like the old insurance guys used to be, in other words, make a nuisance of yourself. First photograph the best works that you have done, then print them out on good paper on a good computer (go to Walmart if you don’t have a good computer, and use their ‘Do-it-yourself’ enlarging machine, you can insert the memory stick directly into the machine to get great quality prints).That's assuming you have a digital camera (who doesn't these days?) Put them into a nice looking (leather if possible) binder. 8 x 10 inch photos would be best. Then make a list of local galleries, and find out who the head honcho is in each one, and make an appointment with them to review your portfolio. Don't deal with the underlings, they love to make you sweat, as they try to make themselves look important. Dress the part also, they love their artists to ‘look the part’, so dress flamboyant Above all, be confident, and talk up a good sales pitch, because you are the ‘product’ that you have to sell!” -- Painter

“Don't be afraid to approach a gallery, we are always looking for new work. And oh, be original please; classroom work, Bob Ross work, etc. is good to learn from, but not for a gallery. Besides, how is your work going to stand out unless it is original?” – Joan

“I was talking to a gallery staff and I asked her ‘What is the proper way to approach a gallery owner?’ She advised me to never just walk in with my work and said that I should call and ask if the owner would be interested in seeing my work. Then it would be proper to set up a time at both parties convenience. She said approaching a gallery by just walking in is very unprofessional. You would be assuming that the gallery owner has nothing better to do. The gallery owner may be in the middle of a sale.” – Brian

“It is very intimidating to go into a big deal gallery and ask for representation. If you are turned down, you are not likely to go back and try again. If you can participate in some local shows for a few years or less, you can build up credibility, you can be selling directly, and you'll get exposure -- not to mention valuable feedback. You are more likely to be approached by a gallery during a show. And you can work that show by placing a tasteful sign ‘looking for representation’ in your booth. Do an arts festival search in your area and fill out applications, it's easy. Once you are in enough shows, or in any gallery, you can then approach the galleries of your choice with that history in your favor.” – Jennifer

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