Straight from the dealer’s mouth

16

Dear Artist,

Robin Timms of North Vancouver writes, “I am hoping you might provide some words of wisdom as to how to make my approach to obtain some critical input from galleries. I am thinking of sending out this letter… and would welcome any advice.”

robin-timms_on-the-trail

“On the Trail”
acrylic painting, 30 x 40 inches
by Robin Timms

Robin’s “gallery letter” opens with a detailed artist statement followed by a request: “As an emerging artist, a practical next step in my painting journey is to seek realistic, honest and knowledgeable advice from those experienced in putting gallery shows together — to understand whether my work is gallery-worthy, or whether it even ‘holds’ together as a series.”

In other words, Robin is looking for feedback — straight from the dealer’s mouth. She explains that rather than send images, she’d like to take her work to the gallery, as her paintings use glazes and are difficult to capture in photos. She offers to be available any time that’s suitable, lays out how many paintings she can bring, their sizes, and confirms that the work is recent. In her letter, Robin includes no link to images.

Thank you, Robin. Here are a few ideas on how you might refine your approach, with an order of operations for others who may be wondering about their own:

First, research suitable galleries, get to know which ones are open to artist submissions and visit them in person, if possible. This allows you to appreciate how the gallery does business, get to know the personalities involved and introduce yourself.  A dealer of mine who was bombarded with artist submissions warmly called it, “becoming a friend of the gallery.”

robin-timms_colour-play

“Colour Play”
acrylic painting, 30 x 30 inches
by Robin Timms

From here, make a short list of dream dealers. Galleries, afterall, are really dealers, and dealers are people.

When drafting your letter, keep your message simple. Introduce yourself briefly, including where you’re based. Avoid referencing other artists when describing yourself and your work.

Follow this with why you’ve chosen the gallery. Be specific and succinct.

Now, compose a simple statement of intention, something like this: “I’m seeking professional feedback, to understand if my work is gallery-ready.” If you’re looking for representation or something else, be clear about it.

Finally, the most important part: Your letter is a request for the gallery to look at your work, and most galleries have their preferred method. Ask them what theirs is and do offer a link to view images — your website, a Dropbox folder or even Instagram is an immediate answer to the question of what you do. Whatever your link, it should lead directly to a curated, cohesive set of current work with titles, dates, sizes and medium. Your images need to be sharp, cropped and colour accurate. Some dealers also appreciate seeing works in situ — installation photos that show the work to scale or reveal light-raking effects on impasto — these can also help with hard-to-read work. Offer your CV and artist statement in a nearby spot. Here’s the zinger: If you have to apologize for your images, they’re not fit to share. Keep at them until they’re a pride and joy. This is modern portfolio building. Professionals understand that images of your work are not your actual work, but that images perform an important function. If all is in place, the dealer may just ask, “Can I see them in person?”

robin-timms_on-the-varley-trail

“On the Varley Trail”
acrylic painting 36 x 36 inches
by Robin Timms

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “We are looking for visual info, not written — at least initially. The most useful critique is gained from a wholly uncontaminated first impression. First impressions matter. A lot. Let your work speak for itself, with the fewest possible preliminary remarks.” (Dennie Segnitz, White Rock Gallery, White Rock, BC, Canada)

Esoterica: Gallerists are engaged in the full-time business of developing, promoting and selling the work of artists they already represent. While the great ones are always on the hunt to nurture new talent, it’s unreasonable to expect them to portion time to meet with you without first seeing a few choice jpegs. Gallerist Dennie Segnitz writes, “Respect the gallery’s time. Do not appear out of the blue — arrange an appointment. If you receive a meeting, come fully prepared. Do not subject the gallery owner to tedious unwrapping, endless leafing through your binder or portfolio, etc. Again do not initiate long explanations about the inspiration or technical process underlying a painting. If the owner wants to know, he or she will ask.” When it comes to a crit, Segnitz reminds artists that a gallerist’s feedback will come from his or her own knowledge, experience and philosophy. How to know what those are? Check their walls. “Please do not be hurt or offended if the gallery does not reply or is late in its reply,” she writes. “For a gallery owner, it’s all about allocating his or her time, almost all of which needs to go into meeting the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, direct demands of the business.”

robin-timms_black-diamond

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“A good sketch is better than a long speech” (Napoleon Boneparte)

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16 Comments

  1. As an owner of two galleries, I appreciate your information in this letter to artists. It is spot on. Respecting an owners limited time and being prepared takes an artist a long way…. Thank you.
    Lois

  2. Robin, your work pictured here with Sara’s comments look plenty good to me. If you can send them out so that enlarged they look this good don’t worry about how they appear. I think all of the advice in the letter is great. Over the last five decades I have been in many galleries and I think, in a place interested in your type of work, and one that you feel right about, use these comments above and go for it !!

  3. Thank you for the article! Speaking as an artist from an area where it is difficult to access the main galleries in the cities- it is difficult to get up and travel all over or ; send you work and yes, images do go missing and become damaged. I am one of the few who pratices alternative processes in photography and to this day, many gallerists in the Usa and Canada are woefully ignorant to fine art photography.
    When I get a statement as to photoshopping despite the detailed information I send, then I realize I need to keep educating the experts.
    The real problem is; gallerists in Canada rather have someone famous from the USA than carry you…and the statement that one is too ” landscapey” when all they carry is landscapes is telling. Especially since that person won a prestigious prize. The dichotomy of West and East is hard to shake.
    I have been an artist since childhood and coupled that with competitive swimming and medical studies does not make me less of an artist compared with someone that has a MFA. It just happens I have other interests and I make all this still happen.
    If Ansel Adams thought I was good, then I take it he knows.
    Meeting an educated gallerist would make me a lot happier.

  4. Excellent, as usual, Sara! The bottom line is relationship. Relationship with clients, relationship with gallery owners, relationship with peers (surround yourself with those whom you admire and with whom you can aspire great things). Relationship.

  5. I have seen Robin’s work in person and was delighted with it. I often walk the Varley Trail and Robin’s colourful version mesmerized me as I was surprised to recognize it even in its abstract form. I think the jpegs here are fine as an introduction to her work and I hope that she will get some professional feedback. I am grateful to galleries that have shown, viewed and commented on my work – they have encouraged me to keep going and are valuable friendships. Congratulation to Robin on a wonderful series and thank you Sara for featuring this work. It’s Inspiring! Jane

    • Hi Sara

      I venture to guess that many of your readers are interested in this sort of post on approaching galleries. I encourage you to do more on this subject. There was an old Alec Guinness movie called “The Horse’s Mouth”. Having gallery owners write their thoughts is an excellent idea – straight from the horse’s mouth.

  6. Thank you for introducing us to this wonderful artist. I think she is definately ready to show her work. I also agree that the photos look fine. In my experience I look for spaces that appeal to me and inspire me as places where my work would fit. I also look for community galleries and art centres that call for submissions. There are many places to show one’s work that do not involve dealers or commercial galleries and building a CV of exhibitions is an important step to becoming known and creating a track record, as well as gaining experience of putting a show together and learning how to talk about one’s work. I also agree that one can woo a gallery by visiting at first, showing an interest in the other artists they represent and attending art show openings. All other advice also excellent…including keeping it brief and let the images speak fro themselves.I wish Robin all the best and hope to see more of her work in the future!

  7. Kathleen Scott on

    I like how lively Robin Timms work is. As a former Gallery/Gift Shop Coordinator, I noticed you did not mention or separate community art galleries, from ‘Dealer’ Galleries. Community art galleries have yearly call to artists and they are everywhere, and from my experience, it was hard to get enough reasonably competitive submissions. You may find your market in a part of the country that is not where you live. Choose places where friends or family have moved to. Where you have somewhere to stay. I had a special love for putting on a person’s first solo show. I gave those who did not yet give themselves the right to call themselves ‘artists’, a professional showing with all the trimmings. I bolstered a lot of confidences. I was no ‘Dealer’, don’t even like that word, personally. But I am a professional in the Arts world and an artist myself. Maybe you won’t get the dream sales from a community gallery, but you will get exposure, sometimes your first patron, and create a few fans of your work. You will get the feedback you are looking for, and the infamous, first solo show, for your resume. Another thing we did, is when a submission was not extensive enough for a solo show, we would offered artist pair ups that complimented each other. It was also my job to give constructive feedback from the jury to the artists we did not choose. Often with encouragement with how to refine their presentation and work for re-submission the following year. I also had the option of accepting pieces into the Gift Shop, even if they were not Gallery ready. My job was 90% promoting artists, and making sales 10%. Often the buyers were family and friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. These people felt good about supporting the artist AND the community gallery at the same time. And when I had a potential buyer, I switched to being the artist’s biggest fan, and I made sales. A good gallery coordinator will listen to all the people who came through to see your show, will sift out the useful feedback from the feedback that isn’t helpful, and then you reap the benefit of what the public has to say.

  8. Thank you the info Sara. Robin your paintings show well here. I paint in watercolor and often on Yupo. They are hard to photo because of reflections on the glossy surface – Yupo and finishing glaze. I have scanning them instead of photo really gets me a better image. If they are too large for a home scanner take to commercial one. At about $10 great investment and you will get a good image.

  9. Thank you to Sara and to Gallerist Dennie Segnitz for taking the time to provide me with much needed advice as to how to proceed to obtain input from galleries . I now have a plan to revise my letter/email request after taking note of this advice and to get my images to look as professional and accurate as possible for viewing purposes .

    Thank you to each one of you who also provided comments and advice . I really appreciate your input . Perhaps we can re-visit our approach to galleries, our experiences and lessons learned.

    Thanks again.

  10. I am so confused with pricing you say price by the sq in, ok say an 8×8 how much to start, then where to go from there medium size say 16×20, increase the sq in by how much, then 32×40 decrease by how much,
    now to tell you what I work with, I do watercolor on canvas, also I am a print maker which takes most time more hours to get to the final work I do not make editions,( all one of ).
    please please can someone give me a formular to work with, I am a self seller but am looking to Galleries a little later.
    thank you
    Margaret

  11. Spoiled, I be! I was injured some years ago in a way that immobilized me for some time and I thought maybe, for good. Still I was encouraged to make art and get online and find new paths. I love the internet for the way it saved me – including great encouragement from RGenn and a smile from Emily Carr :-)

    OK so I am making the “300” partly to get my fine, fine , fine motor skills back but how to market them? This is Connecticut and to structure my day, I did my few blocks walk or bus up to the corner coffeeshop. TA DAHHHH!
    The place was new and shiny and everyone asking “who are you?” – PERFECT they said – we hoped some artists would find us for stuff for the wall – It worked till I was no longer disabled because I could hang or not hang, depending on my health and we sold like hotcakes!

    I am fine now and looking for a proper representing gallery – or more than one. Maybe one for my miniatures – on that one now. And one for the abstracts and one for the NASA-inspired – it’s a family focus.

    Here in Hartford, it’s about “getting to know you” , as well. One who I like – is right for me – said a firm NO at first meeting but recently , a smile….and a maybe. So, I am doing my days and NOT obsessing on it, so I may win that YES for Christmas.

    Fancy, no?

    Elle

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