Finding a Successful Gallery

So you want to start making some money with your art? There are many ways to reach collectors in today's art market, such as outdoor shows, eBay, and individual blogs. Although all these venues can produce a lively income, many of my artist friends consider working with commercial galleries to be their highest goal. Although galleries take a 40 percent to 50 percent sales commission, artists seem to enjoy the affirmation that goes along with having someone else sell and market their work.

Asheulot River Study by Lori Woodward, acrylic painting, 9 x 12.
Asheulot River Study by Lori Woodward, acrylic painting, 9 x 12.

Not all galleries are created equal, however. Ideally, a gallery should have certain assets. First, the best selling galleries have ample foot traffic. Don't fall for a gallery that boasts about how many cars drive by, because that's exactly what cars do—drive by. Art buyers generally need an alternate reason to be out of their cars. In other words, art galleries are rarely their final destination. Successful galleries are situated in arts districts with boutiques, antique shops, and fancy restaurants. Many art galleries are located in resort towns. Some are not situated in areas with heavy foot traffic, and those galleries often invest heavily in advertising in art-collector magazines in order to interest and attract collectors.

The ideal gallery should also have professional lighting fixtures, a glass front with paintings attractively displayed, and it should almost always be on the first floor (street level). If it is next to or near other galleries, so much the better.

Selling art is an expensive venture. The rent for gallery space in an art district is often in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 per month. Advertising in major art-collector magazines can cost upward of $10,000 for a full-page ad. However, gallery owners willingly pay these high fees in order to situate themselves where well-to-do people go for fun and relaxation.

Art collectors enjoy visiting as many galleries as they can in a single day or evening. Art walks are a great way to bring in collectors on a regular basis. Scottsdale, Arizona, for example, has a weekly art walk on Thursday nights. In New England, where I live, some smaller resort towns hold “First Friday” evenings when all shops stay open late the first Friday of every month.

I've noticed that the most successful galleries I've worked with do not leave unsold artwork on their walls for more than a few months. What this means for the artist is that when work does not sell, he or she will be asked to exchange unsold paintings with new pieces every few months. More than once, I've been asked to leave a gallery because my work didn't sell fast enough. They just can't afford to keep an artist who isn't making them money. When this happens, I don't take it personally. Good galleries don't let your work hang forever, and I don't work with galleries that keep the same artwork year after year, because unsold work is a sure sign that they're not doing very well.

When you begin looking for galleries to carry your artwork, go to an arts district or town with other shops and restaurants where people are out of cars and walking. At first, do not let the gallery staff know that you're an artist. You'll want to get an idea of how they treat their prospective customers and how well they know the artists they represent. In a future post, I'll explain how to look at art the way a collector does. We artists tend to use body language that collectors hardly ever use.

Lori Woodward Simons earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Simons’ work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter here.

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The Artist's Life Blog
Lori Woodward

About Lori Woodward

Lori Woodward earned a bachelor's degree in Art Education from the University of Arizona. She has studied with Sondra Freckelton,(watercolor) Jack Beal, (composition) and currently is mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik as a member of the Putney Painters. As a writer, Lori has authored articles for Watercolor Magazine since 1996.  Lori authored a chapter on artists' web sites for Calvin J. Goodman's Art Marketing Handbook. She is a regular author on Fine Art Views, an art marketing online newsletter, and she has instruction art marketing and watercolor workshops at Scottsdale Artist School.

5 thoughts on “Finding a Successful Gallery

  1. Wow, I never knew that there are so many things one has to look at when searching for a good gallery.
    Thank you for the great deal of information!
    Y. Sokolov

  2. Hi YSokolov,

    I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from you today and just would like to acknowledge your contributions on the forum. I’m glad that these blogs have given you some useful info.

  3. So Lori..How does one actually get gallery representation? Do I set up an appointment with the owner or representative? I’ve only belonged to a co-op gallery and that was done through an open competition.

    Not sure if you’ve covered this in another thread or not..I looked through the rest of the blogs and didn’t see it..Sorry if I missed it.


  4. Mike,

    Getting gallery representation can be easier if the gallery is newer and is not one of the big, well known galleries that advertise in art collector magazines. This is because those well-known galleries have huge costs associated with their rent and advertising costs, so they can’t afford to take on artists who aren’t already selling well or known by collectors.

    I started out by visiting galleries within a 2 hour drive of my home – but did not let them know I was an artist. I first was approached by 3 galleries while I was doing outdoor shows, so I never really had to apply to them.

    Usually, an artist snail mails a CD and photos, along with a bio and resume, and price list. When gallery owners look at your body of work, they ask themselves one thing: Would my clientele want to buy this work. It helps if you’ve already been selling your work. I know, a catch 22, but never the less, it’s what gallery owners want to see.

    That’s why I started out selling at outdoor shows, local auctions, and online with portrait commissions. By the time a gallery approached me, I had a history of collectors.