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.
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
www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.