Not too long ago I received an email from a regular reader asking for some advice. The reader recently dived into his art and managed to come up with some wonderful paintings. But the next thing he thought was ‘now what?’. His question ‘now that I have painted some decent pictures, what do I do now?’ is one that almost all artists struggle with unfortunately. So how do you get your work on show in a gallery? There are only very few artists who can just take every picture they paint to their gallery, where it gets sold for them. The art market is a hard nut to crack. And beginners as well as professional artists all have the same problem of how to get their work in front of the public.
I thought I’d share my (slightly amended) answer to him. So, now that you have painted some decent pictures, how do you get it ‘out there’?
First of all, I would definitely get a website (I wrote a series of posts about building websites for artists). This way you give your work a ‘home’; a place where people can look up who you are and what you do. But do not expect to be ‘found’ once you have a website. The web is a very full and busy place and like in any overcrowded city, nobody decent is going to knock on your door unless they know you and where you live. So a website is a place where people can go after they have already heard of you. They will not ‘come across’ you by coincidence.
Once you have your website set up, consider starting a mailing list and sending out regular email newsletters with your latest works, your inspiration and other studio secrets.
Besides your own website you can consider putting your work in online galleries. For example Saatchi, or Artists & Illustrators Portfolio. Also consider magazine competitions and other online show cases. It is usually very easy to use and low cost. Do make sure you don’t join too many of them and keep track where your work is. You don’t want to find your work online in unexpected places you never intended it to be. Keep your login details safe and remove work that is really old.
Social media is a great way to get your work in front of people. Being active on social media can be a major boost to getting known and even to making some sales. Some artists have really found a following on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. But remember that for social media to ‘work’ for you, you have to put in time. Just putting your pictures on Facebook will not get you followers or ‘likes’. You have to spend time connecting to others, commenting, liking and interacting. Building and being part of a community is a two-way street!
To get your work seen by people (who might then look up your website or social media profile) you have to get your paintings out of the house and into a gallery.
Submit your work to open art exhibitions where you think they might fit in. Open exhibitions are a great way to get a lot of eyeballs on your work! Gallery owners, collectors, and publishers visit these shows so you just never know.
It is always fun to join a local open studios event, art trail or arts festival. The organisation will attract visitors for you and you can show off your work in your studio, at local events, stalls or in village halls, cafes or libraries. Often artists join together to exhibit together during such events. Almost every county in the UK has an Open Studio event.
Email or walk into galleries where you think your work might fit. Do note that galleries get a lot of artists doing this so be careful with being too demanding of their time and ask for an appointment. Do not ever bring work to a gallery unless they ask for it. Emailing or posting pictures is probably ok though. It can never hurt to be extra careful and just ask if they welcome artist submissions and how they would like to receive materials. Do realise many galleries get dozens of submissions per week and so might not have the time to look at all submissions seriously.
Look around for galleries where your work will suit. Be realistic about your own work and judge if your work is in a similar price bracket. Think about the customers that visit that gallery. If they like what is on the wall in the gallery now, would they like your work? If you think your work will fit in (don’t submit abstract work to a gallery that only shows classical figurative works) politely ask the manager if there is a way for you to show them your work. Offer to email images, or post them prints. You can also email the gallery after you have visited, and ask them in the email whether they are interested in your work.
Consider the location of a gallery. If the gallery is nearby you could easily supply them with works and pop in now and then. But if the gallery is far away, how are you going to get your work there? Have you got transport or can you afford transport? Could you ever visit for a show opening? Would it matter to you or the gallery if you can’t? A gallery near your home is always convenient but often hard to find. Be prepared to travel and transport your work but make sure it remains doable and affordable.
Restaurants and Libraries
If you think your work is not ready for galleries yet then look into exhibiting work at restaurants, cafes, libraries, council offices etc. Sometimes they are happy to host an art exhibition for a beginning artist. Some cafes even make it part of their business to have art shows on! These places are a great way to start but always be aware where you are heading and what your goals are. Although a show at a restaurant might give you some excellent experience in organising an exhibition, framing and pricing your work, very few visitors to a restaurant come there to buy art. So figure out at which stage of experience you are and where you want to hop on the ladder of exhibiting your work.
There is probably a local art club where you live, so it might be an idea to join them. You’ll get to exhibit in their annual show as well as make new friends, attend workshops and talks etc. Some art clubs are more professional than others so do some research and figure out whether you want to be a part of that club or whether a different club might suit you better. Perhaps the next town has a club that is ‘right up your street’!
While you’re mulling all of this over, keep painting and keep getting better. Even if you do get a gallery to take on your work, things might not sell and the gallery will let you go. Or, and that happens too, you might not get on with the gallery yourself and you want to leave. As most artists you will continue trying to get your work in front of people. It is a recurring battle for almost every artist.
Whatever you do, selling art is extremely difficult and will remain difficult for most of us. Many artists have side jobs like teaching, illustration or sometimes something completely different, like engineering or law. Keep the joy in painting, learning and producing beautiful stuff! I fear the art world is a ruthless world and money is hard to come by. But we do it for the love it and we keep at it.