How to Approach a Gallery as an Artist

by Hamilton Williams Published Saturday, April 11, 2015

We often receive inquiries from artisans and artists on how to submit work for consideration here in the gallery, so we thought we would create a short tutorial to help answer some questions. Keep in mind that every gallery or shop is a little different... a different style, a different business model, a different regional focus, and so on. As a result, different galleries may prefer to view new work submissions in different ways. The best way to find out how a gallery takes on new artists and artisans is to ask, or in some cases to check their website.

Here at Hamilton Williams Gallery, we focus on fine craft from artisans who live or work in the Appalachian mountain region. There is a long tradition of handmade craft in this region as well as a great number of excellent artisans. Also, one of the founding principles of the gallery is to help artists and artisans build careers, an idea that is in keeping with the Craft Revival Movement of the early 20th century in the Appalachian region. While our focus is on the Appalachian region, that focus is by no means restrictive. We do have work from other areas of the South and the nation. We also have a particular "look" in the gallery and the work that we carry. In truth, I don't think any of us could verbalize what that "look" is but we know it when we see it. A part of our look derives from the age and style of our building, a 100+ year-old brick building with high tin ceilings and an oil-finished hardwood floor. When we review new work to include in the gallery, we always keep in mind two things: does the style of the work fit with the style of the gallery, and will this work appeal to our particular clientele? If the answer to both of these questions is "yes", then we are likely to invite that artist to place work in the gallery. If we decline to show an artist's work, it can be for any number of reasons and is certainly not a judgement about an artist's quality of work.

Our preferred procedure for viewing a prospective artisan's work has evolved over time and helps to ensure that we get a good sense of the artist's work without requiring any more effort than necessary from the artist. Once an artist has made an initial inquiry about submitting work, we first like to view some images of that artist's current work via email or, in some cases, on the artist's website or Etsy store. We always appreciate seeing retail pricing information along with images so we can better determine whether items might be a good fit in the gallery. Viewing images in this way allows us time and space to think about whether the work is a good fit for our gallery, and works better for the artist because we can wait until there is adequate time to fairly assess the work. As an artist, would you prefer to have your work considered by someone who is distracted by customers, phone calls, and other tasks that fill a gallery day, or would you rather have your work viewed in the morning or evening when things are calmer and a person can focus on one thing?

If after viewing images the work just doesn't seem like it would be a suitable fit for the gallery, we can let the artist know with a polite note. On the other hand, if the work seems like it fits our aesthetic and clientele, then we can schedule a time for the artist to bring a selection of work for us to see firsthand. We like to be respectful of an artisan's time, so scheduling an appointment helps us reserve time to focus on that artisan and their work. A set appointment time also makes it possible for us to schedule other work, appointments, and errands without concern that an artist might show up when the person who is responsible for considering their work is not available.

 

Gallery Submission Do's and Don'ts

 

Do~

- research the gallery to determine if your work might be a good fit. If a gallery has a mountain theme and your work has nautical theme, for example, then your work might not be a good fit.

- have images of your work. Images do not have to be professionally produced but should show the work as clearly as possible. Make sure work is photographed in front of a plain, neutral background with as little clutter as possible; and make sure your images are in focus. Using indirect natural light works best. There are some great craft and art photography tutorials to be found online.

- have prices for your work, and a list of available items if possible.

- have information about yourself and your work available. Having an artist statement and artist biography will make you and your work stand out. 

- present your work and yourself as professionally as possible. 

- make sure to show up for appointments on time.

- listen to gallery staff when they give you information or answer your questions. We want you to succeed as an artist, and we can sometimes offer a bit of information that might prove useful to you in the future.

- be yourself and let your enthusiasm for your work show.

Don't~

- walk into a gallery without an appointment to show your work.

- rely on the gallery to price your work for you. We do not know the time or materials you have invested in your work, so we cannot tell you what price you should charge. The best we can offer is information about what price points are most successful  in producing sales.

- take it personally if a gallery does not accept your work. It is not a reflection of the value of your work or of you as an artist.