Contacting Galleries - Top Tips

by Angie Boyer

What’s the best way to approach a gallery about stocking your work? What are the do’s and don’ts?
We asked some of the gallery owners listed in the Directory of Craft Galleries for their Top Tips to help artists and makers get it right. Unsurprisingly, there were several key points that they all commented on:

Do your research

“Research the galleries you intend to approach. Assess things like the quality of the work and artists currently represented; the gallery location, environment and prices. Pay close attention to a gallery’s stated remit. If it says ‘British art’ or specialises in a particular genre, then there’s little point in approaching the gallery if your work doesn’t meet their criteria. Also bear in mind that most galleries don’t want to duplicate their artistic offering too closely, so see if your work fills a gap – perhaps you’re working in a medium not currently represented by them, or using a new technique,” says Debra Blik, Sculpt Gallery.
“Do your homework,” advises Alison Bartram, Heart Gallery. “You know your own work inside out because you made it, so that also means you should really know your target audience and therefore who would buy your work. With that in mind you can then understand the type of environment your work belongs in – there is absolutely no point approaching a contemporary fine art, jewellery and craft gallery with your large abstract ceramic sculpture, for instance, if that gallery only showcases small functional ceramics such as tea light holders! It’s always good to visit a town if you can and get a feel for it and the shops/galleries that are already there. Wander round, see what is already available and if your work fills a gap in the market. Satisfy yourself that your work will sit really well alongside current collections before finally approaching the gallery of your choice. The more Galleries you visit or research, the more informed you will be about making the right choice for you, which long-term should bring you more sales.”
“Make it personal - find out who curates the exhibitions at the gallery, make sure your work fits the overall theme of the gallery and go for it!” adds Nick Bently, Bils & Rye Gallery.
In common with many gallery owners, Kath Libbert says, “Ideally it is great if the maker has already visited my gallery, particularly if they are fairly local, so they are familiar with the style of work we take and certainly I would expect people  to have looked at the gallery website thoroughly.”
And a word of encouragement from Siobhan Jones, The Forge Gallery, “Check the gallery actually sells the type of work that you are offering and is a suitable outlet for your work. Don’t be offended if they say no, it really is not personal, your work just might not be appropriate for them.”

Don’t cold call
Siobhan continues with this advice, “Make an appointment. Do not just walk in with a load of work in your arms expecting us to see you and be impressed. It is so unprofessional and irritating. Book an appointment and then take your best work and ensure that it is presented well.”
Rachael Chambers, Ferrers Gallery, sums it up, “Don’t cold call asking for the gallery owner. Find out the name of the person who owns the gallery or is the buyer and how they like to be approached. A simple, polite phone call asking this could be all   it takes to get a foot in the door, as most people   will ask what your work is like thus opening up a friendly conversation rather than a hard sell. You can then quickly follow up by sending them further information while your name is still fresh in their minds.”
However, you may find that in some galleries more than one person is responsible for decision making, as at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery Leeds, who say, “Never turn up to a gallery unannounced expecting your work to be considered there and then; we have to take the time to consider the work whilst looking at our exhibition programme and like to discuss work with other members of the team.”

Send an email and follow it up

If you can’t just turn up uninvited, what should you do to make contact? Alison Bartram recommends, “An introductory email is perfect, especially if you have previously telephoned to ask who to address the email to. A brief biog (without the ‘frilly bits’) is enough to allow a Gallery Proprietor or Manager to make an informed decision. This can be helped along with a link to your website or online presence so that your introduction can be supported by visuals. It is wise to bear in mind that Galleries must get many of these emails daily so wording the title and the first few sentences to catch the eye of the reader is a must. Give it some thought beforehand and don’t send the same email to a long list of Galleries hoping that one or two will get back to you! However, in this age of digital communication, popping an interesting info pack in the post might help you to really stand out from the other submissions!”
Siobhan Jones agrees, “If you are emailing, then make sure you provide good images and be polite, just sending across your CV with a link to your website isn’t quite enough. Sell yourself!”
Kath Libbert adds, “Ideally I prefer makers to approach me by email with low resolution images  of their work, a short interesting statement and a CV. A personalised email to me that shows that they have researched a bit about the gallery before making contact makes a much better impression than one that says Dear Madam! Then I don’t mind a follow up phone call about a week or so later asking if I have had a chance to consider their email. Though usually, if I am interested, I will get back to the person anyway. If you do send a CD etc by post and you want it back, then make sure you add in an SAE with adequate stamps to cover returning things.”
Debra Blik is encouraging, “Don’t be afraid to follow up with the gallery by phone or email if your first approach doesn’t evoke a response. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the gallery isn’t interested. You might just have approached them at a busy time and your letter/email has been overlooked.”
Jan Arditti, The Arc Gallery, recommends that makers, “Select two or three, maximum five, great quality images and email them together with all of the relevant details, including why you want to be  in that particular outlet, together with pricing and terms. In addition to this add a link to your website and possibly a link to a good PR story if you have one, plus a very brief resume, definitely not reams and reams of CV.”

Images, Paperwork and Pricing
We can’t emphasise enough the importance of having the very best quality images. Until a gallery buyer (or anyone else, for that matter) has seen your work ‘in the flesh’, images are your only way of showing them what you do. Good quality images can and will make all the difference to the future of your business.
Rachael Chambers advises: “Make sure you have great photography that shows your work at its best and make sure you know your prices and have stated both trade and retail prices. A gallery owner will want imagery and prices clearly laid out so they can decide whether your products would be something their customers will like and pay for.”
On pricing, Siobhan Jones says, “Make sure you price your work competitively, if you are a new emerging artist you can not charge for all the hours spent on a piece, price it to sell. Be realistic. Do not undercut your galleries, if they can get the price, then so can you. Yes, they will take a commission, but that is only if they sell and they spend many hours ‘selling’ your work for days and weeks often, before it actually sells. They are on your side!
Nick Bentley echoes that sentiment, “Value is such  a hard subject to get right. Galleries have more experience than most in achieving true value, knowing what a client will pay for a piece of work rather than what an artist believes it can obtain.”
And Debra Blik adds, “If you’ve never sold your work before (or very little) be steered by the gallery on pricing. You won’t be able to sell it for the same price as artists who have an established reputation and sales record. So initially you might make very little on your work - until demand becomes established. But it’s important to be consistent on pricing across all markets; it gives buyers confidence. A sure-fire way to undermine your own market is to sell your work at half price direct from your studio. This sends a message that the work isn’t worth more than that.”
So, hopefully you will find yourself developing a good working relationship with the galleries of your choice, in which case Siobhan’s important point about paperwork is worth noting: “Include a stock list or delivery note with your delivery detailing each piece of work, also clearly label each piece. You are only dealing with your own work, so your ‘abstract seascape’ many seem obvious to you, but we are dealing with many artists and it is easy to get confused.”  
Good luck!

“Rarely do we follow up on generic emails or letters from artists who haven’t taken the time of day to check who we are. We, too, like to feel special and therefore a personalised approach makes a big impact. We begin to identify with the artist immediately and will then do some of our own research into their work, representation and worth in the market place.”
NIck Bentley Bils & Rye Gallery

“Once I have responded positively to the initial approach then we usually have a chat by phone and agree a mutually convenient time to meet at the gallery where they can show  me their collection in person. Exactly what to bring is really  up to each person, but the main thing is to come prepared to show what you do and to explain why you do it and to draw out what is distinctive about you and your work.    
All with the aim of making you and your work stand out from the crowd, make an impact! Capture the imagination of viewers of your work!”
Kath Libbert, Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery

“It’s worth bearing in mind that galleries are flooded with applications to show work and just because you are unsuccessful on one occasion, does not mean you should give up.
Ask if it would be OK to keep the buyer updated with any new developments with your work. Whilst it’s important not to bombard a buyer with emails, gentle reminders of who you are and what you are doing, together with relevant PR, will keep you in the buyer’s mind and, who knows, eventually your work may be just what is needed.”
Jan Arditti, The Arc Gallery

“As we are a selling gallery it can be a very busy environment and so we are unable to offer one-to-one meetings with individual designers. Instead, we ask that you submit information about your work either via post or email so we are able to consider the collection thoroughly. Before you approach us, you may find it useful to familiarise yourself with the type of work we promote; ask yourself these questions; does my work fit in here? Is this the right place to sell and display my work? This may be through visiting the gallery itself or looking through our past exhibition pages.”
The Craft Centre and Design Gallery Leeds

“Getting noticed - social media can be a great way to get you on a gallery’s radar. Show that you’re interested by following them on Facebook or Twitter. Then when they check out your profile, make sure they see a professional website or Facebook page with good quality images of your work. It demonstrates that you’re serious about what you do.
“Galleries look for work that demonstrates an artist’s unique signature style – something that immediately identifies the work as being by them. When you select work to show a gallery, choose pieces that are typical of what you do. If the work in your studio looks like it could have been made by ten different artists, then you’re not ready for  a gallery.
It’s good practice to allow at least a 20 mile radius between galleries - some will insist on this. Flooding one area with your work can make it look ubiquitous and affect prices.”
Debra Blik, Sculpt Gallery

“Don’t cold call! Galleries and Gallery Proprietors are extremely busy, so turning up without an appointment is unprofessional and can damage the possibility of representation by that gallery. Just turning up expecting to be seen immediately puts you at a disadvantage. Someone recently did this at Heart Gallery and tried to insist that we take ‘just a quick look’. A ‘quick look’ does not do anyone’s work justice at all, we need time to look at a collection to see if/how it would fit with our programme of events.”
Alison Bartram, Heart Gallery

“Be professional in your approach, even if it’s your first time contacting a gallery, as first impressions do count and you only get one chance at a first impression.
Dare to be different - do consider a different approach from everyone else. With us all receiving numerous emails on a daily basis perhaps you could do something different to grab attention. Maybe a short film of you working or sending a sample of your work. There are lots of people trying to attract the attention of buyers, so don’t be frightened to stand out from the crowd, you are going to need to if you want to be noticed.”
Rachael Chambers, Ferrers Gallery

“Be flexible and able to supply work that is constantly of good quality in finish, design and content. Communicate. We are just human, if you know you can not deliver on time or are going to be late, let us know. Also let us know in advance if you are collecting work. Ask for constructive criticism, we can often tell you exactly why we think you work will/won’t sell. I am a glass artist as well as running my own gallery and have had many conversations with gallery owners asking for their opinions on my work. It’s surprising how we can be too close to it as artists and can not see certain minor flaws that are easily rectified and result on sales.”
Siobhan Jones, The Forge Gallery

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