Anne Nye Column -- Selling Smart, part 2.
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Welcome Back! Below is the third in a series of bi-monthly "Art Into Business" columns that D&L Art Glass Supply is offering to the glass art community. This column is Part 2 of Selling Smart. If you missed Part 1, you can read it <here>, or read previous columns <here>. The purpose of these columns is to Stir Your Juices: To inspire your art and to help you transition to making money with your art if that is your goal.


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Art Into Business


Selling Smart: The Gallery Scene

. . . part 2 of Marketing Your Art

by Anne Nye


Why Galleries?

With all the buzz about online selling these days, I want to say right up front that I love selling my art through galleries. Gallery owners work hard in a difficult economy with extremely high overhead. Many galleries have had to go out of business and it's not only a huge loss for artists, but for our communities as well. I have my work in over 50 galleries across the country and, trust me, there's nothing better for your career as an artist than great gallery/artist relationships. Let's look at why you should be willing to give a gallery 50% or more commission to sell your work.

My top 4 reasons for selling through galleries:

  1. Credibility: I believe every artist that wants to make a good living doing what they love needs some good gallery representation. The better the gallery, the more credibility.
  2. The Touch Factor: Even the best photos don't replace seeing and touching the glass "in person."
  3. Exposure: Even with the best website and online store, you can't reach everyone and they probably won't be the same people galleries reach. They know their clients, corporate and residential. This leads to commissions as well as in-store sales.
  4. Community Health: Galleries are a vibrant, important part of any community. When you work with a gallery it helps keep their doors open and money flowing through that city or town to everyone's benefit.

Give And Get

I co-owned a gallery with a good friend and metal artist for about ten years. It's not an easy business from that side either. Most artists are a delight to work with but those who come in with a chip on their shoulders resenting the gallery commission—well, not so much! If you can come in with an understanding of the trade off, it can be win/win for both of you.

What You're Giving:

  • The Artist should agree not to undersell the work, regardless! That means not online or at art shows (other than occasional promotions). In fact, if you sell online, price your work a bit higher than the average gallery.
  • 50% of the retail cost of the art for consignment (wholesale items usually gallery priced at 2.5 times).
  • Usually some kind of commitment not to sell the same work within that neighborhood or zip code. Different for different galleries.
  • An agreement that you will leave the work there for a defined amount of time and will not remove it without notice . . . usually open to negotiation.
  • Agree not to sell direct to customers who contact you trying to go around the gallery. (Best practice is to give a 20-30% "finders fee" back to the gallery for commission work if you know the client found you there.)

What You're Getting:

(Varies from place to place but this is the minimum)

  • Display! The gallery owner should agree to display your work well.
  • Sell! They should be excited about your work and want to sell it.
  • Pay! A defined date when you can expect a check for work that has been sold.
  • Web Representation! This may not come at the beginning but is something you can ask for if you send good photos of your work.
  • If you do commission work, they should work with the client, giving you clear directions and photos etc., allowing you to do your best work without having to deal directly with the client unless necessary.

Do's & Dont's of Approaching A Gallery

  • DO: Do your research! Learn about the gallery beforehand  . . . in person, if possible, or by website at the minimum.
  • DO: Be considerate of the owner's time. Make an appointment. Many places have an online application for artists. Check that out first but it never hurts to go in and talk to someone about showing your work first . . . but never if the owner or staff seem busy or customers need attention.
  • DO: Be prepared! Have an artist Bio/Artist statement, a selection of your work and photos or slide show on a CD for the owner to look at later and a price list and information about shipping if applicable.
  • DO: Hope for a yes, but be prepared if the owner says no. Graciously ask why and be open to criticism. Find out if it's the work, the price, the medium or a lack of space. Ask what they ARE looking for and if they might be open to it in the future, or to see new work when you have it.
  • DO: Ask if there are other galleries in the area they might suggest.
  • DON'T: Be discouraged! It's a lot like dating . . . keep looking until you find the right match.

Anne Nye Gallery Image

Types of Galleries:

I see galleries in five categories these days:

  1. Gift Store Galleries: Lower to mid-ticket art priced for quick turn around. May have a higher percentage of mass produced and made in China work. Most work is purchased wholesale.
  2. Fine-Craft Galleries: Specializing in handmade in the USA work and often featuring local artist's work. Some wholesale and some consignment purchasing.
  3. Fine Art Galleries: Specialize in high-end painting, sculpture and blown glass. Usually consignment only.
  4. "Hybrid Galleries" (my term): More and more often in this economy, Fine Art is mixed with handmade jewelry, glass and other fine craft to provide a mix of price points.
  5. Pay-to-show Galleries: These include Co-op Galleries, where you have to be a member and contribute time and/or money to show; and what are being called Vanity Galleries where you just pay to show on top of commission.

Great Advice, Straight from the Trenches:

Art & Artisans Gallery is one of my favorite galleries and best clients. They have been in business for over 20 years with four great locations in the heart of downtown Chicago. When I reached out to the owner of this busy gallery, here's what she told me to share with you:


"As a buyer of American fine crafts, I look for art that I have not seen before. It should fit in with a variety of decorative styles for home or office, with a perceived value that's in line with the retail price which, with a gallery's overhead expenses, we have to price at least 2.5 times the amount paid to the artist.


"A story always helps the sale, so a catchy title and any interesting information that makes the piece unique, and/or makes the artist memorable helps. Even if an artist does not have a lavish art background, they can create a bio story describing their inspiration and process.


"Artists should show several items that work well together so that your buyer can merchandise a nice grouping of the work to make an impressive representation of your pieces to impact customers.


"Re-ordering: A wholesale website, digital or hard copy catalog is a must for buyers to be able to reorder your work. Catalogs should list images, sizes, colors, prices, care instructions etc. If it's functional art, is it food and dishwasher safe? If it is left in sunlight will the color fade? If it's a line of jewelry, what are the base metals used? How do you clean them and store them to keep them looking new? Are the stones real or lab grown? Do you create custom work?


"I highly discourage having a retail and wholesale website under the same name. Gallery owners don't want their customers contacting artists directly and thus competing with them. If you must sell online, distinguish your wholesale name from your retail! In the same way galleries don't want your contact information on the work or biography cards that accompany the work. With the Internet so accessible, customers are always looking to find the work cheaper someplace else. Buyers will be very impressed when you inform them that you set up your business keeping their best interest in mind.


"Consistency: Recreating an art piece to look like the one the buyer ordered is essential for continued sales. If you duplicate a piece and it turns out much smaller, or faded in color, or has imperfections, you are better off selling it yourself at a retail show where you can discount it.


"Shipping: Shipping & packaging materials, along with your time to pack, should be paid by the gallery. Under shipping charges in your catalog, give the buyer an idea of what to expect. (Usually listed as a % of cost of goods.) Always include a packing list or invoice with pricing in the box with the order so the gallery can get the work priced and out on their shelves as soon as it comes in.


"Payment: Galleries should have no problem paying by credit card for the first order, but Net-30 (paying by check 30 days later) is common practice after the initial order. However, if you do not have anyone to take care of your accounts receivable, continuing to prefer credit card payment is fine."


Anne Nye studied fine art at the University of Idaho and California College of Arts & Crafts. She is a mostly-self-taught glass artist with a strong background in painting and graphic design. Anne runs a successful studio in Omaha, has been a part-owner of an art gallery, and teaches her frit-painting methods at D&L Art Glass Supply and other venues.

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Previous Columns:



Working Smart
August 2012


Selling Smart: pt. 1
October 2012