Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


Fall Meeting 2011

We were very pleased to have Nancy Tankersley come speak at our October 2011 meeting. Nancy is the owner of the nationally known South Street Gallery in Easton, MD, the driving force behind the prestigious Plein Air Easton competition and the newest event, Plein Air Curacao, and a celebrated artist in her own right. At our request, she spoke about the process of seeking and obtaining gallery representation and the artist-gallery relationship, and afterwards critiqued paintings brought in by our members for that purpose, from her perspective as a working artist and gallerist.

Nancy began by acknowledging that artists seeking a venue for the display of their work now have a number of alternatives to the traditional brick-and-mortar gallery, including the internet’s potential for global exposure. However, she pointed out a number of important benefits that a gallery provides, ones not available through other venues:

  • A gallery acts as your public face, representing you consistently and professionally
  • A gallery can talk money with a potential client, when you may not be comfortable with those kinds of discussions
  • A gallery allows you to spend less time marketing yourself and more time creating
  • Gallery representation is one of the hallmarks of a professional artist
  • A gallery can promote your work to a wider audience, not only through the internet, but also to visitors from all over and outside the US

The industry norm for commissions is 50% to the gallery, but a good gallery earns its commission. It provides not only a well lit and well maintained exhibit space, but also a trained staff who are available during regular business hours -- while you’re happily painting! -- to work with clients and to promote and sell your work. The gallery also insures your work while it’s on the gallery’s premises, hangs the shows, provides the publicity, hosts the receptions, handles all the sales (including credit card sales, layaways, and sales tax), and maintains important contacts in the local business and arts communities that also can help promote your work.

So what’s the downside to gallery representation? Nancy named three. First, a gallery controls what’s seen and what’s not: work you deliver there may not make it onto the walls when or as often as you might like. Second, the body of work that’s currently at the gallery cannot be exhibited or marketed elsewhere. And third, galleries like – and may even insist on – your maintaining a recognizable “brand”-- a consistent look, style, or subject matter that the gallery knows it can market successfully. This tends to discourage an artist’s ability to experiment and find new ideas or techniques for self-expression.

Who should be in a gallery? Nancy provided some guidelines to help you decide. You’re probably ready to seek gallery representation if: your work has a consistent look and style; you are capable of supplying new/better work on demand; you are not good at self-marketing; and selling your art is your primary source of income, in which case you need to be in 4 to 5 galleries spread over a fairly large geographic area, and you need to rotate a lot of work among those galleries. On the other hand, if you’re outgoing, energetic, and organized enough to market yourself and keep up a steady rate of production; if you are internet savvy and willing to sell on-line; if you enjoy interacting with the public; if your studio is large enough to also serve as your sales room; and if you are widely connected socially, then you may not need a gallery.

Nancy noted that successful artists have several things in common, the first being a website. The days of showing your portfolios, slides, and brochures, she said, “are over.” Gallerists find you through your website, and it needs to be professional -- no combined “Artist and Dog Groomer” websites! Her idea of the “perfect“ presentation: a body of quality work – 10 to 12 paintings that are consistent in style and subject matter – that have been well photographed under good lighting and loaded onto a tablet like an iPad. So today’s artist needs to be technologically savvy – or know some kind person who is. In addition to a website, an artist needs business cards that include, at a minimum, his or her website, email, and phone number, along with a strong image that represents the artist’s work. An artist’s statement is also important. Just 2 or 3 sentences are sufficient to describe who you are as an artist and what your art is about. The last two essentials Nancy named were a good work ethic and a passion for what you do.

Once you’re in a gallery, there are a few important rules to follow, the first being never undersell your gallery. If that gallery is working hard for you, honor that relationship and give the gallery its due. On the matter of pricing your work, Nancy reminded us that people buy art because they feel an emotional connection, not because of technical expertise. Prices should therefore be consistent and not based on how you feel about the painting’s technical success. If your work isn’t selling, don’t take it personally; instead, find a gallery that may be a better fit for you. She recommends visiting galleries to see the kind of work on display and starting with one that is showing nothing like the work you do. Otherwise you run the risk of being told that that “niche is filled.” The gallery has rules to follow, too. They must be respectful and careful with your work, and they must pay you promptly and in accordance with your contract. If both parties work together, the result will be good sales, a happy gallery, and a happy artist!