This is a guest post by Imagekind artist Warren Keating who is an award-winning artist whose paintings reflect the culmination of 25 years in both figures and landscapes. He has had numerous solo shows of his paintings in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as having sold directly to a variety of collectors around the world. He has been featured on CNN, and has had several articles written about him in Los Angeles area newspapers. Currently, Keating is represented by several galleries in San Francisco and Los Angeles. His latest series, “Overview” was selected as an LA Times Calendar pick; it is currently exhibiting at M.J. Higgins Fine Art in Downtown L.A.
If I were talking to a particular artist, I could assess in more detail how that painter should go about finding a gallery to show his or her work, but I will attempt to give you a quick guide to how I found (and tips for how I continually find) representation.
To start, please don’t set out with the notion that you are searching for the Holy Grail of artists’ accomplishments, that a show in a renowned gallery is a silver bullet that will cure all of your art career difficulties. While I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, it is not a useful goal for the emerging artist. Rather, your goal should be to become aware of and involved in your art community, cultivate relationships with collectors, dealers, and, hopefully, museums, and become a salesman of your own work. You will need to learn to think like an art dealer. In my 20 years’ experience, when I’m busy with self-generated exhibits and don’t have time for much else, that’s when the galleries finally start calling.
1. Get The Picture
Good photography is a must when submitting, publicizing or selling your work. An inexpensive ($100) light kit with 2 fixtures containing 500 watt, color-balanced bulbs is the best light source for photographing paintings, and now you can get a really decent digital SLR camera for under a thousand dollars. If you are on a bare bones budget or in a hurry, you can use sunlight, but there will be more image-deteriorating reflection on paintings that have any sheen whatsoever. A polarizing lens is a must, to help minimize any glare from your light kit, and is absolutely necessary if you try to photography your work outside.
After I have color-adjusted and sharpened the images of my paintings, I upload them to my Imagekind account to keep copies of hi-res files of my larger paintings ready to make a large print a for a presentation or exhibit.
But, it’s also crucial to get the picture in a more allegorical sense. It’s important to make your best impression with the most appealing and accurate images of your work, a resume that says that you are a committed artist and an attitude that lets the dealer know that working with you will be a pleasurable and lucrative experience.
2. Research the Gallery
Before the rise in popularity of the Internet, the emerging artist had to drive around his or her city, or state, to visit galleries to see what kind of work was displayed within before considering whether to approach that dealer or not. Now, it’s easy to get a good feel for the dozens of galleries in an urban area within an hour without leaving your home office.
The more educated you are about the art world around you, the more quickly you can navigate it to find the venues where you fit in. Often, while an established gallery has as stable of artists, the emerging artist can find exhibit opportunities from within the up-and-coming venues. It behooves the artist to keep track of the local art scene to become aware of these new exhibit opportunities as they come into being.
When submitting, I use my very best work, and, while my paintings are all basically depicting people from overhead, I also show a variety of sizes, colors, crops, etc. and include that I have limited editions prints available of my work, high-quality giclees from Imagekind.
3. While You’re Waiting, Find Other Ways To Exhibit
Emerging artists that hit a brick wall and complain that, after approaching all of the galleries in the area, there is simply no way for them to get an exhibit. Harnessing some of that frustration, the successful artist will find a juried exhibition, country club, art fair, co-operative gallery, etc. Be wary of vanity galleries that charge hundreds or thousands for a show. Personally, I don’t think that’s the way to go, but I may opt to do that as an investment at a future date.
This year, in addition to gallery shows, I’ve participated in two major charity events in the Los Angeles area, an internationally-juried competition in Dallas, several online competitions and exhibits in Second Life, The Ventura Art Festival and I’m painting a mural at my daughter’s elementary school. Hey, many of my neighbors are a lot richer than I am and can easily afford my work.
As life often goes, once you’re busy with all of these other exhibits and are feeling overwhelmed with alternative exhibit opportunities to which you’ve said, “yes”, the galleries will start to return your calls. So, my advice to the artist that is having difficulty getting into galleries is to sell and exhibit so much that you don’t need them, and then they’ll come calling.
4. You Had Better Be Ready
Right after you read this, spend some time, hopefully in your studio, thinking about your art, where you want to be and what your next step is. Don’t be in a rush in this moment to enact your marketing plan or crank out even more alluring work in your studio. Take some time to think about why your art is important, why someone should buy it, why it should be in a museum or history book, if that is your goal, and write it all down. You can edit it later, but, after reviewing what you come up with, update your Artist’s Statement and Bio. I’m pretty much going to sell a couple of paintings on Ebay and a print or two on Imagekind no matter what I do, so it’s easy to stay busy, but I make it a point to take time out, sit in my studio, look at my paintings, analyze where I’m at and imagine where I can go.
Be honest about yourself and your art and seriously commit to whatever plan you come up with. If after you do all this, you’re in a meeting with a gallery, and something about you, or your work kills the deal and you don’t get the gig, then, consider this: A relationship with a gallery is a big, time and energy-consuming commitment. Often the dealer is saving the artist a lot of time, headache and heartache, because the dealer knows that the work will not sell to her audience.
5. Create a Brand with Social Media Networking
Instead of sitting in your studio and waiting for that big opportunity, create a following without enlisting the P.R. machine of the biggest galleries. As you create work, post it into a half dozen Social Network outlets. I take video of myself painting, and have a YouTube following. You’ll quickly find that the prolific artist that creates interesting art has more posts to share with a better audience, so you’ll become more prolific and your work, more interesting. There are experts that can explain viral marketing much better than I can, but I can tell you that a good idea (creative vision or process), wrapped in media (images, video) properly disseminated (blog post, video/image upload, link, email, comment) will most likely go viral to some degree. People can’t help share what is cool, and there’s something cool about every artist. One just has to figure out what it is, how to capture it and how to disseminate it.
Well, for those of you that are sitting around, frustrated with the rejection that you’ve received from galleries, now you have plenty of things that you can do to advance your career as an artist while you’re waiting for that big break. Good luck.
Warren Keating is an artist in Los Angeles. For more information, go to http://www.WarrenKeating.com. His original work is sold at KeatingArt.com and prints of his most popular paintings can be purchased from http://KeatingArt.imagekind.com.