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Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries (Read 5,690 times)
 
Vaughn McMillan
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Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Oct 28th, 2009 at 3:51am
 
I went to a presentation last Sunday on selling wood art in galleries, and figured I'd share my notes with the gang here. It was held at Cerritos Community College, which has a pretty well-regarded woodworking program. The workshop was very interesting; I picked up some good insights and had a few other observations confirmed.

The presentation was by Carol Sauvion, who's the owner of the 28-year-old Freehand Gallery in LA. She's also the Executive Producer of the Craft in America TV series. (I've not seen the series, but it has apparently won a Peabody award, and it's well-regarded.) Multimedia File Viewing and Clickable Links are available for Registered Members only!!  You need to Login or Register for the presentation.

The attendees were primarily students in the Cerritos College woodworking program, so some of what was discussed centered around furniture and cabinet making. Still, she offered a number of tips for artists trying to get their work into galleries, presented from the viewpoint of the gallery owner.
  • One point she brought up is that many of her customers want to be emotionally invested in the artist and the art piece when they buy a piece. If they know the artist's story, and the story behind the artwork, they tend to connect to both better, and they are more compelled to purchase a piece. What would you rather buy...a nice bowl from some guy you don't know, or a similar bowl made of wood salvaged from Hurricane Katrina, turned by an interesting guy living on the bayou?
  • When you approach a gallery trying to sell your work directly to them, know beforehand what you need to make for the piece. Don't hem and haw about the price, and don't ask the gallery owner to set the price for you. She warned that most galleries these days are expecting to make 100% markup (she called it 50%)...they need to double their money in order to make it worth their time.
  • When you show your work to a gallery owner, leave your ego in the car. A good gallery owner knows what his or her clientele will buy, and you should not be offended if your work is not a good match for their gallery. Carol arranged for one of the students to bring 7 or 8 pieces to the presentation, including flatwork jewelry boxes, bandsaw boxes, and a couple turned pieces (including a turned wood box made to look like a pink-frosted cupcake). She discussed each piece and why it would or would not be a good match for her gallery. The metal-banded treasure chest jewelry box was well done, but she had no interest in it, since it was not something her clients would want. On the other hand, she would have ordered a dozen of the cupcake boxes on the spot, though. She also really liked a small natural edge bowl, and said she'd buy one of those any day of the week. (Figuratively speaking, I'm sure.)
  • She stressed the importance of developing your own clientele, and making sure they know where your work is available and when new pieces are made. Every sale should result in a name on your mailing list, and that list should be promoted to with gusto. No real revelation there, but many artists fail at the promotion aspect of the business.
  • As a gallery owner, she's acutely aware of how the Internet has changed the art sales landscape. She said there are a lot of galleries that have closed in the past few years since many artists are now selling directly from the web. I have long maintained that things like turned pieces sell better in person, because people get a better appreciation for a piece if they can hold it in their hands and feel it. I mentioned this point to her, and told her I consider that to be an important part of the sales cycle for me. She agreed, but pointed out that once a customer is familiar with an artist's work and knows the what kind of quality to expect, then they are much more likely to make other purchases via the web. Which again ties back into the whole mailing list concept and staying in steady contact with your customers. Let them know about new pieces, and let them know where they can be purchased.
  • On an Internet-related note, she stressed that artists should not sell their work for less on the web than they are selling for in the galleries. Undercutting the gallery prices is a quick way to get an owner mad, and will ensure you won't be selling any more pieces there.
  • Many artists who are starting out end up selling pieces on consignment, instead of selling directly to the gallery. (Carol's gallery has both consignment pieces and pieces they've purchased outright for resale.) She stressed the importance of making sure the gallery has insurance to cover the loss or damage of consigned pieces. And here again, know beforehand what you need to make price-wise, and don't expect the gallery owner to tell you what it should sell for.
  • Lastly, she made it clear that selling art is not a fast path to riches. You don't see a lot of wealthy artists, and there's a reason why. There's only room for a few Sam Maloofs and John Jordans in the world at a time, and there's a lot of competition for those rarefied spots. While there are a number of good artists making their livings working with wood, they are usually paying the bills with cabinet work or other contract work, while pursuing their art on the side.
So that's the Cliff Notes version of the workshop. It was worth the 2 1/2 drive time for me, and I hope this write-up can offer some insights for others.
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Paul Hinds
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #1 - Oct 28th, 2009 at 5:39am
 
Interesting stuff.  Thanks for posting

Paul
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #2 - Oct 28th, 2009 at 11:49am
 
Very interesting.  A clear message I got was - don't under sell yourself.  That same message has been delivered here and on other forums so it is good to hear it from someone at the cash register, so to speak.

Thanks for taking the time to post this Vaughn, good clear advice.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #3 - Oct 28th, 2009 at 1:44pm
 
Thanks for the info Vaughn.  Great info to keep in the back of the head.  The front part is all filled up!
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #4 - Oct 28th, 2009 at 7:38pm
 
Thanks Vaughn

Great Info
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #5 - Oct 28th, 2009 at 10:03pm
 
Thanks Vaughn,
One thing I forget and know I shouldn't is keeping good relationships with previous customers.. When I read that in your post I did the forehead slap.. da...

Brad
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #6 - Oct 29th, 2009 at 2:41am
 
There's one other thing Carol discussed that I should add to this thread. Now keep in mind, she's a gallery owner, so she's biased. But what she said does make sense. (At least it does to me.)

A lot of artists wonder what the value of the gallery is. If I can sell a piece myself for $200, why sell it to the gallery for $100? The gallery does a lot of things that the artists would otherwise have to do...

Things like showing the work. Do you do art shows like me? Those cost money, for both the booth rental and any fixtures like tables and canopies. (And of you do indoor shows, chances are the Fire Marshal wants you to have flameproof table covers.) And factor in the one or two full days of your time, when you could be productive doing other stuff like making more art. Is the show out of town? Throw in food and lodging into the cost of selling that piece. And how many shows do you have to schlep that piece around to before it sells? I sold a piece last weekend that I've been displaying since my first show over two years ago. (I just hadn't found anyone who liked it enough to pay the price I had set on it.) All the packing and unpacking isn't real good for the finishes, either. And after all this, the piece is only exposed to the public for a day or two, then it's essentially unseen until the next show. I do 6 to 10 shows per year, so that's fewer than 20 days of exposure.

A gallery, on the other hand, has your piece exposed to the public every day it's open. Your work may not be exposed to the same quantity of people on any given day, but chances the people who do see it are people who are looking for art. Plus, the piece doesn't get the wear and tear from repeated packing and unpacking. The $100 you're essentially paying the gallery helps them to pay the rent and utilities so they can display your work and represent your interests.

A good gallery handles other aspects of the sale, too. Things like advertising, credit card processing, gift wrapping, packing, and  shipping. All of these things would cost you money if you were to do them yourself.

I should also mention that I've kept referring to "art", but this all applies to both non-functional decorative pieces and functional pieces like salad bowls and pens. And the term "gallery" could just as well be the country gift shop selling your bottle stoppers and refrigerator magnets. It all works in a similar way.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #7 - Oct 29th, 2009 at 7:42am
 
Again, spot on Vaughn!

Thanks
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #8 - Oct 29th, 2009 at 9:50am
 
Vaughn,
This is very good information and very comprehensive!

It is also a good idea, as an artist, when you present your turnings to a gallery, to bring in an information sheet with you. This should give all your background that makes you interesting like when you started, why /how you turn, your direction(s) you've gone or are going, etc. This saves the galleries alot of work and they can use it on their websites. Tells them how serious you are about your work.

Also when you show up at a gallery, dress nicely! This is the public you, not the 'I just woke up and went out to the shop' you! Wink.

PRESENT your work. I bring mine in a nice box, not cardboard, and each piece is wrapped in black felt. This suggest its worthy to be there even if it isn't what the gallery is looking for. DON'T bring stuff in in a dusty box, wrapped in kleenex that falls all over! Shocked
I had one of my pieces sell the same day I brought it in, before the gallery set it out, because of the dramatic presentation which patrons watched.

I make individual cards, business size that contain all the information I have on the piece like, wood type, where its from, finish and any special information I can give. E.G its not FOG wood, Found On Ground, but rather, "I was at ___ and saw this piece of wood which really attracted me and I saw its potential to be ___."  Roll EyesAgain, how serious are you about your work.

And yes the galleries are getting a good percentage of the price but for all the reasons you listed!

Great thread. smiley=thumbsup.gif
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« Last Edit: Oct 29th, 2009 at 9:53am by TomTunget »  

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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #9 - Oct 29th, 2009 at 12:13pm
 
More good advice.

I remember my college turning teacher telling us, when discussing pricing, "If you don't value your work nobody else will".  I hadn't though of that in terms of how I actually present my work.

Thanks Tom, great post.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #10 - Oct 29th, 2009 at 10:40pm
 
Very good everyone and thanks for all of the input, very helpful and will be used in the future... and again, many thanks to all!!!
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #11 - Oct 30th, 2009 at 11:38pm
 
The gallery also adds an air of legitmacy to the sale. Think of it like a talent agent. When a venue wants to book a singer, they don't go to every singer in the country and ask them their price and availability, they go to an agent who does the negotiating, and then takes a cut of the price.

The gallery essentialy does the same thing. When some one is in the market for a piece of art, they usually don't shop every artist in the country, they go to a gallery.

Of course there are exceptions, but the gallery provides a valuable service.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #12 - Nov 1st, 2009 at 6:43pm
 
Very good info/advice, but....as a beginner turner I have been giving about 50% of my stuff away and been very successful, so far no one has questioned my pricing Smiley

Actually I would really have no clue as what to charge for my work/art..... Smiley(I like to see it as art)
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #13 - Nov 2nd, 2009 at 5:08pm
 
axcelent advice from all, thank you very much for sharing it,
I am due to start selling at tourist locations on the island very soon, mainly cheap stuff, bottle stoppers ( 3 - 5 Euros ), goblets ( 9 - 15 Euros ) small bowls etc. but I still find it very difficult to price my work. I am not an Artist yet and may never get that good, but I consider it good enough to make a few Euros.
My point is, how can you work out a price without the bravado to tell everyone that it is FANTASTIC stuff and believe it yourself. I just put it as 9 Euros an hour, but that includes finding, cutting, preperation of wood, the whole thing. Is that a wise way or is it better to just look at it and put a price on and hope for the best. ???

Sorry for the long waffle, but it is a very important thing for me to get it right streight away or very soon after. Shocked smiley=dankk2.gif smiley=thumbsup.gif

Too much waffle ?????? smiley=slap.gif
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #14 - Nov 3rd, 2009 at 6:24pm
 
Leo, if you want to be serious about selling, then your time has value, as does the wood, hardware, shop supplies, equipment depreciation, etc. If you want to just have a great hobby and maybe sell a few pieces, then price them at what the market will bear and hope for the best, as you put it.

there is absolutely nothing wrong with the hobby approach, but if you want to sell seriously, then you have to have a basis from which to price your work, taking material and equipment costs, and your time, into consideration.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #15 - Nov 3rd, 2009 at 6:35pm
 
Thanks for that Dale,

I am leaning more towards the idea of upping the prices, just a little and see how it goes.

Making some cheapish Bottle stoppers and the like and also showing some of the more expensive stuff on the same stall, that way if I only sell the stoppers etc. then at least people will see the other stuff and maybe come back another day and I've still sold something.
smiley=dankk2.gif smiley=beer.gif smiley=thumbsup.gif
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #16 - Nov 3rd, 2009 at 8:42pm
 
I have actually increased the number of pens I have sold annually since I raised my prices about 25%.  I had heard comments that they must not be very good pens if they were priced that low.

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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #17 - Nov 4th, 2009 at 12:21am
 
All great info, thanks everyone  smiley=thumbsup.gif.
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Re: Workshop on Selling Your Work in Galleries
Reply #18 - Nov 5th, 2009 at 3:11pm
 
Jim,
Good point, it's so difficult when you are just starting out to price things.

All replies have helped in different ways, thanks guys.   smiley=dankk2.gif smiley=thumbsup.gif
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« Last Edit: Nov 5th, 2009 at 6:11pm by leo Makepeace »  

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