Showing Commercially Outside

As the summer high season for art sales slips away, artists might find themselves thinking about showing in cities outside the Yukon, where the high season for art sales occurs in the fall and winter.

It sounds like a no-brainer. It’s an accepted fact that the Yukon art market must be small because our population is. So artists need to access outside markets to make a viable career selling art.

Various factors expand our art market. Our summer tourist stream and mobile population both help. Yukoners are much more likely to buy original art than people in other parts of Canada. It’s normal behaviour here.

Also, Yukoners also buy art to send out of the territory as gifts.

Showing work at outside galleries is not for everyone. It can be expensive and risky. You will have to ship your work there and might need to transport it home as well. You’re not around to check on sales.

Still, it’s often desirable to bring one’s art to a wider audience. I’ve been showing in commercial galleries across Canada for about 13 years now. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s terrible. Often it’s merely mediocre.

I’ve had a couple of galleries close or change ownership recently, which has led me to reflect on the experience, and inspired me to write this article in hope it will be of use to other artists.

Overall, a relationship with a gallery owner is just that: a relationship. No relationships work at 50/50. They’re mostly at least 80/80. You really need to consult with your gut feelings about the person you’re entering this relationship with. You’re entrusting them with your art.

They don’t have to be perfect; it’s worth finding someone compatible. Take your time. Feel it out. Don’t rush in.

I know it sounds kind of romantic, but showing and selling art has a strong emotional component. When it’s going badly, it’s awful.

And no gallery owner will be able to sell your art unless they love it. If they’re not crazy about what you do, don’t bother showing with them.

Have a contract if possible. Many galleries won’t have them, but setting expectations up clearly in advance avoids a lot of grief later. Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC) Saskatchewan offers a range of model contracts at, which you can edit to suit your purposes.

I talked with an artist once who never deals with a commercial gallery without one and I’m thinking of taking a page from her book.

And remember that the creation of a contract is collaborative. Invite the gallery owner into the contract creation process. Send it back and forth, negotiate points, and come to a common understanding.

If you don’t have a contract, do save all the emails where you lay out the basic rules of engagement.

Here are some points that are important to clarify when you’re exploring showing with a gallery:

1. What is the expectation for exclusivity?

If this dealer is going to be your representative, they will likely want to be the only source for your art within a certain geographical area.

However, if they’re only representing one branch of your art (just raven paintings when you also paint landscapes, for example), this may be negotiable.

2. Figure out what the terms are and make them clear.

What is the consignment rate? In larger cities, 50 percent is standard.

3. Does the gallery do solo shows or take their artists’ work to art fairs?

4. How will framing work? Do you provide the work framed or does the gallery like to have unframed work it can then custom frame for its clients?

This can be very confusing if you have different expectations than the gallery.

I’ve shown in seven different galleries that did custom framing, and recently came across the first one that charged me for framing I had not selected.

Ask the questions and get things clear.

5. How will shipping work? Standard practice is that you ship your work to the gallery and they ship unsold work back to you.

You need to give them at least six months to sell it, and often leave it there longer. But this is not always the case.

It has to be set up that way from the outset, and if the gallery goes out of business, often they don’t have the resources to ship your work back to you.

When you ship work to the gallery, email an invoice as well as sending a hard copy with the work. Ensure that all the work is signed and clearly labelled with the title.

Ideally, keep an inventory of what work each of your galleries has, and double check it with the gallery at least once a year.

At least to start with, choose galleries in cities where you have friends or relatives, ideally ones you want to see, and who want to see you. This means you can combine trips to visit them with bringing new work to your gallery or picking up old work.

Even just showing up and talking to your gallery owners in person is important. It’s a relationship, after all. Face time helps. So if you’re in town to visit your friends, you can visit your gallery, too.

Also, your friends or relatives can host you if you’re down doing a show. The profit margin on a show once shipping is taken into account can be narrow, and obliterated easily by the costs of accommodation, travel and meals.

Your friends’ social circles will help prime the pump for an audience for your work in a milieu where you’re unknown.

And if it all goes weird, there’s someone who can go pick up your work for you and store it till you can get it.

Good luck! And wish me luck, too…

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