Hints & Tips: Best Practices
Because You're a Professional
Tips for working with Retail Galleries
Being an artist means you belong to a profession. Unfortunately, the public does not always perceive artists as professionals, and sometimes artists do not rise to an appropriate level of professionalism in their own practices. To wit, the following scenario:
Mr. Patron enters a gallery and notices that he really likes the work of Ms. Artist, who is represented by Professional Art Gallery. He doesnít see what he wants, however, so he contacts the artist directly. He goes to her studio and selects a painting he says will work perfectly for his home. Mr. Patron then says, "I'll buy the painting from you directly and then you wonít have to share any money with the gallery." To which Ms. Artist replies,
A) "Well, that seems fair since you didnít buy it through Professional Gallery and made the effort to come to my studio."
Or, another scenario:
B) "Thank you so much! Professional Gallery is rich and doesnít need the money, but Iím a poor starving artist, and I could really use the extra to pay my light bill this month."
C) "Sure! But you wonít tell anyone, right?"
D) "Iím glad you like my work! Iím represented by Professional Gallery and they work hard for me, so please conduct the purchase through them."
Mr. Patron wishes to purchase a work of art that was originally hanging in a gallery, but is now back in Ms. Artistís studio. Mr. Patron says, "Now that itís not at the gallery, I can get a discount, right?" And Ms. Artist says,
A) "Sure! Itís all the same to me whether the gallery pays me my share or you pay me the same amount."
The ethical answers are obvious, right? Well, maybe not, since gallery owners have certainly heard unwelcome accounts of responses A-C (though perhaps not enough of the second example's option C -- there is an onus on buyers to be ethical also!).
B) "Okay. The gallery didnít do its job, so I might as well sell it to you and take what money I can get."
C) "Well, arenít you a cheap, unethical son of a gun!"
D) "The price is the same as what you saw in the gallery, so Iíll send a check to them for their commission."
"At what point did galleries get to be so evil?" says Meri DeCaria, Director and Curator at Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City.|1| "Weíre open six days a week, we pay all the overhead associated with our space, and we promote the artist to our collectors. Plus, we offer an inviting place for patrons to browse the work of multiple artists at the same time." She continues, "The reason artists have galleries is so they donít have to do all the paperwork and marketing themselves. I want to say to an artist, 'Do you want to be a painter or a salesperson?'"
Tom Alder, part owner of Williams Fine Art Gallery in Salt Lake City,|2| agrees with DeCaria. He notes that galleries give increased credibility to an artist just by showing their work, and that being shown alongside other professional artists adds even more cachet. Says Alder, "Whether I sell work or not, I help build the artistís celebrity and that enhances him and his prices."
Ruth Lubbers, retired executive director of Art Access/VSA Utah,|3| offers some guidance for artists working with retail galleries. She says, "Retail galleries are in the business of selling art. The relationship between the artist and the retail dealer works best when it is open and businesslike. When things go wrong, it is usually because uncertainties were not clarified."
The most common selling arrangement between an artist and a retail gallery is consignment, the percentages and terms of which are listed in a contract. "Because this is such an important document," Lubbers cautions, "make sure you understand what you are signing."
Best practices mandate that the contract should list the expectations of both parties. In general, the following are services that an artist may expect from retail galleries, in addition to selling art. Again, this should be clarified with the galleries.
It should be understood by the retail gallery that other artistic ventures by the artist generally add to the salability of the artistís work. These ventures may include public or non-profit gallery exhibitions, other promotional activities, and sales relationships with dealers outside the territory agreed upon at the beginning of the artist/dealer relationship. Since they increase the reputation of the artist, retail galleries normally are supportive of these artist endeavors
Holding regular exhibits
Producing and distributing invitations, hosting receptions, and handling press coverage
Maintaining an artistís curriculum vitae
Cultivating collectors and corporate clients
Protecting the artistís legal rights, including copyrights
Keeping complete records of all works left on consignment and sold
The artist should always credit the retail gallery when his/her work is exhibited in another venue, except when the exhibition is hosted by one of the artistís other retail galleries.
If an artist is represented by a retail gallery, that artist should not compromise his or her relationship with the gallery by establishing independent business relationships with clients. This ethical guideline also covers selling out of the studio for less than the price agreed upon by the artist and retail gallery. Once prices are established, lowering the price in some venues will eventually undermine the value of the artistís work.
The gallery and artist should agree upon frequency of exhibits. If the gallery offers solo exhibits, the artist should be given a timeline. Where a gallery does not offer solo exhibits, the artist should be able to expect that a representational sample of his/her work be displayed on a regular basis. Visitors to the gallery should be able to find your art hanging when they visit (not just in storage).
Where no written and precise exclusivity agreement is signed, none should be presumed to exist. An exclusivity agreement might prevent an artist from showing work at non-profit or other venues. Again, check the contract.
In addition to a formalized contract, an artist and gallery should also consider the role of an artistís website. Meri DeCaria believes an artist doesnít need a personal website if he or she is represented by a gallery because the work should be featured on the galleryís website. "Artist websites are such sketchy things," she says. "I think an artist should only sell directly to a close friend or relative. Everything else should go through the gallery."
Tom Alder, on the other hand, says, "You canít just own an artist, especially in the internet age. We have to recognize that there are lots of ways for artists to market themselves."
Alder suggests that if an artist is approached independently by a potential buyer, the artist should ask the patron at the beginning of the conversation, "Where did you see my work?" If the answer has anything to do with the gallery, in person or online, the artist should make it clear that any sales will need to be processed through the gallery. If the patron indicates no gallery connection, Alder believes itís probably acceptable to sell directly to the customer, but is quick to add, "Some of our artists, the honorable ones, call me about these situations and we end up splitting the commission."
Although there is no universal handbook on successful artist/gallery relationships, all dealers agree on one point: Being honest and ethical pays off in the long run. Says DeCaria straightforwardly, "A gallery will always work harder for an artist who is honest."
Hints & Tips: En Plein Air
In the Beginning
Judging values to get a painting started right
When starting a painting, it is important that the first few values get put down on the canvas correctly before any other brushstrokes are recorded. I say value with the understanding that we are talking about color here -- of course the color isnít correct unless it is the right value, so for this discussion the terms will be interchangeable.
When choosing a first value, the artist must have a standard to choose from. In other words, just any value wonít do. That is why many artists choose a particular value scale to work with. Most use a 9, 10, or 11-step value scale to judge all the other values. You could use a 5-step value scale; its limited range is a great way to maintain simplicity in your design (which may be difficult to achieve when too many values are present). Many fine paintings use 5 values only, and the results are more than satisfactory. For our purposes here, letís go with the 9-step value scale. I prefer this uneven number of steps because #5 is the exact mid value, and using anything more than 9 is just splitting hairs.
So, does this mean that you need to carry a value scale out into the field with you? Well, itís not a bad idea, but not always necessary for a seasoned plein air painter. On the other hand, even the most experienced artists can become confused on location when there is a strong light and a lot of glare, like a bright sunny day in the snow, or working out on the beach with glare hitting you from all angles. For this reason I like to carry a small value scale with me and pull it out when conditions make it difficult to get a correct mental reading. (Note Ė laminate your value scale so you can check a daub of paint right on the surface and then wipe it off.)
To begin with, itís usually safe to lay in a few strokes of your darkest dark. The reason is simple -- the darkest darks are easier to judge than the midtones at this stage of the process and itís nice to have some transparent darks as the basis for a good composition. Remember, your darks hold the drawing and provide the weight of the design. This doesnít mean that you canít work on a midtone ground -- let your subject dictate whether you start on a blank white canvas or a midtone wash -- but getting those initial darks in right from the beginning of the design will keep you on the correct road. Once youíve keyed in the first value, what then? The answer is to lay down a value next to the first one that looks right in relation to it, then another value and anotherÖ.on and on. Thatís a simple way to put it. Itís not the only procedure out there, but the one that all of the other procedures are based on. Yes, all other procedures are variations on this oneÖitís all about relationships. So yes, you can work all over the canvas putting down one hash mark after another like the Impressionists, or start your painting with an overall tone like the ďbrown sauce schoolĒ of the Robert Henri tradition, but in the end you will be doing the same thing -- relating one color to all the other colors on the canvas to achieve a certain amount of visual believability. You can test this process out on a small scale, doing a simple still life before wandering out into nature with all of its variety and see what I mean; at that point you will have some solid information to proceed on.
Once the initial correct value relationships have been applied to the canvas you can put away the value scale. Why? Well, now you are using the correct values on the painting itself to make your comparisons. Remember too that getting the look you want in a painting has as much to do with your drawing, color harmony, edge control and the quality of the brushstroke as it does with values; they all work together for the good of the whole. I think that most people who are just starting out in painting and a lot of art students who have been at it for a long time overshoot this critical understanding, thinking that painting is a matter of knowing how to paint "things" successfully. I often hear the question "How do you paint a tree?" or the statement "I want to learn to paint water better," as though these things have a special way of depiction, separate and unique from all other painting solutions. For this reason we have an overabundance of paintings in this world that have miles and miles of viridian green lawns with those cutesy little blades of grass popping up out of the corners of their frames. Oy vey!!! Enough already!!! These kinds of solutions may be just fine for tole painting, but not for landscape painting; there has to be something more, a better understanding of what the painterís job is. We are creating the illusion or better yet, a feeling about something by creating relationships in design, color, value, edge quality and brushwork that gives us a sense of place. Those relationships alone will create the illusion of reality without all the blades of grass that never say grass. From that point on any detail that is included makes sense because it is part of a greater whole which all start with - "The importance of judging values at the beginning of the painting process."
From the Blog
Upcoming Plein Air Events
Summer approaches, and with long days, blue skies, and dry brush arrives the season for Utahís plein air festivals. All told, over $20,000 in prize money is being offered at competitions from the top to the bottom of the state and many points in between.
June 8-9 Ogden Arts Festival
June 12-16 John Hughes Plein Air Workshop
June 14-16 Logan's Summerfest
June 30 - July 4 Midway Art Association Plein Air Paradise
July 18 - 21 Kathryn Stats Plein Air Workshop Cokerville, WY