Carrie Seid is a high-performance coach for creative professionals.
It’s time to face the facts. If you’re a working artist,
you’re an entrepreneur.
I know; It’s hard to swallow, especially since you were banking on the fact that marching to that different drummer would mean waking up late, staying up later, living in your yoga pants and drinking coffee and Kahlúa all day. This didn't quite turn out to be the case.
But, embracing the business person within yourself has also led to new and exciting ways of developing your art practice—and now you've caught the entrepreneurship bug.
Before quitting your day job to jump headlong into a full-time art practice, there are some important differences to note and a few tips to help guide you.
The business of art starts with loans, not purchases.
Say you’re a vendor—because, as an artist, you are a vendor.
Let's pretend for a minute that you make flashlights instead of art. You sell them to “big box” stores like Target (aren’t you already glad you’re an artist?).
So, it goes like this: you have a great meeting with the Target buyers, who agree to pay you money for x number of flashlights. This business agreement includes the actual exchange of dollars for goods. You deposit a large check into your business account and thereby fund the production of many future flashlights. Target then puts your products on public display on their shelves for months at a time, in hundreds of locations. They double the price they paid you—turning your wholesale into retail.
Now, back to you.
You meet a dealer. She is stricken with the beauty and power of your work. She can’t take her eyes off of it and isn’t even listening to your backstory. She expresses interest in the next step by offering to “take a piece or two for the back room.”
This transaction, my talented friend, does not involve the exchange of dollars for your fabulous work. It is, however, the beginning of something that could be big. So, leave the pieces for her, delivered on the waves of your gratitude. This stage of the relationship is ambiguous and calls for your professionalism and ongoing nurturing.
It’s important to note that while galleries take pieces only on consignment, they provide an important avenue to revenue. Though they may seem, at first glance, to rely on “walk-in” business, they work with return customers including (but not limited to) collectors, interior designers, art consultants, architects, and curators. They too are in the business of nurturing ongoing relationships. Remember, we are all in this together.
Here are some pro-tips on getting started:
Keep it professional and protect yourself!
Make sure to leave an inventory sheet with an image of each piece, its title (this is why I always title my work — for mere identification!), year, materials, and dimensions. Make three copies of this document, so you can leave one with the gallery, keep one for your records, and have the dealer sign the third copy and send it back to you.
This is really the only legal proof that someone other than you has your work and is responsible for it.
One easy way to make professional inventory sheets in just seconds is through Artwork Archive, an online tool for artists to track and manage their artwork.
If possible, include the consignment terms.
Include the terms of any discounts the gallery may want to extend to their clients, and how that discount will be split between you and the gallery.
It’s typical for galleries to offer a 10% “collector’s discount,” which you should expect to share 50/50 with the gallery. This means you’ll be receiving 45% of the retail price of your pieces. More and more these days, galleries are enticing their clientele with even bigger discounts, so make sure you agree on how additional discounts will be absorbed so you don’t get shocked with the following phone call: “Congratulations — I sold three of your pieces! I had to offer a 20% discount to get the sale, so I’m sending you a check for 40% of your retail price.
Keep your inventory updated.
Then immediately update your inventory to show the new home of the work and track its location. We are lucky to have Artwork Archive for this critical part of the art business! Don’t get me started on all the horror stories I’ve heard (and experienced) about galleries “losing” artwork or denying they ever had it.
The business of art has many levels—it behooves you to work on at least a few.
As a creativity coach, I talk to lots of talented people who hope to one day “get a gallery” and come to prominence, while making lots of money doing what they love. That sounds great, and I encourage them to do just that. But just one gallery is not enough these days for a thriving practice selling art.
These days, having a successful career in the arts means working with galleries, consultants, collectors, and curators — as many as you can.
Back to the “Target” model.
As a flashlight vendor, you’d have your goods on shelves year-round. A gallery, unlike a retail store, only puts your wares on view for about four weeks out of every 24 months. They have their stable of represented artists to serve with solo wall space, and many have over 20 artists in this rotation.
By this math, you’d need 24 galleries to have your work on view every day of the year. I don’t have 24 galleries myself, but I do assemble a living by working with galleries, consultants, architects, designers, and collectors.
Art is a “more is more” business model.
The more you get your work out there, the more people will see it and be likely to buy it. The more avenues you have for revenue, the more money you will bring in.
If you’re just starting out, get on the mailing lists of all your local museums and galleries. You’ll receive announcements to openings, some of which are only open to museum members.
Enjoy the free wine, and meet as many people as you can. The art business, like so many others, is built on exposure and relationships.