Over the course of each year, my team and I receive hundreds of portfolio submissions from artists who would like their work to be represented by my gallery. It’s safe to say that over the course of the past twenty-five years of running a gallery I’ve reviewed thousands of portfolios and can confirm there are several things that you can do to make a gallerist stop what she’s doing, pick up the phone, and want to talk to you about representing your art.
Before I talk about portfolios that “wow me” I should mention a few things that are universally appreciated when submitting works to galleries. You need to do your homework. Make sure you’re not wasting your (or the gallery owner’s) time, by submitting work that the gallery doesn’t represent. Do you work in realistic portraits? Then don’t send your work to galleries dealing primarily in abstract art. You need to make sure you researched the gallerist, the gallery, and the artists they represent, before submitting your portfolio. Once you’ve determined in which galleries your work would be a good fit, go to their website and look at their submission requirements. Every gallery has different criteria—some may request 20 high-resolution jpegs through a web portal and others are happy with a link to your website. While others might tell you they’re not currently accepting submissions. Don’t just blind-copy email twenty galleries and attach a generic letter and files of your artwork to them. By being flexible, prepared, personal, and willing to follow a gallery’s guidelines for submission, you’re showing the gallerist first and foremost that you’re a professional, which is, in my opinion, one of the vital first impressions you can make. Once you’ve done this you’re ready to move on to submitting a stand-out portfolio.
Here are the 5 Things that Will make Your Portfolio Stand Out
1. Write a succinct, clear, and impactful query letter.
Introduce yourself to the gallery owner. Make it clear you’ve done your homework. Mention to him or her how you learned of their gallery, any artists that you admire that they represent, and, if possible, the name of a person who recommended them to you. Tell them as clearly and briefly as possible why you think your work would make a good fit. Do not be vague, cryptic, or ask questions like, “I just want to see what you think?” The job of a gallerist is not to critique your work—it is to select it. Let the gallery owner know that you know where your artwork fits in, that you understand your own work, and you are confident enough to own your own talents and skills.
2. Submit the very best artwork you have that represent your skills, talents, and signature style.
Again, depending on what the gallery prefers, this could either be a physical portfolio of work, a zip drive, or a link to a website or online portfolio. Unless a gallery requests something different, you should send at least five of your most recent works, and they should be high-resolution images. (A personal pet peeve of mine is when artists send me just a link to their website and expect me to click through every link, or have security wall blocks, that take several minutes to load.) Make sure your work is easy to access, and you’re showing the gallerist only want you to want them to see. Make sure your work is all properly labeled--the title of the work as well as the dimensions. Above all, be sure you’ve included the most exceptional pieces you have that show the range, depth, and personality of your work.
3. Include your Curriculum Vitae (CV), which outlines your previous exhibitions, publications, press, and more.
List all of your awards and accolades as well. This increases your art’s value, and shows the gallery owner that you have a track record of delivering—you’ve submitted works, you’ve been reviewed and can accept criticism, and most importantly, you’ve been noticed and recognized by peers and other industry experts. If you haven’t received awards or accolades yet, are you showing your work? Have you held exhibits? Show the gallery owner what you’re capable of and your willingness to work.
4. Include a memorable and succinct Artist Statement.
In my book Secrets of the Art World, I break down just how to do this in more depth. There is no “right or wrong” when it comes to Artist’s Statements, but typically, they’re under 500 words, and in clear language define your inspirations, your purpose, and style. Avoid using too much jargon, or trying to be something you’re not. The more real, honest, and clear you can be in articulating your artwork, the more powerful your artist statement will be.
5. Conclude with a gracious closing and a willingness to hear back.
By thanking the gallery owner for his or her time, and acknowledging that you know they’re taking their time out of their busy day representing other artists (who could one day be you), you’re recognizing that you understand the business and you also understand that you’re not the only artist in the world. Gratitude, graciousness, and patience will get you everywhere. Conversely, by being pushy, demanding, or unrealistic (i.e., “I could make us both rich by selling these pieces, so call me”) isn’t going to get you anywhere.
I am certain if you do these things, you will surely receive a follow-up call or email. But, remember to be patient. Galleries are busy places. With so much going on, only a small part of gallery director or owner’s day is spent at the computer opening emails. It’s perfectly acceptable to follow up if you haven’t heard in several weeks. But again, remember to be pleasant, polite, and gracious. After all, if the gallery ends up loving your work, you could be working with them for a long time.
If you want to learn more about how to submit your work to galleries, join me this coming Friday and Saturday at our Success Summit! I’d love to see you and your work!