Following our first ‘How To…’ feature on getting art into galleries, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback to the advice given by our members Anne Magill and Cecil Rice. Luckily for us, they willingly and very kindly agreed to allow us some more insights into their experiences in getting artwork into the public eye, along with another of our highly-successful and talented member, Darvish Fakhr.
American-Iranian artist Darvish Fakhr studied in Boston and London. An award-winning and internationally exhibited artist who was recently commissioned to paint Akram Khan (now permanently on display at the National Portrait Gallery), Darvish’s work is greatly acclaimed across the globe. Six-times exhibitor in the BP Portrait Award and winner of the 2004 BP Travel Award, his work, described as ‘how portraits should be’, encompasses a diversity of multi-cultural aspects and are very specific yet universal. A link to his site can be found at the end of this article.
Born in County Down, Northern Ireland, Anne Magill started her career as an illustrator, working in advertising and was also a courtroom illustrator! Her many awards are testimony to the standard and depth of her work. Mysterious, atmospheric and evoking emotions surrounding each picture, her art draws the viewer in, making them feel familiar with the subjects although the subjects remain shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. Anne’s work has been and is displayed in galleries in the UK and world-wide. A link to her site follows this article.
Born in 1961, Cecil Rice has lived in Brighton since 1974. Cecil is well known for his evocative paintings of shoreline subjects and architecture. He has a passion for Italy, especially Venice, and travel has been an important inspiration behind much of his painting to date. Recent painting trips have taken him to Granada, Marrakesh and India.
Limited edition screen prints of his work can be found in London and New York galleries. His work is exhibited regularly in galleries in the UK and abroad. A link to his site can be found at the end of this article.
In this installment, Anne and Cecil give invaluable advice on how to deal with and overcome the fear of rejection. We also start to explore the hard work but undoubtable rewards that selling your work free of galleries and commission can bring, with Darvish Fakhr, who has consciously made the decision not to exhibit his art in galleries but instead sell his work himself…and who has made an inspirational success of doing so!
Feel the fear…..and hide?
One element that was touched upon in the last article but not explored, was that of rejection. Very often an artist’s fear of their long slaved-over, beloved artwork can be key in preventing them experience success in their career. Yet it is a very real, very genuine concern and one which, in controlled measures, can spur artists on to get that gallery deal. If it is overwhelming, it is crippling and finding the balance of thriving on the adrenaline of risk and sinking beneath the weight of fear is a hard task to master.
So, first to the fear that gets to most artists at some stage…rejection. How to deal with it? Should you wait until you feel emotionally ready and prepared to face rejection, criticism (even if it’s constructive) and maybe having to go back to the drawing board to make adjustments to your work as maybe suggested by art gallery owners who’ve just said a polite but firm ‘no thanks’? Just how does such rejection make an artist feel?
Anne Magill: “Oh, it hurts! But I get over it. I lurch from convincing myself that I’ll never paint again one day to thinking I’ve produced the best painting of my life the next. I realise that I can’t please all of the people all of the time. Art is so prone to trends and it’s no good trying to keep up. Basically just try to keep having fun doing what you do and be pleased with what you create and hope that some people that see your work ‘get it’! As to waiting – don’t wait, dive in!! If you make work that you feel proud of then get it out there; we’re our own worst critics! At worst galleries can only say no – and if they do, ask why. Some won’t bother to answer (probably because they are so busy) but some might and for the most part they will be polite and helpful. Ask them if you can keep them posted with details of your future work and future exhibitions”.
Cecil Rice: “Don’t fall into the trap of working away year after year and letting shyness make you think that you just need to do a few more good paintings…it’s remarkable how quickly you’ll see any actual problems with your artwork (vis-a-vis selling it through a particular gallery) and how you might just develop it a little bit in order to make it acceptable, if only you’ll summon up the courage to walk in there and talk to them! I do think that rejection is painful but you’ve really got no choice You must ready yourself for several reections initially. It hurts but you may have to accommodate some pain. Waiting may only make it worse”.
What about acting on the suggestions that may be put to you for improving your work from galleries?
Cecil Rice: “You do have to try to remain polite and interested in what they say to you. You may well get useful feedback which, initially, seems like salt in a wound. Also, galleries that don’t take you the first time may well take work on the second or third attempt if you show that you’ve been a little bit flexible and taken on board their criticisms”.
Anne Magill: “Don’t react immediately. It might not be all that constructive or appropriate to your work in the long-term. If you’ve plucked up the courage to get out there and galleries want to see you and your work then I’d carry on showing it around and listen to what other galleries say. Bring another gallery’s suggestion up with them; they could put forward another completely opposite but valid viewpoint. Wait a wee while and let all their comments sink in. If two or three galleries say the same sort of thing then you might want to respond. But you’ve got to be comfortable with it; it’s your work! Don’t make knee-jerk responses”.
So you’ve got an offer from a gallery! Yikes! They want you! They like your work! Before you float off into daydreams of multiple sales and fame, you need to make sure that you understand the agreement between you and the gallery fully…don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before sealing that deal….remember, this is YOUR work and YOUR career you’re trying to forward here….
Anne Magill: “It’s such an important decision – they represent you. Don’t touch a gallery unless you are at least 90% sure that you want to be with thenm. Trust your gut instincts and look closely at how they represent themselves. Ask lots of questions, such as:
- Is their website up-to-date?
- Do they print good catelogues?
- Do they exhibit at fairs?
- Is there a contract and if so what are the terms?
- What is their commission and what does that cover?
- Are there any extra charges; printing, postage, wine – it’s amazing what some come up with!
- How long do they take to pay you after a sale?
- Do they charge you VAT even if you aren’t VAT registered?
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions – and don’t be grateful! Remember that everything is negotiable – including the commission. This tells the gallery that you are professional and organised (even if you’re not!!) – so if you decide to go with a gallery that you’re not too sure about, this lets them know that you’ll be on top of things!”
Commissions, negotiations and all that jazz! What should you be looking out for from the gallery in terms of commission and ownership?
Cecil Rice : “The two main issues are commission and honesty. You may be surprised by how much of the ‘wall price’ the gallery will take in commission; 40-50% and higher are typical rates. Get this clear between yourself and the gallery concerned”.
Anne Magill: “The artist aways retains the copyright of their work. If the gallery asks for it, avoid them like the plague!! Usually the gallery commission is lower if there are extra costs. Get EVERYTHING IN WRITING; it doesn’t actually have to be a formal contract, just a list of mutually agreed terms (i.e. who pays for what, delivery dates, how long unsold work stays at the gallery etc.) – it’s better to be clear beforehand!”.
Working with galleries can be rewarding, exciting and a fantastic experience. But, as with most things in life, there can be exceptional instances when the experience doesn’t live up to what you’d hoped! Cecil shares one of his…
Cecil Rice: “ One potentially nasty surprise is when a gallery doesn’t pay. Then you can’t get hold of them by telephone because they are always out. This happened to me once; several paintings sold over a period of time and they owed me quite a bit of money whilst being happy to allow this situation to build. Then I heard that the gallery had closed, other people were pursuing them, the police were involved and my paintings were nowhere to be seen! It’s not very common, but some galleries take an age to pay up and seem, always, to have to be ‘reminded’ Others are always scrupulous in this respect….those are the ones to deal with if possible”.
What if galleries aren’t for you? What is it like to see all your work yourself? Here, Darvish Fakhr offers his advice – which is well-received given the success that he’s had! Cecil also has sold work without the aid of gallery input….so what are the benefits of leaving the galleries behind in favour of doing it yourself?
Darvish Fakhr: “No commission and no agenda! Often galleries have an agenda and try to mould their stable of artists to fit in to this concept. As a result they may only select one aspect of your portfolio that suits their image, but in doing so deprives the viewers of a full understanding of who you are as an artist”.
Cecil Rice: “The artist benefits by not having to pay gallery commission. They also get to meet and to talk with clients. This has many advantages, not least that you learn what people really feel about your work at first hand. Often this can be very positive and the inspiration can encourage you to paint. If a gallery is selling your work it is they who form the relationship with the client”.
Cecil Rice: “Yes, there are many possible pitfalls. Underpricing and overpricing are two real possibilities. Spending needlessly could be a pitfall (you could decide to spend a lot on gallery-space hire or on expensive advertising that might just be misjudged and waste you money. On the other hand, well-placed advertising can be worth quite a lot if you subsequently sell lots of artwork). Upsetting your gallery or galleries is a real possibility if you do not communicate clearly with them and let them know that you intend to sell privately. Some galleries may want to bind you into an agreement whereby you shouldn’t sell privately. But if such a situation occurs they would really have to sell your work very effectively. One cannot afford to be tied to a gallery that isn’t working for you”.
How do you decide who to approach when selling your art yourself? What work is necessary? How do you know when it’s a good call?
Darvis Fakhr: “It is a lot like a marriage. If that chemistry is not there and you don’t feel like they understand or respect your work then I believe it is worth waiting. If you are not getting any bites at all, this may be either of the presentation of your work, or perhaps the work is simply not at a mature enough; they may want to see how you evolve, so keep at them”.
Cecil Rice: “Over the years I have accrued a mailing list of interested people. Word of mouth is important. I do know that intelligently placed advertising does work, and being part of the Brighton Open Houses helps. That’s as much networking as I can stand, other than communicating to people who contact me by e-mail or by telephone! I tend to hang an exhibition and then send out a lot of invitations by post. Then I place a few images of paintings onto my web pages and let e-mail contacts know about the exhibition. Then I bite my nails and hope people will turn up to the show. Once at the show I find that a percentage of people will buy. Others may telephone or contact by e-mail beacause they have seen an image on the website. I always reply and try wherever possible to make contact by telephone”.
How easy is it to manage creating your work and selling it, time-wise?
Darvish Fakhr: “It is not easy at all. I try to designate one day a week to this task, but I often skip a week simply because it is such a boring, laborious task which, more times than not, ends in disappointment. Try to maintain a contact list of interested or potential clients and everytime you finish a piece you are proud of just zap it out there. People love receiving art updates from people they know or are keeping up with”.
Cecil Rice: “It’s often very difficult to square everyday life with the need to paint very regularly and for longish periods. There are a myriad of actual distractions and duties that have to be attended to. Even answering email eats up time. It’s important to actually get into the studio and to do the art!”.
Is it necessary to have your own studio where people can come and see your work if you don’t exhibit in galleries?
Darvish Fakhr: “Yes, this is paramount. People love to make studio visits. Studios are much more revealing than organized exhibitions and therefore more informative as to the artists creative sources. It is worth keeping sketchbooks around for people to perouse through and even books of artists that you tend to look at for inspiration. This is part of how you have chosen to shape your craft and creative spirit”.
Is there any advice you could offer to an artists contemplating whether to give their artwork themselves?
Cecil Rice: “If the first couple of attempts don’t work very well, try to understand what went wrong. Is your work marketable? Perhaps try a different strategy. Perhaps take a stall at an art fair and see if you have some success there. Try to assess how visitors are reacting. Are they telling you things? Do you need to do a little targeted advertising? Keep a visitors book. Be friendly but not gushing. Try to smile! Try not go get despondent (sometimes buyers just don’t turn up). Don’t be put off. Start to develop strategies”.
I would like to warmly thank Anne, Cecil and Darvish for their contributions in these articles. They are very much appreciated and their advice is proving to be very beneficial to our members!
Do check out the websites for Darvish, Anne & Cecil (below) to see their amazing work and to feel inspired!