In this guest blog post about art business, artist Kristy Gordon shares her experience on how she got into an art gallery and became a professional artist. Her work is featured in the September 2015 issue of The Artist’s Magazine (get the issue here!)
How I Got Into An Art Gallery by Kristy Gordon
I believe that if something is meant to be, you will eventually find yourself on that path even if your life takes you on a little detour first. Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a painter but I pursued a career in animation because I didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fine artist. Amazingly, the path that I was on as an animator is the exact path that opened up the right doors for me to become a full-time painter.
I was working at an animation studio in Ottawa, which was owned by a well-known Canadian painter, Philip Craig. He was the first living artist I had ever seen or known personally who was making a living off of his paintings. Before I met him I literally didn’t know that was possible. He was teaching evening painting classes in his studio, which was located on the top floor of the animation studio I was working in, and I nervously started attending his classes. It felt great to be painting again.
It was through my connection with this artist that I got into my first art gallery. The owner of the gallery was also taking the weekly painting classes, and Philip suggested that I casually start bringing in a couple of finished paintings each week to class and leave them around for the gallery owner to see. Eventually the gallery owner did notice my paintings, and I told him that I would love to show my work in his gallery. I could have fainted with excitement when the gallery owner set up a time the following week for me to bring my finished paintings into the gallery to chat.
The first meeting was extremely stressful because I was absolutely terrified to be talking to a real gallery owner, but as the relationship developed it was truly wonderful. The gallery owner taught me so much about the business of art, and shared his theories with me about how to best sell my work. He was really good at selling paintings, and to my surprise he sold almost everything I gave him. Eventually he actually started buying my paintings from me up front, instead of taking them on consignment. This encouraged me to leave my animation job and start painting for him full-time. I loved being represented by him and couldn’t believe my life. Here I was as a full time painter at the age of 24. I started to want to push my budding art career to the next level. I wanted a gallery that wasn’t in a shopping mall.
I noticed that a number of my artist friends participated in an annual local art and home fair, and I decided to rent a booth. I took a very cheap booth that was not in a great location in the fair, and kept my prices low. I was selling landscape paintings for about $300 each. It was worth it because I sold most of the paintings I displayed. I also had a guestbook where I was collecting the names, emails and mailing addresses of everyone who liked my work. I sent out thank you cards with an image of one of my paintings on it at the end of the art fair, and also started sending out art update emails. Many of the people who I met at that art fair still collect my work to this day (13 years later)!
I met my second gallery at the art and home fair. The owners bought a couple paintings and I kept in touch with them. I sent them a thank you card after the fair was over and kept them updated with regular art update emails. One day I got an email back from them inviting me to show in the art gallery they were opening. It was through them that I had my first solo show as well as got an article written about my work in MagazinArt, a Canadian art magazine.
Whenever something happened in my early art career, I would literally jump up and down screaming and hyperventilating until I almost passed out with glee. Actually I still kind of do that. Being an artist was what I always wanted to do but I never in a million years thought it was truly an option. I became very interested in how I could actively pursue the art goals and dreams I have. I applied to more galleries and to my surprise started getting into some.
I read about a process about how to get into art galleries and I followed it exactly. It involved carefully researching and compiling a list of ten galleries that I thought I really had a chance of getting into (they took landscapes like mine, and they showed emerging artists). I prepared artist packets, which included 12-15 slides, a biography, resume, artist statement and a cover letter. I sent out all ten at once and kept track of the rejection letters as they came in. Rejection letters were to be expected and are just a normal part of the process.
The idea is that about one in ten will end up taking you, if you do it all properly and have submitted to galleries that your work would be a good fit in. To my total surprise that was exactly what happened. I got into one out of the ten each time I did this. It was such an exciting time, and the learning curve was so high. I was learning how to interact with gallery owners, and how to promote my work to them and my collectors. There were lots of embarrassing mistakes but I learned from each one.
I believe that our dreams and goals are intuition for what can come if we are willing to take the action steps to make them happen. I continue to take little baby steps in the direction that my heart is pulling and the path reveals itself to me over time. I am amazed to be living an artistic life that is beyond my wildest dreams as a child.
Learn more about Kristy Gordon: