Most of the galleries I've talked to work by consignment. You bring in your art, the owner or director judges whether it fits the gallery, then you sign an agreement that may or may not include your framing it or the gallery having it framed and various other terms. You pay a high percentage and the gallery, which is a physical shop in a good location, hangs your art for sale at full retail prices.
Once you place any artwork in a gallery, it's important not to go underselling it when you sell elsewhere. You don't want to drive business away from the gallery. Every gallery that I ever had anything in took 50% commission.
The reason for this markup is that like a bookstore or anything else, they are supporting employees, rent, electricity, advertising and a host of expenses you don't have when you just take a commission from someone. Gallery exposure brings sales and prestige. So price your art at twice what you would actually think of as good pay for your skill and work that goes into it and accept that you need to have that as a wholesale baseline.
Then keep your pricing consistent when you sell art in other less expensive venues, because you don't want to undercut the gallery itself and not get those sales. You can offer some discounts for online purchases or commissions but don't go overboard with that.
Art pricing is a combination of objective and subjective things. It sometimes seems arbitrary, but it's not. The artist's time is skilled work. Do not price your art so low that you're only getting minimum wage or less, at the lowest you should be getting $10 an hour.
You have overhead too, for framing, display and studio furniture (easels, taboret, display rack, print rack, art show tent), supplies that may run expensive -- for large paintings you may start running through Sennelier Le Grande sticks as fast as an oil painter runs through tubes of Cadmium Red. Any painting intended for gallery sale ought to be done with archival artist grade materials on archival artist grade supports, mounted and framed with archival materials.
Galleries are selling art to investors who expect it to last and appreciate in value. The longer and bigger your career gets, the more valuable your work is to collectors, including your early work. So use the best supplies for art you intend to sell especialy in galleries.
For street art it's acceptable to use things like cartridge paper or good student grade supplies. People paying a low price for a fast sketch won't expect it to have serious investment value. However, the example of that New York artist comes to mind. You don't know that your work won't rise in value by popularity and the early sketches you sell become important collectibles.
Another thing to look at before showing your art to galleries is to have some business cards and maybe art cards or note cards available for them to hand out. Have your resume and a portfolio to present your art with.
If you are doing the matting and framing, some galleries require you to use white museum grade mats. This is so that fancy matting doesn’t make one artist’s work stand out over another and to draw more attention to the painting rather than its presentation, it standardizes it.
I prefer fancy matting and colors chosen to go with the art, but look at what that gallery’s display is like before you prepare yours for it. Are all the mats neutral colors? Are they all light colors? Are some black and some white but no midtones? Is every artwork in there matted in a light neutral or every one of them in white?
Then plan to mat your art however that gallery presents it. Sometimes they may pay for framing but even then, you will probably be doing the matting. A bonus for buying white museum grade mats is that you don’t need to stock a lot of different colors and they are probably acceptable even in galleries that have a variety of mat presentations -- it does have that effect of all attention being on the painting.
Frame your art to suit the style of art and the type of environment you think your buyer wants. Again, some galleries may want you to use standard frames so as to keep a consistent look on their display. Odds are if they do these will not be the more expensive frames anyway, so keep that in mind before framing.
For presenting your art in person to a gallery, you don’t need to purchase a real leather portfolio or something that spectacular. However, a good presentation book like the Prat II presentation book does make a good impression. Choose a sturdy one that will serve well for years to come.
If on the other hand, you love leather, have a day job and want to treat yourself to the real leather fancy one, go ahead. It won’t hurt your presentation to use something special and real leather is durable compared to vinyl and leather-look plastics. That’s more of a personal choice. Just make sure that your portfolio or presentation book is clean, sturdy, well organized by subject and doesn’t have a broken zipper or other signs of severe wear.
Dress well for meeting with the gallery people. Either drop by or phone and ask for an appointment, leaving your resume, curriculum vitae (awards and other shows), business card and flyer. Then show up for the appointment dressed well.
Business casual is good for that sort of thing but some artists dress more casually than that or more avant garde. Dressing well according to your personality and lifestyle and being real is probably more important than business casual as such.
Another fun element to having your works in a gallery is that you may be invited to the gallery opening for the show you’re in. These are great parties. Dress well but comfortably for them, show up prepared to talk about your work and socialize. Most galleries will provide refreshments at these parties.
Sometimes a gallery will offer you a show, something specific related to your style with only a few artists involved, occasionally a one-man or one-woman show. This is a great big deal. Enjoy it. Put it on your curriculum vitae as if you won an award, because that’s what it is. Same thing if you got accepted into a themed show.
Oil Pastel Society and Contests
Another way to help get gallery representation is to join fine art societies like the
Oil Pastel Society.
When you are ready for gallery representation, submit five of your best works to the OPS jury to have your membership upgraded to Professional from Associate. You may even want to try out for Signature Member when you can. This will raise your dues but it will assure gallery owners and directors that your work has been judged by professionals to be worthy of fine art investment.
Enter juried shows including the annual OPS show and enter contests. It’s cost effective to spend the entry fees. Jury members may critique your work even if you don’t win anything and if you get so much as an honorable mention in a contest, especially a national or regional contest, you can show this in your curriculum vitae to impress gallery owners and directors.
Be sure to read the entry requirements and contest rules carefully. Follow them to the letter and stick to any restrictions specific to that contest such as “use only photo references you created” or “do not use any other media with your oil pastels” and the size and type of file for digital entries, labeling and type of slides for physical entries. Digital entries are cheaper and easier to get, it helps to have a good scanner or digital camera to take them.
On general contests, check the entry rules to find out where oil pastels paintings should be entered. Sometimes they may count as oil painting, sometimes as pastels, sometimes they aren’t mentioned and you need to query the contest organizers. Sometimes oil pastels are relegated to Mixed Media even if that’s all you used. The best thing to do with that is to just go with what that contest does and try to raise awareness of oil pastels as a fine art medium.
The advantage you’ll have in bringing good oil pastels paintings to galleries as fine art is that galleries are always looking for something new to set them apart. With the advent of colored pencils realism and popularity of acrylics, modern mediums are gaining ground. Representational art is gaining more and more popularity in fine art circles too.
So when you come in with something beautiful that’s comparable to an oil painting or soft pastels painting done in oil pastels, gallery owners may well take even more interest because it stands out against the more traditional mediums. It’s something a bit special, a bit different. You may have to explain the archival qualities of your materials, be sure to go in well informed about exactly what you used and how it should be displayed.
Keep track of the works you have at galleries and keep good records of everything you sell, at tax time it’s important to know where all your earnings came from.