Secrets from Working in a Gallery
Make sure you've got your signature and everything written on the back too so that we know exactly who you are and which piece this is.
You're listening to unfold with Kellee Wynne this is an unpolished, imperfect and totally honest podcast, and I'm talking to all artists, creatives, visionaries, and changemakers, who want to live a life by design and not by default. If you're ready to have thought provoking eye opening and heart centred conversations, that explore the stories that made us who we are, and break through the boundaries of expectations than you are in the right place.
Well, hello, hello, everyone. Welcome back to Unfold with Kellee Wynne and to our summer series, which is The Artist in Business. And I had this realisation now that I'm starting on the fourth in the series, that the artists that I'm really talking about is myself and all the experiences that I've had along the way. And I hope that it's helpful. I've heard for many of you saying that it's been eye opening, or you've related to the journey so far.
But if you're interested, just go back the last three episodes, I've started in discussing this in depth, the journey that I've been on, what it takes to get to a place where you're successful with your art business, some of the mistakes I've made along the way, and really, honestly, just transparency for you, so that you don't think it's all an overnight success dream. That's something that you're just gonna wake up one day, and it'll be a reality, it takes work. And I think that's the message that I'm trying to impart on you in this entire series. And really, honestly, with the entire podcast, in and of itself, the goal is to really shed a light on the process and help you with your own journey. And part of that is making sure that you understand that there is no easy path to success. That it actually takes fortitude. It takes strength, it takes perseverance, it takes consistency. And most of all, it just takes grit and never quitting. And that's how you get to where you want to go, there are a few things you can do to make it easier. And so I'm hoping this series is really helping for you to, you know, have those aha moments and maybe save you a little time before you make some of the mistakes that I've made.
And my journey is only one of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who have found a successful way to make a business out of their creativity. And that's my hope for you. If that's your dream, if you realise that there's something in you, that wants to give to the world in this very remarkable way, then I think you're gonna love continuing on with this series, the whole summer, shedding light, telling the backstory and giving you some insider tips and ideas that will kind of maybe give you that AHA and say, 'Oh, I see now I get it.' Or maybe you'll disagree with me completely. And I'm okay with that. What I'd rather do is have a discussion and keep it open.
But today we're going to talk about something that may be a little sensitive from two different points of view. Honestly, we're going to shed the light on Secrets from the Gallery. And when I say from the gallery, I'm going to talk about both from my point of view as being shown and represented in galleries and opportunities like that where your work is presented and hanging on the wall. And from the point of view, having curated for several years.
So let's just get right into it. If you recall, as I've talked in the last couple of episodes, I dove right in when I decided that it was time to start showing my work, I went right full gusto, I knew I wanted to have a business, I knew that I had every intention of being successful, what success meant I didn't know at the time, but I was willing to work for it. And so you may have heard you know my journey where my after my first art exhibit, I just went ahead and shared with everyone and invited gallery owners to participate. And that's when I met the owner of artworks, which is the experience that I had curating for many many years. That plus working for Maryland Federation of Art for a couple of years, I worked for them for off site curation, of different shows that we had.
So you know, there's a lot of backstory for me there in participating volunteering, getting paid sometimes, not getting paid other times. But it really gave me a strong foundation and footing for understanding how the whole gallery system worked from the point of view of nonprofit and small business. In addition to Maryland Federation of Art. I was artist in residence for nine whole months in Baltimore at a high end gallery and I spent time in New York City with an established curator, learning her behind the scenes secrets on how she put together shows. So in all honesty, I did everything I could to be well educated in what I was doing at the time, and get that whole foundation laid for what I thought was going to be my future in the art industry.
Turns out, as you may well know, seeing what I'm doing now, I'm not currently working in any galleries, I don't even show my artwork in galleries, and maybe after this episode, you're gonna find out why. But it doesn't mean that it's not the right path for you. But generally speaking, there's a lot of pitfalls to working for a gallery or being shown in a gallery. So you need to really be the one in charge of your success and your destiny with your artwork. And that leads me to my very first most important point I want to make. And that is, no one cares about your success as much as you do. And that is the honest truth. Nobody gives a shit about your success, like you will give a shit about your own success. Do you understand what I'm saying? Galleries, yes, they're there to make money. They want to represent the artists but they're passionate isn't in your personal rise to success. Their passion is their businesses rise to success. So once you understand that, you need to be the one behind the wheel of your career, then you're gonna have a better time making decisions, and not just following the next latest whim and possibility like I did for nearly a good decade.
So working in a gallery, let me tell you a few things that I learned while working for a gallery in Annapolis. So a gallery that I worked with was also a framing gallery. And this is one thing that I want you to be very well aware of, where does the gallery get their money from? Is it from solely selling the artwork, or is it because they have other ways in which they bring income in. And that being mostly framing a lot of galleries do framing. And what that means is, the artwork is there as a supplement, not necessarily as their primary income source for their business. And this is the first thing I want you to check out if you're interested in being in a gallery. Where's their primary source of income coming from? because a gallery that works solely on just showing and representing artists is going to work harder to sell your work than then a gallery that's selling framing where, they're making 1000s of dollars a day, often off of just framing artwork. And this is something that if you understand that then you'll understand kind of the level at which your gallery that you're interested in working with is playing.
The higher end galleries like if you imagine New York City, or even some of the really amazing galleries that are taking off in the southern states are California or New Mexico, you know, I've been to Santa Fe, and I've seen all those galleries and their main focus is selling artwork. And that's an art hub in the United States, of where people are purchasing artwork, they take vacations to get there, Aspen, Palm Springs, Park City, these are destinations where the galleries there are really reliant on selling the artwork, those galleries are harder to get into. And they're looking for experienced artists that have already been selling their work, that already have collectors, that already have a reputation. And, and the bar is set pretty high to get in there. But the general concept, at least up until last decade was that the gallery was going to do all the work for you. You would make the art you'd show up you'd be a presence of face a brand voice of your work, but they are the ones who are going to market and sell find the collectors and get that work out there highlight you in a show. This is a completely different experience from what I went through working for a framing gallery.
So a framing galleries main focus is to get as many people through the door so that they'll frame their own personal items. They're going to work on your kids artwork, they're going to frame and the vintage antique piece that you got from your grandma or the art you picked up on your vacation or whatever it is that you their goal is to bring in customers into their gallery is mostly for the framing and not for the sale of the art. And on an average show that would span between four weeks to eight weeks, we would probably sell only a couple $1,000 worth of artwork in the framing gallery. And this should be an aha moment for you to realise no business can sustain the brick and mortar space by only selling artwork at a few $100 here or there. So obviously the incentive there was to get people in and have them frame their artwork, frame their product. And so the guest artists that were showing there was a draw to get more people in. And yes, we would sell some art. And sometimes I would sell really well.
And the very first couple of shows I had there, I sold probably 50% of the paintings that I had hanging on the wall. But there's a reason and I have a little hindsight view into that success. Why those first couple of shows really did well. And I want to know, for any of you have been selling your art for a long time, if you've seen this dip, you finally launch out, you're sharing your artwork, you're selling your artwork, you've invited everyone under the sun that you know, you're doing great, you're selling artwork like crazy, those first couple of shows, I just was so surprised, I would say that I sold my very first show I practically sold out of everything, you know, and then there was a dip, and the sales came in far fewer far between. And every time I'd put all my effort into having a big exhibit some where I'd put 40 pieces up, and I'd sell nothing. And in hindsight, I can tell you why. Because when I wasn't replenishing customers, I had gone through everyone who was interested in buying for me, all my friends and family had purchased their obligatory piece. And now here I was faced with art exhibits and artwork and no new customers.
So I want to ask you, if a gallery is inviting you to show up in their gallery, is it because they want your customers in your audience. This literally happened to me to two other galleries that I was invited to show at here in Maryland, where I asked what the their reputation, their success was, for their artists. See I had at least some foresight to ask at this point. And I realised that they were running the same sort of an operation primarily making money off of framing. And they said yes, to get their gallery artists do really well, when they invite everyone they know and all their customers in their family. And that was that aha moment where I was like, well shit, I can just invite them to buy stuff out of my house. And I don't have to split 50/50 with anybody.
I mean, this is the thing, this is the hard reality we have to face, if you're working in a gallery, almost always they will take 50% Sometimes it's a 40/60 split, which is absolutely fair, in my opinion, if they're doing all the work to sell your work. If they are finding the customer, if they're selling the artwork, if they're getting the word out there, if they're hosting the party, they're inviting the guests and they sell the work and they pack up the work and they ship it off and nothing comes back to you. That's a success. I would love to have a gallery do that for me. But the smaller galleries don't do that, they work, you know, at running their operations and framing and that kind of customer service. And they rely on the artists to come in and bring fresh blood and bring their own audience to purchase their artwork.
So you can see from this point of view, why this doesn't work really well for most artists. Because if you can bring in artists to buy your own work, there's no reason to split the cost with somebody. So I spent years curating shows, designing shows hosting coming with out of the box ideas. Remember that On the Map, I also had a few other really fun themed art shows, and brought in good crowds most of the time, and sometimes we sold and sometimes we didn't. But we never sold on the scale in which the artists were making a living, an actual living wage off of what we could sell there in the gallery.
The artists that were most successful, had themed artwork that was really appropriate for Annapolis that being crabs and oysters, sailing boats, many seabirds and oceans and beach scapes, which is where my beach series came from. My little seascape series came from was this desire to try and capture the market where I was, but it wasn't true to my soul. But for some of the artists that were working there that was very much a lucrative and perfect niche for them to fill. And they were in multiple places. They were there at the framing gallery. They were downtown at the Arts Co Op, they were on the eastern shore in gift shops and galleries in Easton. And so all the different places in our area where you would see the artwork over and over again this same beautiful work. Very beautiful work but it was very themed for the area and very consistent. And I would say that they were the most successful artists in our area. They weren't relying just on the one gallery, they were everywhere they were in every place possible that they could show up and be known in our area for the work that they make.
So think about that in your area, what is what is the heart and soul of the kind of art that sells where you're at. And if you make that kind of art, if you love to make that kind of work, and it is authentically you, showing up in every corner of your area with your niche, go for it, go for it.
But in my case, my work wasn't really fitting in with the genre of the Mid Atlantic, Chesapeake Bay, I mostly painted florals and landscapes. And I wasn't everywhere, I was really busy running the gallery. In fact, I kept growing my presence there at the gallery and what I was capable of doing, I was really enjoying the process. Like I said, I learned a lot, I volunteered a lot. I worked for several different organisations besides just the framing gallery, but I was really getting a complete understanding of the process of how to present the artwork because this was the most essential part of it. And I learned this after working with artists and I want to tell you a little bit about what to do what not to do in a gallery.
Please show up and present your work at its finest as if it was opening night on Broadway because we would get art work in and it wasn't framed properly. It wasn't wired properly, no labels on it. No signatures, the sides hadn't been painted. And I was just wondering, how did we How did we end up with the standards so that the artists didn't really understand how to present the work? And that was the biggest struggle, working with artists is they're, artists and they work like artists. They think like artists, you know, are a little bit of a scattered freewill, creative souls that we are, doesn't mean that we're always easy to work with or to have work show up and have it perfected when it's ready to hang in the gallery. Many times having to send the artwork back to the artist and say, 'Can you please finish this up properly?'. And these are the guidelines. In fact, one time I was putting a show together. And I actually had to photograph the backs of every artists work to show that we had time and time again the most. I'm going to just call it what it is absurd hanging method, someone used fishing line and staples and another person used like a cup hook and some phone wire. And I'm like, what is happening here? Why do we not have the standard. So I had photographed the backs of all of their artwork and realised that I needed to teach them a few things about how to wire properly, with the right d hook and the right framing wire and then you know, make sure you've got your signature and everything written on the back too so that we know exactly who you are and which piece this is with.
These are just some of the funny little anecdotal things about working in a gallery. As you watch this journey unfold that I've been on as an artist, as a working artist as a gallerist. And having my work in galleries and selling, and putting together shows, you can see this beautiful roller coaster that's happened from my very first time in 2012. When I had my very first show in a gallery to about I would say 2017 was the last time you saw me doing that at all because I had moved on now to what you now know as my entire online art business. After curating several shows at the framing gallery, I came to a realisation that I wanted to push my career forward much further than where I had gone already.
And so many opportunities came along for me as I worked in the framing gallery and collaborated with other artists and networked did my best to meet up with all types of people in the industry to expand my possibilities for where I could take my business, including the artists and residents in Baltimore. I learned so much about pretty much what not to do running a gallery. Well, in that experience I also because I was networking a lot with other artists had an opportunity to show in New York City. And they don't talk about the New York City experience that often because maybe there's still part of me that's a bit disappointed that I had my work in a CoOp gallery in Chelsea, New York, right as David Hockney was showing his work on the same street. I mean, it was like unimaginable experience to be able to say I've shown my work in New York City. And if anyone doesn't know a Co-Op, a Co-Op means it's a collaborative of other artists. And usually there's one curator that will bring in fresh new guests to participate in the coop. So it's not a Pay to Play type of a gallery, which by the way, if you don't know what a Pay to Play is, look it up, we'll talk about it another time. But basically, you want to avoid a Pay to Play at any and all costs, because it will ruin your reputation. This was not a Pay to Play.
This was a CoOp, an international collaboration of artists, I learned some things from the curator, I'm not even going to name names or where it was because it was just one of those experiences that I realised it was a lot of smoke and mirrors. You know, each opportunity that I took some that I invested heavily in the artists and residency that cost me several $1,000, it wasn't something that was free. The gallery show in New York wasn't a cost to be in it. But the amount of money it takes to go up there several times to bring the work, stay in a hotel, to show the work for your exhibit and bring the work back again, like there's a lot of cost involved in exhibiting even locally, having the transportation having the pieces put together, having the the professionalism to frame things. It's not fast track to making money, it takes a huge investment. And so with each of these experiences, whether it's for the framing gallery, or it's for Maryland Federation of Art, or it's in Baltimore, or even with a, you know, curated Co Op show in New York City, where I was apprenticing under the curator to learn how she put her shows together.
I took opportunity where it was but it wasn't feeding back my business success. So I would call that kind of my long road to getting a PhD in what to do on what not to do in the art business world. Not an official PhD, let's just be clear about that. But six years of doing this, of trying and failing and learning and growing really teaches you so much more than you would ever believe is possible when it comes to building your own business. So this is a long road. And this doesn't even include all the things I did prior to showing my first art exhibit.
But what all those things taught me was that there was something more for me that I knew that I wanted to grow as an artist in business, which is why we have this whole series, I wanted to share this journey of how I got to be artist in business. And the last attempt I made of trying to sell artwork before I had to shift gears again. And that was trying to start my own agency. For better or worse. The idea was I will bring together artists I knew and respected their work. And I would host them under the roof of the framing gallery. Because we needed a place to house it, I would take a percentage, the gallery would take a percentage and I would bust my ass to find the buyers. And that included spending weeks combing through the internet to find every single interior designer from here to 100 mile radius. And you can take that tip by the way to the bank, search it, make a spreadsheet, find their email, find their mailing address, I put their mailing address down, I send out email after email to work with designers to represent these artists to sell the work and to do commissions and to work with them to help bring artwork into their beautifully designed homes. And I sent out 150 emails, and I got a reply from about 25 And I got to follow up with about two. And from those two I got zero traction in selling artwork and I kept going and I kept going, I did my best to shift the image of what the framing gallery was to, instead being mid Atlantic's premiere spot for hosting artists of all kinds for high end, you know, for a little bit more higher end, think Greg Irby gallery, I don't know if you know them. They've been very popular on Instagram. And I remember seeing them at the time and trying to bring that energy into the mid Atlantic to have a place where we would be selling artwork to designers, and it was probably a good eight months of me slogging artwork everywhere, printing up catalogues and prints and building a website and trying to work with interior designers that I finally hit that wall and that wall was this isn't my passion. And this is harder than I thought it was going to be. And it's not rewarding and I got incredibly tired of hearing no, and the biggest aha is it's really hard to sell your own art. Now try and quadruple and 10 times that by selling other artists artwork. And that was a moment for me to pause and take everything that I had learned about curation, about selling art, about selling other people's art, and call it an end to my agency days, my representation of other artists.
But what I love is that I learned a lot about how the industry works and what kind of art people are looking for, specifically designers are looking for. And in hindsight now, I will say the tools that I've learned from that time, to what I've learned now about what marketing and selling is about, I could probably have approached it completely different and been far more successful. But I'm telling you all my rocky road path to success, all the ups and downs and the times that I wanted to quit the times that I was so miserable, I could just, you know, I just felt myself wilting inside. Because there was one thing I knew for sure, I wanted to figure out a way to blend my creativity and my art and a successful business. And I was hell bent on doing it. And I will continue and continue until I could succeed. So if you might figure out the little theme there. And that theme is you can't quit.
You have to keep going if you want to succeed. It's not an overnight success. Look at how many times I started and stopped. And I did something new. And I tried to work with new people and get exposure and new ways. Everything from New York City to Baltimore to Annapolis to Federation of Art to hosting shows that designers all said that they were so much looking forward to coming to and purchasing artwork for their clients and zero...ah I take that back, not zero, I sold out an entire line of my timeless arches. And that was kind of that moment when I had worked for eight months. And the only artwork that I could really sell was my own was that moment where I was like, okay, so now I know what it takes. And that takes you loving what you do so much your work and believing in yourself. And that's how the work is gonna sell.
That goes back to the very first thing I said at the beginning of this podcast, nobody's gonna give a shit about your business, no one's gonna give a shit about your art nearly as much as you. They're just not. There's no passion behind it, like the passion you have for your own success. I will be honest with you, what I did find out through all of that was there were a few things that I really, really loved. I loved putting the message together, I loved the personal branding. And by personal branding, I mean, the reputation and the ethos of the artwork and the person and the artists and still wanted to be able to help others. Because if there's anything that I did well over that time, and this collaboration, that's all an art gallery show is over and over again is collaboration working for all of these different opportunities and organisations and art shows and putting things together and juring shows and hanging shows and all the things that I was doing, where I was finding artists, I was supporting artists, I was highlighting their work and their success, I realised that collaboration and working with artists was a really important essential part of how I want to do business.
And of course, you can see that now as we've moved forward into the future that I've continued to collaborate with artists on all different types of projects. Over the years, I'm gonna want to tell you about my very first jump into coaching and that was the creative launch for artists and I took eight fabulous artists on this journey with me from curating their work, and coaching them on how to present it, and what to put together to write their artists statements, and their bios and how to finish their work beautifully and how to talk about their work. And it was such a lovely journey to put this entire project together the creative launch for artists programme, and out of the years of curating and out of all of the years of representing artists, I would say I am most proud of this experience that I had most proud of being able to show up and represent them and see their success. And it was the best show that I had. We had a massive turnout. There wasn't enough room in the gallery for everybody. All the artists were selling their work. I really saw a huge success in that.
And that was probably one of the biggest catalysts to me wanting to continue on with nurturing mentoring and coaching other artists in the future. When it came to an end. It was time for me to turn my focus on somewhere else. Some where in the online world where my entire art journey was beginning to blossom. And that's when Colour Crush Creative was born in the spring of 2017. And I want to tell you all about Colour Crush Creative in the next episode. But for this episode, I guess I just wanted to catch you up to speed on the things that I've experienced. And the lessons that I've learned from working inside of a gallery.
Here's the thing, there is no right or wrong path or you, as an artist as a creative, selling your work in a gallery, selling your work online, working in Co-Ops working with interior designers being an artist in residence, whatever it is that you choose to do, however, you want to proceed forward, I just want you to have the knowledge that you need. And the insight from behind the scenes will the gallery representing you fairly, the way you deserve to be represented? Will you actually make money and be profitable and see success from working in a gallery? Are you going to be better off selling your work online? Or are you an artist to maybe have some other ideas besides just selling your work, maybe there's another path for you to share your creativity and a whole new, maybe not even thought of out of the box idea that you can bring to fruition. So being in business does not mean just selling your work, there are so many different facets and possibilities and wild ideas out there. And I've shown you just a few where I have taken the bull by the horns and just ran with it and move forward with my art career through all the ups and downs, through the galleries through the curating through the juried shows through the volunteering, and out the other side with some successful shows and some shows where I sold just nothing nothing. And yet, from that all I feel like what I've gained in return is a knowledge and a strength that I would not have had had, I have not taken that journey, I would not be able to even express to you now the knowledge that I have about how a gallery would run on the inside when you're working with a framing gallery, or how how juried shows work or how collaborations with other artists work.
I have this experience now because I took that risk both emotionally and financially and physically. And there were times where it really stretched me thin. But on the other side of that I grew stronger from it. And I'm proud of what I've been able to take from that time and translate it into my online business, and really been able to see it grow in success over the years. So I want nothing less for you. And that is why I'm here telling you my journey once again, about the artist in business. And maybe you're thinking selling your art might not be the only opportunity for creating a profitable business as an artist. And if that's the case, I invite you to think outside of the box with me and go to my website and download 100 ways to make money as an artist without selling your art. I've already thought of 100 great ways for you and I bet you you could think of 100 more. This is the beauty of the new age we're living on with the access of the internet, social media and online. Go to Kelleewynnestudios.com/ 100 download the PDF or you can go to the show notes for unfold with Kellee Wynne where we highlight everything from every episode, including images, and links and more information to help you as an artist. You can also join me on YouTube because now these episodes are also recorded with video I multiple multiple places that you have an opportunity to connect with unfold with Kellee Wynne thank you so much and if this episode has been a help for you please share with me comm send me a message in Instagram and tell me what you thought about this episode and whether or not you have new ideas of how you're going to start your own art business. Alright, thanks till the next time bye.
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