To Gallery or not to Gallery... that is the Question

To Gallery or not to Gallery... that is the Question

Archival Post, originally published January 2023.

I recently pulled out of what would have been my first solo gallery show. This is not a decision I made lightly and it has instilled a bit of malaise into the week… It doesn’t feel good going back on a commitment; even if it was just a verbal agreement.

As a child of the pre-internet era - weird, right - I grew up with the assumption that gallery representation was a big part of the puzzle in terms of what it meant to really be ‘making it’ as an artist. Once I had a solo show, then I would have arrived!

Below are pieces which were sold through a gallery, and forms and designs I am looking to develop, made in 2020-2021.

image of a vase and pitcher ornately painted with hummingbirds, other song birds and flowers on a white background.

But of course we know that with the rise of user friendly personal web pages, coupled with social medias as a way to reach an interested clientiel, galleries are no longer as intergral as they once were to facilitate sales, and add credibilty to an artist’s work.

Still when I was offered a solo opportunity for a gallery show two years ago, I felt flattered, my ego was stroked and I was excited.

Are those reasons to jump into a business agreement? Absolutly NOT. A major benefit which well established and run galleries do offer is access to their collectors. This is still a major motivator for an artist working on expanding a base.

In my case, one of my personal goals over the years has been to create larger decorated and detailed one of a kind work. These types of pieces take days to create and as such need a much higher price than smaller pieces. They can be more difficult to sell, and this became a major draw and reason for me to work with a gallery, and their audience.

For artists who plan on working with a gallery in solo show capacity; I recommend participating in a couple group shows with them before deciding on a larger commitment. This will give you first hand knowledge of how the gallery markets shows, pays on time, and most importantly - if your work is a good fit!

open notebook with a handwritten table with reasons to work with or without a gallery.

As I mentioned… I feel not so great about pulling from the show… I have been informed that although the show was scheduled in May, my January notice is not enough time for the gallery to make up for the loss in sales this show would generate for their year. I may have burned a business relationship in making this decision, but I am accepting that.

The truth is that I’ve only recently sat down to start working on these pieces for them, and had time to reflect on the show. I would have started in Sept of 2022, but last year proved to be full of unforseen instances. It was my first year as a mom, I was naive in the time I would have for my art practice with parenting coming first, and my injury. Breaking my hip in the Fall, coupled with the baby has caused me to re-evaluate my artist practice anew and how it works with my life.

Below: Mug featuring the extinct Carolina Parakeet, in progress at the studio.

Shows an unglazed work in progress painted mug of the extinct Carolina Parakeet

Another one of my goals is to slow down this year. When I started working on the bird collection to be destined for this gallery, I felt the need to create pieces which were not constrained by ‘business’ notions of time, and free of the constraint of negotiating an hourly pay for myself. This is more difficult when selling through a gallery- because a typical gallery commission is 50% of the retail price.

The style of the bird line is ‘more is more’, it’s loosely based on an impressionistic

Close up of a bird being painted on a clay surface.

style. The pieces are grounded in a detailed area of interest - the birdies, and less detailed parts of dappled color are created by building color and texture on the unfired clay ware, with more color added into the fired stage. The final layer of depth and shine is added with a third gold luster firing. 

In the past I have timed myself in the painting and carving of the initial form and managed to keep it to an hour for a total of a three hour make time per mug. This time around I wanted to really let the compositions flow in an unrushed and thoughtful manner as possible, letting the painting emerge organically, in the moment in an unplanned way. 

Below: Workspace, Puffin mug being worked on, a baby monitor in the studio is a key tool these days.

Image of a table with glazes and a mug being worked on a banding wheel

This spontenaiety requires the luxury of time. All said the current batch of birdie mugs each take nearly 4 hours to make. And as a momma so my little one, gone are the 12 hour days of intensive focused work. Costs to consider are:

  • My shipping cost to gallery, time it takes to prepare to ship these works.
  • Cost of clay/pigments/glaze/gold/firing cost.
  • Cost of childcare during daytime working hours.
  • My hourly pay (take home).

I realized that at this rate- even if the mugs were gallery priced at 200 ea (they are currently at 160-180 range), after factoring the cost of the make, my hourly would be about $10-15 an hour. *Noted that child care cost is not something which everyone contends with, and I’m not sure if it counts as a ‘cost’ , but it is something that is hard not to include.

Seeing that my birdie mugs are fairly in demand… which I am grateful for; andArtist working on mugs in the studio that I am not able to spend this kind of time on this involved work very often, AND that I am not confident in the galleries ability to move larger works to a new clientele outside of my existing collector’s base due to past group shows… I made the decision to pull out.

I do think that galleries serve an important purpose in curating the art world/’setting the bar’, and bringing art to folks. In the end I would like to continue to participate in group shows presently, but it is not the right time for my work to be shown in a, ‘solo show’ sense.

Thanks for reading if you made it to the end. I hope that these types of posts are educational for folks interested in my work, but also artists interested in gallery representation.

I plan on making these pieces available later this year through my site.

Note that this post was archival- check the Birds and Botanicals section of the the shop for availability, I hope to have a small release of bird mugs for the 2023 Holiday season; join the mailing list if you would like news of when a new batch is ready!

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