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Managing the Pipeline – REHSing Artists

February 9, 2018

Managing the pipeline – I know it’s been quite a while since my last REHSing Artists piece which discussed presenting your work… hopefully in all that time, you’ve found some representation! Once you have representation, comes the fun part… sales! And how do you keep making sales? Keep making artwork! One of the most important aspects of your career is managing a steady flow of material onto the market, so here are a few things to be mindful of…

Whether you’re represented by one small/local gallery, or have representation in major cities around the world, one thing you can guarantee is that each gallery is going to expect new inventory on a consistent basis. Additionally, one of the easiest ways to build a trusting relationship is by giving accurate expectations and following through. So, let’s start off with a simple example… an entry level artist working with a local gallery – say you can produce one mid-size (18×24 inch) work each month… you’d be walking in thinking you could supply your gallery with 12 works each year… but in reality, that’s a longshot because, well… life happens – you know, things you cannot plan for. It would be a mistake to give a gallery the impression you will produce 12 works each year since they will begin to plan the marketing of your work based on expected production levels (sorry to make it sound so corporate).  So, regardless of your production levels, ahead or behind schedule, you should be in touch with your gallery regularly so they know what is, or is not coming. A common theme in this piece has to do with planning and coordination – remember, the artist/gallery relationship is a business partnership and that means teamwork. When planning for events such as art fairs or preparing an advertising schedule, it helps the gallery make the best decision for the team if they know what is in the works and when they should expect new inventory.

Along the way, other opportunities will inevitably arise (juried/group exhibits, magazine articles, etc.) and taking on these projects will take time away from producing works for your gallery’s inventory.  Any opportunities you are considering should be openly discussed with your gallery – not in the sense that you need permission, but in the sense that they should know if there will be a gap in your normal work flow. Again, this allows the gallery to make informed decisions regarding their business operations… if you are working with a “good” gallery, you’d hope that they would want to help you make the best decisions for your career since it would be in their best interest as well. Something to keep in mind here is that your gallery likely spends a lot of time, money and energy working on your behalf, so it may be advisable to give their needs a little priority. For example, you may be offered a chance to submit a new work for a group show at a new trendy gallery OR get a new inventory piece done for your gallery before a big art fair. And while a new inventory piece seems less enticing, if you regularly show with a gallery, fair visitors and clients/collectors look to see new work by artists they have seen or bought before – it may be the only opportunity in an entire year to expose your work to those people … and some art fairs can bring in 50,000+ visitors in a weekend! So, although the routine art fair that your work gets shown at each year seems less exciting, it may be the smarter long-term decision. I’ll concede, that may not always be the case… but again, that is why you should be discussing this with your gallery – to determine which opportunities get priority.

The last point I want to make is that it is paramount to always have available work… especially when something sells. An interesting thing about human psychology is that people want what others have… so if a gallery announces a sale, there is a chance that other perspective buyers may look to pull the trigger as well. If you only have one available painting, it is tough to capitalize on the momentum. We start to see that being a bigger issue with artists who have multiple galleries and spread themselves too thin, where they may only have one or two works at each gallery at a time. There are obvious exposure benefits to having a second location, but if Gallery X announces a sale of your painting to their collectors, Gallery Y’s collectors are not exposed to that work and the sale… it certainly is a delicate balancing act but hypothetically, it may be better to have 2 galleries with 4-5 paintings each then 4 galleries with 2 paintings each. Similarly, if instead of completing one painting each month, you completed one painting every 3 months, it could be very difficult to build inventory and maintain market traction – it probably wouldn’t be advisable to look for additional representation.

The main point I want to highlight here goes back to managing expectations. If you openly communicate with your gallery and their expectations are on par with your production, you will continue to grow and foster a healthy, long-lasting partnership in your art career.