What Galleries Want: How to Get Your Work Into a Ceramic Gallery

How to Approach a Ceramic Gallery

So, you’ve built up a solid body of work and you feel ready to take the plunge into finding gallery representation. But how do you go about getting your work into a ceramic gallery? We get these types of questions a lot here at CAN, so we decided to gather up some information and advice from established artists and ceramic gallery owners and make a post about it!

In this post, Annie Chrietzberg, Jonathan Kaplan, and Mamta Gholap will give you some tips for figuring out what galleries want. Enjoy, and good luck on getting your work into a ceramic gallery! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS. Check out Ceramics Monthly’s annual Gallery Guide to find a ceramic art gallery near you!

Interviews with Gallery Owners

by Annie Chrietzberg

How to Approach a Ceramic GalleryOnce your skills are developed, your work is conveying the intended ideas, and you’ve got a good body of work, how do you find a ceramic gallery to sell what you’ve made? The place where art and money meet is a strange one indeed, and of the many places and ways to sell pots and sculpture, the gallery relationship can seem the most mysterious. Approaching a ceramic gallery can be tricky for both new and established ceramic artists, and since gallery owners are people too, their preferences for interaction can be as diverse as their tastes. Not knowing all the answers, I asked some respected ceramic gallery owners to pass on a little guidance for the uninitiated about the artist/gallery relationship. But remember, always do some basic research. Some galleries include preferred submission information on their websites. Follow the instructions, and try to go that extra step to make your submission interesting.

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Good First Impressions

Never approach a gallery owner during business hours looking for representation. Terry McGrath Craig from the Hibberd McGrath gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado, said, “We really don’t like it when artists approach us in the gallery. It’s not fair to the artist because we can’t give their work the consideration it deserves and it’s not fair to us because it puts us in an awkward spot.”

But the worst way to approach a gallery is to come through the door with a box full of pots. Terry told me, “Some people have even come in after having had another show in town, with the pieces that didn’t sell, wanting us to buy the leftovers sight unseen. Even if someone has phoned ahead and made an appointment, they really need to send some visuals to us ahead of time. We don’t like aggressive presentations.”

How to Approach a Ceramic GalleryCharlie Cummings of Charlie Cummings Gallery calls bringing work into a gallery unannounced “the ambush.” He says, “If someone comes in unannounced with a box of pots, the only thing they really want to hear is ‘yes.’ I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but they are putting me in a position where I have to say ‘no’.” And he adds, “As artists, we really don’t want people to make split second decisions about our work.”

The Worst Time

The worst time to approach a gallery owner is during an opening reception. Gallery owners are extremely busy both before and during events. The reception is for the artist and the work currently installed, so it’s not the right time to address your own agenda. It might be okay to introduce yourself to the gallery owner and leave a card, but you may make a better impression by expressing appreciation of the work at hand.

Packing As Presentation

Packing is also part of your presentation. Recycled packing materials are acceptable, as long as they are clean (but never use newspaper). Don’t allow your stored packing materials to get dusty in your studio, and don’t use anything that smells bad. Think about pleasing the person who is going to unpack your work, and pack it neatly as well as safely to the industry standard.

While talking about what makes an artist nice to work with, Anthony Schaller, gallery director of Schaller Gallery, told me something lovely about Mary Briggs. When she sends a box of work to the Red Lodge Clay Center, she includes a little surprise like a sprig of lavender or a couple of bags of tea. “Those are the types of gestures that create ongoing relationships between gallery owners and artists,” he said. There is something so fun, kind and wonderful about that simple gesture.

Cummings has also received pieces so inadequately wrapped from a ceramist that he stopped working with them altogether. Broken things cause a lot of extra work for the gallery owner. There are phone calls to make and forms to fill out, and if something isn’t packed correctly and it breaks, the shipper is not liable.

The Artist/Gallery Owner Relationship

Everyone I interviewed talked about the interactions between the artist and gallery owner in terms of relationship. McGrath Craig told me, “There’s a partnership between the gallery and the artist. Everyone has to feel comfortable in that relationship. It’s a one-on-one kind of business and what makes it fun and has kept us going for twenty-five years are the relationships we have with our artists.” But once you get accepted into a gallery you are not home-free. Every single time you make contact you are presenting yourself, through emails, letters, visits, and deliveries or shipments of work.

Getting Ceramic Gallery Representation—Keys to Success

Basically, you have to both make good work and be a great person to work with. Every contact with the gallery needs to be delightful and formal, from an initial email to the delivery of the work. Check the gallery’s website for preferred submission information. Introduce yourself to the gallery owner, but do not ambush him or her in their gallery. A creative, respectful and pleasing submission will be more likely to get you in the door than a casual and sloppy one.

A Gallerist and Artist Shares His Experience and Advice

by Jonathan Kaplan

Working with Retail Venues

The Universe Over Denver, 15 ft. (4.6 m) tall, slab-built clay, fired to cone 6, illuminated at night with computer-controlled LED lighting and projection. Concept, ceramic construction, and installation on the Plinth Gallery building by Nan Kitchens (clayarchitecture@hotmail.com). Electronics and lighting by Jonathan Kaplan.

I am both an artist and a gallery owner so I put together some guidelines and suggestions for artists who are looking to get their work into galleries. Here are some thoughts from a gallery owner/artist’s perspective:

  1. The artist-gallery relationship depends on mutual trust and respect based on a shared mutual risk. Reputable, successful galleries work hard to promote the artists they represent. The gallery commission does not mean you are settling for half price. Carefully analyze your pricing so that you can make that mug, and some profit, for half of what you receive from the gallery while keeping the retail price competitive and affordable.
  2. Galleries that exhibit ceramic work are unique and are still important in keeping handmade objects relevant and accessible. If you run a gallery or work for one, use the many online resources to widen the business’s presence. A cell phone can take remarkably high-quality photographs and videos. Promote the gallery and the represented artists with online videos and social-media posts focusing on their work. If you have developed a mailing list that includes collectors, offer private showings. If you have outdoor space in proximity to your retail venue, stage and promote small outdoor exhibitions, weather permitting. Write about the value of owning and using handmade ceramics and how it can enrich your life.

A View From Three Perspectives

As a maker, I continually need to challenge myself as well as sell my work. I balance this by making slip-cast one-offs as well as limited editions of usable, affordable pottery. I also make branded ceramic gift ware for the River North Art District (rinoartdistrict.org) in Denver, Colorado.

As a gallery owner, my job is to stay connected with ceramic artists and choose pieces that interest me and have potential for acquisition by collectors as well as impulse sales. I also must continue to work diligently for each ceramic artist I represent. Pieces with higher price points are selling online, but I am also intrigued by customers seeking that special piece, regardless of price, who come to the gallery. We can always depend on sales from the cup-grid display in the gallery, as these items are both affordable and all different.

As a thinker, I choose to be forward-looking, always including others with me on my path and sharing whatever resources I have. This can take many shapes including mentoring, demonstrating what I do to small groups, and planning small events that further our outreach. Broaden your network and make yourself available.

Jonathan Kaplan’s textured coffee cups, 3 1/2 in. (9 cm) in height, slip-cast whiteware, fired to cone 5, ceramic decals.

Working with Galleries: Contracts and Agreements

by Mamta Gholap

As an artist, you might want to display your artwork at a gallery for an exhibition or on a consignment basis. Few artists sign agreements with the exhibiting gallery, relying on a bond of mutual trust, involving risks. Before entering into a formal business affiliation with a gallery, you should discuss terms—conditions, considerations, and commitments. The artist and the gallerist (owner, manager, and/or curator) need to mutually emphasize that this is a business relationship, which can be regulated by different types of contracts aimed at the sale and protection of the artwork.

Possessing something in writing and signed by both parties is more beneficial than oral agreements. If any questions arise prior to, during, or following the exhibition or a sale of art, you’ll have an official document spelling out the ground rules in detail. With each gallery you exhibit personal artwork in, you’re entering into a business relationship, and you certainly don’t want to end up in an argument or disagreement if problems arise.

Before exhibiting your work in a gallery, make yourself familiar with the various types of contracts and agreements that exist between gallerist and artist:

  • Sale On Consignment: Essentially, used in collaborations between an artist and a gallery. The gallery receives artwork consigned by the artist. The gallery commits to sell or return the artwork within a set time. The artist maintains the creation until the final sale. The eventual revenue is distributed according to a percentage accepted between the two parties.
  • Exclusive Contract: This contract involves a maximum of 5 years. It is the commitment of the artist to process all work and sales through the gallery, earning a monthly income, if so agreed.
  • Purchase Agreement: This version involves the purchase of an artist’s creation by the gallery for exclusive ownership and most often resale.

Keep in mind that even without a written contract, obligations, rights, and responsibilities between the artist and the gallery must still be maintained. Establishing a legally binding contract is a safeguard for both parties. Consulting a lawyer or a specialized counselor who can advise you of the best contractual solution for your situation is better than risking disputes or the possibility of a lawsuit.

Remember, before signing the contract, review each line thoroughly and talk to your attorney. Trust is good, but guarding yourself is better!

Note: The information provided here is not aimed to constitute legal advice. Readers should contact a lawyer to obtain advice concerning any particular legal matter or contractual agreement.

Click here to see Mamta’s full list of provisions artists must add to their contracts with galleries. 

Do you have any advice from personal experience for artists looking for gallery representation? If so, post it below in the comments!

**First published in 2010. Republished with new content in 2021.
  • Angie M.

    This is great information! Thank you for sharing it. I have printed it and will keep it on hand for future reference!

  • Hawkowl (.

    I have been thinking about how to approach galleries, for a some time now and this article is very helpful. I really appreciat the wonderful help I am finding in Ceramics Daily in all the aspects of ceramics. Thank you

  • Marilyn G.

    When I started out,I was told to just walk into a gallery and show them my work. It did work for a few ,but not many. They didn’t teach that in Art school. Thanks for giving the solution to a big problem. Now to put it to work.

  • Paul C.

    Mary Brigg’s use of that ‘something extra’ is a great example of relationship building. She does not have to do that, but she cultivates a richer relationship with the gallery owner each time she does it. I doubt that there is ever a slow start to any conversations with her clients. Great ‘after-the-sale’ advice!

  • Subscriber T.

    I am a young artist soon to be released from the college world and into the business world. I found this artical a nice peak into what I will need to be doing in the near future. Thank you

  • Carole S.

    Excellent information. I like the ‘packing smell’ advice. I use fresh bubblewrap for packing. Older bubblewrap is great to use for clay impressions. When I worked for a gallery, I hated unpacking artwork from a box full of fluffy peanuts!

    I stay away from ‘art boutiques.’ We have a ‘gallery’ in our area that is called “Fine Art & Flea Market.” Not good! I also do lots of pre-visiting of galleries.

  • Brenda W.

    Good, solid info for the potter moving up from retail shows, but not yet ready for ‘prime time’- BMAC/ACC wholesale shows.

  • Marianne M.

    This is truly wonderful – even for those not (yet) considering presenting work. It makes one think about judging one’s own values. It is usually through the eyes of the artist that these issues are seen – this is really fair to the gallery owner as well! Thank you!

  • Kate T.

    While the ideas behind this are romantic and inspirational I wouldn’t be able to make a living using this approach.

  • Joanne B.

    Great information. I like the idea of the artist-gallery owner relationship, the mutual respect and professionalism, like courtship almost, at least romantic. I have heard some tales of artists who think that the gallery owner is more like a flea market stall owner, rough and ready and ready to negotiate right on the gallery floor, pots strewn out for reviewing, etc. I love the idea that the gallery owner requires that you follow guidelines, like poetry reviews or magazine articles, that makes perfect sense. Great article for the new or for those who do not know why they have been rejected, and a little reminder for those who are already in a gallery Great job!

  • Joanne B.

    Great information. I like the idea of the artist-gallery owner relationship, the mutual respect and professionalism, like courtship almost, at least romantic. I have heard some tales of artists who think that the gallery owner is more like a flea market stall owner, rough and ready and ready to negotiate right on the gallery floor, pots strewn out for reviewing, etc. I love the idea that the gallery owner requires that you follow guidelines, like poetry reviews or magazine articles, that makes perfect sense. Great article for the new or for those who do not know why they have been rejected, and a little reminder for those who are already in a gallery Great job!

  • Juliann R.

    Thank you so much for posting this! I am a ceramic artist as well as a gallery owner and I am assaulted daily with inappropriate artist advances. This is a good guide for all artists looking for representation. Thanks again! & MAKE AN APPOINTMENT!

  • Deborah G.

    This was well done~ and timely for me! Thank you!

  • There’s a lot of gold nuggets in this article… Thanks for the tips.

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