Getting a Portfolio Together

Here are my own personal thoughts on the best way to get a portfolio application together – there are no rules and sometimes it’s just a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

1: Keep things simple. You only have one chance to impress and now is not the time to show how versatile you are. I know it’s tempting to put in examples of all the different aspects of your work but you only have one chance to impress. Random pieces that do not relate to the main body of work are pointless – try to keep the look fairly uniform.

2: Presentation. All applicants are expected to be professional and it’s very important that the work is presented to the highest standards. It goes without saying that all the work should be clean – no crooked mounts, no dirty or creased margins. If you don’t think your work is worth presenting properly, then there’s no reason to think anyone else will.

3: Supporting work. Make sure it is relevant – don’t put in life drawings to support urban scenes, as I once did. You want to reinforce the thinking behind the work and hopefully increase the appreciation of it. If you don’t use sketchbooks, then try to show examples of the process you’ve used to get from the initial idea to the finished piece.

4: CV. Make sure it’s up to date, relevant and preferably on one page – a good exhibiting history obviously helps but so does an interesting project, residency or commission.

5: Don’t get discouraged if you’re not successful – people sometimes get in on the first try but it’s much more usual to have several attempts. The panels who review the portfolios change all the time and what gets turned down one year may well be accepted the next.

And just one more thing – all this preparation is important but at the end of the day, it’s the work that really counts…..

Artists’ Statements

What’s with galleries and written artists’ statements/CV’s? In the age of the internet, why do they always need them?

It’s got to be the worst job – writing drivel about your own work. If I’d wanted to express myself in words, I’d have got myself an English degree and then written some stuff.

And don’t get me started on CV’s – those endless lists of solo shows (if you’re lucky), group shows, awards, residencies, etc., that go back years and years. That is, until the artist feels that’s quite far enough, just in case anyone guesses their age.

I wonder if I could come over all grand and announce that I don’t do CV’s, artists statements or any other associated time-wasting activities. “So sorry but my statement is my work, darling….”

Artists Emails

This morning I had an email from an artist asking if we’d be interested in showing his work. This isn’t unusual as I monitor incoming emails for a couple of websites I’m connected to professionally and we get a lot of requests to look at portfolios/ invites to private views/ links to artist’s websites, etc..

I have to say, though, that I am constantly amazed by how many people don’t take the time to do some, or even any, basic research. If you’re approaching someone you’ve never met, especially when you’re asking for something, then surely you should find out a little about them beforehand. At the very least, finding a name to address the email to would help – Dear Sir/Madam is definitely not the way to go.

For example, there’s not much point in asking if there are any job vacancies at a co-operative gallery, as only a couple of minutes on the website would show them that it is run and staffed by the artist members themselves.

And asking if Half Moon Studio can show their work at the Affordable Art Fair is a waste of time, as a quick look at our website would reveal that we are five artists sharing a printmaking space, and not a commercial gallery.

I can’t help feeling that sending out these non-specific emails to hundreds (or thousands) of galleries and studios isn’t going to achieve much.

As for that artist’s email this morning – well, he wanted us to look at his paintings. Just a quick look at the name of the gallery he was approaching would have shown him that we only deal with artist’s prints…..

New Years Resolutions – Appreciating The Here And Now

An acquaintance of mine is a very prolific and successful artist. She is hard-working and professional and I’ve always admired her dedication to her career. The other day I was chatting (oh alright, gossiping) about her and a colleague said “Well, it’s fine for her – she’s already made it.”

This got me thinking about how easy it is to assume that because someone is more successful than you, they have nothing to worry about and, more to the point, that if only you could get to that stage in your career too, then all your worries will be over.

I think we all have the same concerns – for example, either working hard to keep that high powered London gallery instead of trying to get a foot in the door in the first place, or perhaps fighting to maintain sales levels compared to those early days when every sale was a novelty. And even an international artist with gallery representation in every major city might find it hard to keep the focus on their work, when the marketing side takes more and more time (although having just typed that, the thought that I should be so lucky, popped into my head momentarily…..)

And I suspect that those early worries – how to get your work seen, desperately hoping for sales, the best way to approach a gallery – only change and multiply in ways we can’t imagine until we climb that ladder and get there ourselves.

So I guess that appreciating the here and now is a good resolution to aim for, even if the here and now is a bit crap….

(By the way, Tina Mammoser has a good post on her blog – she’s not having resolutions this year, just a motto and in two words, she says what I’ve been trying to say rather more wordily here.)

New Years Resolutions -Getting Motivated

How do you motivate yourself, especially when the work’s not selling and no-one is remotely interested in it? You really have to keep showing up at the studio every day – at the very least to keep your work developing.

I paint very slowly and, if I thought about how long it would take to finish the painting sitting there in front of me, I’m not sure that I’d ever get started.
One thing I do to kick-start the session is to concentrate on just one small part of the painting, say a person with a scarf on – if nothing else, at least at the end of the day I can look at it and think what a cracking scarf I’ve just done there…

Generally I do hope to achieve a bit more than that but it does help me get going. And just the physical process of putting paint to canvas seems to do the trick and the ideas then start coming.
Or to put it another way – motivation follows action, not the other way around. Sitting around waiting for that one great idea means you don’t get much else done in the meantime.

As Chuck Close says “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work”

The Balance of Power

Carol Nunan raised an interesting question on her blog – what makes a good gallery? Well I know what makes a bad one……

The other day a gallery called me, urgently requesting more work. The problem was that they hadn’t paid me at that point for more than six months of sales – and this from a gallery who can only pay their artists quarterly because of their ‘accounts system’. It helped that in this case I knew that they had sold at least some work as they were asking for replacements of pieces I had already sent to them.

So I have to say that I came over all militant and told them I wouldn’t provide the gallery with any more work until I received a cheque – which duly arrived.

A lot of my colleagues seem to feel that galleries will pay when they are ready to and there’s not a lot we can do. After all, we don’t always get to know if and when the work has sold (until they ring up for more, that is). And I have to admit that this gallery sells very well for me so I wouldn’t be keen to rock that particular boat…..

And I know how hard it is to be assertive when few of us have any financial security , let alone savings, pensions, etc., so the balance of power has always seemed heavily weighted in favour of the galleries (although less so these days, as lots of artists now sell directly to their customers through their websites and of course there are all those art fairs which were unheard of a decade ago…..but that’s another story ).

And don’t get me started on the supplying of artwork on a sale or return basis that most galleries like to operate from – the least you’d expect from that arrangement is that they’d have the courtesy to pay their artists on time…

Oh dear, I do seem to have come over all bitter and Scrooge-like – it must be that time of year.

Happy Christmas!

Edition sizes

What size should a print edition be?
I guess the question could be – how can you make a living if you only produce prints with small editions? After all, the major costs are at the beginning – the time it takes to come up with a working drawing, then the numerous proofs – all that ink and paper – and then the editioning costs themselves….
A small edition size of say thirty, might not be practical when sending out a new print to a number of commercial galleries (as most professional printmakers do) as you could very quickly run out of stock . And, of course, at this stage you may well not have actually sold any…
Small editions only work if you produce your prints quickly and prolifically and then by only using one lino block, etching plate, etc. Using several blocks, as I do, rather rules this out, as producing a multi-block lino is time-consuming and painstaking work.
I recently lowered my edition numbers from 100 to 75 after much internal debate – partly as I get really fed-up printing my editions up to 100 but also because some collectors won’t buy prints from large editions
One issue with this though is that to counteract the reduction in sales opportunities I should really raise my prices by 25% – the problem is that some (or most?) buyers may not appreciate the distinction…..

private views

Alas, I have a couple of private views to go to in the next couple of weeks, one of mine, and one I’ve been invited to. I always feel I have to go, although I don’t enjoy them.
For a start, asking people to your pv is a minefield. You don’t want them to feel any obligation to buy anything – they probably wouldn’t come if they thought they’d be subjected to a hard sell. But if they don’t buy, then really what’s the point? Just a bit of moral support, I suppose, and a knees-up for one and all at your expense….
Even if it’s not your own exhibition, private views can still be a bit of a nightmare. If they’re busy, then the artist friend or gallery owner who’s invited you only has time to wave at you before going off to schmooze the next (proper) customer.
Then you’re left there looking at the work (which takes 15 mins max) and nursing a warm glass of something, which should be cold, all the while trying to look interested and full of admiration.
But believe me, it’s a thousand times worse if no-one turns up…..

In Praise of Galleries

I love working in my studio, especially when I’m planning something new. There’s nothing like pulling the first proof off the press, even if it’s a disaster. I like editioning too – there’s something very satisfying about a pile of finished prints, ready to go out to galleries (or more likely, ready to go straight into the plan chest).
But what I’m not so keen on is having to sell my own work. I don’t like invigilating at exhibitions or sitting at art fair stands.
I’m not a natural salesperson, and I find it all very tiring, especially when answering questions like “How long did that take?” or “When I was at school I was good at art” or even “Have you got that in a bigger size/different colour?” Every now and again I have to sit in the stock cupboard for a bit of a breather….
So anyway, I’m really happy to pay my galleries’ commission to sell my work and then I can go back to what I do best – hiding in my studio…..

Running a Small Business

If anyone had said to me, back when I was an art student, that earning a living from your work would have to include running a small business, I’d have laughed. After all, artists supposed to be above all that, aren’t they?
But still – I have a work premises – my studio – to maintain, with rent increases, heating costs, parking restrictions, etc. to consider.
I sell a product – my paintings and prints – and I worry a lot about the effects of the recession on my sales. and how to maximize those sales by finding new outlets – fairs, galleries, open exhibitions, etc..
I need to use the services of other small businesses – web designers, accountants, photographers, couriers – and then I have to find a way to pay them.
I have to buy my materials – paint, ink, paper, canvas, etc, and other essentials – stationery, business cards, acetate, and so on .
Who’d have thought that art schools are quietly turning out versatile business people? Well not me – I think we have to learn those skills the hard way….