Demystifying the Gallery World: Part 1

Demystifying the Gallery World Part 1: 
Transitioning from Illustration Work to Show

-By Lauren Panepinto Julie Baroh

A few weeks ago at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Julie Baroh of Krab Jab Studios gallery gave a fantastic Bootcamp for artists all about getting into the gallery world. It was such a fantastic presentation that I asked her to take over my Muddy Colors column this week to post the info for everyone that couldn't be at Spectrum. And it turns out there's so MUCH great info that it's going to take two installments. So enjoy this first part, and thank you to Julie Baroh, for both the bootcamp and this writeup!

If you went to art school, you probably took a class on business practices within the art world. Back in caveman days, when I was a student at Cornish College of the Arts, we had such a class that the senior students took prior to graduation. We talked about copyright laws, free lawyer consultation groups, and preparing your portfolio to show at galleries. We glossed over exclusivity clauses in dealing with galleries, but beyond that, the gallery world (even for a fine art student such as myself) was pure mystery. It seemed as if it were a private club that only the truly worthy could get into, and the rest of us were out in the cold. Our instructor seemed reluctant to give us much more information on showing our work; we felt as if she were shutting us out (she was a working artist), that maybe we had to somehow earn this magical information through some form of naïve humiliation called Pounding the Pavement.

I wound up working as an illustrator fresh out of college; it seemed more cut-and-dry than trying to be a fine artist. I pretty much avoided the gallery scene, which wasn’t unusual for the average art school graduate: majority of my friends just went straight into graduate school, or taught a little bit, or simply dropped out altogether. We weren’t prepared for the onslaught of rejection from various galleries, the rolling eyes of the bored directors sitting in the exhibition room as we enquired about a portfolio review, being told again and again to come back in a couple years, or that the gallery wasn’t the right fit, or simply, we weren’t good enough. Mostly, we heard nothing at all.

Fast forward twenty years…I accidentally become a gallerist. It wasn’t intentional, it evolved over time due to having lots of blank walls in my art studio I shared with three other artists. Over a few years, what originally was just for a lark now becomes an oiled machine. Lots of mistakes were made and corrected, gallery mentorships were developed between myself and other senior gallery owners, and the gallery world simply unlocked itself. Now it makes sense, the mystery is revealed, and…it’s nothing really special. If anything, it’s a volatile, luxury-item business that peaks and falls much like the stock market, and the only magic going on is the ability for good gallerists to recognize when an artist is a good fit for their business, and the prediction process of how well a show will be received 12 months in advance.

There are three phases to working with a gallery: finding one, developing a relationship with one, and keeping that relationship. The key word is “relationship”. A gallery is taking an artist on as a kind of business partner: the art may be created by the artist but the curation, marketing, and branding of the show is all gallerist work. If there is discord in the relationship, the resulting show can be a total disaster. That could ultimately be a financial burden for both parties.

Julie giving her Gallery Bootcamp at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

Finding a Gallery
So, where to start? Let’s start with your portfolio. More importantly, let’s start with editing your portfolio. Much like a portfolio review with an art director, you need to carve down to the pieces that best represent the direction you are going. I don’t care what you did in college, or even what you did a couple years ago; I need to know where you are going. Remember, shows take place in the future.

Additionally, if your work is all over the place with styles, genres, etc, a gallerist cannot tell what they will wind up getting from you. I want a clear idea, and I don’t have time to dig around trying to figure you out.

Once you’ve got your portfolio in check, reflect on what is the best fit for you. A gallery of contemporary art? A gallery that specializes in experimental media? Maybe a gallery that allows you to rent a wall (co-op gallery) with no particular genre? Depending on where you live, check out the galleries in your surrounding area. If they have a website, look at their current shows, their past shows and if possible, upcoming shows. Do you see a correlation with what you’re doing? If not, move on, eventually checking out galleries outside your region. It’s usually best to brand yourself locally before attempting a jump across the country. Most people look up galleries via search engines online: often galleries will tag their websites with the appropriate genre of what they support, so it’s pretty simple to shop around online.

Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, The Queen of Misfortune, from the Brittany to Cascadia show

Let’s say you find a gallery that seems to be a good fit for your work. The next step is to look for information regarding their submission requirements. Most galleries will list these on their website. If not, you may email the gallery requesting submission guidelines. This is not the same as submitting; don’t use this as an opportunity to talk about yourself or your work.
If a gallery does have submission requirements, follow their instructions to the letter. If they ask for five jpegs of your work, send them five. If they ask for a CV (“curriculum vitae”, fancy Latin for a resume), send them a relevant CV. If they want a short statement about your work, send them a short statement. And if they are currently not accepting submissions, you may ask them if there is a time in the future they would accept them, otherwise, respect that they are not looking for a solicitation from a new artist.

While you might think a gallery is perfect for you, they may not necessarily see it that way. Keep in mind that a gallery understands its clientele, local region, and curatorial vision much better than you do. You may be a risk to them that they can’t take, or maybe your work is awesome, but they know their clients may not really go for that kind of art. You may be too green for them and need more time to build up your body of work and resume. Rejection is hard and sometimes humiliating, but often it’s done on a very non-personal level. I’ve seen great portfolios from really talented artists that I know I would have a very hard time selling to my public. Sometimes I get a sense that the artist is going a direction that my gallery isn’t; I’m not going to change the artist’s direction, that’s not my business, and I would be irresponsible if I tried. It’s all about the right fit at the right time.

Current Exhibit at Krab Jab: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law Immortal Ephemera

Please note that becoming or being friends with a gallerist or curator does not mean you get a free pass on a show. I have many artist friends whom I adore, but would be a bad fit for the gallery for a variety of reasons. Additionally, they STILL need to jump the same hoops as everyone else if they want consideration. It’s not personal, it’s business. Don’t mix that up, or you might wind up in a very awkward situation.

But let’s say you’ve been invited to show with a gallery: they’ve given you a statement of the show (this is common in group shows), the dates, deadlines, etc. Or maybe they’ve offered to represent your work. What now?

Curatorial Show Development & Contracts
First, you and the gallerist or curator should talk about some of the logistics of showing. You will need to know the following things (and its okay to ask):

     -is there a theme, or is this based on a specific series? 
           This is important for group showings
     -what are size requirements? How much wall or display space do you get?     -are there medium requirements (such as 2D/3D, digital vs nondigital media)?     -what is the best mode of communication? Most folks work well with emails, 
            some like phone calls.     -does the art need to be submitted prior to acceptance for the show?     -does the art need to be specifically created or designated for the show?

-terms of the show: dates and anything specific to that show, including whether or not there is an opening reception.

-shipping or delivery of art. Most of the time, artist is responsible for the cost and management of the delivery of the art to a gallery. This can vary from gallery to gallery, though, so don’t assume what one place does is the norm for everyone else.

-damage/loss/theft: gallery should list their terms on this. Not all galleries have security or insurance. Sometimes you can insure your own art depending on your own business insurance. Gallery insurance is actually really expensive to have, but there should be some kind of safeguard nonetheless.

-exclusivity of the artist, the region, the art: many smaller galleries do not require artists to remain exclusive to their gallery, but it’s something you’ll need to consider seriously. Having a gallery represent you can have benefits if you have a good relationship with them, but the drawback is that you cannot show anywhere else without their permission. Regional exclusivity means that you cannot show within a specific range (usually marked in miles or by city) of the gallery. This keeps you from unwittingly flooding the market in a region. Most commonly, your contract will list exclusivity to the art in the show, which means that for a specific period of time, the gallery has sole right to represent that artwork and receive commission of sales. This may or may not extend past the end date of the show.

-marketing obligations, if any: look for what the gallery will do to market the show. Handbills, postcards, mailing lists, web listings, social media, articles, and receptions are fairly standard. Some galleries can afford advertising campaigns. You may be required to shoulder some of the burden of advertising your show to your fans, mailing list, etc.

-termination of show clause: this can be in regards to both you and the gallery. Gallery may refuse to show your work for a specific reason – these terms should be in the contract. Additionally, there may be terms if one or both parties drop out of a show. It can be financially devastating to have someone drop a show – gallery OR artist – especially if it happens right before the opening.

Sara Winters, Serra, from the Marriage is a Work of Art show

And finally,
     -what is the deadline for a confirmation to the show? You don’t need to confirm right away, but be mindful that galleries are on schedules and can’t wait for you to make up your mind. If you say no, they need to be able to spot fill in a timely manner.

Asking to see the contract prior to confirmation is acceptable too. If there is no contract, be very wary: they are meant to clarify terms and conditions for both parties, so everyone is on the same page. Most galleries have at the very least a written agreement stating terms of the show that both artist and gallery rep sign, but most have contracts akin to what an illustrator is used to: a Bible-thick agreement with several conditions covered that should be legal to their US state or whatever regional legal system they are bound to.

There should be a few key things listed in a retail gallery contract:
     -commission rate for retail sales. Standard rates are 40-50% for an 
             established gallery (40-50% to them).
If you have questions or don’t understand your contract, discuss it with your gallerist. You can have a lawyer review it for any clauses that are legally unbinding or unlawful.
If there’s a term you’d like to amend, discuss it with your gallerist first, and make sure they agree before amending the contract. Often they will amend it for you based on your request, and have both of you initial it.

You are entitled to a copy of your contract after it has been signed.

Upcoming Exhibit: I'll Read You A Story: Children's Book Art

Between Confirmation and Delivery of Work: A Simple Case of Organization and Time Management
You’ve signed on to a show, yay! How exciting, congrats!

But oh, yeah… gotta make some artwork now.

After you’ve told your mom and your friends that you’ve got a show and bought yourself a celebratory beer, you should sit your butt down and organize a few things. For some reason, organizing is a painful disease that many artists and illustrators have a huge fear of and steer clear from, especially when it involves time management. I feel your pain, I’m the same way by nature. But I have some Nurture for you that does, amazingly, work.

Typical Scenario: Most of the time a show is booked far in advance, giving an artist “plenty of time” to pull together a body of work. This is BS thinking for the artist, and I’ll tell you why: we are Time Idiots. We are much like Sesame Street Muppets with time. It’s either “Far Away” time, or “Right Now” time. To most of us, 12 months is “Far Away” time. So we put our work off. There’s other stuff to do, right? Maybe a couple of “Right Now” or “Really Really Late” contract jobs, or mom is sick and we gotta make sure she gets to the doctors and takes her meds and eats, or our kid needs something for a school play, plus all that really juicy Facebook stuff going on and there’s a series on Netflix we need to catch up on. Dammit, now the cat is sick. Now you’re sick and all your contract jobs are “Really, Really Late”. Then, that call comes from the gallerist: “we’ve got three months until opening, can I see your progress?”

Oh shit… Far Away is now on top of you, and you have three studies and no finished paintings. This is bad. You better leave the country and live incognito somewhere in Belize, because nothing can fix this. Thank you BS Artist Muppet Idiot Thinking for this unpleasant scenario. (end scene)

Do you have a calendar? Great, let’s start there. Sit down and put in all relevant dates between now and Show Opening (including Show Opening date). This should include delivery date, photography date, artist statement date, pricing and label information date, contract due date. Make sure you have reminders automatically plugged in to your calendar entries for at least a week in advance.

Now let’s work backwards. To get your work in on time, you need to determine how long it takes to ship/deliver your art. If you are overseas or in another country, take anything such as weather and customs into account as these could delay your delivery. If you know how long it normally takes to ship ground USPS for ten paintings, for example, you now know when your last day to ship would be. Put that in your calendar.
Backtrack through the framing or display options (Who are you going to frame with? How long will it take? Do you need a stand for your sculpture?). Put that into the calendar. Now, photography: are you going to photograph your work yourself or hire someone? What’s their schedule normally like and when is the latest you can do it? Put that in your calendar.

Now here comes the tricky part: managing your own schedule and being honest with your workload. If you are a working illustrator or commercial artist, make sure you plot out your work schedule for the period of Now until art gets to the gallery. You may realistically have maybe a day or two a week to do studio work for a show, so you’re going to have to budget that time and your gallery show workload. That means that you may only have the means to create two medium paintings a month if nothing goes wrong.
So do this: add a few “sick days” to your schedule. Because life happens. This may further decrease your studio time. Don’t panic, though, this is actually a sanity check. And this leads us to a very important part of your organizing: communication with the gallerist.

The Gallerist/Curator and Artist Relationship
Keeping in touch with a gallery is key to keeping on track and sane while working on a show. A seasoned gallerist has seen and heard it all, knows when to call BS, but also knows how to creatively solve problems.

When developing a show with a gallery, a good gallerist/curator will work with you on the vision and direction of your show. They will be able to address your concerns (such as your time issues) with viable solutions you may not have even considered. Maybe you’re being overachieving and they need to remind you to keep things simple, or maybe you didn’t consider that the graphite studies are just as showable as the final piece. Maybe your fears that you’re not on target are way off, although sometimes we do have to give you a gentle kick to get moving.

Keeping communication open and clear is the best way to address both the good and the bad of managing the project of your show. Yes, sometimes you may disappoint the gallerist with your poorly timed surgery and therefore smaller body of work, but we understand that life happens, and it’s far easier for me to make adjustments early in the game than get blindsided when I have no recourse to fix a situation.

So touch basis – developing a solid relationship with a gallery is not only good for the show, but can open doors in many other ways. We gallerists have a lot of friends out there in the press, at other galleries, with art directors, with convention/fair directors, with artists. I’m more inclined to refer someone I find to be solid and trustworthy than someone who has a problem checking in or getting back to me.


About Krab Jab Studio:

Fully established by 2010, Krab Jab Studio is the workplace of artists Julie Baroh and Mark Tedin and writer Chris Pramas. With a monthly rotation of guest artists in our gallery, Krab Jab has developed a steady following in the funky, industrial artist's haven known as Seattle's “Georgetown” neighborhood.

Facilitated by Julie Baroh, Krab Jab Studio hosts art shows featuring art by local artists as well as original art by publication and game illustrators worldwide.

The name "Krab Jab" is a combination of initials of founders Julie Baroh and Kyle Abernethy. We found it to sound funny, and it stuck, even after Kyle left in 2011. Previous Krab Jab artists have included sculptor Gabe Marquez and painters Michael Hoppe, Milo Duke and Sandra Everingham.

twitter: @krabjabstudio
Instagram: krabjabstudio
Current show: “I’ll Read You A Story: Children’s Book Art” features illustrations by leading children’s book artists in the picture book genre, including Scott Gustafson, Cory Godbey, Jerry Pinkney, Jon J Muth, Marc Brown, Ruth Sanderson and many more. Runs July 11 – September 5.

About Julie Baroh:

Seattle native Julie Baroh has lived a life as eclectic as her surroundings. Training as a sculptor and printmaker at the prestigious Cornish College of the Arts, she stumbled into illustration in the game industry quite by accident, working on games such as Magic: the Gathering and Legends of the Five Rings in their early inception. After a 6 year stint as a freelance illustrator, Julie worked in the software industry (“to exercise my left brain”) for several years before returning to her first love, art. Although she considers herself first and foremost an artist, her mad organizational skills and background in curation was a natural fit for the up and coming Krab Jab Studio gallery, which she currently runs with an iron fist, releasing shows at a fevered pace.

Julie has several books and publications under her belt (as an illustrator), speaks at conventions on the subject of gallery preparation for artists, and writes for her popular blog on She currently lives in Seattle with her two Boxers and exhausted husband.


...Thank you Julie! Stay tuned for part 2!

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