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Working With Galleries: Limit The Consignment Period

by Lori Woodward on 3/30/2011 8:52:06 AM

Today's Post  is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 


Back when I was selling my work by consigning with galleries, I added a clause in my agreement to limit how long any one painting would stay at the gallery if it didn't sell. When artists put a limit on how long their paintings stay in any one sales venue, it protects their assets (paintings). Some gallerists will hang onto paintings indefinitely - which is a bad idea - first, bad for the artists and eventually it looks bad for the gallery as well.


While not all artists are poor record keepers, I find that the majority of us (I'm included here) have a tendency to forget which paintings we have consigned, so first of all, meticulous record keeping of paintings you have at the gallery is of utmost importance. Second, by limiting the number of months that you intend to let your gallery show a painting, you protect it from: getting lost, stored in the back room or closet, or sold without your notification. Beyond those reasons, when collectors see the same paintings hanging in a gallery month after month - year after year, they come to the conclusion that the artist is not "selling well". Furthermore, they realise that the gallery itself is not selling well.


Why is this important? It's important for both the gallery and the artist to show a fresh body of work in any one location. It does neither the gallery or artist good when art patrons see the same works hanging year after year or even from one season to another. It's better to remove your unsold paintings after 6 months, a year, or the gallery's annual selling season. Collectors want to at least think last year's paintings have been sold, and by removing them or exchanging them with one of your other galleries, they not only get a fresh set of collectors' eyes, new work revitalizes the look of the gallery itself.


One gallery I worked with for a couple of years, had very little wall space for the 140 artists it represented. When I realized that they were not hanging my work but storing it, I made an appointment to take back my paintings. When the gallery manager pulled my paintings out of storage, she exclaimed that she loved them and wanted to continue to show them. I was amazed that she had not even seen those paintings even though I had given them to the gallery months before.


I didn't argue, nor was I unkind. I've just learned to make careful considerations and investigate a gallery setting more thoroughly before consigning work with it.


When you begin a working relationship with a gallery, it's a good practice to put in writing that you intend to consign current works with them for a limited amount of time. For year-round galleries, I consigned work for 4 to 6 months by exchanging unsold works for new ones. Since I lived within driving distance of my galleries, exchanging works was easy since there was no shipping costs involved. If the gallery was seasonal (my galleries in Maine were seasonal), I picked up unsold works at the end of the selling season (usually October), and then brought in new works at the beginning of next season.


Often times, I can rework the paintings I bring home. There's usually a reason why some don't sell. I also have the option of putting some of those unsold paintings in my other galleries or selling them from my website. It's amazing how a painting can sit at one gallery for a year without anyone even noticing it, and then when it's moved to a different venue or gallery, it sells right away. There's no rhyme or reason to it, but my guess is that work has a better chance of selling when it gets some new viewers in a different location. Artists who participate in art shows - be it outdoor or indoor events, have the advantage of showing their work to a wide variety of collectors.


It's good to get into the habit of keeping meticulous records of what inventory you have with each of your galleries. Keeping track of paintings will often save you heartache and frustration in the long run. Many gallerists are excellent record keepers and totally honest, but if you keep track on your own, at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing where each of your works is and whether they've sold or not.


Some galleries will want to hang onto paintings for an extended period. Ask the gallery how many of the paintings will be kept in storage and for how long. It's fair to ask how much time the public and clients view these paintings. After all, if most of your paintings are in storage at the gallery for an extended period of time, you have to wonder if that amounts to "representation".


In this economy, it makes sense that artists who are comfortable meeting with clients should plan to do some selling on their own. Please don't sign a contract that requires that you only sell through commercial galleries. That only protects the galleries sales - and they have many artists. You only have yourself, and if your galleries are not selling well, you'll need another course of action.


If you choose to work with galleries, don't let them take advantage of you just so you can say you're showing in a gallery. Make sure you're in charge of your business. A gallery can be an important partner in sales in that they have a list of loyal collectors that you don't have access to. That may change soon - because the Internet is dissolving the middleman in music and book sales as well. Only time will tell where all the puzzle pieces will settle.


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Related Posts:

Advice From a Gallery Manager

Gallery Representation

A Formula for Determining if You Should Show in an Art Gallery

Former Gallery Director Dispels Myth: I Don't Care About Your Cover Letter

Topics: art gallery tips | FineArtViews | sell art 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Lori,

Thanks for another very good posting! It just reinforces that as artist/business people we need to tend to both sides of that designation equally. Producing bad art gets you nowhere, engaging in poor business practices will do the same.

Thanks again,


Lorna Allan
Hi Lori, I always enjoy your posts, clear and simple with good advice and this one was all of that. I am always on the lookout for such good thoughts and suggestions.
I have never been able to get representation from a dealer gallery because here in New Zealand they always want a degree and I am self taught. I have actually had galleries really love my work then ask where I got my degree. When I say I am self taught I have been told 'Go away and come back when you have one". Also there is far less respect for realism/representational than other styles. Many galleries closed down here early in the recession.
Personally I sell more from my website than any other way and both my number of sales and prices have increased through the recession. I totally agree. The internet is certainly the future of sales.
Best to you Lori

Aline Lotter
May I ask what kind of a system you use to keep track of your inventory? For a while, I was creating a page for every painting I produced, with thumbnail image and space to note where it went from time to time, how priced, framed etc. But I could not keep it up. Once I fell behind, I just abandoned the whole idea. But I regret.

Rich Moyers
"That may change soon - because the Internet is dissolving the middleman in music and book sales as well. Only time will tell where all the puzzle pieces will settle."

I was in the music "BIZ" for more than 20 years...working musician, songwriter of more than 200 published/recorded works, record producer for 3 then major labels, and owner of Independent Record label, did TV, Films, etc. That business, I once knew so well is not even remotely recognizable today...the artists can do it all themselves, and even "crowd source" the money required to record their tunes via online platforms like "", they can control all of the aesthetic qualities of their efforts and grow and sell to their audience middleman "gatekeepers" like I used to be. Thist IS the next wave for Visual artists as well... we must embrace it.

I believe there will always be a need for "brick and mortar" Galleries, but they will most likely fall to two different ends of the spectrum...Tourist/Destination Galleries and Elite/Big Money Dealers. The rest of them, those who aren't already gone from the recession, will just fade away.

Sadly, this will include earnest and committed gallerists who prefer to show "emerging artists" who actually mentor and encourage their artists, because ANY artist can "emerge" and be seen by more "eyeballs" online in a few hours, than any physical gallery space can do in a week, even if the gallery has a list of willing collectors.

I've personally experienced this phenomenon many times of late, including just this morning, when one of my small pieces was cited on an online Gallery's website by a Guest Blogger as "a contemporary example of a working artist influenced by Oriental art principles ", like many European and Western artists have done through the years. This Blogger's Post has received 20 Facebook "Likes" and been tweeted 4 times in less than 1 hour, AND I have had 2 emails, one of them from a Boston Gallery ( Ironic isn't asking if I have more pieces in the Series.

Younger people will do what they can online, they are pretty much attached with a virtual cord, so learn to love the net, or perish is my motto...Oh, and I sold 2 Original Pieces at 2 separate online venues, just last week, and both of them were to complete unknown individuals...I'm on a roll!

Esther J. Williams
When it comes the day that I can get representation again, I will take your advice. The last gallery I was in also stored two of my paintings and I never got them back. I did not have an invoice of them being there, so no recourse. Lesson learned the hard way. I would like to get in a reputable gallery again one day, the competition is really tough around So Cal. You really have to know an artist already in the gallery or director or get lucky. It might be worth my while to submit out of state since it is really a mess here. I just heard of another long time gallery is closing it`s doors, the Esther Wells Gallery in Laguna Beach. People ask me if that is my gallery, I always say "I wish!" Now I don`t wish.
Off to work I go on promoting myself from home and at art fairs, plein air spots, etc...

jack white
Great advice. We never sign consignment sheets, but we make it very clear if a painting doesn't sell with in six months we want it shipped back. I guess in the last dozen years we have had five or six shipped back. We cleaned the frame and shipped to another gallery. All but one resold within weeks. The one that didn't sell is the only painting of Mikki's we own. It's one of our favorites, but for some reason the art never connected to buyers.
Sometime if you are new with a gallery, pay them a surprise visit. Don't call and tell them you are visiting. This keeps them honest.

Lori, you are appreciated in the White House.

Lori Woodward
Wow, the comments are rolling in fast, and I'm at a friend's house for dinner, but thanks everyone for taking the time to join in the conversation and add your experience.

Rich - thank you so much for typing in about your background and how using online venues are working. Hearing from someone who has actually worked in the music industry lets me know that things really are changing.

BTW: I decided on writing about how to work with galleries for a couple of reasons: one because often the artist gets the short end of the deal and that shouldn't happen, and 2nd because there are still many artists who desire gallery representation.

HOWEVER: I think Rich Moyers is correct - that few galleries will survive. The art sales industry is changing - for sure - we can only guess how it'll all turn out, but if I were not working with a gallery right now (and I'm not except for special event shows), I would not pursue one.

I enjoy being in charge of my own sales and I like meeting the people who buy my paintings. Plus, I do a pretty darned good job of representing my own work.

I'll be back to read comments later this evening. Thanks again - I love that we end up having a discussion on these blogs where we all contribute, ask questions and share our experience.
Lorna - that's terrible that you need a degree. I have one, and it didn't contribute to my sales at all.

Joanne Benson
Thanks for the input about limiting the time your paintings are in one venue. I totally agree although I'm not always good about switching things out.

Roslyn Hancock
Thanks, Lori, for this article on gallery representation. [I have filed your previous articles on this topic.] Your experience is very valuable and illuminating. You dont equivocate about the artist's approach and attitude with the dealer, - as equal partners, and, as such, the artist firmly stating his needs in the transaction.

I also value the advice to proudly and loudly sell from our own websites: that it is not a crying shame not to have gallery representation!

Roslyn Hancock
Thanks, Lori, for this article on gallery representation. [I have filed your previous articles on this topic.] Your experience is very valuable and illuminating. You dont equivocate about the artist's approach and attitude with the dealer, - as equal partners, and, as such, the artist firmly stating his needs in the transaction.

I also value the advice to proudly and loudly sell from our own websites: that it is not a crying shame not to have gallery representation!

Lori Woodward
Hi Jack, your comment about the White House gave me a smile.

Clint Watson
Jack - nice to have a member of the White House on the thread. I'm curious - (but I'll admit I'm only halfway through your book) - why don't you ever sign consignment sheets? Just the feeling that you should be able to do business on a handshake?

I ask because (although I agree we should be able to do business on a handshake) when I was a gallery owner we nearly always signed consignment sheets, or more specifically, a simple sheet acknowledging receipt/pick up of the paintings. It seemed like it kept everything nice and organized.

Jan Perkins
Another helpful article Lori! Thank you.

Aline: I see that you have a FASO website.
So, a quick and easy way to get your inventory list is to do the following:
Go to your control panel where you edit your site, click on 'your art work portfolio' page, look at the top of the page in the blue writing. There is a link that says" export your works to comma-delimited file". If you click on that you will get a csv file download onto your desk top that gives you a nice inventory of all your paintings posted on your website along with their sizes, prices, what galleries they are in, etc. All this in a nice EXCEL file.
Thanks Clint!

Kathryn Clark
I completely agree with everything you've said, Lori. And I'd like to add one more reason to leave paintings in a gallery for a limited amount of time. That reason is to be paid for the sale of a painting in a timely manner. If your gallery is too far away for you to "check" on your paintings every other month or so, the gallery may not tell you when they sold one of your paintings. Or, if asked, they may say that it is out on approval. (Never let your painting be "out on approval" for more than three weeks.) If you have in your consignment agreement that the paintings will be picked up or returned to the artist after six months, the gallery will need to tell you which paintings have sold, and you will be paid, hopefully thirty days later.

Esther J. Williams
Jan, thanks for the tip on exporting our artworks list to a comma-delimited Excel file. I think Clint had a bit of genius there! It will help me to also update all the images and descriptions in the portfolio. I hope my will open it though. This way of keeping an inventory is so helpful when planning art shows, submitting to exhibitions, knowing prices and more...

George De Chiara
Lori, thanks again for sharing your experience and advise for working with galleries. Is 6 months a pretty common length of time to leave a painting at a gallery?

Jack - I remember one of your Art Calendar articles about this subject where you talked about touching up paintings that didn't sell and then shipping them off to another gallery. This article reminded about that advise.

Lori Woodward
George, how long I limited my consignment period depended on where the gallery was and how long its selling season is. When I showed in Maine, their selling season is roughly from June to October. Everything pretty much closes down for the winter on the coast there.

Another gallery that was closer to home - I could keep paintings there longer, but since the owners sold almost everything I showed there, I didn't worry about it much.

Carol McIntyre
Aline, I use eArtist for my inventory and mailing list software. Recently I have also been printing off my artwork pages from my FASO site and putting them in a notebook. This has proven to be very handy. Now I will have to go a learn what was mentioned above about another of Clint's magical touches.

Donald Fox
Thanks, Lori, for another solid, practical, and informative post. The idea of limiting the time a work stays with a gallery is not unlike other business datelines, especially goals. Goals should always have a time frame. The goal for any work in a gallery is for it to be shown and sold. If the goal isn't met, then it's time to change the goal by changing the work.

Lori Woodward
Donald - good point "The goal for any work in a gallery is for it to be shown and sold. If the goal isn't met, then it's time to change the goal by changing the work." THANKS!

George De Chiara
Thanks for the follow up Lori. I too agree with Donald's statement - Great point!

Donna Robillard
I appreciate the article and the advice.

I was searching for the matter you shared through blog. It is quite interesting and obviously very informative for me. Thanks you very much!

Easy consignment


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