Marketing Mondays: Selling Out of Your Studio

I was chatting with a dealer recently about a particular artist whose work we both like. Due to a recent gallery closure the artist is now without  gallery representation. During the conversation the dealer let on that he had been interested in taking on this artist. Asking around, he found that the artist has a reputation for selling out of his studio while represented. After exercising what he called “due diligence," the dealer found the rumors to be true.  An invitation to the artist for gallery representation was never extended.

If you are not gallery represented
Go ahead and sell out of your studio. That’s one of the reasons Open Studios have become so popular. Indeed, studio buildings that might have had one event a year now have two or more, often pegged to the holidays. Collectors go—at least we hope they go—looking as much for bargains as for new work by new artists. Dealers also visit open studios, too, and they do so with an eye to finding new artists
If you are gallery represented
Selling out of your studio is an established No No in a business that has few established rules. The reason is obvious: No dealer wants to invest in your career only to have you snatch a sale (and their commission) out from under them. And if you're selling at a price that's lower than the gallery price, you're undercutting your own best interests. If your dealer is not working for you, it seems to me that trying to have it both ways—representation by the gallery, sales out of your studio—is not going to serve you well in the long term. Someone is going to do their “due diligence”  and you may end up selling out of your studio for a good long time.
And let me state the obvious: You worked hard to find the gallery that represents you. Why not let them do what they do best so that you can do what you do best? 
The gray area
There are some areas in which the “rules” are less clear. For instance--and I'm purposely exagerating here--suppose you live in Portland, Maine, but are represented by a gallery in Portland, Oregon. It’s unlikely the Oregon dealer has you under exclusive contract for the entire country (and if so, get out of that contract!). So if you participate in an Open Studio in Maine, I would think you’d be OK in keeping the proceeds of the entire sale.

Still, there’s a gray area within the gray area: Did the Oregon dealer do national publicity for you recently? Publish a catalog? Arrange for a museum show or get you included in a national exhibition, or a traveling exhibition, that got reviewed or written about closer to your home? Those actions could easily have resulted in the kind of increased local interest that would help you sell out of your studio as never before. The dealer may be entitled, legally or morally, to a share in the sales. Should it be 50 percent? I don't know.  What do you think?

Suggestions for gallery-represented artists
. Talk to your dealer or dealers. What do they expect from you? How do their other represented artists deal with these issues?
. Talk to the other represented artists, too
. Read the fine print on any contract they ask you to sign. Courtesy be damned; you may be legally prohibited from selling out of your studio
If you would feel uncomfortable explaining the sale to your dealer, maybe you should rethink the way you make the sale
. Because I work with several galleries, I always ask the collector who contacts me, "How did you find my work?" If it was via a postcard or ad, I direct them to the gallery that generated it. If the response is a vague, "From the Internet," I direct them to the gallery nearest them. Because savvy collectors often browse several sites where an artist's work is being shown, I may let more than one gallery know of a collector's interest. That allows them to contact the potential client directly--or to work together--to make a sale, letting me step back from the commercial end of things 
. There are many other ways you can work with your dealer. One is to have the collector over to the studio and when the sale is about to be made, call your gallery and let them handle the details--including sales tax (a bonus here: galleries take credit cards, which most artists don't).  You'd work this out ahead of time with both parties, of course
. Or arrange for a studio vist where dealer and collector meet at the studio. The dealer can personally make the sale. If there's a problem with the sale later (check bounces, there's a credit card issue) your dealer will handle it
. Another artist I know collects the gallery price from a studio sale, including sales tax. She has the collector make the check out to the gallery, who then pays the sales tax and handles shipping, installation and the disbursement of funds
Over to you
Artists: Do you sell out of your studio? Do you do so even if you are gallery represented?
Dealers: How have you dealt with artists if/when you find out they have been selling without your involvement?


Lyric said...

I've heard of an artist making a studio sale, handling all of the transaction, but then sending the gallery the commission check and think that if I were represented by a gallery I'd do the same.

A collector recently purchased a work from my studio that he had originally seen in a juried show at an art center. I made the sale but sent the venue the full commission price.

Regardless - I choose a retail price and that is what the work sells for - especially from the studio. The piece is worth what it is worth and I either pay the venue the commission - or pay myself that commission if I've done all the work a gallery would usually do as far as attracting customers.

Kate Beck said...

Good, and tough conversation, Joanne...

I feel strongly that the dealer-artist relationship is a dual privilege -- for artist and dealer -- and should be very well defined. If someone is committed to working for me, and is actively doing so, then it is very worth my while to reciprocate that commitment. I have my own work to do, right? There is so much trust involved, and many stories abound of both sides being burned, especially the artist. So there is a lot to say for not entering into a business relationship lightly. Hammer out the details and keep it fresh -- especially if it is more than a year long deal. Have the conversations, get it in writing and keep it current. People get busy, things change.

I sell from the studio only with respect to the dealers I work with, though I would take a commission on my own. Fair is fair...

This is a big topic and I know many artists I respect feel differently. Mostly I think its a matter of good communication first.

annell4 said...

Wonderful post. I don't encourage studio sales, but if one happens, I turn it over to my gallery in town or if they tell me they found me with a gallery out of town I would have them make the check to the gallery. I never undercut my dealer, perhaps that is called suicide?

Diane McGregor said...

A much needed discussion, Joanne. I have sold out of my studio in Santa Fe, but only when I have not had local representation. I still charge the full price for the work, however, because I am represented in other galleries across the country. Artists who undercut their galleries or who resent the commission galleries take are not serious about their careers. We are all in this to prosper, and I believe galleries, with their increasing overhead, deserve their commission and I appreciate the work that they do - it allows me to continue to do the work I do.

Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

One of my artist friends has worked out an arrangement with her gallery owner. Artist works directly with consultants. She shares 40% of sales with dealer/consultant and 10% with gallery. In these cases the consultant takes the check/credit card payment from collector.Consultant is responsible for sales tax. Consultant keeps 40% of that sale and sends remaining 60% to the artist. Artist then forwards the 10% to gallery. Seems to work for both artist and gallery in this particular situation. This artist is very good at record keeping, I might add.

CMC said...

Great post, Joanne. Many times I fall in the 'gray' area of representation. I have galleries but they are scattered for the most part away from my home territory. Right now none in my home state. IF I can determine anything done by a gallery brought me a client, I send them to the gallery or if they live in the area of a gallery, the same. I don't have any 'legal' contract in writing about this, but just do it as what I feel is ethical.
AND, I never sell for less than the gallery price so it doesn't pay for someone to ask for a behind the scenes sale anyway. In return, galleries need to really be promoting my work.

Jhina Alvarado said...

Only in the last year, since I decided to paint full-time, have I gone from zero gallery representation to 4 so open studios was previously not a problem. I did participate in the Fall Open Studios this year and my local gallery was fine with it. They suggested that I direct sales to them and they would take a smaller commission (20%) and handle the taxes. I kept my prices exactly the same as with my galleries (which is twice as much as my prices at last year's OS) and I think because of this, none of my newer painting sold. It seemed everyone wanted a bargain price and I was out of their range. Because of the low sales (yet large amount of time spent doing these events), and because I am now in some galleries, I won't be doing anymore open studios. It doesn't seem worth my time and I'd rather let the galleries do what they do best so that I can do what I do best, which is paint.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanne --

We're an artist couple who have been making our full time living from our art for the past 16 years, with several dozen wholesale/retail relationships. We recently moved our studio to a commercial zone where we can have our own "studio gallery" open by appointment, plus seasonal public studio sales annually. We've been up front with local galleries, who have been understanding, perhaps because we have sent them commission checks out of the blue from studio sales in the past if we determined that a client discovered us through their gallery. We do not reduce prices for studio sales; although seconds, experiments and so on are often bargain priced.

On the other hand, we do a LOT of marketing on our own behalf: juried art festivals attended by hundreds of thousands, websites, blog, color postcards, e-mail blasts. MUCH more than any of our galleries do for us. What if our galleries benefit from customers who were introduced to our work at a juried art fair? read our blog? or who visited our studio but bought nothing? We've never had a gallery say, "You've earned an extra 10% of this sale, reflected in this month's check."

So we live reasonably comfortably in the gray zone, transparently to our galleries. Has it kept more prestigious galleries from contacting us? We'll never know. But meanwhile we're keeping busy and don't feel our hands are tied when it comes to promotion of our own work.

We truly care about the welfare of our galleries, and try to operate in a way that is mutually beneficial and ethical.

We don't want to have all our eggs in galleries' baskets. They seem to understand.

Good discussion, I look forward to reading other responses.

MM fan,


Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, all, for your great responses.

Anonymous: You say, "What if our galleries benefit from customers who were introduced to our work at a juried art fair? read our blog? or who visited our studio . . . We've never had a gallery say, "You've earned an extra 10% of this sale, reflected in this month's check."

Good point. Some of that is simply what we do to keep visible. But you might ask your galleries if clients have visited and purchased work by you or others as a result of your outreach efforts. I doubt that you would see an extra commission, but galleries do often do a little bit more for artists whose sales are a little bit better--or in your case, who have sent business their way. A catalog? An ad, or a larger-than-usual ad? Inclusion in an art fair? There are many ways for a gallery to reciprocate.

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, Joanne, and to the folks who've commented. Very helpful topic and discussion.

Eva said...

It's very clear at my gallery. If I do sell out of my studio, they get a cut. And I am happy to have certain collectors come to my place (and certain ones, not). It's all above board. Make sure they know everything you do and when in doubt, run it by them first.

lynn arbor said...

Excellent post. For the past 9 years I was represented by a gallery, that is until last Sunday, when I chose to end the relationship. I just wrote about the experience on my blog: said...

Hmm...I only sell through my studio at the moment. I have only had out of state representation. I paid the gallery a commission when I sold pieces which gallery had shown or pieces I called back from the gallery because I sold it. everyone was happy that way.

I would expect the gallery to make clear their expectations and if it's mutaully agreeable it should be respect, contract of not it should be discussed.

Randall David Tipton said...

After my long term local gallery closed a couple of years ago, my search for another wasn`t successful. The economy was awful so I began trying to build a presence on the web. This has become a viable way of earning income. Offering a clear return and refund policy, people began to buy my work from jpegs. I never under sell the other galleries that represent my work outside of my area, though I will show sketches, not really appropriate for a gallery, for sale through a link on my blog. It`s become common to refer someone interested in a piece from my website or blog to a gallery, if it has the painting. I`m happy to do it too.

Tina Mammoser said...

"If you would feel uncomfortable explaining the sale to your dealer, maybe you should rethink the way you make the sale"

This is the key I think!

I do sell out of my studio and operate on an appointment basis for clients, but my few galleries know this. If they are representing certain works, they get to sell those. And I do not undercut my galleries. But I'm with sort of small midlevel galleries where our agreement isn't for complete exclusivity or complete representation. Many of my agents or galleries over time have found me through my annual open studio.

Usually once I send customers from my studio to a gallery, and let them know they'll be coming, the trust is established.

lynn arbor said...

Thank you so much for your comments on my blog.

Since you reach many more artists than I do, here's something we should all know. With the changing markets at some galleries (such as renting art to movie and tv production companies, as in my case), artists should make sure that their contract with their gallery doesn't just apply to sales. Make sure that the 50/50 (or whatever) division of payment applies to ANY use of your art.

I really can't sue the gallery as you suggested because the contract was on sales.

Martha Marshall said...

I've enjoyed the post and comments on this topic, Joanne. The whole relationship between an artist and her galleries comes down to trust. And if a gallery owner doesn't know us that well, we have to establish trust from the beginning by being completely transparent in all our dealings and never, ever undercutting or cutting out the gallery.

I don't have an issue with selling out of my studio. I live and work in the hinterlands where abstract art is literally invisible.

Mery Lynn said...

What about sales at benefits? A few benefit auctions actually pay the artists 30-50% of sales prices. These prices are generally not full retail value.

I don't do many benefits per year, but if I like the cause and/or if it seems a good opportunity to have a different set of collectors see the work, I will. And I've offered any gallery in the area representing me half of my half. But a friend who wanted to be in one was told by her gallery that she should not be in benefits. They undercut resale values.

Any suggestions about benefit auctions?

Rosalie said...

There are a lot of grey areas with regard to representation and commissions from what I've seen. I know of an artist who is represented by a large metropolitan gallery. When, however, he exhibits with another gallery he pays their commission plus the commission to the gallery that has him "on their books". He doesn't end up with much but has exposure and keeps the loyalty to the galleries. I have work in a gallery that actively promotes my work but there is no contract in writing. Many people approach me assuming that they will purchase "at cost price" which annoys me as an artist is not often working on a generous wage.

Joanne Mattera said...

Dashing about these days, but I do want to respond quickly to Mery Lynn and to Rosalie:
@ Mery Lynn: You ask about donating. I am not a fan of donating work for all the reasons I wrote in a post this time last year:
Better to do the postcard shows where everyone's work sells for the same low price. You're not undercutting your established prices or your gallery because of the democratic pricing.
@ Rosalie: Your friend needs to keep 50% of the sale price. It's fine for his two galleries to get a split, but that split comes out of the dealers' 50%. Any decent dealer--and there are many, many--knows this.

Chrissy Dwyer said...

It seems like we artists are still being screwed in the end! Joanne can you please clarify, if you get an inquiry from your website/rebbubble/facebook/blog or whatever, for someone to purchase a work shown online which is not a work represented in a gallery, then are you still meant to either forward the sale commission onto the representing gallery in good faith of loyalty or direct the sale to be done directly through the representing gallery? How does this work if you are being represented by multiple galleries? OR if the inquiry for a sale is from overseas?

I know and understand as artists that we appreciate the exposure and representation from the gallery, but it seems like they are expecting commission where commission isn't really due and double-dipping. Especially if it has been your own marketing which lead the client to the sale i.e. business cards, e-blasts, letterbox drops, etc

Joanne Mattera said...


Re selling: I think you have to ask yourself, Do I want to be an artist or do I want to be a dealer? If you are represented by one or mor galleries, why do their job?

Re selling out of your studio: Establish some parameters with your dealers. If you are bringing in business from your marketing efforts, discuss that with them. But in 2010, most artists are marketing and promoting if for no other reason than to keep their name and work visible--in addition to what the gallery does.

I gave some examples of how I deal with inquiries with multiple dealers.

Re the commission: Artists need to get out of the mindset that we are getting screwed. If you are getting a price you're happpy with, the dealer is not getting half; she's doubling it (and then some) so that you each can get the price you want/need. Read my MM post about it here:

As to selling a work that's on your website but not in a gallery, that's a discussion you should have with your dealers. The dealers I work with like to know what I have in inventory so that if they have an interested clients, they can show that work digitally; if there's interest, I'll send/they'll pick up the work to show the client.

Bottom line: communicate with your dealer so that you;re on the same page about sales.

Becca said...

I'm planning on selling out of my studio and participating in art festivals and shows. I used to sell out of a number of galleries, but don't plan on going that route - at least for now. One big reason I don't wish to continue selling out of galleries is that I never get to know who I've sold to - and I've sold a number of paintings and have no idea who they were sold to. The galleries refused to share that information, out of fear that I would then deal directly with their clients. I know I was legally entitled to know who bought my work - but that just didn't make for a good relationship with the gallery owner, so I never pushed it. Instead, by selling from my studio and at shows I hope to start building some one-on-one relationships with clients. I think I'd also get more pleasure out of it, as well as feedback about my work. My only question is: Should I tack on the usual 40% commission a gallery would ask to the prices for my work? I wasn't planning on doing so - I use a simple formula of pricing my work per square inch. I worry that tacking on another 40% to the price would be prohibitive for some of the people I'd like to see be able to afford my work. What do you think?