Friday Tips: Changing Format

Dear Friday Tipsters:

Well things have begun to happen rapidly for me, not just at the gallery but also in my writing career.  Hence, as of today I’m going revert to writing Friday Tips every 4th Friday of each month.  If you wish to remain signed up, that’s fine.  In the fall, as my new book approaches publication, I’ll begin to run excerpts from it as well.

But for now, with projects in LA and Kansas City, and development prospects of a TV concept I’ve written, along with finishing the new book, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me–and still have to find time for family.

So I’ll write my next Friday Tips at the end of March.  Between now and then, I’ll post the occasional observation or bit of nonsense that might prove worthwhile.

Best of luck to you each in the meantime.


Close Call from the Flu

Ten days ago one of my sisters was hospitalized with the flu, which nearly resulted in her passing.  She’s fine now, but for a week it was very, very close.  What a relief.

So if any of you get the current strain of flu that’s knocking so many people out, please take care to not overtax yourself.  This thing’s nothing to mess with.

Friday Tips: The Gallery Consignment System


 The Gallery Consignment System

When I opened my gallery, in 1991, I was naive about the art business, three inches above broke, with little capital and no experience.  What little capital I did have, I’d saved from running a tree service for eight years.  Why a tree service?  Because I had to remain free to write my novels, which I never could have done if I’d been scribbling promotional copy for corporations—though the money would have been better.

So I opened the business, my capital was gone in three months, and my spiral into debt and near-bankruptcy began.  I’d always worked long hours in the tree business; now 70-hour weeks became the standard.  It was either that or file, and I wasn’t going to file.  Not until seven years later did we start to turn a reasonable profit. 

But the one thing that allowed me to stay open in this fickle market was the consigning of artwork.  I didn’t invent the system, I was just told that that’s how it was done.  So on a 50% split with painters, 40% with ceramists and steel sculptors, and 33% with bronze sculptors, I began to take on work.  Why the different percentages?  Because these artists have different levels of expense, and broke though I was, it would have been unethical to take the same from a bronze sculptor that I did from a painter.  This is still my policy, though few other galleries agree with it.  It is also my policy to increase each artist’s prices to the highest level that the market will bear, so that they profit.

What did these artists get in return?  Sales, my growing skills as a dealer, insured works, annual shows that I paid for, marketing, advertising, articles in papers and magazines, a nice space in which to show, and contact with my expanding circle of clients.  They also got my counsel.  Had they not consigned their work, and insisted on selling it to me, I would have gone bust, and none of their careers would have advanced.  It was a joint effort; it still is.

In the Western World, only about 7% of the buying public collect original art, regardless of the price level.  Selling art isn’t like selling clothes in a department store, where you buy the items wholesale, then count on the vast demands of the public to buy your inventory.  Everybody buys clothes; very few people buy art.  Hence the majority of inventory in any gallery never sells.  Dealers must also constantly experiment with the market in determining what they can and can’t sell.  As they do this, they deal with annual overheads that vary from $120,000 to $100,000,000, depending on the gallery.

Ideally, all artists should be paid a wholesale price for their work, with the galleries turning it over at a retail profit.  Unfortunately the very slender level of demand would force most galleries out of business were this a standard practice.

If I were a visual artist, I would like to see the consignment policy banned; I just don’t think this is realistic in view of the limited market.  Besides, I am an artist—a novelist.  I wrote for 25 years, endured 177 rejections, and went through two agents before getting published.  I’ve written ten books, or three million words.  Believe me, I know how it feels to be saddled with an impecunious calling that you have no choice over, and for which you sacrifice so much.  I would love it if agents would buy my books, then sell them to publishers in turn.  Unfortunately, that isn’t realistic for their market either.

The consignment system is flawed, to be sure.  I didn’t invent it, but since it’s in place, it’s my job to utilize it ethically.  When an artist signs with me, they’re not just consigning works that we hope we can maybe sell; they’re entrusting us with a career to advance, the same way an agent does for a writer.  If my gallery fails in this—since you can’t succeed at it every time—we discuss what to do about it, and try to act. 

There are plenty of dealers who take advantage of the system, never pay their artists, leave town with the art, don’t pay for the shows or marketing, charge criminal percentages, and should be locked up like any other crook.  They’ve always been around, they always will be.  I can’t change that.  But I can try to educate artists on the differences between ethical and unethical dealers, which is why I write for a variety of magazines, why I wrote Living the Artist’s Life, and why I’m now finishing a new book that broadens the discussion.

The truth is, the market realities place stresses on both artists and dealers, which explains why 80% of all galleries go broke.  Until there’s a larger market for art in a world that places greater value on new cars and sofas than art and education, we will continue to deal with this issue.  But at least we get to live this life on some level; for 90% of the world’s populace, that isn’t even an option.  I always try to remember that; it helps keep things in perspective, and the gratitude in place.  

Kim Casebeer in American Artist


Kim’s been featured in the March issue of American Artist.  A great honor considering the magazine was founded in 1939, and is published in NY. This is one of the images they used. The editor, Stephen Doherty, flew out to spend a couple of days with Kim in the hills, doing plein air work. 

Her next show is in April.  It’s nice when the timing clicks.

Friday Tips: Portfolios and Presentation Folders


Portfolios and Presentation Folders 

If you’re like most artists, you’d rather be creating new work than assembling a portfolio.  Yes they’re a pain to deal with; I’ve never yet met an artist who enjoys assembling them.  I don’t enjoy assembling them.  But they’re essential.  If you look on the portfolio as a work of art itself, utilizing a direct presentation that is visually stunning, it won’t seem such a bore.  Spend the necessary money on it, and on the photography, to make it look good.  The money will be returned by means of sales.

For those of you who have absolutely no interest in selling your work, create the portfolio in whatever way you wish.  Make it sleek, make it jagged, make it out of duct tape if you want, so long as the finished product adequately represents your work, passion and ideas.  If the notion of making money from your art doesn’t jive with the way you create, then let the portfolio suggest, or even shout, this as well.  

Regarding portfolios, I recommend the following: 
1)  Portfolio Size: 17” x 20” 
2)  Size of Photos:  8”  x 10s” or 5” x 7s” (no smaller)
3)  Other elements: Resume or Bio, an Artist’s Statement, and Press Clippings.

Lay out the photos two-to-a-page, or four-to-a-page, depending on the size you choose.  My personal preference is two 8” x 10s” per page, because they give the viewer the best visual impression of your work—and that first impression is the most important one you’ll make.  Repeat: THE FIRST VISUAL IMPRESSION YOU MAKE ON A GALLERY DIRECTOR, OR A COLLECTOR, IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE YOU WILL MAKE.  Please never forget this.     

After you’ve laid out the photos, put the resume and artist’s statement at the end.  I never put these items at the beginning of a portfolio, because I want the viewer to be impressed with the work itself first.  Once that impression has been made, they’ll be willing to read about the artist.  Needless to say, when I lay out a portfolio I always place the most stunning images on the first pages, with the weaker ones after.  If it’s all stunning, so much the better.

You’ll also need a photo page that shows the works in the portfolio in the form of large thumbnails.  Along with that sheet you’ll need a CD that also shows each image in the portfolio, and others if you wish.  It would cool if you’d take the time to make a proper label for the CD utilizing one of your images, with your contact information printed somewhere on the label.  These things you leave with any prospect.  

Most dealers prefer CDs at this time, and rarely any longer view slides.  If duplicate slides are all you have, that’s fine, but I fear it will make you look unprepared in a dealer’s eyes, and not up to par with current technology.

Anytime you show your portfolio, try to have an original with you, since the work itself will always read better than a photograph, no matter how well the latter is shot.  If a gallery director or collector is already looking at photographs, and likes what they see, you can reinforce this by casually showing them the original jewel that you happen to have at hand.  Note use of the word “casual.”  Contrary to general misconceptions, the art business does not function at its best in a mode of pretension and pressure; rather it is always at its best when everyone is relaxed: the artist, the dealer, and especially the collector.  Relaxation leads to trust, trust leads to sales.

If you can’t afford a portfolio, or don’t like lugging one around, then just use a presentation folder.  You can find these in any office supply store.  They’re the size of a notebook, and can make an impressive visual statement—although not as impressive as that of a portfolio.  One advantage, however, is that you can make up several presentation folders, which gives you the means to leave one with a good prospect.  They’re cheap to assemble, and quite worthwhile when it comes to promotion.

Along with the photos in your portfolio, and the resume, you’ll also need to include any press clippings you might have garnered over the years, and a select list of clients.  What?  You don’t have those yet?  Don’t worry.  I’ll go over the getting of press, as well as how to acquire that coveted list of clients.  

Scott Ashe’s Organic Sculpture


The Same Deep Water As You, Scott Ashe

Scott Ashe is the only sculptor I know who can walk through the woods until a piece of driftwood speaks to him.  Or several pieces.  Then he makes of the piece whatever he feels it’s meant to be: a chair resembling a nude, a chaise longue resembling rainfall, or a mirror swimmer, as in this case.  Yeah, he etched the glass too. 

How does he do it?  I haven’t a clue, but it’s amazing.

Friday Tips: The Current American Renaissance


When I was growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s, our cultural life was much like the Wonder Bread we were served at school: bland, unoriginal, and devoid of passion.  For years I thought this was confined to my part of the country, but as I began to travel in the ‘70s, I learned it was actually a national malaise.  Then when I went on my first book tour in 2006, speaking in 60 cities from New York to LA, I learned that the malaise had existed even in Westchester and Marin County. 

Only in certain pockets in the cities—The Village, Central Chicago, North Beach—had it been any different.  Oh every city had its art movement, no matter how small—like Westport in Kansas City–but the impact this had on the rest of each city was virtually nil.  These movements were centered in isolated enclaves whose participants were generally written off as weird.

Now however this country is going through an artistic renaissance unlike anything in its previous history.  In fact the same can be said of Canada and Australia.  In every region—the Midwest, the South, the Far West—art creation is assuming a life of its own outside New York, and by this I mean all the arts, not just visual.  This movement has been steadily growing since the ’90s, and is far from over.  What does it mean?  For painters and sculptors who for years were told that if they weren’t showing in SoHo, they didn’t count, the story has changed.  

The art world is no longer centered in New York, but as been dispersed nationally.  In Austin, Tampa, Columbus, Sacramento, and hundreds of other provincial cities, work is being created that could easily pass muster in New York.  Further, collectors in each region are beginning to appreciate this evolution, and are participating—though not without encouragement from galleries.  Ditto regional art centers, high schools, junior colleges, universities, arts commissions, and virtually every other entity involved in the game.  

These organizations, and the people who staff them, have worked very hard at bringing about this change for decades.  The beauty of it?  Their efforts are paying off, though history may not recognize the fact for awhile.  With or without that, you can benefit from this renaissance now.  That’s why dealers like me have labored such long hours, and risked so much, in promoting the artists of our region: we were tired of being frozen out by the some of the more closed aspects of the New York art world.  Fine, we created a world of our own.

How you can take advantage of this?  That’s a complex question, to which there is no simple answer, which is why I’m writing a new book on the subject.  But I’ll address some basics in my next couple of Friday columns.

Bonne Chance


Erin Holliday’s Show, Arkansas Artists

Erin 1.JPG

Top photo shows Erin Holliday’s installation at Jim Leedy’s Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, in their Vault Gallery.  Erin works primarily with florescent light, incorporating glass as well as acrylic.  The title of the show is, of course, Clearly. She’s also Director of the Mattie Rhodes Art Center on the West Side.

Erin 2.JPG

Middle shot shows Erin with a couple of artists from Hot Springs: Michael Shaeffer and Christopher Baber.  They  executed the enormous, and brilliant, mixed media painting: I Don’t Want the World, Only Your Half.  In fact several AR artists were present.  Why in KC?  Well Erin’s from Hot Springs, and I think feels partial to her roots.  That’s why she runs around barefoot half the time. IMG_2600.JPG

Now now, my kin are from the Ozarks. I can make those jokes.