4th Friday Tips: Charity Art Auctions & The Artists’ Deduction Bill


I blogged about this last week, but it’s too important to not cover in Friday Tips. So for all of you who are looking for fairer treatment with art auctions and tax write-offs, I urge you to go online and sign this petition:

Artists’ Deduction Bill:

Why?  This artist deduction bill (S.548) would give artists the right to deduct the fair market value of their work when donating it to a charity.  About time.

Artists are often asked to donate work to charitable causes for fundraising purposes.  But when the work is auctioned, it’s the buyer who gets the benefit of deducting their contribution above the market value.  The artist can only deduct the amount of the material costs (paint, canvas, clay, etc.).  Give me a freaking break.
This bill will help change this injustice. Please click on the link and type in your zip code.  A letter of support will be sent to your senators and congressmen.  Once you’re done with that, forward the link to friends and family.  We need to get this thing passed.

Note: I had to have my web dude turn off the Comments Link because we were getting about 350 spams per day, and he couldn’t seem to screen them.  It was very time-consuming to weed through and find your comments.  If ever he can get rid of spam altogether, we’ll turn on Comments again.

Bonne Chance 

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.


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.  

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.  

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


Friday Tips: Where To Show If You’re Not Yet In A Gallery


When I first started my art business in the basement of my house, in 1991, I had no public space for my artists. Did this mean that the work wasn’t any good? No. I was happy with much of it, and grateful that these artists had entrusted me with their careers. The challenge was to get them public exposure until I could afford to open the gallery–which came two years later.

Consequently, I set up exhibits in corporate lobbies, upscale restaurants, and in the homes of wealthy socialites (which inspired the sculptor Matt Kirby to remark: “Oh sure, we’ll get a bunch of rich folks and throw them through the door.”)

I also entered the artists in select juried shows all over the country. The initial sales we made in the restaurants weren’t numerous, since no sales staff was on hand. To deal with that, I offered the wait staff a 10 percent commission on every prospect they brought me, which increased sales–not a bad beginning.

Please understand, displaying in venues such as these doesn’t make you look less credible. You’re in the process of establishing a following and collectors. Any appropriate venue is fine. After all, a gallery will look on you more favorably if you’ve sold several works than if you haven’t.

Restaurants: These can work well for selling your art over time, but only if the lighting is good and the setting upscale. It also helps if the managers and wait staff feel passion for what you do. Just make sure that you provide plenty of professionally laid-out postcards printed with your contact information and, if possible, try to have an opening that’s listed in the paper. Beyond that, simply enjoy the gig. When done well, it can be a major step toward gallery representation. In fact, I discovered one of my best young painters–Allan Chow–in The Blue Koi a couple of years ago. This turned out to be a very good thing for both of us.

Sure, you don’t want to stay in the restaurant-display gig too long, since this is only a step toward bigger things. But it can be a worthwhile step, which you shouldn’t shy away from just because the snobs look down on it. Snobs look down on everything, including each other. What do they know about making it as an artist? Very little. I advise you ignore them and do what you have to in developing your career. Please just make sure you have some fun along the way. The snobs will applaud you after you’ve succeeded; that’s how they work anyway.

Friday Tips: Derrick Breidenthal: More Than One Size


Wall Number One, Oil on Panel, Derrick Breidenthal

One of my clients saw a small version of this painting, or in other words a study, in the gallery two months ago. She loved the piece, but it was sold. I mentioned that Derrick could paint a work that was in the same vein, but in a larger size, if she liked. He did, we installed it yesterday, and she’s ecstatic. So’s he. But please bear in mind, the enlargement is a painting unto itself; when placed side-by-side the two are not identical. 

I’ve made this point many times, but I will again. Anything you paint in a small size can serve as a study for a larger size.  In fact it’s ethical to create each painting in three distinctly different sizes (Rembrandt often did, as did many of the Impressionists, as have 100s of others throughout history). In this way, when you finish a work that you know is a masterpiece, you can realize more from your years of sacrifice that one mere sale.

Some artists will resist this approach, and that’s fine; I never ask anyone to do it who isn’t inspired by same.  But for those who see it as both a challenge and an opportunity, great.  As long as the fundamentals of creating original art aren’t betrayed, this  makes things easier for everyone.  Makes it a easier to pay for things like dental bills, health insurance, and a functioning car as well. 

Friday Tips: Reader’s Question About Photography


Flatiron Building, Edward Steichen, 1904 

Hello Paul:

Most of the books, articles, and blogs I read primarily deal with advice for painters, sculptors, potters and glass blowers.  I noticed in one of your blogs that you work with photographers.  I was wondering if you would share your thoughts/advice on trends you are seeing in the photography that is selling as art.  Color, B&W, size, etc.
Thank you so much,


Jeffrey Stoner Photography



Going back as far as the great photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams, one thing held true: photography was bloody hard to sell.  How did these cats make a living?  For decades they didn’t.  But ultimately, as they aged, their contribution and revolutionary techniques were hailed, then their work was published in books.  And it was from the sale of those books, in quantity, that they eventually became legendary; hence the prices of their prints rose apace.  In the meantime, they sometimes did portrait work or fashion shoots on the side.

Most of my photographers find a way to get their work published in books, or publish a book themselves.  This may mean an investment from $5000 to $15,000, but if marketed well–assuming it’s a strong book–the results can be fantastic.

Where is art photography going?  Wherever you want.  Just as with art in general, there are few rules anymore.  You can be as conceptual, abstracted, or conservative as you wish; there’s a market for it all, though the biggest market remains fairly conservative (which your work at this time leans toward).  Digital is becoming more accepted now, some people still love film, and there’s a broad audience for both color and B&W.  However it’s my experience that the photography market is limited compared to that of paintings.  For some reason, collectors are less willing to pay $700 for a framed print, than $2000 for an oil the same size.

Your challenge?  To get in enough qualified shows, enough widely dispersed galleries, with enough qualified press to substantiate your career and pricing.  Then make sure you have at least two gallery shows a year.  And every now and then, challenge yourself to try a new style, even if you don’t go with it.  So yeah it’s a lot of work, but as you know, the arts always have been.

Bonne chance.

Friday Tips: Working With Galleries on Framing and Other Expenses


(Note: This article recently ran in Art Calendar, as did the photo of me advising Allan Chow on framing.  Why is he smiling so?  Scroll to bottom and you’ll see.) 

Framing: Who’s responsibility is it?             

Unfortunately in the art biz, there is no one industry standard on issues such as this, and several others.  Hence, I can only speak from the experience of my gallery, and what has worked for us.  But since many artists look to me for fair advice, I suspect that what I have to say hits as close to a reasonable standard as anything.

In my joint, the artists are responsible for their own framing.  We don’t have a framing department, as I’d rather spend my time consulting on major projects that selecting molding.  However I do enjoy selecting a quality frame with my artists when they desire same.  We don’t do this through frame shops, which really are for the public.  We do this through frame suppliers, such as Glaser Frames in Denver, which cost much less than a frame shop.  The artists often order the frames in bulk delivered to my gallery, and do their own framing here or at home.  How are they compensated for this?  I mark up the works sufficiently to ensure that they’re covered.  Otherwise, I view framing as an overhead expense for artists just as rent, payroll, and marketing are expenses for a gallery.

Do I help artists select their frames?  Only if I feel they need the assistance.  Some artists have a fantastic eye for framing, and need no guidance.  Others are bored to tears with the process, and simply don’t see what will complement their work.  Those artists I gladly help.  But I never dictate how an artist should frame.  Instead, we collaborate.  Almost all artists have some sense of how they want their work to be framed; I try to listen to each.

Expenses: Who bears what?                                       

In my gallery, the artists pay for their work and frames.  Beyond that, it’s mostly our baby.  At openings we pay for the postcards, postage, wine, etc.  However if we run a magazine ad, the artists always split that with us, since it’s an untypical expense. 

Some galleries require that artists split the costs of an opening.  My own opinion?  You’ve already paid for the frames, have likely paid considerable dues, and sacrificed a great deal just to get to where you are.  I don’t think you should also help pay for the freaking opening.

Allan Chow:  He’s smiling first because he always does, but  broader here because of the limmerick I was telling:

There once was a lady from Madras,                              

Who had, oh, such a marvelous ass.                              

Not round and pink,                                                      

As you might think,                                                      

But was gray, with long ears, and ate grass.


Friday Tips: So Now You’re in a Gallery

Dear Friday Tipsters:

Good to be back. What did I accomplish during my absence?

–Drank fine bourbons, worked on the new book (done in spring), dealt with agents in Hollywood on script, landed some new art projects, advanced TV concept maybe a little, spoiled family, mentored teenage artists, sold a buttload of art in Nov/Dec, took on some new artists, slept.

Today’s tip below.  For future tips, please feel free to email questions to email@leopoldgallery.com.  I like making a direct response.  This is similar to what I do for the magazines.

Trust everyone is well.  Fire away.




The Dutchman and His Dealers, Posthumous 

You’re In a Gallery:  Now What?
            Firstly, I don’t feel you should expect miracles.  Give the dealer time to work the market, and find out which of your styles sells best.  If she makes suggestions about how to make your work more salable, listen to her—assuming that she knows her business, and you respect her.  If she’s urging a subtle change, play with it, see if it inspires you.  When you work with your dealer in a spirit of cooperation, and when that dealer has talents similar to those of a skilled book editor, the results are almost always good. 
            This does not mean, however, that the more shallow aspects of the art market should dictate how you work.  If you allow that to happen, you’ll wind up creating work that lacks soul, integrity and passion.  Always stay true to your vision, and always work within the guiding parameters of your intuition.  If you let other people sway you too far with well intentioned suggestions, you’ll get off the track of your own instincts, which will lead down a very dissatisfying road.  In the end, only you can know what it is you want, or need, to create.  No one else can fulfill this role for you, and no one else should.

            By this I don’t mean yours, but the gallery’s for your work.  Maybe they’ll call it enthusiasm, appreciation, or sheer love.  However it’s termed, the gallery staff should feel a genuine fascination for what you do.  Why?  Because collectors will sense their passion, and in turn become infected with it.  This will lead to sales, and a broadening reputation.
            Adversely, if the staff are indifferent to your work or, worse, blasé, this too will be sensed by potential collectors.  The next thing you know, you’ll become one of those non-selling artists whose pieces are ignored, then begin collecting dust, then are relegated to a back corner or shelved in the storage racks. 
            There is also the possibility that, no matter how impassioned the staff are, and no matter how hard they work, your stuff simply won’t sell.  It could be you’re in the wrong gallery, the wrong region, or it could be that no one has an answer for this unfortunate, but all too common, failing.  Nobody can really predict the art market, just as no one can really predict that other market based at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets.  Even so, the combination of a gallery’s energy, and your mastery, will normally bring good results.  Try to ensure that each gallery you work with functions on this basis.  If, after all good efforts, the work still isn’t selling, always be willing to try another gallery.  Each of my more successful artists has had to do this.