KCPT Interview Tonight


Interview this evening on the Program One On One, 9:00, Channel 19.  This is Victor Hogstrom’s show.  He’s the CEO of KC Public Television, and periodically interviews different people in the arts, business, education, etc.  Great guy with surprising questions.  You can tell me later if I blew it.  How he manages to fund public television, which I consider a cultural hub in any region, is something beyond me, but I’m grateful that he consistently pulls it off.  KCPT has fantastic patrons, both corporate and private; indicative of where we’re going in the arts.

I resume writing the Friday Tips Column next week.  Happy New Year meantime.  Go easy on the headaches.

Friday Tips: Block Documentary Now Online


Many of you asked last summer when would the  documentary, Art on the Block, be online?  Well it’s recently been loaded onto You Tube, and can be viewed on Our Site.

This is a highly praised short film (19 min) that documents how I took a group of regional artists, and brought together a world-class collection at H&R Block.  I insisted that Block not spend the money at galleries in NY or LA.  Love those towns though I do, my job is to help build culture in the provinces.  If I lived in Hartford, Dallas, or Sacramento, I would have done the same thing. 

My point?  Phenomenal talent exists in all regions; you just have to give it a chance.  The documentary only covers pieces by 10 artists who did site-specific work.  However we acquired works by 65 artists for the structure.

There are also a couple of interviews from my book tour, but those are a waste of time.

Saturday Tips



Yeah I know, this ain’t Friday.  But I wanted to remind you gentle readers that I’ll be returning to duty on 1/4.  In the meantime, I was so moved by Gloria Baker Feinstein’s Photographic Journey to Uganda, that I wanted to pass on how she documented it in her blog.

The orphanage where she stayed–St. Mary Kevin–is one where most of the kids have AIDS.  I know I don’t need to elaborate on the challenges they face, in a place where life is harsh enough without the onslaught of this disease.

Gloria took with her several artists to work with the kids, so we can bring the kids’ paintings back, hold an opening at the gallery in conjunction with Gloria’s work, and hopefully raise significant $ for the orphanage.  We raised some decent jack last year; hope to do much better this.

I bring this up in the current season, because so many people around us are obsessing over the material, sometimes forgetting the more enduring issues of life.  This is hardly a novel observation, nor one that any of you haven’t made.  But as I sell art to my clients, and buy gifts for loved ones, I think often of those kids in Uganda–and places similar– then remind myself just how bloody fortunate I am, even with the challenges of an artist.

Friday Tips: Reaching Out to the Smaller Towns


Spoke today at a Topeka Rotary luncheon, as I speak at different functions from Des Moines to Wichita when not on the coasts.  Why these smaller towns?  Man, there’s great business to be done there.

Certain corporations and collectors in each of these cities are passionate about the arts, involved in their communities, and anxious to promote the arts.  They understand that doing this enriches their schools, institutions and businesses.  This means that they’re interested in working with regional galleries.  And although Topeka is 50 miles from KC, that’s still in my region.  In fact I’ve many great clients there.

So if I lived in Atlanta, Seattle or Philly, you can be sure I’d be doing this with the smaller cities nearby.  I trust your galleries are doing the same.  It’s not enough to hope the clients will walk through the door as a result of marketing; sometimes you must reach out to them.  When done with humor, inclusion and integrity, they’ll often reach back.

Showtime II: Opening for Paseo and Pembroke Kids

Dear Friday Tipsters:  

I know, I’m supposed to lay off until January.  But this story, which I posted last week, I feel is worth sending out.  These shots are from our opening for the young artists from Paseo Academy and Pembroke Hill Academy.  They’re enrolled in one of our mentoring programs, an undertaking that gives me immense satisfaction.



We went through about 250 bodies during the show.  I think the smiles on the kids’ faces, most of whom sold work, tell the story adequately.  They’re posing by their works, naturally.




Below is a shot of the committee who helped pull this complex undertaking together: Field Trip for the kids, time spent with professional artists, show at the gallery, sales, monies for both the Nature Conservancy and the young artists, etc.  Without this committee, the project would fail.  Photo by the inestimable Jonathan Chester, far right.  Don’t know the dufus lying on the floor.


Friday Tips: Time for Time Off

Dear Friday Tipsters (unless you’re tipplers):

I’ve been writing this column, in addition to my books, scripts and magazine articles, for nearly two years.  I’ve enjoyed that, but am going to take a break.  Here’s why:

1)  Eight agents in LA have asked for my script about the Iraq War, and I want to polish it once more before sending off.

2)  I’m developing a concept for Cable TV, and need time to focus.

3)  I’m finishing a new work of nonfiction, and need time to focus.

4)  I’ve discovered a new brand of bourbon, and need time to focus.

5)  We’re leasing four large sculptures to Warner Brothers for a new Zach Snyder film, Watchmen.  Actually that requires little focus, I just thought I’d mention it.  The works are by Arlie Regier and Brent Collins.

6)  Next week I have to oversee the installation of a complex, 3000 lb hanging sculpture in blown glass, and will really need time to focus.  This will be at Sprint Center.  Photos will be posted on Leopold and the blog.

7)  I’m developing several large sculpture projects, and will need every ounce of concentration to ensure these launch well.

8)  Family.

These might not be very good reasons, but they’re the best I have.  However if it’s of interest, I’ll resume with Friday Tips on January 4.  So if you wish to remain a subscriber, you’ll find new and improved nonsense showing up at that time.  If not, that’s cool.  Either way, thanks for following me this far on the journey.  You’ve been great readers, as well as feedbackers, and I believe we’ve all learned from each other–one of the finest ways I know to learn.



Friday Tips: Consigning Your Work / Gallery Percentages


Photo Courtesy Laughing Squid

Once you’re in a gallery, the consignment agreement should be a straightforward, no-nonsense aspect of the arrangement.  Normally it goes like this: 

The director agrees to take your work.  You consign perhaps six pieces to her.  You deliver the work, and she prints out and signs a consignment sheet for you.  My consignment sheets generally read as follows:

 To Whom it May Concern:
 This is to confirm that Donna Quackenbush, artist, has consigned to  Leopold Gallery the following oil paintings:

“Sur Le Pont,”  36 x 48,  $3000

“Ornamental Wind,”  36 x 44,  $2700

“Remain in Light,”  28 x 36,  $2300
“Petra,” 28 x 36, $2300

These paintings are consigned for a minimum of 12 weeks from the above date.  The paintings listed will be insured for their appraised worth against loss or damage for any reason whatever by Leopold Gallery during the period of exhibition.  Leopold Gallery will receive a commission of 50% of gross on any sales that are made during the period of consignment, or as a result of exposure that Donna Quackenbush received therefrom, or from any insurance claim.

Artist will be paid within 30 days of each sale, or any insurance claims.

With sufficiency acknowledged, I sign my name in good faith.
Paul Dorrell                                    Donna Quackenbush
Director                                         Artist


Note that the sheet lists the title, size and price of each work.  It also lists the commission charged, and the fact that insuring the pieces is my responsibility.  This should always be the gallery’s responsibility, even for fools who are so broke that they allow their insurance to lapse (as I did before the ’97 fire).

Regarding percentages, I charge varying commissions on works in varying media, as listed below.

Blown Glass…………………….40%
Steel Sculpture…………………40%
Ceramic Sculpture……………..40%
Bronze Sculpture………………33%

In most galleries, you’ll find it is standard to charge painters a 50% commission.  If the prices on the works are high enough, both you and the gallery will make a sufficient profit.  If your frames are inordinately expensive, perhaps the gallery will split the cost of these with you, but don’t count on it.  Galleries have enough overhead as it is; better to simply figure the cost of the frame into the price of the painting, and make your profit after.

Why do I charge only 40% for steel, glass and ceramic sculpture?  Because expenses for these artists are far greater than for painters; I feel it would be unfair to charge them the same commission.  Some galleries agree with this, most do not.  In fact most charge a straight 50% to all their artists, regardless of medium or studio expenses.  I wish I could do this, but in good conscience I cannot.   

My reasons for charging a 33% commission on bronzes are, again, based on the artist’s expenses, since expenses are extremely high for bronze sculptors, due to the cost of mold-making and casting.  I can’t ignore this condition, and so simply decided to work with it.  Therefore, the formula we employ in determining the retail price of a bronze is simply to multiply casting fees by three.  Thus if a bronze costs $1000 to cast, I sell it for $3000, plus $200 for the marble base, bringing the total to $3200.  After selling the piece I retain $1000, and the artist gets $2200, $1200 of which will go into casting and basing the next piece.

The percentages work differently with commissioned, one-of-a-kind pieces, which I will discuss in Chapter Seven of the book.  I can blog about that another time.  But for now, this discussion of the consignment process and commission percentages should, I hope, prove enlightening.

Friday Tips: Artists Dying of Exposure II


(Note: I posted this yesterday, but realized it would make a good Friday Tips discussion.  Besides, it’s Friday night and I’m late for a dinner party.  Does this mean I’m cheating?  Yeah, a little, but I did broaden the topic.) 

I was asked to speak before an influential group of retired businessmen and women this past summer. By “influential” I basically mean millionaires.  But listen, not all rich folks are jerks.  Many started with nothing, never forgot where they came from, and are generous beyond description, especially with the underprivileged.  Several of those types were present.

They dug the talk, the relevance of participating in the arts in our region, and helping the region to grow culturally. Nice round of applause. Most came up to thank me afterward, and I knew I’d won a few new clients. But one dude, inevitably, came up to tell me about his son’s practice, how they couldn’t afford art (yeah, right), but would I be willing to loan them works in exchange for the “exposure” the artists would get?

I thought of Louie Copt’s standard response to this kind of presumption: “Man, I know artists who have died of exposure.”

But as the art dealer I have to be diplomatic. So I just gave the dude a card, telling him in a certain tone that I’d think about it. He never called, apparently able to read a tone.  Man, some people. I mean, do you think this guy ever worked for free?

My point?  When you’re an emerging artist, you’ll inevitably have to do these gigs.  We all have.  But here are the rules:

1)  The host insures the work for its retail value.

2)  The exhibition should last no longer than 60 days.

3)  A table will be cleared for your cards, bios, press, etc.

4)  All works will be priced with a title card.

5)  A guest book will be set out where browsers can write their contact info.

6)  Offer a 10% commission to all the office workers, should they facilitate a sale.  Believe me it works, and is better than retaining 100% of nothin.

7)  Offer the host a discount at the end of the exhibit, if it helps to place a piece.

We never sold much doing these exhibits, since it normally takes a sales person to sell anything, including art.  But we did pick up a few clients, the hosts were grateful, and many later became collectors.  However, if the host has no interest in your work personally, I advise you not do it.  It’s important that they feel passion for what you do, so that the passion will become infectious.

Friday Tips: The Discipline of the Artist

David, by You Know Who

What many people outside the arts don’t understand, is that succeeding in this gig takes as much discipline as it does for the CEO, Athlete, Lawyer, Doctor. In many cases it takes more, since you already have the day job, and for your night job your calling happens to be to a calling that we almost never feel equal to, in which we regularly disappoint ourselves, and from which the check is normally late–often by a decade or two.  Sticking with something for which you may never get paid–and doing it with full-blown passion for years on end–takes real discipline. 

Define “success” how you want, but to me it means succeeding aesthetically first, and financially later–which for most artists simply means turning some form of profit.  However you do define it, this kind of discipline is no screwing around. You don’t get there by going to all the parties, hanging out in all the bars, and talking about all the great work you want to do. If you believe in yourself, if your goals are realistic, and if you’re driven, then you clamp your mouth shut and work your butt off. Why? Because you’re giving something to the world that is bigger than you, and more important than you. In a sense you are serving others, and that requires great discipline. The end result will speak for you. Then you can go to all the parties and bars, at least until you start the next piece.

The misconception is that artists indulge in substance abuse, are hopelessly idealistic, and devoid of discipline. This is hogwash. Some of the most disciplined people I’ve known have been sculptors, painters, and glass-blowers. Not only did they work very hard, but man they had guts, laying everything on the line in a risky profession: their finances, their dreams, their futures. Some realized the dream, most did not, but every one of them lived with courage and dignity and often a self-effacing humor. It’s that last quality that will often save your sanity when all else is failing. Oddly, it’s also a quality that can allow you to laugh off your failures, and persevere through to success.

Sure this is a tough life, full of sacrifices and hardship (although not like those of a Vietnamese rice farmer). But I wouldn’t trade it for a million bucks–though I might for two.

Friday Tips: The Necessity of the Website


I wouldn’t have bothered with setting up a Gallery Website in 1997, when the Web was less a part of our culture. But by 1999 I was more or less obligated to bother with it, and now I have no choice: everybody has a bloody website, so I have to have a website too. What a pain in the arse; I’d far rather be backpacking in New Mexico than helping to upload yet another damned site, as I did recently. But backpacking will have to wait, at least until next month.

What does this have to do with you as an artist? Read on and you’ll see.

Once I learned how to work with our site, I found it beneficial, although I’ve yet to see any great boon develop from it. Art buying, by my experience, is a very firsthand sort of business, where the client normally must see the work before making a decision. But the Web can serve as a useful tool in introducing prospective clients to an artist or gallery; the client can then view more of the artists’ works through mailed visuals, or by appointment. The tough part is getting those clients to find you within the informational black hole that the Web has become.

Normally it is easier for a gallery to be found on the Web than individual artists. Why? Because any well run gallery will make certain that their web address is listed on all business cards, stationery, postcards and ads. They’ll also place their website with a wide variety of search engines. With the amount of marketing that most galleries do, this spreads the information rapidly. Artists by their nature are less likely to promote their website so extensively, but I still feel you should have one, now that they’ve become as common as business cards. I mean all modern technologies throughout history have sooner or later been adopted by artists, whether the Gutenburg Press, box cameras, or email. Websites are no different.

If you’re already with one or more galleries, make certain that they include your work on their site. If possible, try to get them to devote an entire page to your work. You want to set up your own site? I couldn’t advocate that enough. Just be aware that setting up a stunning site can cost several thousand dollars if done through lavish means, or several hundred dollars if done through simpler means: in other words, by using a website service or a computer-savvy grad student.

However you establish it, you’ll have to file the site with numerous search engines. Investigate the ones that are most relevant to what you do. Also list your website address on all business cards, postcards, emails, etc. Without these steps, it will wind up bringing you little impact beyond the fees you’ll pay to maintain it. If it comes to this, you may as well scrap the thing. But if you promote it with an eye toward advancing your Web presence, you’ll find that it will have an impact on your career in indirect ways–and sometimes direct ways, such as an unexpected call from a new client. If you don’t have a site, your chances of advancing are considerably diminished. Personally, I’d rather see you advance; you’ve already paid enough dues.