Approaching a gallery – our top tips for artists.

The Art House is a very grass roots gallery space and we love to show work by newbie artists here.  Many of the artists we hear from have never exhibited before, we experience a lot of the ‘rookie mistakes’ that people make when submitting artwork to galleries.

Picture of the inside of The Art House Gallery CafeWe thought it would be nice to do a rough guide to help with this!

Knowing how to deal with a gallery and avoiding some common mistakes will give you edge when looking to exhibit your work – you’d be surprised how few artists know how to do this properly! Here are our top ten tips:

1) First, visit the gallery and get a feel for the place. Start out by join their mailing list, attending a few openings, chatting to the staff.  You can also connect on facebook, read their blog and find out what the gallery is all about. 


A gallery is far more likely to be interested in an artist who has shown an interest in them.  We have actually had submissions from artists who say ‘no thanks’ to joining our mailing list.  FAIL!

Visiting a gallery is also important so that you can make sure it’s the sort of place you want to show your work. For instance, we have a super-informal gallery-cafe setup, which is perfect for some artists and totally wrong for others.

2) Take a look at what work is on display already.

Do you think your work fits in there? Make sure you choose somewhere that fits in with your ideals as an artist and shows work by artists like you. Take a note of prices and how things are displayed. There’s no point submitting your £1000 nine-foot sculpture to a small gallery that sells watercolours for £40.

3) Don’t just drop in and expecting somebody to look at your work.

It’s unlikely that a gallery will be able to talk to you if you just walk in grasping a portfolio, without an appointment. Gallery staff are usually pretty busy and will not be able to drop everything and talk to you, even though they no doubt would love to (we know we would!). Step one should be to send the gallery a quick, simple email asking if they are taking submissions at the moment.

4) Find out HOW the gallery wants you to submit your work.

They may tell you on their website, or they may email you details when you enquire. Take the time to read through any instructions and be sure to follow them to the letter.

We are astonished at how many artists ignore this one! Galleries get a lot of approaches, so if you disregard their processes they are likely not to even look at what you send them, much less accept your work for display.

Also (and here’s a handy little secret), artists are notorious for not following instructions so, if you do everything by the book, you will actually stand out from the crowd and show the gallery you are somebody they want to work with!  More than once, our decision whether or not to show an artist’s work has been almost as much about how pleasant they were to deal with than how good their work is.

5) Check the terms and conditions for each gallery

A lot of galleries take work on a ‘sale or return’ basis and charge at least 30% commission (sometimes a lot more that that) on all work sold – that’s how they pay the rent and (in the case of most galleries) make their profit.

Resist the urge to send a gallery a ranty email about how their commission is a rip off, as this really won’t convince anyone to deal with you! If the commission is too high or you don’t like the terms, go elsewhere.

Whilst we’re on the thorny issue of money, be sure you don’t come across as being primarily focussed on how much money you can make from selling your work.  Like you, most art galleries are passionate about art itself, not just about the money.


6) This may seem so obvious but – be polite!

All communication with a gallery should be courteous. Don’t (and we can’t stress this enough) be high maintenance. Nobody in their right mind wants to deal with a Diva, and there are far too many of those around already!

Remember that you are not doing the gallery a favour by approaching them, so don’t expect the red carpet treatment.

One experience we had was on an artist who, after submitting work, was waiting to hear from us and complained that they hadn’t heard back yet – publicly, on our facebook page.  This sort of behaviour communicates to a gallery that you may not be pleasant to work with, or terribly professional, and will certainly not up your chances of being selected – don’t do it!

7) If you are writing an artist’s statement, keep it nice and short.

Write in the third person and include a bit about your inspirations and influences. Nobody has time to read your whole life story.

8) Take the best photographs you can possibly take of your work.

Cowboy boot collage by Alys Scott-Hawkins

Here is a great example of work submitted to us by Alys-Scott Hawkins for her exhibition with us.

The better your photographs are, the better chance your work will have of being accepted. Borrow a nice camera off a friend if you don’t have one.

For most galleries, you won’t need to pay somebody to take professional photographs or use a super-posh camera, just ensure you light your work well, watch out for reflections on framed work and be sure to crop the pictures so that they don’t include your wallpaper, sofa, or dog in the background. Also, make sure the photos have a good resolution without being an enormous file that takes ages to download.

Along with any photographs you send, include all the other information about the work – what size is it, what medium have you used, is it framed or not and even what price range you are thinking of.

9) Once you have submitted your work, follow up – but not too soon!

Be realistic about how soon you will get a response. By all means follow up your submission, but leave it at least a few weeks (or until after any submission deadlines have passed) and keep it short and friendly. It makes sense to use email for this as you may not get the right person if you telephone.

Some galleries will only get in touch with you if they decide to show your work. A rare few may be willing to give feedback on why they haven’t decided to take you on, but it’s not reasonable to expect this as standard.

10) Just do it!

If you have made artwork and want to exhibit it, get out there and start finding places where it can be shown. A lot of galleries are really keen to find exciting, new artists. If you’ve created artwork, you owe it to yourself and to the world to get it out there, so what are you waiting for?

Best of luck!


If you want to exhibit your work here at The Art House, please find out more here.

Other resources and articles about this:-

Art Biz – approaching galleries
Approaching a gallery – the initial email
We Like Artists – Approaching a gallery

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About arthousesouthampton

The Art House is a not-for-profit café, gallery and arts venue in the centre of Southampton. We are a place you can meet new people, meet up with friends or just come in by yourself. Our licensed café offers delicious organic lunches, Fairtrade tea and homemade cake. We also have a busy programme of events, workshops, and art exhibitions, a clothing and crafts boutique and lots more. Most of our crew are volunteers and you might even want to apply to join them. Come along and enjoy our unique, community run space.
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2 Responses to Approaching a gallery – our top tips for artists.

  1. zowiesartbox says:
  2. Luke Smith says:

    This article has a lot of good ideas on how an artist should put their art in a gallery. I like the tip about look at what is already there, it seems that way you can decide if your art will fit in there. Also, working with the manager, or owner will help out with your art being sold.

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