Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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05/18/2004: "Is getting gallery representation vital for serious artists?"

I was looking online yesterday to find free artist registries and I came across Artist Registry of American Fine Artists. Their policy on who they would add to this registry includes the following from the FAQ:

"As we were developing the site, one of the things I had to decide was what types of artists I would accept. Since I am not an art expert, and do not feel it is my place to judge others art, I decided that only those who have art in physical galleries would be accepted. Simply because MOST galleries critique an artists work before deciding whether to represent them. THEY are the experts, and if a gallery has critiqued an artists work and found it suitable for representation then I will include them in my website."

Now, this does not include any online galleries, only physical ones. I've been debating for awhile the pros and cons of attempting to get gallery representation. Awhile ago I read this article from called Should Independent Artists Seek Gallery Representation?. One of the pros is that you're generally guaranteed one solo exhibit a year, however, I've been able to get that without having a gallery. One of the downsides is the commissions. Most galleries get 40-60%, which is huge. Plus there are a lot of other pros and cons listed in the article.

Then yesterday I got a great email from a student who gave me some additional advice on painting on wood, which was excellent, and he mentioned he stumbled across my site while searching for a "working artist" to use for his senior project. I think he must have found the link to my site from a great website for working artists put out by San Francisco artist Anna Conti. Her name comes up near the top of the list using a Google search for "working artist". (Mind you, he didnít ask me to be his example, but was only writing to give me some more info about painting on wood, which Iíll post later for anyone interested.)

It got me thinking on whether or not I would be considered a working artist. I mean, I paint everyday, usually for several hours and as I mentioned before, I usually have a solo exhibit every year. I always sell paintings and now I'm taking on more commissioned work. I even have a license for my art business...but I don't come anywhere even remotely close to making a living as an artist. In fact, I've been operating in the red. So, I have to have a ďreal jobĒ which makes a lot of folks relegate you to the halls of ďitís great you have a hobby youíre so passionate aboutĒ. Blah!

I donít know if itís the prestige factor or what, but part of me really wants to try and get gallery representation. There arenít that many options in Alaska for the type of work that I do, and the very few galleries who do take contemporary non-Alaskana type work, arenít accepting applications for new artists. Even if they were, I feel like I havenít been working with the intention of getting a gallery so I havenít been doing some of the things I probably should have been doing all along, like entering juried shows etc.

It depresses me to think that it could be years and years of doing that kind of crap that I really have no interest in, just to be considered a ďrealĒ artist. I keep thinking that there has to be a better way. I also wonder if itís acceptable to go outside your own state to get representation. That would suck because shipping from Alaska is really expensive.

Anyway, Iím just thinking out loud, but Iíd love to hear from anyone who has struggled with whether or not to get representation and why they ultimately decided one way or another. And if you DID get representation, any tips you might have for those of us thinking of taking the leap.

Replies: 17 Comments

on Tuesday, May 18th,">Stacy said

I'm always interested in any info pertaining to technique and am interested in hearing the advice on painting on wood.

As for gallery representation, that is a whole different story. I'm still a student and consider myself and my work amateur, but am looking to go professional. You present a case that I've been debating over for quite some time, being that we live in Alaska. What I would like to do eventually is submit to juried exhibits (like you said) nationally, but first get some recognition here locally. I've got a great book on current art markets and galleries, but I forgot the title. I can respond again with it, if you're interested.

The hard part for me is that there is a personal attainment for me that art fulfills, nothing to do with recognition or the money. But we all have to survive somehow... (I've even been thinking about that Alaskana stuff. Ack!)

Well, as a fellow artist, good luck with your decisions and finding gallery representation if that's the direction you'd like to take!

on Tuesday, May 18th,">Elise said

Hi again Stacy, do you live in Juneau? Anyway, I'm interested in the title of that book on current art markets and galleries if you wouldn't mind looking it up for me. That would be great.

I actually wish that I had done more as a student towards the end of being a professional artist. I know some artists only want to create for the sake of creating but most of us would like our work to reach the largest audience possible. And in order to do that, you need some kind of a system in place. I'm not sure yet what that system is going to look like for me.

I want to make money doing the art that I want to make, not what is considered commercially viable in a limited local market. I believe that out there somewhere is someone who is going to think my work is the best ever (without having to change it to Alaskana), it's just a matter of reaching that person! If only a few local people ever see your work you may feel like a failure when it doesn't sale or the gallery doesn't want to take you on as an artist.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. It's just something I think about a lot. In an ideal world art would be so valued we'd all be making a living doing what we love to do. I'm not there yet but I'll never quit trying to find the magic ingredient that will help me get there.

Also, I'll post that additional information about painting on wood in a new post.

on Tuesday, May 18th, Howard said

I know here in Vancouver they tend to have a very provincal attitude towards art, meaning you will have an easier time getting your work shown if you've already shown your work somewhere else.
If you show work in Toronto it's easier to get shown here, in the States, even easier, Europe, better yet. This has changed a bit in the last few years, but it's still a hard sell. The attitude is, "If you're such a great artist why aren't you selling art in some big city?"
I don't know how it is in Alaska but I imagine it's much the same.
You are lucky because you are showing and selling work. If you decide to look outside your state for representation those are points in your favor.
Only you know whether or not you are an artist. I think with dealing with the art community it's a matter of presenting your work in profesional manner. You have to be able to put it into a context that they understand.
Then again being an artist means so many different things to different people. It's all a matter of what you want to get out of it I think.

on Tuesday, May 18th,">Stacy said

Hi Elise, hee hee, yes this is Stacy from the university. Sorry I didn't make that clearer from the beginning. I took your LS class with you a year or two back.

The book is called 2004 Artist's and Graphic Designer's Market.

I am right there with you. Of course, I too would like to make money doing what I want to do. I have been holding myself back from doing Alaskan work and selling them downtown (although all our tourists shops are owned by the cruise lines...). I had an Alaskan theme going on a few years ago in HS that I was *trying* to work on, and I've been tempted to try and go the commercial route, but it just doesn't feel right. It's a betrayal of who you are...

Right now, I am working on all studies (classical) and am hoping to show them downtown within the next year or two. It is a new found passion (the classical genre) and I have not yet seen any art of this type here in Alaska. Luckily for you (and me, I also love abstracted work), the contemporary art market is going strong. Classical tradition has been downplayed and replaced today by artistic self-expression, which is why I follow many contemporary/abstract artist's websites and artwork online (including yours, obviously) and in the books. It is all very fascinating. I am inspired by the idealistic/realistic beauty of the classical masters as I am inspired by Picasso and the other greats.

Well, there is so much to say, but I don't really have a point to all this, I'm just rambling also :). I don't have many "artist friends" to ramble to. I am actually quite shy about talking about all this in public and online. Not sure why... :blush:

on Tuesday, May 18th,">Elise Tomlinson said

Hi again Stacy, I think it's flattering to have a former student check out my site so no worries. I've been interested in the techniques of the old masters as well, checked out a lot of books from the library on it. I just want to continue to add new skills even if I don't end up painting in that style. Do you have any of your work online? There are a few of us in town that get together for coffee and to share work, get feedback, etc. Let me know if youíd be interested in joining us.

Also, I didn't realize that the cruise lines own all the downtown galleries. That sucks. Even Annie Kales? Oh well, maybe in order to make ends meet we need to compromise, do some work that is experimental and close to your heart, and some soulless crap just to sell? Would that be so terrible?

And Howard, I didn't realize that you were in Vancouver...what a great city. Two very close friends are living on their sailboat in Vancouver. She's teaching at UBC. It's the couple I bought my sailboat from. They love it there but plan to move back to Douglas when he finishes his program.

So, if European artists impress galleries in Canada, do you think European galleries would be interested in showing our work? I mean, do you think we'd have some glamour factor from being so far away? I had never thought about trying for shows outside the US.

Also, I want to REALLY STRESS that for me the most important thing of all is being creative, the process, making art that I enjoy. All the other stuff, galleries and shows etc. is just icing on the cake.

(Ok, and maybe a little bit of fantasizing about becoming a celebrity art god like Andy Warhol).

on Tuesday, May 18th, Stacy said

What is the group that you're referring to? It sounds very interesting and would love to get the info on that.

I don't have anything online, but I'm hoping to get a website up eventually. It isn't quite a priority right now. But I do have some images scanned if you're interested in seeing them...

Right now I'm going to the Thursday evening figure drawing class at the Empire Gallery with Heidi R. It is a great opportunity for me to meet Juneau artists and it's inexpensive, and of course valuable experience.

on Tuesday, May 18th, Howard said

I'd imagine a contemporay artist from Alaska would probably sound quite exotic to Europeans. As for getting shows over there I'm not too sure.
I'm just saying sometimes it's easier to get attention away from the place you live and work.
The important thing is that you love what your doing. Sooner or later opprotunities will present themsleves.

on Tuesday, May 18th, Stacy said

Kind of off the topic (hope you don't mind!), I was wondering if you knew of any quality type of toned paper... I'm using graphite and use hot pressed watercolor paper, but I want to start using paper of varied colors and other materials.

on Tuesday, May 18th,">Elise said

Stacy, I had started an art group in town a couple years ago and we met regularly for figure drawing sessions and to watch art videos but that's kindof defunct now.

No I just get together informally with a few friends who are also artists. I've considered attending those drawing sessions at the empire but I kept hearing that the space had been sold and that the sessions were going to stop.

As for the paper question, I used to be a printmaker and I know a lot about printmaking paper but I never used colored paper. I can make an entry on it if you like, what kind of work will you be doing on it? What are your needs? Maybe someone else out there will have some suggestions.

Howard, I was kindof joking about trying for a show in Europe, but it is an interesting idea. I'd absolutely LOVE to get a show in Madrid. Anyway, I suppose you never know until you try. Probably everyone wants artists with agents and gallery reps anyway. which takes me back to my inital point, maybe that's a necessary evil?

I know what you mean about "Sooner or later opprotunities will present themsleves" but I also am a firm believer in the fact that we can change our lives by taking action, and that just waiting for opportunities may not be enough for some artists.

Just a thought.

Anyway, I'm off to go sailing. It's a gorgeous day out. I'll take my crappy little blink II camera and take some photos to share.

on Tuesday, May 18th, Stacy said

Who do you get together with, how frequently, and where?

Yes, the Empire Gallery, owned by the Juneau Empire just bought Capital City Weekly who will be moving in there sometime this June. Heidi isnít sure if there will be a show this June, but sheís been hanging on the end of the rope for a while now and hasnít ever known how long theyíll be able to use the space on a day to day basis. There were some inquiries on it, but they never panned out so Heidiís managed to keep up with the sessions for quite a long time. Unfortunately, this may be the last month for itÖ Currently, Heidi, my boyfriend and I are thinking of looking to see if there are other spaces available and to go non-profit with it.

Well, right now, Iím working with graphite (a little vine charcoal) on watercolor paper. I tried Bristol vellum and likely wonít use it again, didnít work out as Iíd expected. As far as needs go, Iíve been trying to find some high quality paper (green, blue, red, etc.) to use with graphite, charcoal, chalk, most drawing mediums really. Iíve looked on dickblick and other suppliers and havenít had too much luck. Iím hesitant to use pastel paper or other papers, because I donít know much about them. The pastel paper at the Art Dept at the mall is a bit too toothy. Suggestions?

Hee hee, Andy Warhol is your celebrity art god?

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Elise said

I don't know who Heidi is but it would be most excellent if you guys came up with a new location after the Empire Gallery goes away. Still, the location was so ideal, right next to the JAHC gallery among others.

Let me know if that happens. We need more alternative spaces in this town.

As for the get togethers, it's nothing formal, the next time we get together it will probably be lea vose, charity green, heather ridgeway and myself (and possibly a couple other people who have expressed an interest).

A different group of us used to meet once a month or so at the Silverbow/Backroom Cinema.

I was thinking of putting together an email list so I could just send out an email saying "want to meet for coffee sat morning?" and anyone who wanted to could come and bring stuff they're working on they'd like feedback for etc.

If you want, I'll add your email to the list. If you show or not would be totally up to you.

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Jackie said

:crazy:A rant about commercial galleries: they are in the business of making money off of artists. I am sure there are some reputable, fair gallery owners out there...but if it weren't for the artists, they wouldn't have a business. Seattle, where I work and live, is full of snooty galleries, who don't even give you the time of day when you walk in if you don't look like you can 'afford' to buy the art in there. Of course I'm not going in to buy the art anyway - just to check out the scene. I currently have shown in a co-op gallery (totally unjuried) where you pay a fee and hang your own work. I have sold a number of pieces there. I have also had my work in a commercial gallery in Port Townsend, and sold a number of pieces (to which the gallery owners tacked on their 60% 'commission'). The gallery would not let me include my business cards, because then the patrons could commission my work outside of their gallery... Before I moved here 6 years ago, I was a member of a community of artists & craftspeople in Kodiak. We started our own co-op and opened a gallery. We were successful for a little over 2 years, but it was too hard to get the artists to sit in the gallery, and many times our doors did not open on time, because someone 'forgot' they siged up for those hours. The group dissolved - but it was still a great experience. Oh - and I sold about 95% of the work I displayed at that gallery (probably about 50 pieces), and 10% commision went to the co-op.

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Elise said

First off, I changed my blog configuration so that new comments end up at the end of the list, not at the top. It's easier for me to read in that order, from oldest to newest.

Jackie, we have an artist coop here in Juneau called Juneau Artists Gallery that is run the same way. I've meant to check them out several times but I guess as many Art Walks as I've been to I've never been to an opening in their gallery and in fact, I know where they say they are and I've been in the building, but the location of the gallery hasn't been that obvious to me.

It seems like a wonderful option, I know the one here is selective, they don't let everybody in who wants to be in it, and I don't know how successful they are at selling things from it, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to put in an application. A coop gallery might be a nice way to get your foot in the door...

Now I'll have to risk rejection which I hate but I guess we all have to go through.

You're right about the commercial gallery thing though, there is the snob factor as well as the 60% commission (ouch) and that sucks they wouldn't let you leave cards. I guess it's like they mention in that article I linked to, there are advantages but you have to sell a little piece of your soul as well.

A co-op really sounds like the way to go.

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Elise said

ZOIKS! I just called the Juneau Artists Gallery and requested an application packet. The woman I spoke with said they review new artist on an ongoing basis so I think I'm going to go for it. Wish me luck and thanks again Jackie for the idea (even if they do reject me).

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Stacy said

Hi Elise, checking past comments, Heidiís last name is Reifenstein. And my email is">, which would be cool if you could add my name to the list. I donít know if Iíd be much help with the critiquing part, but Iím sure interested in hearing/seeing everything.

Also, you mentioned the co-op gallery. Iíve had some stuff in a co-op, but had the opposite reaction to Jackieís. Iíve checked out the co-op in the Senate Building several times and know a few of them. I worked with Paula Wright closely for a little while who I think is the only oil painter currently, so your artwork (oils) might provide a nice balance. In my humble opinion, though, I canít quite picture youíre works (nor mine) integrating in their gallery very well, and from what Iíve seen, there is a lot of authentic Alaskan artwork. About half is visual artwork. Anyways, good luck with it!

One more comment, for Under the Devilís Club, I noticed you reworked the figure and the background. I do prefer the lightened background now as it is, but I donít so much like the monochrome figure without the yellows and accents such as on the lips.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Jackie said

Co-ops are definitely not a one-size fits all. It's a good idea to check out the gallery first, to get an idea of what kind of art they have. The Kodiak gallery was about 1/2 & 1/2: 1/2 'Alaskana' tourist stuff and crafts, the other half more cutting edge/or 'serious' art. We were all 'weekend warriors' mind you - none of us could afford to quit our day jobs and live in a loft, only to die of TB...wait that's an opera! And there was always some work we had a hard time hanging on the walls...the wildlife scenes woodburned onto bear's bread fungus...the driftwood and seashell mobiles...although that gallery did have a jury process. The Seattle scene is definitely edgier. There are a lot of 'outsider' artists, or people who have just been disillusioned with the commercial gallery scene. The common denominator is we all want to show our work, and the focus is not on the sales. I have a following of patrons, and can accept that there are people who just really love my work and appreciate it, and others just move on past it to look at the 'lovely landscapes' or flowers or photos. The artists at the co-op are incredibly diverse group, and it's fun just to see what's going to be up on the walls each month, and share our views with each other.
Peace. :)

on Thursday, May 20th,">Elise said

Jackie, I apologise if I've asked this already, but do you have any of your work posted online that we could check out? I'd really like to see it.