Should You Consign to Galleries?

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The question of consignment keeps coming up and while I’ll address it in more detail in the tele-seminar series this summer,  let’s touch base on some basics since it’s the time of year to get started.

Assuming you’ve selected the galleries where your crafts will be most compatible, you’ve narrowed down the choices and set up appointments, it’s time to prepare for your meeting.

Show up well prepared with your pieces attractively tagged, with the information we’ve discussed. Price the pieces at retail. Number each piece so that it coincides with a number on your inventory list. (which you will duplicate and leave a copy with the gallery.) Ideally, a thumbnail photograph of each piece next to the number will help you and the gallery owner identify them easily. This doesn’t need to be a high resolution photo, it’s for reference only, not a marketing piece. If your objects are fairly flat, for example jewelry, a simple way to do it is to just place it on your photocopier, scan it and reduce to thumbnail size.. 

Also, if you have a display that shows your work off well, present the gallery owner with that option. You always want to have display recommendations.

If you are consigning work to gallery far from home, consider asking someone in the area to periodically “shop”  the gallery for you.  (they are actually your spies.) I can’t count the times I’ve walked into galleries to see a particular artist’s work and it’s nowhere on display. The artist has no idea why he isn’t receiving commission checks and it turns out

his work is sitting in a back room somewhere out of sight, either because it didn’t do well and the owner has been meaning to return it or because she needed the display space for something she bought outright.  So,  check that your work isn’t sitting out of site. No point tying up inventory that could be selling elsewhere. 

It’s also a good idea to check in periodically and make sure your work is being kept in sellable condition. Some materials, particularly silver, in a gallery close to the beach, can tarnish in a couple of weeks. Fiber pieces may be pilled or frayed from being handled, ceramic chipped or glass smudged.  It won’t sell if it doesn’t look gorgeous. Whatever your medium, you should make sure it is kept in “showroom” shape. 

Sometimes a gallery owner may only wish to display a few pieces your work.  Don’t do it. Three simple words. It won’t sell. 

Did you ever notice when you go into a shop the pieces that are marked down are the only lonelies? If they don’t have enough room for a collection, go elsewhere. The display should be extensive enough to show a good assortment and make a statement. Ideally, the gallery owner knows this but if not, you’re in the wrong gallery.

You’ll want to ask the gallery owner if her insurance will cover theft or damage to your work. Most often it doesn’t and you will need to have insurance as you would if it was being transported to a show or in your studio. Another item that should be understood is that when you  place a piece in a gallery on consignment, it is the gallery owner’s responsibility to pay you for it whether it is lost, stolen or damaged. That is not negotiable. I’m shocked when I hear artists say a gallery didn’t pay them for pieces that they didn’t sell. They are obligated to either return the piece or pay you. 

 It should also be clearly stated whether the artist or gallery owner is responsible for return shipping on any unsold items. Generally, the artist pays shipping to the gallery and the gallery pays return shipping. 

There’s a wide variance in the percentage that a gallery takes but assuming you are not also paying a space rental fee, expect a 40 to 60% split. The higher end, well known fine art galleries often take 60% and give the artist 40. A newer boutique may be open to  giving you as much as 60%. Many artist think this is unfair , and resent paying 60% when they do all the work. But consider what you are receiving for that percentage. The upscale shops are likely in a more prime spot with great foot traffic. They will also be the ones who are spending money on advertising to bring in the ideal patron. If you want your work to sell well, hope for a gallery that pays their staff commission. It’s  another motivation for them to sell your work-and that adds an additional 10% or so to their overhead but you’ll see results.  When I opened my gallery, in order to satisfy an artist whose paintings I knew would do well, I agreed to a 60/40 split in the artist’s favor. I sold six of her paintings the first month. Then I realized by the time I figured commission to my sales people, 60% to the artist, credit card fees and marketing  dollars, I hadn’t made enough to cover  the wall space it occupied. The following month, I told my staff that they would get commission on everything in the gallery except that artist’s work. They still made an hourly wage. Guess whose work stopped selling. 

 If you’re ready to show in galleries, it’s time to start thinking like a wholesaler and that means you will give away at least half of the retail value. 

A new trend now is similar to a co-op but independently owned  and there are many variations on the commission split here as well. We’ll discuss the most successful model in our summer tele-seminar series..

I recommend you have a consignment contract with you when you bring your work into the gallery. It’s possible the gallery has their own which they prefer to use and if so, go over it and together you can make any adjustments or additions you agree to. You’ll both sign and each keep a copy. It should spell out the details above as well as when you will be paid. I always wrote artist’s commission check the first week of each month for pieces sold the previous month. Anything sold in the month of January was paid the first week in February which meant the longest you would have to wait for payment is 35 days after the sale. (and as little as five days if it sold at the end of the month.) 

When the details are carefully worked out and you have a friendly relationship with the gallery owner, which is usually the case, consignment can be a profitable experience for both you and the gallery. 

Please let us know what questions you have about consignment so that we can be sure to cover the topic for you in future blogs. What else would you like to know?

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