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How do I submit work to a gallery for view?

This is part two of a four-part series by Don Friedlich, Harriete Estel Berman, and Andy Cooperman for artists and craftspeople about submitting work to galleries and retail establishments. 

After your research to find a gallery appropriate for your work now it is time to contact the gallery with images of your work.

First look online at the gallery’s website for information on how artists should submit images and material for review. Check the website thoroughly: often this information is buried deep in the website since this is not information commonly accessed by the public.

If you don’t see this information on the website, call or email the gallery directly.  Introduce yourself and ask about their procedures for artist review and application. Don’t be surprised if they say that they aren’t taking on any new artists: the gallery world is limited and selective. (Note: this post was written in 2009. The number of galleries has continued to decrease due to many factors.)

If you are invited to submit material, follow the gallery’s submission guidelines EXACTLY including the number, size, and type of images. Some galleries prefer a package sent through the mail; others may prefer email submissions or a link to your website.

Most importantly, submit only fantastic images. Gallery owners and managers may reasonably assume that the quality of the photographic documentation that you submit is representative of the quality of your work.  While this assumption may not be true, visual images play a critical role and their quality and appearance do influence the gallery’s assessment of your work. 

Do not send images with distractions in the background.  I would suggest a background of white or a graduated grey.  Brightly colored backgrounds are fine for websites (e.g. Etsy, ) or for social media, but are rarely used in the “gallery world.”  

I took some photos of my own work to illustrate what I mean by low-quality photography.
BadIMG_BraceletWThe first image ( left) has a distracting background and a hot spot where the flash is bouncing or sunlight is glaring.

BadIMG_earringsWThe next photo (right) has many problems. The colored background with embroidered beads is distracting. Wrinkled fabric is never a good photo backdrop. The earrings are off to one side with too much empty space within the frame. The image is slightly out of focus.

Here are a few suggestions for top quality images:

•    Avoid an unbalanced image, such as the subject off to one side.
•    Avoid too much empty space in your image – fill the frame.
•    Correct lighting and exposure are essential.
•    Do not use heavily textured fabric or paper, wrinkled or draped material, dramatic or contrived backgrounds such as sunsets, landscapes, pebbles, or exotic patterns. While it may work for social media, You always need a plain background option.

YOUR IMAGE PACKAGE should look creative and professional.  Unless the gallery specifies differently, include the following in your image package:

•    Cover Letter - stating briefly why your work is appropriate for that particular gallery or retail establishment. If you have visited the gallery, say so in the letter. Make it clear that your decision to approach this particular gallery is based on your research into the work they represent.
•    Resume  - one or two pages
•    Artist Statement - one or two short paragraphs (short, entertaining, and relevant about your work). Pique their interest in your work with interesting content, and make it relevant to the gallery and their audience. 
•    Images of your work - sent by email or perhaps offer access to larger images on your website or image transfer site such as WeTransfer or Dropbox.  
Send jpg (for easy viewing) if sending the images by email.
Considering sending both jpg and tif 300 dpi (or higher for print quality) for an exhibition opportunity. 
Send large images or quantities of images (only if requested). Use a site such as Dropbox or WeTransfer.  
•    Image description sheet should include the following information for every image.
o    Title of work
o    Date of work
o    Artist’s name
o    Brief description of materials
o    Dimensions (height x width x depth)
o    Photo Credit of the photographer

Contact Sheet (Page of thumbnail images and key information)   SampleCONTACTsheetHANDOUT
A contact sheet is rarely requested but if you are sending a number of images, I think this adds a lot to your image presentation. This way the gallery or store can quickly glance at your images on the Contact sheet as a reference.

Make sure that the titles for the images include your last name and the title of the work (or at least part of the title).Example for my images:   BermanH_IDneck.jpg   This way if they download your images, they will organize themselves as a group.

If I am mailing an envelope, I always create a colorful, professional envelope styled to be consistent with your work and the gallery. Your key to success is hard work, originality, and persistence.

Good luck.

Harriete Estel Berman

This post was updated on December 20, 2021