The Etsy Blog

Confronting Your Fears, Artfully handmade and vintage goods

If you’re anything like me, the prospect of putting yourself out there and approaching galleries can be particularly daunting. Just the thought of it once left me with sweaty palms and flashbacks of standing up at the head of the class and attempting to stumble my way through a presentation, mouth dry, words trembling and breathless as I feebly try to control  “the shakes.”

Stage fright. It’s something all of us experience at one point or another and is nothing to be ashamed of. But it does eventually need to be addressed and conquered. Confidence is a must in this business. Charming as it may be for an artist to approach a gallery introverted and obviously intimidated, it certainly won’t leave a positive impression on a gallery owner – it is a must to project a confidence in one’s self and one’s own work. Otherwise how can you expect a gallery to take you seriously enough to represent your work?

Yes. I know this is much easier said than done. I’m not kidding when I say I was scared to death of being put on the spot like that. I had to get past it. It was October of 2003, and I had heard about an artist statement slam at Oni Gallery in Boston, MA. It would require me not only to stand up on stage in front of hundreds of gallery goers and recite my artist statement but also to actually be judged on it. I toiled for weeks preparing it, and was so intimidated by it that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I saw it as a purification. Meeting my fears head on, like someone with a fear of heights jumping from a plane. Making a leap.

I was petrified.

If I was going to do it, I was going for broke. I painted myself blue and purple and dyed my hair to match. I wore a cape. Seriously. As I stepped on stage the lights blinded me and I began to sweat, some of my makeup melted and smeared. The judges, who were from the Guggenheim, MoMA, and Montserrat College of Art, glared up at me and winced through the high pitch squeal of the microphone as I stepped too close. I began. Shaking and breathless I made my way through my statement, quivering and fumbling words as I went. I nearly tripped coming off the stage. I sat back down, knowing it could have gone better, but I felt an immense sense of relief and personal accomplishment. I tackled my fear head on. Nothing could be more liberating than making the fool I made of myself that day, because nothing would ever be that outrageous in the real world. I had to expose myself completely to feel comfortable in my skin and confident to present myself and my work.

Now, this might not be all that practical for you. I mean, it’s not everyday you get the right chance to paint yourself up like a fool and stand up on stage to get past your fears, but it’s crucial to challenge yourself and climb that mountain so you can focus on confidently presenting yourself and your work to a prospective gallery.

(Photo courtesy strawberryluna from the “Sweet: The Graphic Beauty of the Contemporary Rock Poster” show at The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, 2/2008)

Presenting yourself and your work to a gallery.
So you’ve gotten past your initial fears – what now? How do you go about presenting yourself and your work to a curator?

First, scout out prospective galleries. You don’t want to waste a curator’s (and your own!) time by presenting your charming watercolor botanicals to a gallery specializing in meaty abstracts. You don’t want to schlep your predominantly impasto expressionist musings around town and present it off hand to a gallery owner only interested in black and white photography. Do your homework. Attend gallery openings. Many galleries have embraced the technological age – with the click of a mouse you can get an overview of a gallery you’re interested in, from past exhibitions to open calls to information on the owners and curators. Doing the leg work will ensure you will be able to target galleries more efficiently. It also ensures you walk in more prepared, confident (because you know something about the venue) and professional. First impressions are everything!

Now that you’ve found galleries suited to your particular work, don’t just then walk in off the street with your portfolio. Always set up an appointment. Walking in “cold” might give the impression you don’t value the curator’s time. They might have a hectic schedule and might not be able to fit you in the moment you walk in. They might be with a client. They might be out to lunch. They might be in the bathroom… Calling beforehand is a professional approach and shows the curators you appreciate their busy schedules (whether they’re busy or not!).

You’ve handpicked the right galleries. You’ve made your appointments. What should you have with you?
Well, obviously you should have your portfolio in hand – which you should be prepared to leave with the gallery. Your portfolio should consist of your resume, bio, business card and 8-10 prints of your work. You might choose to bring slides or a CD as well. Do have prints on hand though, they offer instant gratification for the gallery owner. Instead of holding a tiny slide up to the light and squinting to catch a glimpse of your super realist details or expressive mark making, they can admire a glossy high quality print of your offerings in all their glory. Make sure the images you present are of pieces you have available. If a curator falls in love with one of your pieces from a print it’s going to be somewhat embarrassing if you then tell them they cant have it because it’s been sold. Try and bring a few of your original pieces as well. Don’t bring too many though – gallery owners might not appreciate your tossing a stack of your work on the table in front of them. Bring 2 or 3 of your best pieces with you so they can see the real deal in real life.

What to wear?
Well, we artists do get away with more…shall I say…eccentric garb than any other “interviewee,” but that doesn’t mean we should walk in with a tie dye shirt and Swiss cheese jeans. Allow your personality to shine through your chosen outfit, but don’t be messy. You don’t need to be “stuffy” either, clad in a business suit and heals, though if that’s you, then by all means go for it. Point is? Don’t pretend. When you are uncomfortable it shows. Just be yourself. Dressing like “you” will help set you at ease and it will show through your interactions with the gallery owner / curator. When you’re at ease, they’re at ease.

Biggest thing to remember when speaking to a gallery owner?They’re people too. They understand you might be nervous. They don’t expect you to be super artist. The less pressure you put on yourself the more enjoyable the meeting will be for the both of you.

(Aja’s work hangs with Emil Almazora‘s sculptures for the Summer group show at Karin Sanders Fine Art, Sag Harbor, NY 8/2006)

I did it! I got a show! Oh no. I got a show!
Breathe. It’s true the only thing more intimidating than approaching a gallery is putting on your first show. Be honest and ask questions. No one expects you to know everything. My first show I stumbled around like a bit of a fool during set up. Find out the procedure for hanging a show. Every gallery is different and you aren’t going to know if you don’t ask. Some galleries leave it to you to hang the work and present it. One show I had to bring all of the hardware, including a hammer. Others take your work and you don’t see them till the opening. The biggest issue is not being prepared – that’s why asking questions and being informed is imperative. You want to be able to work the room the day of the opening instead of running around, sweaty and defeated, trying to locate a missing hanger….

Although the prospect of talking up your work for a handful of hours might be slightly scary, this is your moment to shine! Take it all in. Get to know your prospective patrons. You can learn a lot from them. This is your chance to learn something about yourself, your work, your audience, and your chosen venue. It’s a marvelous adventure! Go for broke.

Though I don’t particularly recommend painting yourself up blue and purple and wearing a cape. That’s just weird.

Have you overcome an art career fear? Share your story in the comments.

Seller Handbook Best-of Archive | 8 Tips for Selling Fine Art Online

Aja Apa-Soura, owner of Sagittarius Gallery, has been a fine artist since 1999. She has been selling her work online since 2003. As a member of the Etsy community, she’s known for helping new sellers find their footing. 

  • farfelue

    farfelue says:

    What great article I find this very inspiring! Thanks so much!!!!! Congrats and kudos to you <3

    6 years ago

  • beyeler

    beyeler says:

    Very interesting, thanks!

    6 years ago

  • BabbidgePatch

    BabbidgePatch says:

    Thank you ~ great tips and insight!

    6 years ago

  • kristensteinfineart

    kristensteinfineart says:

    Wonderful artwork and great article. I'm one of more fearful artists for sure!

    6 years ago

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar says:

    Great article sag!

    6 years ago

  • hellome

    hellome says:

    Always nice to see the artists of Etsy front and center. Great article!

    6 years ago

  • theeye

    theeye says:

    nice article ... thank you

    6 years ago

  • PussDaddy

    PussDaddy says:

    Great article!

    6 years ago

  • gretchenmist

    gretchenmist says:

    gorgeous personal article full of great advice! thanks Aja :)

    6 years ago

  • jennanewton

    jennanewton says:

    wonderful article! :)

    6 years ago

  • PoleStar

    PoleStar says:

    Very nice article!

    6 years ago

  • ArtsAfire

    ArtsAfire says:

    Great article, sagittarius! Thanks for all the helpful info.

    6 years ago

  • PeppermintDaydreams

    PeppermintDaydreams says:

    love the cape and paint story!!! thanks for sharing this; lots-o great advise.

    6 years ago

  • taylorseclectic

    taylorseclectic says:

    Thank you for this article! It's a great help...I definitely made the mistake of walking in off the street into a gallery one day...bad move! I will definitely be utilizing your tips!

    6 years ago

  • CeeVeeArts

    CeeVeeArts says:

    You not only have a way with paint, but also with words.

    6 years ago

  • susarto

    susarto says:

    we need pics of the paint story ;) great article! thanks for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations says:

    What a great article!!! Love the picts!!

    6 years ago




    6 years ago

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna says:

    Man, I wish that this article had existed before my first ever gallery show! Great article and so clear. Nice work Aja. Super helpful. You sound so brave for doing your artist's statement the way that you did. Right on. Cheers!

    6 years ago

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa says:

    I wish you had a photo of the blue outfit!

    6 years ago

  • Stargazer02

    Stargazer02 says:


    6 years ago

  • LaireMarie

    LaireMarie says:

    Nice article!

    6 years ago

  • sherrytruitt

    sherrytruitt says:

    Aja, what a terrific article. Continued success to you, always!

    6 years ago

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm says:

    Congrats to you Aja, love your work as well...Wonderful article, thank you for your insight, wish you continued success~!

    6 years ago

  • fenrislorsrai

    fenrislorsrai says:

    Very helpful!

    6 years ago

  • DaraArt

    DaraArt says:

    Wonderful & inspirational, thank you & congratulations :)

    6 years ago

  • GodwinsEnterprises

    GodwinsEnterprises says:

    Thank you for your wonderful article. I thought it was just me that was so fearful! An artist friend of mine is married to a sales person. Oh, how I envy him. He can stay in his studio and paint while she goes out and sells him to the galleries.

    6 years ago

  • LittleCritters00

    LittleCritters00 says:

    this is so awesome. I LOVED reading this, thanks.

    6 years ago

  • Kschulz

    Kschulz says:

    thanks for all the information. it was very helpful!

    6 years ago

  • sagittariusgallery

    sagittariusgallery says:

    Thanks so much everyone! Re: me all painted up with a cape, Vanessa asked me for pics, and I looked everywhere (we ended up going to the Boston Hempfest to kill time because we ended up getting there early) and a photographer from a small town newspaper from Connecticut came up to me and wanted to take my pic to "show the diversity of Boston". He said I was just what he was looking for to show some of the "characters" of the city. I didn't have the heart to tell him it really wasn't what he thought it was.... We hadn't brought cameras...I looked for that article, couldn't find it. Searched "Oni Gallery" but unfortunately found no pics of me that night lol. Sorry guys!

    6 years ago

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose says:

    What great advice. It's just like interviewing for a you get more and more practice it does get easier.

    6 years ago

  • livefunky

    livefunky says:

    Fantastic article Aja. Thank you for sharing your experience and advice with us all. It is appreciated!

    6 years ago

  • BlueCanvasStudios

    BlueCanvasStudios says:

    This is awesome! Find a gallery that fits you! Thank you for the article!

    6 years ago

  • thegratulatest

    thegratulatest says:

    The time when every artist realizes being an artist isn't just about art!

    6 years ago

  • flyingrhymes

    flyingrhymes says:

    I used to be one of the owners of Oni gallery - amazing to hear that you had such a meaningful experience there ;D

    6 years ago

  • OrganicPanic

    OrganicPanic says:

    Nice to see a gallery doing well in these times. Art will brighten up anyones day.

    6 years ago

  • sagittariusgallery

    sagittariusgallery says:

    Flyingrhymes - seriously? That's awesome! Were you there in 2003?

    6 years ago

  • jeanfrancisbean

    jeanfrancisbean says:

    Very good article!

    6 years ago

  • jamieribisi

    jamieribisi says:

    Wonderful article Aja!! Such great advice! The gallery experience doesn't have to be painful-- start with a small local gallery that offers membership-- they're usually more loose and nervous themselves so it's a nice fit :) The fear of rejection is a stinker, too. Every artist has to realize that it usually isn't personal. Each gallery has it's taste and if you do your research, as Aja pointed out, you should be ok!

    6 years ago

  • EpicBones

    EpicBones says:

    nice! love the name of the gallery!

    6 years ago

  • Legacy925

    Legacy925 says:

    Excellent advice. Thank you so much for sharing. Love your art jewelry - and the fabulous way you photographed them. Love the Fear print by soopajdelux! It is so exciting when you push past the fear and they not only love your stuff and want to sell it, but the owner loves your jewelry so much that she keeps picking out pieces for herself. I feel like Sally Fields at the Oscars... "you like me, you really LIKE me". It's a beautiful thing.

    6 years ago

  • Mattson

    Mattson says:

    It's all so true! Egads! Thanks, Sagittarius, and thanks, Etsy, for addressing these kinds of things...very cool.

    6 years ago

  • grassrootsartworks

    grassrootsartworks says:

    Looove the work of Emil Almazora...! Good info here, thanks for posting!

    6 years ago

  • Lundberg

    Lundberg says:

    very nice... so nice to hear from an artist about their experiences with art galleries. a little more advice... Always ask the gallery owners how they would like to see the work... strangely enough, some prefer slides and if they get a CD it does not make them happy.. and even though there is often free wine... don't drink to much of it at the opening.. you really don't want to make an ass out of yourself :)

    6 years ago

  • LittleGreenSquirrel

    LittleGreenSquirrel says:

    hurray for you! very inspiring!

    6 years ago

  • AKjapan

    AKjapan says:

    Excellent article that really puts those who are thinking about gallery shows 'in the picture'. ;-)

    6 years ago

  • paint1chris

    paint1chris says:

    Aja, thanks for relating your experience and for the great advise.

    6 years ago

  • voleurdebijoux

    voleurdebijoux says:

    Great article and wonderful selections! :)

    6 years ago

  • ElenaMary

    ElenaMary says:

    Good points here but I think the number one thing you must have today is a website with excellent images...Living in L.A. (one of the art centers of the world obviously)..gallerists here do not want to see slides (or you)...they want to see your website and then they will tell you if they want to see your actual work..I have not sent a slide out for years now....Maybe it is different in small communities...I hope it is!

    6 years ago

  • sirvartdermenjian

    sirvartdermenjian says:

    Always interesting to read articles like these, very inspiring!!!

    6 years ago

  • simpson

    simpson says:

    Lots of good stuff here.

    6 years ago

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 says:

    Wonderful article...thank you for sharing your personal experiences! I love the photo of your work hanging with the sculptures at Karin Sanders...there is an amazing relationship created among the pieces. A couple tidbits to add... Volunteer at local art centers - be an assistant teacher, help hang shows, stuff envelops. Sometimes getting to know the staff in person can also help get your foot in the door. Plus, in this economy, many will appreciate the support! Also...I love having "events" at openings or in conjunction with a show. At my last solo show I drew a portrait from a live model - it opened up a lot of dialogue with the patrons, and many more people came to see me draw. An artist talk is also a great addition to a show! (shameless plug to follow) See me drawing at my opening here...

    6 years ago

  • Krystyna81

    Krystyna81 says:

    just clicked thru to Emil's is amazing! thanks for introducing us to that incredible artist!

    6 years ago

  • shellieartist

    shellieartist says:

    thank you Aja for sharing your wealth of knowledge. If I ever do decide to venture into the gallery world I have a few pointers to remember. Also, congrats on all your success..I have always loved your work! Cheers

    6 years ago

  • DeborahVoizin

    DeborahVoizin says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • mmsomewhere

    mmsomewhere says:

    well said

    6 years ago

  • kricketbee

    kricketbee says:

    thanks for sharing. very nice. :)

    6 years ago

  • everythingok

    everythingok says:

    oh THANK YOU. i've been terrified to take my work to any galleries for years, since the time i talked to a particular space in town run by super type-b personalities who never called me back to make arrangements for my exhibition, and then failed to inform me that they were closing down. *facepalm*

    6 years ago

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu says:

    Very inspiring!!! Thanks for sharing.

    6 years ago

  • JaredKS

    JaredKS says:

    Thanks Aja. :)

    6 years ago

  • moonstr

    moonstr says:

    yaaaaay! wonderful article! ♥♥♥

    6 years ago

  • VedaArtsFabrics

    VedaArtsFabrics says:

    i long to be in that scene again. the inspiring gallery scene. ah. i must get to nearest right now to cool my fix.

    6 years ago

  • Callowhills

    Callowhills says:

    cool, small world

    6 years ago


    NICOLAHART says:

    Great article-very inspiring.

    6 years ago

  • 2BellesBeads

    2BellesBeads says:

    Great advice! I'm filing this away for future use. :)

    6 years ago

  • laurenmagpie

    laurenmagpie says:

    Great article!

    6 years ago

  • BlueTerracotta

    BlueTerracotta says:

    Great article! It's tough for shy artists!

    6 years ago

  • florigander

    florigander says:

    I was hoping to see the woman behind the paintings!!!

    6 years ago

  • zombuki

    zombuki says:

    Funny and charming :3 thanks for the article!

    6 years ago

  • jodieflowers

    jodieflowers says:

    great work! I show in galleries quite often too. It is where I am "in my element"! Love it! Not shy here! My shop doesn't represent what I exhibit in art shows though. I work in multiple mediums! My new ceramic pieces have been in a few shows. Great article!

    6 years ago

  • jodieflowers

    jodieflowers says:

    oh and I would like to paint myself up blue and purple and wear a cape! LOL!

    6 years ago

  • Snowberrylime

    Snowberrylime says:

    Very well written and interesting article, thank you so much! Definitely some sounds advice in here which people from different art categories can use. :)

    6 years ago

  • Mirthquake

    Mirthquake says:

    Oh so usefull! I don't know how to even begin. This makes it understandable and clear. Thanks!

    6 years ago

  • isewcute

    isewcute says:

    That was fun to read & very informative! Thanks! :o)

    6 years ago

  • sagittariusgallery

    sagittariusgallery says:

    Florigander - here's the husband and I -

    6 years ago

  • NativeElephant

    NativeElephant says:

    Thank you for this article! I am an assistant gallery director and everyday I have artists coming in that are unsure about how to present to a gallery. I hope that every artist that reads this article will take it to heart! Thanks again!

    6 years ago

  • classabags

    classabags says:

    Love the article! I had to stop for awhile and now I have to get over that fear again.

    6 years ago

  • KnightTimeDesign

    KnightTimeDesign says:

    Thanks for this! Very informative!

    6 years ago

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany says:

    Very helpful. Thank you.

    6 years ago

  • lostintheforest

    lostintheforest says:

    Excellent article!

    6 years ago

  • KalliopeJewelry

    KalliopeJewelry says:

    Super advice, thank you for the article Aja! (Are you named for the Steely Dan song? just curious!) Love, love, love your work! Best of luck for continued success!

    6 years ago

  • loveliette

    loveliette says:

    thank you so much for taking the time to write this - it's very helpful!

    6 years ago

  • thecyclingartist

    thecyclingartist says:

    Wow, such an amazing article! Congrats on it, and thanks for sharing so much. Spot on, the only tip I'd add is to remember that you're pitching for a relationship: two-way. So show interest in their questions and point of view too. :)

    6 years ago

  • QuercusSilver

    QuercusSilver says:

    Fascinating. I love the cycling artist's work especially.

    6 years ago

  • sagittariusgallery

    sagittariusgallery says:

    KalliopeJewelry says: Super advice, thank you for the article Aja! (Are you named for the Steely Dan song? just curious! *** Yup!

    6 years ago

  • StudioBee

    StudioBee says:

    Congratulations! An inspiring article and well written.

    6 years ago

  • eggmanstudios

    eggmanstudios says:

    Such a great article! I have my first solo show quickly coming up and so this couldn't be more perfectly timed. :)

    6 years ago

  • vantiani

    vantiani says:

    This is really, really good. Thank you so much for sharing this. Vantiani.

    6 years ago

  • mattsart

    mattsart says:

    Awesome job, Aja! Hats off to you!

    6 years ago

  • TheSingingBird

    TheSingingBird says:

    Great advice! I'm bookmarking this and sending it to my husband as a reference for his art students as well. Thank you.

    6 years ago

  • JuliaArt

    JuliaArt says:

    Great article, amazing pieces :)

    6 years ago

  • kathleenkrucoff

    kathleenkrucoff says:

    Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing. The information is very helpful!

    6 years ago

  • CourtneySimmsArt

    CourtneySimmsArt says:

    Good information. Thanks for sharing your own experience.

    6 years ago

  • ZenGarden

    ZenGarden says:

    Thank you for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • spamberly

    spamberly says:


    6 years ago

  • aliherrmann

    aliherrmann says:

    what a great article! there are tons of great do's/don'ts to be learned....a few I have already learned myself!

    6 years ago

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice says:

    excellent advice, thanks for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • filigreelamps

    filigreelamps says:

    GREAT ARTICLE! I like the way you broke it down... I've spoke w/ a couple of local galleries but have hesitated in pushing open that door due to the 'unknowns' and looking like a fool, lol but reading your article eases my anxiety! Now maybe I will focus more on getting organized and just go for it..!!?

    6 years ago

  • heronkate

    heronkate says:

    Great article ! And so nice that Etsy is doing more to promote us painters !!!

    6 years ago

  • Blubeary

    Blubeary says:

    This article is unbelievably helpful!!! And I love the work

    6 years ago

  • rawvolta

    rawvolta says:

    love her work, extremely amusing!

    6 years ago

  • beechbridgestudio

    beechbridgestudio says:

    Bravo! You are to be commended. Getting over the fear of stepping off the cliff is the hardest thing. I am still hanging on for dear life. Thanks

    6 years ago

  • gnormyle

    gnormyle says:

    What a fantastic article. I thouroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you! Glenna from Glenna's Garden

    6 years ago

  • BeckyJoyArtist

    BeckyJoyArtist says:

    Helpful and well said.

    6 years ago

  • DragonflyDreamings

    DragonflyDreamings says:

    very inspiring and practical too....

    4 years ago

  • TidbitsOfColor

    TidbitsOfColor says:

    I'm wanting to find a gallery now.

    4 years ago

  • ninaneu1

    Nina Neu from NinaneusArtStudio says:

    Very interesting, thanks!

    3 years ago

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    1 year ago

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    273 days ago