Andy Cooperman is a metalsmith, writer, and teacher who lives in Seattle, WA. His work is featured in galleries nationwide and the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, as well as many private collections. In addition to one of a kind jewelry pieces, Andy also works with clients as a custom jeweler and commission metalsmith. Please visit his website at andycooperman.com or coopermanjewelry.com.
In this series, we have made every effort to be as broad and inclusive as we can within the parameters of the Etsy blog. It is our hope that the information provided is useful to artists of all types and will be applied to each specific situation.
This essay explains how the artist/gallery relationship most often works, along with some questions to ask before you sign a contract with a gallery.
The vast majority of galleries work on a consignment basis with their artists. Consignment means “the gallery borrows work from an artist for display in the gallery, and then pays the artist only when it sells.”* The artist sets a wholesale price on each piece, which is the amount of money the artist must make. The wholesale price includes cost of material, labor, overhead, profit, etc. The gallery then takes this wholesale price and adds their commission. This is the retail price, or what the gallery will sell the item for to the public.
Consignment arrangements at galleries vary, but the most commonly encountered percentage is 50/50 or one half of the retail price. In other words, galleries will double the wholesale price. Some galleries have a different percentage split, often 60/40. The artist still owns the work until it is sold. Knowledge of the commission percentage expected by each gallery can play a role in deciding which galleries to approach in the first place or whether you decide to work with a gallery.
When you, the artist, are establishing a wholesale price for each piece, it is important to remember that the gallery will be doubling the wholesale price. This is the price that their clients and customers will pay. Pricing your work is a balancing act between what the artist needs to earn and what a gallery retail customer will reasonably expect to pay. This is very different than selling on Etsy, where the maker gets to keep all revenue (minus a small percentage paid to Etsy and PayPal).
Establishing Wholesale Accounts:
There are some galleries who will purchase artwork outright from the artist. Some will even agree to purchase a certain amount of work, say 10 pairs of earrings or 5 teacups, if the artist will agree to consign some larger pieces — 4 neck pieces or 3 large teapots, for instance. But selling outright to a gallery is not a bulletproof solution. There are many galleries who expect to have a grace period — a year for instance — during which they can trade work already purchased from an artist for newer or different work. This arrangement usually involves a percentage trade back: two old pieces for one “new” piece, for example.
Many galleries are now offering discounts to “collectors.” In the past, this term applied only to a client or customer who had made a commitment to collecting the work of a particular artist or work in a specific media: in other words, people who spent a lot of money with the gallery. This was a consideration made by the gallery to honor the relationship with the client and to foster future sales. Collector discounting has now become more of a standard practice and, unfortunately, a discount is given to basically anyone who asks. Some galleries even raise the wholesale price of an artist’s work, anticipating a collector discount and thereby raising the retail price of the piece to cover it.
Ask a gallery early in your discussions if the gallery offers discounts. It is important to be sure of just where the discount is coming from. Is the artist expected to share in the discount offered to the gallery’s customer, or is the gallery going to absorb the discount in their commission percentage? Find out how the gallery is planning to handle this situation. Here’s a link to the Professional Guidelines document about Discounts.
Make an informed decision about how you and your gallery will handle discounts.
Some Questions to Ask a Gallery:
- Will the gallery be taking artists to other venues such as SOFA or other art fairs?
- Will they be using your work in advertisements?
- Does the gallery sponsor exhibitions?
- Do they require an exclusive relationship? And if so, what are the parameters? Exclusivity means that the gallery will be the only retail source of your work for a specified geographical area, say for 100 miles.
- How do they feel about sales made on your website or other websites such as Etsy?
- How often are artists paid?
- What is their policy for work that is returned to the gallery by customers? What happens if you have already been paid by the gallery for the work sold and then it is returned?
- Who is responsible for damages to consigned work?
- If the gallery purchased work from the artist do they expect to be able to trade it back for other work (usually at a discount: two pieces for one, for example)?
For more information, read the Professional Guidelines document Guide to a Model Consignment Contract here.
The Professional Development Seminar organized by Andy Cooperman, Harriete Estel Berman and Don Friedlich will be presenting four hours of lectures and discussion designed to offer students, emerging artists and established professionals information vital to establishing and maintaining a career in the arts. To read about the entire program go here.
*Berman, Harriete Estel. Model Consignment Contract, Professional Guidelines. 2002
Stay tuned for one more installment in the Gallery Go-getter series.