How do I become a Gallery Artist?

After reading about Erik Jones’s life and work through The Iris On, you may be inspired to pursue art, perhaps even dreaming of becoming a gallery artist. However, becoming a gallery artist requires years of hard work and intense skill development. Erik Jones of The Iris On, for example, pursued art throughout his youth, went to art school, and worked as a comic book cover artist before he ever set foot in a gallery. However, if you think you’re up to the task, these stories and tips from the pros will help you on your way.

Erik Jones’s Path to Success
According to an interview with Supersonic, Jones first knew that he wanted to become an artist at the young age of six when he sketched a picture of Chester Cheeto after looking at a Cheetos bag. After casually pursuing art throughout his youth, Jones decided to attend the Ringling College of Art and Design at the age of twenty-one. Then, after graduating in 2007, Jones began his career as a cover artist in the comic book industry. However, despite his success as a cover artist, Jones wanted to become a gallery artist, so after moving to Brooklyn in 2009, he more thoroughly pursued his own work through The Iris On. However, despite Jones’s persistence, he did not have his first solo gallery show until 2012. Erik Jones’s long path to success demonstrates how much time and effort is required for artists to reach the level of showing in a gallery.

Do I Go to Art School?
Many aspiring artists choose to attend art school in order to advance their craft and career, but others choose to forego it due to potential debt and poor job prospects post-graduation. Jones also addresses this issue in his interview with Supersonic, stating:

“Submerging yourself in non-stop art morning to night, is the best thing you can do for artistic growth. It was great surrounding yourself with like minded people, learning from one another and having the benefit of being taught by working professionals… My beef with art school, in general, is the debt so many of us get in afterwards. My student loans are astronomical, along with most of my friends…I’m not advocating the demise of art school, I’m saying students should know the reality of the job market and the debt that follows art school.”

Other art professionals tend to agree with Jones. Giuseppe Castellano, an art director and illustrator, argues similarly that the experience you gain and networks you establish during art school make the experience worthwhile. Castellano adds that earning a college degree can be a gateway to many full-time jobs, such as a position at a design firm or a day job at an office to pay your bills. According to Kent Trammel, a computer graphics designer, an impressive body of work will certainly overshadow a degree, but art school also enables personal development and can be much easier than trying to learn through internet tutorials.

All in all, many professionals agree that art school can be a very worthwhile investment for aspiring artists, but they should enter the process fully aware of its costs and the job market following graduation. To ensure the cost-benefit ratio of art school tilts in your favor, you should:

• Attend a lesser-known art school or a state college with a solid design program, and save any major investments for grad school.
• Fully utilize the opportunities you have in art school. Ask professors about navigating the real world; engage in alumni networks; and take classes on “the boring stuff” like contracts and portfolio submissions.
• Outline your goals, and be realistic. Although you may dream of becoming a highly paid gallery artist, you also need to pay the bills. There are plenty of ways to engage with the art world and continue honing your craft while still paying the bills.
• Be fully committed. Art schools costs a lot of time and money, so don’t go for it unless you’re 100% committed.

Other Tips from the Pros
As you continue to hone your skills through formal or informal education, you will then need to start showing your work. Most artists begin with small student shows and local venues. If you’re a student at an art school or in a design program, you’ll have access to shows within your school, and depending on your town, you may also have nearby galleries with art calls specifically for student art. If you’re not a student, look for local calls for art from galleries, which are often posted on social media and webpages. You can also find out about open calls by simply networking with local gallery employees. Overall, answering these open calls can help you get to involved with your local art community – especially if you follow up.

Once you have the opportunity to show, you should clearly understand what the gallery’s curators and owners expect, and then you must do your best to meet those expectations. Keeping in line with a gallery’s expectations and limitations is a great way to create a positive relationship and be invited back for future shows. You also should take care to fully understand the business side of displaying and selling your work at a gallery; you will need to pay some kind of commission or fee to the gallery, and you should price your pieces appropriately based on your audience.

As you begin your gallery career, here are some tips from professionals to keep in mind:
• Show at as many places as possible. As you show more often, more people will remember your work, and you’ll forge stronger relationships with members of your local art community.
• Be persistent. If you don’t get a response from a gallery on your first submission, try again in a couple of months.
• Abide by owners’ and curators’ rules. Not only will this help you form a good relationship with a local gallery, but it helps you sell art. Trying to sell cat paintings at a dog-themed gallery show may be “edgy,” but people are coming to look at and buy dog-themed art, not your cats.

With these tips, a pinch of talent, and loads of hard work, you’ll be well on your way to success!