Best practices in getting your original work into shops and galleries

Midcoast artists and makers: Is consignment right for you?

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 9:45am

One of the biggest challenges for contemporary artists, craftspeople, and makers living in Maine is finding the right brick and mortar store to carry their original artwork and products.

One solution to getting more exposure and sales is to sell the work on consignment with shops and galleries. Consignment is an agreement between the artist and the shop to sell the artist’s work for a percentage of the commission. Archipelago, both a gallery and the retail side of the Island Institute in Rockland, represents nearly 250 artists from 20 different islands and the coast of Maine. For the last two years, Archipelago has hosted an Artists and Makers Conference that touched on the topic of consignment as a viable option.

Lisa Mossel Vietze, both Archipelago’s Director and conference organizer, has been a big champion of the area’s artists and makers for nearly a decade. She had advice for those interested in exploring consignment as an option. “We have a different take on consignment than perhaps other stores do,” she said. “Of course, we want sales like any other retail store, but we really like to mentor artists and help them grow. If I see something unique or has potential, I’m much more willing to take the risk and give it a try, than perhaps other stores. And I find that consignment is a good place to take some risks.”

How To Connect

“I find artists many different ways, whether approaching them at fairs and gift shows or on Etsy, or sometimes directly when an artist emails me to inquire whether the work would be a good fit,” said Mossel Vietze. In terms of the latter, Mossel Vietze said every shop or gallery has its own preferences, but most people prefer an email. From the 2017 Artists and Makers Conference, panelist Nire Cook from Maine Crafts Association, also had advice. “You would not believe how many people come in and are impolite,” said Cook, who offered best practices in building a good business relationship with stores and galleries. “Make an appointment —don’t just drop by—to speak with the owner, particularly in the summertime, when everyone is monumentally busy; or better, email the owner first with a line sheet of your work and tell a short and sweet story about yourself to go with the work.”

The Percentage Split

That percentage split varies between galleries and shops with the most common range being between 35-40% commission for the store and 60-65% of the sale to the artist. Some galleries and shops require a 50%-50% split. In any case, it can be a challenge for an artist to know what to set the price for and be prepared to cover the cost of materials, labor and talent. “I would say the typical split with a store you don’t previously have a relationship with is between 40% and 60% with some outliers,” said Mossel Vietze. “For example, if you’re working for a co-op, they may take less.” Artists need to also take into consideration the amount of retail space the shop is dedicating to the product as well as the advertising the shop is doing on behalf of the artist.

The Agreement

Some shops prefer a verbal agreement between the artist and shop owner, whereas most prefer a more formal document outlining the consignment percentage, dates of payment and other contractual details. An artist has to decide the level of comfort with this kind of arrangement; for some, simply meeting the shop or gallery owner face to face and a handshake suffices. For others, a contract is more comfortable. Most shops/galleries will have their own agreement, but it’s always best to take a look at the foundations of a consignment contract to know what questions to ask or clarify.

Points to consider:

  • What is the store or gallery’s consignment percentage split?
  • What is the payment schedule?
  • Does the shop/gallery require an exclusive right to sell the artist’s work in a certain geographic area? (For ex: If your product is sold at one shop on Rockland’s Main Street, does that mean you can’t approach another gallery on Maine Street?) To this, said Mossel Vietze, replied, “If it’s a small item, such as Bixby Bars, there is more flexibility of more than one shop carrying this item; but on the other end of the spectrum, if I’m representing an artist whose work takes up half the gallery and we’re doing a reception, advertising and marketing, we prefer to be the only store representing that artist in Rockland.”
  • Do both of you have a list of inventory so you know what exactly (and how many) are for sale?
  • When the shop has a sale, does that include a discount on the consigned item or not? And whose end does it come off?
  • What happens if a customer breaks the artwork in the shop? Or it is stolen?
  • If a high-priced artwork sells to a customer, does the artist have a right to know who it is? Does the gallery have a right to require the artist refrain from trying to sell additional works to the customer directly? “This is usually on a case-by-case basis,” said Mossel Vietze, “but, we have a separate agreement for fine art pieces, so if an artist is approached by a customer directly in a certain time frame, we agree to split the sale.”

For artists and makers, consignment may be the springboard to getting a product or art piece widely known. “As an artist, it is in your best interest, especially when consigning your products for the first time to educate yourself on the store and to know what to expect in the agreement before going in,” said Mossel Vietze.

Related: Takeaways from Artists and Makers Conference

Kay Stephens can be reached at