If You Hang It, They Will Come

Gallery-ventana.jpgWe talk a lot in this community about the importance of educating the buying public about the pastel medium, correcting for one, the mistaken idea that pastel is the same thing as playground chalk. But what we may not always realize is that, along with the buying public, many gallery owners may also be in need of some education. And, the fact is, if they won’t hang it, it’s harder to familiarize the public with the medium. There are many galleries, such as Ventana Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., who proudly represent pastel artists (Albert Handell and Doug Dawson, in the case of Ventana), which has done a lot to expand certain art markets, but there is work to be done.

I recently received a plea from a reader of The Pastel Journal, Lisa, who just had a run-in with a skeptical gallery owner. I asked her if I could post her letter here, and open up the discussion to our Pastel Journal community for comment.

Dear Pastel Journal,
I have a marketing question. Recently, our local museum and art organization put together a presentation on how to get into galleries. I emailed some images to one of the presenters, a gallery owner, per his request, after I called him to ask questions (Don’t ever send images to a gallery unless they ask you to!). Long story short, he said that my technique was good, but that works on paper do not sell, and that it is hard to sell pastels in Indianapolis, Ind.  He explained that people see them as fragile, less valuable, and as something that they can do themselves. He also said that people continually confuse pastels with chalk. I was very disappointed to hear this.

I also know of a pastelist who gave up and switched to oils because he got tired of educating the public.

I asked an artist friend for her thoughts. She suggested that I quit using the term “pastels” in any of my marketing materials, but refer to them instead as mixed media pieces. But I am stubborn! I love pastels and I want people to know that I use them. I want people to realize what can be done with pastel. I do art fairs. I post little “Did You Know?” signs with facts about pastels. People actually take the time to read them and sometimes comment that they “learned something today.”  But how do I “sell” pastels to galleries?

I would like to know how other pastelists deal with these issues.  Am I just in the wrong state?  The same gallery owner that I mentioned at the beginning told a wood turner and carver who was at the same presentation, that he needed to go to N.C., N.M. and Ariz.


If you’ve been at a similar point in your career, and have some advice for Lisa,
please share! We’d all love to hear how other artists have had success
opening doors or spreading pastel enlightenment. (To post a comment,
simply click on “comments” tab below, type your response into the
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10 thoughts on “If You Hang It, They Will Come

  1. Casey Klahn

    Others will come along that do accept your art and pastel.

    I had the experience of being invited into the upscale downtown gallery which featured traditional oils and bronze sculpture. I was recommended to the gallerist by patrons, and the endeavor was very happy! I was, most of the time, the only non-oil painter there.

    Thanks, too, Lisa for the "did you know" idea. That is a great opportunity to let one’s display communicate something about our medium.

  2. Astrid Volquardsen

    I’m a pastel painter from Germany and the situation over here is not easy, too. Pastels are hardly known or used at all and very many galleries sell abstract paintings in oil or acryl. But I learned that beside educating and informing the galleries/puplic about pastels, a lot depends on the attitude of the gallery owner. No matter what kind of technique you use or if you paint in the "current fashion style "- if he likes your work, he will sell it. If he had objections from the beginning, he won’t. It’s important to find a gallery which is drawn to your artwork. It might take some time, but when you find them, the working relationship is so much fun and it will pay out.

  3. Catherine McCormick

    I sympathize with your situation but encourage you to try other venues in Indiana. My pastel paintings are displayed alongside works in various media in galleries in South Bend and the surrounding area. Our Northern Indiana Pastel Society, based in South Bend, is just two years old, and already has 85 members. All those artists would not be working in pastel if they were unable to show and sell their work.

    I strongly agree with Urania and the other writers that educating the public is part of our mission. Along those lines, we titled our membership show, June 7 to Sept. 7 at the South Bend Museum of Art, "Pastel, Not Chalk."

    Good luck and don’t give up on Indiana.

    Catherine McCormick
    President/Founder, Northern Indiana Pastel Society

  4. Linda Richichi

    When approaching a gallery I take oils and pastels (under museum anti reflective conservation glass). My pastels are almost always preferred when seen in comparison to my oils. Also, I listened to what they said, "works on paper are harder to sell". So, I started also working on hard board, the new Richeson (Unison) boards are excellent. First of all, the glass keeps glare to a minumum so initially the glass is not seen which enables the gallery owner to appreciate the art better and not prejudge! Then I make sure to say as soon as pastel is mentioned, it is on hard board. This is stronger than canvas which can be punctured. The glass and the hardboard acts like a barrier protecting the painting. Once works start moving, I find the issue goes away about on paper or not. The anti reflective glass though, is a must despite the cost which is passed on. Off to paint now. Good luck.

    Linda Richichi IPAP, NYPAP

    Founder, World Tour of Contemporary Landscape Artists
    Juried Member of Pastel Society of America
    Charter member of Landscape Artists International

  5. Urania Christy Tarbet

    In response to Lisa’s statements about the gallery owner that refused to hang pastels…’Hang in there Lisa…there is hope…always hope!’ I’ve found in life, perseverance is one of the most important aspects of life. I do believe every artist must become a master at perseverance.

    I personally feel it is only out of ignorance that any gallery refuses to hang pastels. Therefore it falls on each individual artist to educate and enlighten those who are not familiar with the process of painting and framing pastels. We who paint with the luminous medium of pastel know it’s beauty and understand it’s qualities, therefore it should be second nature for us to speak easily of the joys of pastel.

    The Pastel Society of America (PSA), The International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS), and numerous pastel societies in the U.S. have been helping artists define pastel properly in order to get the correct word out about pastel. We have to get this information out to all galleries, collectors and the general public.

    I have been fortunate in my long art career to have been associated with galleries that loved and exhibited my pastels along side of other mediums. I took it upon myself at the beginning, to have a list of questions and answers about pastel which I gave to each gallery. I suggested it could be a ‘tool’ to help sell my paintings….it worked, for I have sold hundreds of pastels throughout California.

    The biggest drawback that a gallery could speak of is the fact that pastels have to be framed with glass and it creates a glare. I solved that quickly by using ClearVue glass on my major works, however I still use regular glass for small paintings. By using specialty glass, it can be said of most brands, they help keep ultra violet rays away from the pastel and helps to avoid fading.

    Keep the faith! Keep painting and enjoy every moment of the pastel journey.

    Urania Christy Tarbet PSA
    President/Founder IAPS

  6. Carole Katchen

    Don’t limit yourself geographically. There are many galleries in the world. For each one that will not show works on paper, there are many more that will. I have found that several of my galleries and my collectors prefer my pastel paintings to my oils.

    If you want to be a successful professional artist, you must be tireless in your quest of dealers who appreciate you and your work. I have found that it’s a waste of energy to try to "educate" an art dealer. If they don’t like your work, just find someone else who does.

  7. Anita McKenna-Murphy


    I have found that I have had a great deal of success in the home furnishings market. Beautiful boutiques are more open to handmade items of any kind and less fussy about what they will accept as "art". These stores also reach the same customers as those of galleries and have put me in touch with interior designers as well. The designers may then plan a space around one or two of my works. I have also scheduled "meet the artist" days and enjoy doing demos. Showing how pastel creates such vibrant works makes for a very loyal group of patrons.

    Good luck and think outside traditional venues.


  8. Deborah Secor

    I guess the first thing I’d say to Lisa is that it’s just as well you not continue to try toto get into this gallery. After all, a good gallery director knows the market–and with his mindset this man won’t sell pastels, that’s for sure. I ran into the same prejudice when I began trying to market my pastel paintings some 25 years ago, and like you I showed at fairs and educated the public. A lot of compatriots did the same, and we soon formed The Pastel Society of New Mexico, at least in part to help combat the attitude represented here. Keep going–perhaps Indianapolis is ripe to learn about the legitimacy of pastels as a medium! Sooner or later you will find a gallery willing to represent fine work in the medium,and over time the buyers who have purchased work at fairs and shows will spread the word, too. It’s happened here in New Mexico, though we’ve had a bit of an uphill battle here, too.

    I’ve found that having a small flyer explaining the longevity of pastels, quoted directly from the PSA website, has helped to educate both gallery directors and the buying public. If you design such a flyer, mention that the pigments used are no different from those us to make oil paints, acrylics, or any other art medium, the only difference is the binder used. I, too, cite Rosalba Carriera, among others… (a woman artist working in pastels!)

    The fact is that there are a lot of fine artists showing and selling pastels, so don’t let this experience deter you.

  9. Michael Chesley Johnson

    Once upon a time, there was only one gallery in Santa Fe that showed pastels, and that was the excellent Ventana Fine Art gallery mentioned earlier. Not too long after that, when I made what has become an annual pass through town, I noted at least a dozen other galleries had hung pastels on their walls! It all had to do with education. The fine work done by The Pastel Journal, the Pastel Society of America, and countless dedicated pastel artists helped change the market.

    Unfortunately, it’s still a battle, especially in other parts of the US. Some gallery owners just don’t get it. Whenever I run into a gallery that seems to think pastel is a problem child, I tell them about the wonderful pastels of Rosalba Carriera and others from centuries ago, and how they are just as vivid and intact as they were when they were painted. Some will get it, some won’t. Keep at it, and you’ll succeed.