Before I quit my day job to make a living as a full-time artist, I was the curator of a corporate art collection. Many of the issues I dealt with were the same as those of freelance art consultants. So, while I'm learning new things all the time, I feel like I understand where they're coming from more than I would if I hadn't had a job buying art with other people's money.
The main thing I remind myself about art consultants is that we're on the same side.They're small business owners trying to find art for their clients' collections; I'm a small business owner trying to get my work in their client's collections. Good consultants have a large collector base and are working full-time on contacting those people, while I'm trying to squeeze it all in with making art also.
It's not that hard to find the good consultants. Just go to the web site of the International Association for Professional Art Advisors member list. They have high professional standards for who can become a member which means you're not going to end up getting someone who is calling themselves an art consultant without having much of a track record or an idea of what they're doing. Another good thing about this list is that it also includes in-house corporate art curators, in addition to the independent, freelance ones.
IMPORTANT: Before you send a portfolio to any of these consultants, make sure you've done some research to determine that your art fits with what they buy. It's a waste of your time and theirs when they get an unsolicited portfolio that has nothing to do with their focus. Doing your research first is also an excellent way to minimize rejection.
First look at their web site to see who their clients are and what sort of work they've placed. If I see an artist whose name I recognize, I call them and ask them how the art consultant was to work with. The web sites are also useful because they'll often give instructions for how to submit your portfolio.
If they don't give instructions (and even if they do) I call or e-mail the office to ask if they're accepting portfolios right now. More and more often what they'll immediately ask is if I have a web site. My web site has paid for itself many, many times over not just in sales but also by giving them an opportunity to preview my work and see if my work might fit. Calling the office is also a good first step on the road to establishing a connection by letting them know that you're personable and professional -- and giving you a first impression about how they are.
As for following-up, if they request it, I send my portfolio in right away so they can see that I'm businesslike and responsive. If I know that my work was going to be presented on a specific date, I'll send a "just checking in" e-mail a few days after that to see how it went. If my work was rejected by the client, I don't make the art consultant feel bad about it. I just thank them for giving me that opportunity and ask if they've got any other projects coming up (because, after all, they liked my work enough to request it in the first place). After that, I make sure that I send them a postcard or e-mail once or twice a year with images of a project I've recently completed. Sometimes the luck of timing makes all of the difference, so I like to improve my odds by making sure I'm easy to find. A lot of art consultants keep a file of artists' postcards as their reference library. One established art consultant recently gave me the suggestion that artists put their portfolio in a file folder with their name on it so it can go straight into her file cabinet.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten about working with art consultants came from a (successful) artist friend who told me: Never send out materials that you have to apologize for -- as in "The color in this printout isn't right", or "I have a web site but it's way out of date", etc. Some books that have helped me a lot with promoting my work are: Guerrilla Marketing and Guerrilla Selling both by Jay Conrad Levinson and Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
Lynn Basa is an artist living in Chicago. In addition to having completed numerous public art commissions, she is a painter. She teaches in the Sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the author of The Artists Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions.