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How I got gallery representation: Tips and a gallery pitch email template you can use

I’ve started taking anonymously asked questions via NGL and posting responses on my Instagram highlights. Here’s a question I received that merited a longer response á la blog post. The question reads:


“Hey Sophia! Saw your work at the [Affordable] Art Fair and absolutely love them! I also do digital art and [am] just starting out. Do you have any advice or tips in terms of getting galleries to represent you or have your work exhibited? Also, what do you do if you get stuck sometimes with your art?”


I’ll be answering the former question below, but you can read my response to the latter question as well here.


Do you have any advice or tips in terms of getting galleries to represent you or have your work exhibited?


I’m going to give you a rundown first of my gallery experiences so you can see where I’m coming from:


June 2021

I had been posting Hong Kongers on Instagram since March, but I had not printed any yet, because I wanted to have a more concrete plan of what I was going to do with the collection. the wild lot in Sheung Wan asked me in late May if I had any relevant Hong Kongers to display at their pride event in June. I created Courtship based on their request. They had it up in their space throughout Pride Month. It was available for HKD 8,000 but had no takers.


August 2021

I had been holding off on properly selling prints of my artwork, because I wanted to plan a proper launch. I decided that at the end of August, I would rent out a trendy venue and host my own independent exhibition. The rates I got for renting a space were out of my budget. I worried no one would come. I put the idea to bed and instead just advertised my prints on my website. HKD 8,000 for a 56x84cm 1/1 Collector’s Print. Within an hour of me sending an announcement email out, someone replied saying there was a mistake on the website. It said HKD 8,000. Surely I meant 800...or 80??


September 2021

I got a cold email through my janky Squarespace site from the intern at the Karen Leung Foundation to participate in an exhibition to raise money for gynaecological cancers. She had seen my stuff on Instagram. I would get 50% of the USD 1,000 retail price, and the Foundation would get the other half. I put forward two Collector's Prints. Neither sold, but the exhibition did travel across Hong Kong to Soho House, Eaton Hong Kong, and twentycinco, so I was able to say later on that I had been exhibited at three places, when really it was just one show where I made zero dollars.


October 2021

Back in the summer when I was figuring out how to host a solo exhibition, I applied to be one of the exhibitors at Art Next Expo when I saw an Instagram ad for applications. Art Next Expo is an art fair hosted by a|n Gallery for new artists who don’t yet have gallery representation. I had to submit an artist’s bio, artist’s statement, a rundown of my education and job history, art awards (I had none), exhibition experience, and pictures of my work. I was surprised to be accepted with no training or experience. What gave me pause was the HKD 9,000 entrance fee. It was a lot of money to invest in something I wasn’t sure I would sell my work at. The Expo would also take a 20% cut of any sales I made at the event. I used my savings to pay the fee and exhibited eight Hong Kongers for HKD 15,600 each. I only sold two over the whole weekend. That being said, my room was busy throughout the Expo, and I connected with gallerists who I would later partner with. I also connected with journalists at the Expo and gave interviews, which helped build my profile.


November 2021

I was approached by a gallery I had met at Art Next Expo to sign with them for the upcoming Affordable Art Fair in May in Hong Kong. It had not seemed realistic for me to even try to get into the Affordable Art Fair, because I was still so new to everything, so I was thrilled. However, the gallery asked for HKD 10,000 to participate and 50% of all my sold pieces. I had gotten good exposure from Art Next Expo, but very little of that was translating into cash. I also had just invested HKD 39,500 into printing 500 copies of a new book I wasn’t sure anyone would buy: The Hong Konger Anthology. I had spent so much at this point and didn’t feel like I would be seeing a return on investment any time soon. I declined the offer to join that gallery at the Affordable Art Fair.


December 2021

I teamed up with Oi Ling Antiques to exhibit six Hong Kongers at their Fearless Love exhibition. This connection was made entirely off the back of Art Next Expo, so the HKD 9,000 Expo fee was starting to feel like it had paid off. I sold four Hong Kongers for HKD 30,000 each during this show which ran from December until February. Oi Ling Antiques took a 50% cut.


January 2021

I got a call from Shivang and Xander at Young Soy Gallery asking if I wanted to sign with them for the Affordable Art Fair. By coincidence, Shivang, Xander, and I knew each other from before they started Young Soy and before I became an artist. It was really just luck at this point that they was interested in signing new artists. I had already put the Affordable Art Fair dream to bed, but Young Soy’s deal was easier on my savings: no fee, just a 50/50 split on sold art. I signed with Young Soy.


The fifth wave of Covid-19 bumped the Affordable Art Fair from May to August, which ended up presenting another opportunity to me. Shivang called me asking if I’d be interested in doing one of the Fair’s mural walls and hosting a workshop. It was a yes and yes from me. I pitched two mural ideas. The first was The Hong Konger Wall; the second was the premise for the book I have coming out later this year. AAF picked the concept for The Hong Konger Wall. If you didn’t see it at the Fair, I drew 216 portraits of real Hong Kongers doing the finger heart hand gesture, reminiscent of Eustace Tilley from the New Yorker magazine.


Gallery pitch email template


What this timeline does not account for are the cold emails I sent in the wake of Art Next Expo to gallerists pitching myself and The Hong Konger. These are cringey for me to relive, but they may be helpful for you to use as a template.


Dear [So-and-so] —


My name is Sophia Hotung. I’m a Eurasian artist from Hong Kong best known for The Hong Konger art collection, and I’m currently pitching my work to local galleries interested in breaking into digital art without compromising on aesthetic or quality.


About The Hong Konger art collection

I began The Hong Konger in March. I subvert New Yorker magazine covers to reflect Hong Kong’s cultural, social, and political quirks. So far, my prints have been exhibited at Soho House, Eaton Hong Kong, and most recently Art Next Expo, where I won an Art Next Expo International Artist Excellence Award. I make Hong Kongers as and when I feel inspired, so the collection continues to grow and present opportunities for new exhibitions and projects that I'd love for [gallery name] to be part of.


About myself

I’m a 27-year-old Hong Kong native with a background in journalism and tech. I graduated in 2018 from Barnard College, Columbia University in New York with a degree in English and minors in Economics and History, and worked in corporate firms until 2020, when my autoimmune diseases relapsed, leaving me bedridden. I took up digital art as a form of art therapy and have been fortunate enough to grow a following with The Hong Konger. My corporate background coupled with my current artistic set-up make me a business-savvy creator, comfortable and capable of making The Hong Konger a strong contender for your gallery in the Hong Kong art market.


I’m attaching a deck of some of my favourite pieces that I think align with [name of gallery]’s aesthetic and mission. I’m available to hop on the phone any time on Wednesday or Thursday, or feel free to zip me a WhatsApp at +852 _______. [Hyperlink this number to WhatsApp: https://wa.me/[your number].]


Whether or not you’re signing new artists at the moment, it would be great to keep in touch should a potential collaboration come about in the future.


Congratulations on [whatever show, new signing, or event they just had or are currently having]. I stopped by on [whenever you did] and loved the [name-drop a piece that stuck with you.] Have a great [rest of the week/weekend/week — whatever day it is, you’ll think of something].


Best,

[Your name]


[Phone number, email, website, 1-2 social links. Hyperlink everything, even your phone number to WhatsApp]


Full disclosure: I got absolutely 0/12 responses with this. Zilch. But I think it’s still a good email, because it follows these six instructions:

  1. Cut to the chase. The intro doesn’t ramble with a “how are you?”. The niceties are saved for the final congratulations paragraph.

  2. Bold headings for easy readability. This organises your message. Your reader’s eye will gravitate towards relevant sections, rather than skim all the way to the signature without absorbing anything. Headings are useful signposts that show you’re organised and don’t waste time.

  3. Use the “About myself” section to answer: “What’s in it for the gallery?” That section is not for you to say you're great. It's for you to prove you're useful. You’ll note that my (alleged) USPs (unique selling points) were: a.) I make digital art, which is new and sexy, but my kind of digital art doesn’t look like a derivative NFT ape, and b.) I have corporate experience so will be an asset when it comes to sales. What are your USPs? What are you bringing to the table that's not only interesting, but also profitable?

  4. Know the gallery • That congratulations paragraph is important, because it shows you've done your research. Honestly, I was using a cane and wheelchair a lot during this time so sometimes I’d just go on Instagram instead of visit galleries in-person. Don’t lie if you didn’t go. Just do online research at least to show you a.) looked at the gallery, b.) understand their aesthetic, and c.) see a place for you that fits that aesthetic.

  5. Create a beautiful deck • Your art needs to sell itself. Go on Powerpoint or Canva, make a pretty deck that shows your artwork, when it was made, the artistic medium, and a description of the work. Send this deck as a PDF attachment, not a Word doc, not a link: a PDF attachment. No one has time to fuss with a wetransfer download or open a new tab for a stranger who slid into their DMs.

  6. Be “one-click” reachable • After your signature, list your phone number, email, website, and no more than two social media links. I’d go with Instagram and LinkedIn, but that’s because I am most active on Instagram, and LinkedIn shows off the corporate background I was just bragging about. Do not bombard the post-script with a million links. You just want to make it “one-click” easy to reach you.


In the end, a lot of my success has been fluke, luck, and coincidence. Total fluke that the Karen Leung Foundation’s exhibition spanned three places and let it look like I exhibited at three different shows. Total luck that I had savings from my corporate jobs to shell out HKD 9,000 for Art Next Expo. Total coincidence I knew the Young Soy guys from before we were in the art business. So I get it, these insights may not apply to your situation. I am advising from a place of privilege, and my advice may be irrelevant, so please take this with a grain of salt.


What I’m offering you is a candid breakdown of my experience, plus a free template to customise and use to solicit galleries. I hope something works. I hope something is helpful, but I also hope that you don’t see “signing with a gallery” as the ultimate goal.


In my response to the second part of the question that prompted this blog post, I talk about the frustrating phenomenon of things happening to you only when you stop wanting them to. With me, I had given up on galleries and the Affordable Art Fair and cold emails, then, months later, Young Soy reached out to me. Do not get so focused on finding a gallery that you forget the work. One of the reasons I believe I've done well so far is because I prioritise churning stuff out over networking. So, keep making stuff. Keep throwing shit at the wall. Something will stick.


Click here to read my response to the latter question, “What do you do when you feel stuck with your art?” or email me at sophia@sophiahotung.com with your own questions.

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