My posting about what makes a good gallery has elicited a good response. In particular a very interesting post from Gail Brodholt a printmaker based in London. I'd like to add my thoughts and experience to her's. In a nutshell Gail's top priority for a good gallery is one that pays promptly. Her recent experience, and I know she is not alone, is that despite a long period of sales she was not paid for the work sold when the gallery contacted her requesting replacements. Quite rightly, she asked to be paid first before she supplied any more prints.
So far, I have been quite fortunate. The galleries where my work is on show have all been prompt payers. It really highlights the importance of the contract between artist and gallery. A good gallery should have a clear written contract that both parties are required to sign. In it the gallery should state clearly their rate of commission, whether sales are subject to VAT and therefore forms part of their commission, and when one can expect to be paid, usually within 30 days of the sale.
So how do you know when the gallery has sold a print? Well that's the tricky one and it is really up to you the artist to develop a good relationship with the gallery or galleries who stock your work. In an ideal world, without being a complete pain you should make regular contact with the gallery, (once a month), ask them if there have been any interest in your work and subsequent sales. Whether or not you have sold anything it is probably a good idea to get some feedback anyway. If the work isn't selling you might want to ask the gallery for their thoughts. Use it as an opportunity to offer them alternative work to keep it fresh, etc. And of course if your work has sold then you know you can expect a cheque in the post or a BACS transfer into your account.
If you don't get paid subsequently then you have the written contract to fall back on. A gentle reminder to start with ... "you sold X last month but I still haven't received payment, have you put it in the post?"
One final thought on lack of prompt payment. Gail's story reminded me of an artist friend of mine whose work went into a relatively new gallery (at the time) in the North of Northumberland. She recommended the gallery to me, said the work was well hung, there was a cafe attached to it and it attracted a lot of well heeled tourists. Her paintings were selling well and initially she was paid regularly and promptly. After a few months although she knew she was continuing to sell well, the cheques stopped coming and the sales amounted to a significant amount of money. She called, she emailed, nothing! My friend began to worry that perhaps the gallery was not doing as well as it seemed to be and that the reason she wasn't getting paid was the gallery hit cash flow problems. And of course my friend was voicing her displeasure and fears to her other artist friends, some of whom also had work there and some who had been considering approaching the gallery.
The end result was that my friend had to drive up to the gallery with the intention of removing her work in case it went into receivership before she could get it back. When she got there she got her money along with her work but the net result for the gallery is, several other artists got cold feet and took their work out. Those of us who didn't have work there are now wary of placing any work with them even though it remains in business. The gallery's reputation has been damaged by their slack attitude to paying their artists on time and will take time to recover.