“What do you do?” you’ve been asked many times.
“I am an artist” is most likely the response that instantly comes to your lips. You have probably been giving this answer from a very early age. No matter what else you’ve done in your life, being an artist is the core of your identity.
For a few minutes today, I want to encourage you to make a silent addition to your response. You will still answer “I am an artist,” but in your mind you will add, “and I am a salesperson.”
I know the suggestion might be slightly unpleasant. Many artists (maybe you?) feel that artistic integrity and salesmanship are incompatible. I have found, however, that the most successful artists are those who have developed strong sales skills.
Whether you are trying to sell directly, at an art festival or open studio tour, or indirectly by approaching a gallery with your work, sales skills are going to help you reach your goal. That goal is to help people who love your art buy it.
When I first started selling art, I had very little idea of what it took to sell. I think my general attitude was “the art will sell itself.” In the years since I have learned that the art will generate interest, but it is much more likely to sell if I do and say the right things.
While there are many elements to a successful sale, the process itself is simple once you understand your role. Today I would like to discuss just a few key steps that will help you sell more art. These are guidelines I have developed, and continue to develop, through many years of selling art.
1. Build Strong Relationships
Look at each viewer of your work as a person. Your potential buyers have needs, passions, strengths and weaknesses. Your #1 goal is to build a long term relationship. Salesmanship is not about using tricks to fool the buyer into pulling out a credit card. You should instead be working to get to know the buyer and understand his/her desires, interests and needs.
You can get the relationship off on the right foot by doing several simple things. First, be bold when you introduce yourself. Extend your hand and say, “Good afternoon, I am Bill Smith, this is my art.”
Second, ask potential buyers for their names then learn those names! This is not the time for you to say, “But I am terrible with names.” Learning names is a skill, and it is a skill you must work to develop if you want to build strong relationships.
As soon as I hear names I try to repeat them back to the customers: “Nice to meet you Jim and Nancy,” and I then repeat the names over and over in my mind to cement them in my short term memory. I also write the names down as soon as I can.
Third, ask a lot of questions. The best way to get to know someone is to get them talking about themselves. When you are interacting with buyers, your goal should be to have them talking about 75-80% of the time. I find many artists and even gallery staff who think they should be doing most of the talking when they are trying to sell, when actually the opposite is true.
2. Tell a Story
While a great piece of art will attract a buyer, a great story will sell it. I meet many artists who feel they should let the art speak for itself. This ignores an important human interest in narrative. While each buyer is going to bring their own interpretation to a work of art, they are also interested in your inspiration. They want to understand the process for creating the art. What you tell them about the piece will become a part of the narrative they share with friends, family and business associates who see the art in their home or office.
3. Give Your Potential Buyers Space
While it is important to engage potential buyers and tell them a story about the art, it is also critical to give them some space. I find selling art to be a little dance. I will introduce myself and start to get to know the potential buyers, and then I will step back to let them look at the art. When they pause in front of a piece, I come back in to tell them about the work and the artist before stepping back again to let them discuss the art.
This is especially important when working with a couple. You want to allow them to discuss the art without feeling like you are hovering over them.
Giving customers space is easy in a gallery setting, but even in a small booth at a weekend art show or in your studio, find a way to back off enough to give clients some privacy. You might have to step several feet out of the booth, or go to another room of your studio.
Before making a purchase, buyers want to discuss the decision. They want to know for sure that spouses or partners feel the same about the art that they do. Far better for you to give them some space than to have them wait until they leave to have a frank discussion.
4. Ask for the Close
Too many sales are lost simply because the artist or gallery salesperson didn’t come right out and ask for the sale. Asking buyers to commit can seem a little scary at first. You might feel like you are taking a risk by asking. What if they don’t really like the art? What if they say no?
You face a far greater risk if you don’t try to close the sale: someone who loves a piece might not end up buying simply because they weren’t given the opportunity.
Even when a client says no, you are in a better position than you would have been had you not asked – now you can find out why they don’t want to buy and help them overcome any obstacles that might be in the way.
The next time you have someone interested in a piece, try asking, “Can I wrap that up for you?” or “Would you like to put that on a credit card?” You might be surprised when the customer simply says, “Yes!”
Obviously these are only a few of the steps involved in making a sale, and I have only briefly touched on them. My goal here is not to give you a comprehensive guide; rather, I want you to begin actively thinking about salesmanship. Salesmanship is a process, and salesmanship skills can be learned and developed.
I want to hear about your sales experiences. What do you find most challenging about selling? What mistakes have you made in the past when trying to sell your art? What tips can you share that have helped you makes sales in the past?
These are wonderful suggestions. For me, selling is the hardest part. I have to get beyond personal shyness and learn to sell the art and myself. Thank you.
I don’t sell directly to customers but prefer to run sales through various galleries that
represent my work. Just a few months ago, at a local artists’ co-op gallery, one of the
members asked me the location depicted in a new landscape painting. She said she was
“very interested in it.” I answered her and then made the mistake of rattling on about
how I had really struggled with the figure I had invented in the painting, which she listened to. When I was done, she said nothing, and only a little later did I realize she probably would have bought the painting had I said more positive things about it. Big mistake! Thanks for this article.
I’ve found that I enjoy interacting with art clients. The most difficult thing for me is to remember names, and pair them up with faces. I love to talk about my art and the situation that led to a particular painting. I’ve found that keeping in touch with clients via an e-Newsletter is very effective, and has led to a number of follow-on sales. It is a challenge to build your e-Newsletter list in a way that’s not “spammy”, but contains people who will enjoy seeing the images you send each month, but it’s worth the effort. Even when someone purchases art from my websites, I try to engage them via email and find out why the particular piece interests them, and how they found it. This helps me to genuinely connect with them, and appreciate what led them to their choice.
For my larger & more expensive pieces, I offer to let the client take the painting home (or I will deliver it) to make sure it “works” in their setting. This reassures them that they won’t be stuck with something they just don’t feel right with. Once there, of course, you can suggest alternate locations within the home or other ways to make it perfect. Some of my buyers change the orientation of my non-objective abstracts – I am happy to change the wires for them. I have never had anyone reject a piece. once in their home. At an art show last year I made a real mistake – a couple kept coming back to look at one piece but decided the green in it just would clash with their rug. Finally, they left. Another artist told me I should have told them to get pillows that match the color in the painting to carry the color further into the room. A good idea I failed to use!
Questions to clients is a gentle art. Don’t need a broad question: “Would you like for me to take this to your car?” Too many steps – have to buy, have to wrap it up, then carry to the car. Or “How do you like the sculpture?” Puts client on defensive on many levels. Better to ask did you notice the interesting detail there on the left of the sculpture?
The problem I have with selling is that after getting the “no”, how do you navigate around the initial “no” to get to “yes”?
Other problem is after getting waylaid by a talker, who will rarely buy anything; how do you break away graciously to talk to a more interesting customer?
I’ve been selling my own art for over 8 years (through an outdoor show in Santa Fe, NM and previous to that through galleries both regionally and nationally) and have slowly improved my salesmanship but still find it difficult to close a sale, especially with original art in the $1500 – $3500 range. I’m doing the relational part pretty well by now (sometimes in the past I did too much of the talking), and often succeed in creating a good relationship and getting the contact info, but with work at this price, and abstract too, sealing the deal eludes me too often. I don’t offer prints at all, but just added paintings on paper under $200, which I find easier to sell in this economy, to fill that hole. My justification is the collector may buy a larger original later on – am I shooting myself in the foot?
I am not the most outgoing person and talking…much less selling myself is quite challenging! However as someone who works in the artworld I see very clearly the contrast in artists like me versus the outgoing artist who talks themselves up all the time! No Contest. So I am working on being able to present myself and my work in a way that garners me success without loosing my soul…I just want to be able to live off the creations I manifest and have excess…!
Presentation seems to be key.
Great suggestions, can’t wait to use them at my next show! This is always the hardest part for most artists.
I have had people express interest and then tell me they have too many expenses right now to buy the painting. I think I need to have help in getting them to understand the painting price is fair and in one case, I know, as a large painting it is under priced. I think I just listened but needed more ways to encourage and follow up.
Several guests at a dinner party at my house wanted to see the work displayed in the house. As I took them through they were exclaiming how much the colors stood out and how they admired them. I think I should have found a way to individually reach each one about what they could buy. I still might follow up. I hope it’s not a missed opportunity.
It’s never too late to follow up. I am going to have posts in the future on follow-up and I devote an entire chapter in my book How to Sell Art to the subject. Don’t be to hard on yourself though – it’s a learning process and you are moving in the right direction by getting yourself out there.
Buyers sometimes hover at a distance and seem to avoid conversation with the artist. Are there customers who just need to be left alone, or should the artist always try to engage and get them talking?
Valerie, I would always default to trying to engage. There are certainly people who are less interested in talking, but you are better off putting your full efforts into every opportunity. When they are looking at your art they are, in essence, indicating that they are interested and you need to capitalize on that at every opportunity. The worse that can happen is that they will leave, and if you don’t engage them it was unlikely they would buy anyway.
Great subject for all artists! I’ve been working with a sales coach to turn my ‘shy’ self into a good seller. I have often been told I sell my work well; though I am comfortable bringing the buyer up to the sale, I am often challenged by closing it. My wall murals are large and the first thing I offer is ‘free delivery & installation’. This breaks the ‘how do I get it home’ barrier. I also offer to bring several pieces over to make sure they get the right one. If they express price concerns “we’re tight on money now” I acknowledge the expense (I was told to acknowledge & validate their concerns) ‘yes, this is not an inexpensive purchase and takes some thought’; then tell them I offer payment plans. ‘This works nicely for you – to pay in installments and for me, I get some regular checks, so I appreciate it”. If I still haven’t closed the deal and they’re sticking around (through all of this I always give them space), I always get emails and phone numbers (I’m at art shows). If I can’t close on the spot, I encourage them to think about it, go home and measure and I’ll call them this evening or tomorrow morning. I give a time – “say 10am sunday – how does that feel for you?” They may say we prefer noon- and I say, perfect, I’ll call you at noon and we can discuss this further. This way they have the space to consider, measure, look at my website and then have another discussion with me. As they leave, they have the measurements, price, my card and info on my website which may interest them (process & home installations of other clients). Even if I don’t sell the piece that weekend – I have a short follow up plan and working on a longer one (14 pts of contact!) to keep them interested. My consolation – each discussion and each interest is a seed that is planted – I can’t rush the harvest but I can fertilize the germination & encourage the growth. I’m an artist, a salesperson & a gardener!
I work in a co-op art gallery once a month, two artists at one time. The bigest problem for our co-workers/artists is talking to the visitors (customers) to our gallery. For reasons noted in your article, it seems easier for those working to talk to each other rather than interacting with the visitors (customers.) The suggestions that you have stated in your e-mail and this article would help greatly for our worker artists. Look forward to reading more of what you have learned and are willing to pass on to other artists.
Great article. I enjoyed hearing & learning from your perspective and experience.
So here’s the secret to remembering names….Just tell yourself, “I’m very good with names”. It sounds simplistic, but you really do control your mind – it will believe what you tell it!! I learned this years ago when I forgot a name and said, “Sorry, I’m not very good with names.” The third person in the group pointed out that it wasn’t true, I remembered names better than most people and I agreed that was true (I’d been working on that skill for years, so I’d made some progress). Then I started telling myself (and others) that I was good with names, and now I’m really good with names. I know this is just a small part of sales, but an important one – and probably the easiest one.
Thanks Barbara – I think this is great advice, and I think you are right that a little attitude change can go a long way!
I find one of the hardest things for me to do is not pre-judge people by their looks or conversation. I tend to decide when someone walks in the door if they will buy my art or not. —— bad idea! You can never tell. I have sold works to some of the most seemingly unlikely buyers. How many sales did I miss because I didn’t think someone was a buyer?
I am now trying to treat everyone who comes in my studio as if they were potential buyers. Weather they buy or not, you want them to leave with having had a good experience. Who knows who they will tell. Word of mouth advertising is the best and least expensive of all.
As a contemporary basket maker I find people are very intrigue with my art at shows but hesitate to buy. The steps you laid out are very clear. When people stop at my booth at craft show I always make a point of saying hello and asking how they are but do not introduce myself and my art. I have a great difficulty in engaging people and it is something I really need to work on to improve but I can discuss my baskets and basket weaving very easily. Basket weaving is not as easy and simple as many people think and mine are very intricate an colorful. I will tell them about the materials I use, how I get the colors and the finishes and then let them look around since I have a very large variety of styles. If they are intrigued by a particular piece I will usually try to give hand it to them to hold and feel. Closing a sale is very hard for me and you suggestion of asking to wrap it up or put it on their credit card never occurred to me, thank you very much for all the helpful information
Thanks for all the suggestions, Jason, and also to everyone who offered comments and additional suggestions from their own experience. With the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, I began to see not only fewer sales from my efforts (which are numerous and include studio sales, solo and group exhibitions locally, email campaigns, and participation in a large open studio event), but a steady attrition of collectors I had garnered over the previous 12 years. I had always thought I was doing a pretty good job on the face-to-face selling end, but the last three years – almost four now – have made it clear that, while those skills are vital, they can’t bring people in the door. I am trying now to find gallery representation, so far without response, and hoping that that will help to ease the financial bind. Had an experience recently when a long-time collector agreed to purchase a piece on time (after I had also given her a discount), then changed her mind after making a small deposit. Did I mention it’s been a difficult year?
What do you say to folks who seem to genuinely like your work, but comment that “they just don’t have anymore wall space in their home”? I have tried pointing out some different sized/ shaped pieces, such as a narrow vertical or a narrow horizontal. Do you suppose it’s just an excuse? They are interested enough to come to the show/venue and browse. But I’m at a loss as how to follow up. And of course, I think you can always find a spot for a new piece of art that you love!
You might suggest that they try ‘rotating’ their art … with the season, their entertaining, their favorite textiles, etc. This is a great way to keep their home environment fresh and also to have more of their favorite pieces.
I have just started to sell a few things at art walks and local community events. I am still trying to decide if renting a studio/gallery, putting my work with a professional gallery, or “hitting the art show circuit” is the best way to move art. With me, I have never met a stranger, so talking with people is the easy part for me! Any thoughts on which methodology will give the best return on investment? All of these ideas do require an up front investment.
One day this summer a multiple times collector popped in to my house unexpectedly and exclaimed, “Oh I love that – how much is it?” about a beach painting on my mantel. You must hear the short version of what happened next:
I stammered, “Really?,” and then told her:
. . . I didn’t know what to charge for it . . .
. . . it hadn’t sold at two recent shows. . .
. . . I’d reduced the price once already . . .
. . . AND the frame was not perfect . . .
In other words, I clearly demonstrated to her that THIS was a painting she should never want to buy.
And guess what – she didn’t! (She darted out and hasn’t called since.) That poor painting is lonely as an orphan and I am to blame.
What happened to me? Yes, it could have been brain spasm from the mineral spirits, but more likely it was the dreaded Artists’ Demons of Doubt, always just around the corner. Only constant, positive, constructive advice and morale will keep those demons at bay. Thank you, Jason, for yours.
So here is an opposite problem. I did a piece of a young girl who has been to my drawing classes since she was 8 – she’s 13 now. Not a commission but I’d asked permission from the parents if I could do it. When it was done it was seen by the parents and they love it. I have a ridiculously fair price (under $1000) on it so it is within reach and also offered a payment plan to them but I do understand that this is not a planned discretionary expense. Then the grandfather got involved, coming to my studio to see the piece. He left with out a commitment. An hour later he called and offered 25% less than the asking price. I was taken off guard but did not go for it. He went up and I said no – I really wanted to get the asking price. He went up to almost the original price, and was getting a little testy, I thought, when I said I would have to think about it. I would call him. Later I realized that he was doing it on his own. The mom called very apologetic said they tryed talking to Grandfather but he was sure he was going to get a good deal. The mom offered to pay the difference without letting Grandfather know. What I have come to at the moment (It is ongoing) is I feel the original price was very fair, the work one of my best and under-priced and that the family needs to resolve this discussion among themselves and I can wait. Even if they never buy it. I have gotten a bit stubborn- not too attractive- but I feel strongly that the original price is the the price and I’ll just keep it.
I have given deals on my work mind you. But the feeling I was getting from this incident left me feeling like I was just being played with. I guess that’s why one has an middleman.
Although I’m sure your painting of the little girl is lovely, no one can possibly love that painting more than her family loves it. If I were you I would offer to sell it to them after all at the price they last offered and also take into consideration that their child was your model after all and was probably uncompensated. Best of luck to you.
I owned and ran a large art gallery for more than 4 years, prior to deciding to become a full time artist and just concentrate on my own art. I think your points are all very valid! My main problem is not having the guts to ask for the sale. But luckily I have had a lot success inspite of no formal training whatsoever in sales. I do think it is important to be able to read the vibes a client gives off. Many people want to know something about a piece of work that they pause in front of, but not everyone. Learning to take people’s cues is one of the most important skills I think I have learned along the way. Thanks for sharing!
During an art fair I had a couple that liked my painting but not the frame. I spent time justify my frame(big mistake). They left before I could offer the painting at a discount with out the frame and perhaps close the sale.
Ex-picture framer here. Along with all the other reasons to frame a piece of art, frames do help a piece look more finished and professional. BUT…
Choice of frames is as individual as choice of artwork. Have had many customers come in with a newly purchased piece They want to change the frame no matter how well the current frame complements the piece.
Thus, if I’m not doing a gallery wrap, I put a cheap frame on a piece in the expectation that they will discard whatever frame anyway. Of course, I make sure the frame doesn’t detract from the piece.
Great article, Jason and SO helpful to those who have such beautiful gifts and want to bring them to the world but struggle with the selling and marketing aspects of the process. I particularly liked your point on telling a story. I encourage the artist’s I work with to focus on the “why”. People buy the “why” of something rather than the “how” or the “what”. In other words, “why” an artist created a particular piece or was inspired by a subject, rather than “what” they do, or “how” they did it!
I have been creating art for over four decades. It is my passion. I have also been is sales for over three decades as well, to finance my dream to just make art everyday. And, Yes, I sold cars for 20 years to learn the skill of “salesmanship”, wrote training mauals for my salespeople to follow and managed millions of dollars in annual sales. So now, I call myself an “artist”. BUT, I am still overwhelmed how to overcome objections when it comes to selling my artwork today. How does one NOT take it personally when the potential client says that your work just “doesn’t turn them on”? How do we as artists keep positive, be inspired and continue to create more work, despite losing a sale after a presentation and taking insults? I made this or that beautiful widget and statement of expression! My professors used to tell me that if the general public and your family doesn’t like your work, you most likely are be doing something wonderful and important. How do I sell my art in my lifetime, and not after I’m dead? Its the billion dollar how to question which has many subjective answers and hopefully some objective solutions which are successful to keep us going on a mad crusade to create art. Please, keep sharing your ideas as it all helps everyone.
If your want to produce art that is wonderful and important then perhaps you have already succeeded. If you want to sell art then you must create things that the general public likes.
Here is a quote from Eddie Van Halen when being interviewed by Billy Corgan for a guest magazine: “There is no music that is so good that nobody likes it.”
Some people are very passionate about model trains which I am not interested in at all. This thought is what gets me past the negative or not interested comments.
All it means when someone isn’t inspired by your work is that they are simply not your audience. Remember that that is ok and you only want to sell to those who love your work anyway. Keep searching for those. They’re there. You just have to find them. When you do, the salesmanship skills will work for you.
All of these comments are very helpful. I have two problems. One is selling to people I know and consider friends and as an outgoing person, I have many. I’ll end up giving a “friend” discount even though it’s not been asked for unless it’s in a gallery setting where I have no control at the time. Several friends are even repeat clients. I’ve heard I should not do this but I’ve got such a soft heart in this area. It make me feel good and I think I’m making my friend feel good by giving a special price. Could I be wrong and really the friend would feel they have acquired a more valuable piece had I allowed them to pay the original price? Another question I have is how to approach viewers during opening receptions at group shows where often I only have one piece on display. During these events I’ll stand in the middle of the room as people stroll by. When someone stops to examine my piece for more than a few minutes, I’ll walk over, say hello, ask if they like the piece, and then say that I did it. Then I’ll discuss the subject or the process (encaustic) with them. The problem is the discussion stays with the subject of the piece or the process and doesn’t go toward any selling methods. Then they move on. Sometimes there are several different people viewing it at the same time so I’m talking to a small group about the work (or rather the subject or the process). What can I do in a setting like this? Hand them all my business card and hope they contact me later? Thank you for all your advice. Jason is our nation’s artist guru!
I’m not Jason, but may I chime in on that first point? I felt just as you do at one time. And after looking at the encaustic works on your website, (such color and texture!), I’m guessing that your friends are buying from you because they love your art, not just because you’re friends. As friends, they desire to affirm and support you, but make no mistake, they WANT your art. You could offer a small repeat collectors’ discount but let them decide if they want to take you up on it. Good luck to you!
I recently met someone in social situation who is interested in the arts and does research to write articles on art topics. I gave her my card. The next day she emailed me to ask if it was indiscreet to ask for prices of a specific portrait. I had recenlty designed a professional package and was proud to reply that I had information I could post to her and did so when she expressed interest in this gesture. I wrote a small cover sheet saying I would be happy to set up non-obligating portfolio review and would call her in a few days. I called and she said she had no intention to order a portrait , but that she ” knew a portrait artist in England, but my work was far better. She just wanted to be able to say she knew someone doing portraits”! (@)$%&#@*&(#) . Lesson: Qualify the acquaintance before sending expensive promo.
I don’t like to be “sold,” so consequently I find it very hard to close a sale because I don’t want to infringe upon the potential buyer. The funny part is, I don’t have trouble talking to strangers at all! I used to sell computers and would always tell them about everything the computer or its software could do, but would encourage them to “go home and think about it.” I didn’t do very well at that commission-type job (duh!)
I’m working very hard now on improving my “rap,” and have seen some fantastic ideas in these comments. Thanks Jason for bringing this up…sounds like lots of us have the same problem!!!
Wonderful tips. Everyone reads art in a different way and yet similar. What strikes someone may be a bit different than what the artist or another person reads from the art. Telling a story involves the potential buyer more into the art.
Great ideas! I never thought to ask for a sale. I will use that from now on. Also, I will never again say, “I am so bad with names.” I have found that telling a story is one of the best tools for the artist. I have never sold a painting without telling the story. Now, if I can find a way to divert a buyer’s detailed conversation away from Aunt Martha’s paintings I will be happy.
Jason, thank you so much for writing this article. I do appreciate everything you said and what others have written as well.
The main theme here seems to be “be positive” and “don’t put your work or yourself down in any way whatsoever.” That is what I am taking away from this. As well I plan to engage more and not stand back too long! So many times, I have had people say, “How beautiful. Your work is just beautiful.” But, they leave without buying. I must engage! And, if I lean on “the story” maybe I’ll stay away from any negative statements. I hope so!
Thank you for the article and your book sounds like a good investment as well. I always try to remind myself that art is a personal choice and my art is going to be interesting to a small percentage of the viewers. So don’t allow yourself to evaluate the traffic interest in a negative way. We have to get our art out there so that group has the opportunity to see it and purchase it! The steps to close are very good advice. Thanks.
I have a gallery with co-owner Lynn Scott. Our goal is to greet every guest that comes through the door. On busy art walk nights we are sometimes told by people coming in that we are the only gallery that talked to them that evening. Just being friendly makes such a difference. I love to be there for the special moment when someone truly connects with a piece of art. It can happen very quickly. As an artist, and a gallery owner, it is a very gratifying moment.
Great advice. Selling is definitely my struggle as well. I have learned though that it is more successful for me to be there (at the gallery or show, etc) because it’s true that people really like to put a face to the artist. I feel like most of the time I am selling myself, and my art is what they get to take home out of the deal! But, hey, whatever it takes!
Great article and comments. Thank you for the specifics on “asking for the sale”; this is something I’ve never understood. The one time I actually did this, the guy laughed at me and said, “WHOA! I’m just looking!” Been gun-shy ever since then.
I’d love to hear some tips on how to not get trapped with someone yammering on about her nephew/aunt/sister/son who should “do something with his art”. Yikes, it is so hard to interrupt to say (but not in these words) – “You are using up my time and energy and scaring away potential customers!”
Sometimes when people are sort of hovering around the entrance to my booth, I will give them a smile, a hello, and then say “You can come look – I promise I won’t make you buy anything!” Even if they don’t come in, it makes them smile back.
HiJana: I don’t know why it should be , but it seems that art and artists intimidate some people. A very common repeating experience of mine has been having people tell me how much they like my work immediately followed by a mother artist or friend whose work it reminds them of. I believe they are struggling to find commonality, but the conversation can be deflating. For along time I tried to pretend I had an interest in something I knew nothing about (the work of another artist I didn’t know). Now I try to shift the conversation to that of a master who may be an influence of mind and build a common ground that way. It doesn’t always work but I feel better in the end.
Thank you, Jason, for a very timely topic. I live on Vancouver Island in Canada and we are blessed with extreme beauty in our environment and an extremely abundant number of artists who take inspiration from these surroundings. For sales – that means high competition for a limited audience. I have been marketing my work for the past two years and the comments you made on feeling uncomfortable selling your work as an artist are right on the money (or lack there of!) Marketing has been an interesting internal journey in that I, at first, actually felt apologetic about talking to potential buyers and even a little embarrassed to bring up the topic of money. Your comments about getting people to talk about themselves and, I assume, about why and what kind of art is important to them, will be very helpful in taking away the feeling that I have to justify prices or explain my work. I expect my next show will feel more relaxed as a result.
Thank you so much for this article! I’m just barely getting up enough confidence in being an artist to attempt to sell a few pieces. I doubt myself and capabilities even though others compliment my work. That confidence could make or brake a potential sale. I just need to not be afraid to succeed.
Jason – I have to say this is an excellent example of a promotional blog (for your gallery/books) that really does provide useful information so your readers want to come back again and again (giving you repeated exposure) !
Great work and thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience…
After doing outdoor art festivals for a few years I’ve learned a bit about how art gets sold (or doesn’t), and Jason’s tips are all spot-on. It definitely gets easier with practice!
I’m no good at at reading people, so I let them tell me what they want. If they want to chit chat, I can do that all day (it’s way better than sitting in the corner by myself). If they just want to admire the art for free, that’s cool. The vast majority just want to look. If they linger at one particular painting I’ll tell them a little about it. They let me know how interested they are. No guessing needed.
Thank you for the solid tips and almost step-by-step guide to selling. I know most of us get nervous when talking to buyers – we want to grab them and scream “BUY THIS” and then run away. I find at my events people love to just TALK to me. I find the hardest thing is to ‘shake them loose’ when I see another person looking at the art! I’d love to win your book, so… crossing my fingers!
Jason, you have made some very valid points that have really made me stop and think about how and when to engage with potential clients. But I have a question… Since my husband is a natural storyteller … is there any disadvantage in him taking this role at shows vs me the actual artist? At times we both are engaged but he is more comfortable in this role than me. Since I personally do not like saleman pressure, I have discounted it’s role in the process of selling art… now I will develope an approach that works for me and the client! Thanks.
These situations all sound very familiar. I’ve sold my work at art fairs (in the past) and at galleries, and at my own studio/gallery. I work at a gallery, and often encounter the scenarios you suggest. When asked about my work (my chance to be singled out in the crowd!)…I realize now that THAT is the time to shine….not be humble and low key as per usual.
I think that after many years of selling my art, I can spot the typical buyer. I need to interact with them Right Then!
But also..there are a huge group of people who are….kind of….scared to buy art, too. I see them every day.
Thank you . . You’ve made me realize what I am NOT doing right.
So many of my art friends and colleagues are getting into the print reproduction business for their work to combat the art-selling challenges in this economy. So far, I cringe at this. I am challenged to explain clearly why, but I will try. First, though it would provide a lower cost product for sale, it requires some investment in quality scanning, print editions, etc. that I can’t afford right now. Secondly, I want to look at new paintings of mine while I wait for them to sell, not the same old copies. Thirdly, for my own work (oil paintings), I feel too much is lost in a print. Lastly, and I think most critical, is that the widespread effort toward the print market is generally commoditizing art and lessening the art buyer’s interest or perceived value in original art (Why pay that if I can get a print for only this much?). All that being said, I own some museum prints of very well-known artwork (Van Gogh, Gaugin) that I enjoy having, so I am glad some prints are available. I’d love to hear Jason’s comments about the print market.
Very good article! Art is a very hard sell to local people. They seem to think it is better work if it is from some where other than here! Definitely have to ask for the sale in creastive ways!
I am a finger painter so getting people to talk about my work is easy. They are amazed how I can create such “beautiful work with your fingers!” The hard part for me with my larger works is closing the deal. I try not to hover (350 sq ft studio) and offer to bring the piece to their home or office, payment plans, etc. My work is priced reasonably and in some cases may be too much so. It seems these past few months have been the worst. Is it just the economy or am I missing something?
Thanks allot for this! I had spent 20 years as a full time horse trainer speaking (almost) only to horses. I was juried into the ART Glass Guild and before there was an opening they had a patio sale. People were walking right past my booth and the gal next to me was smiling and friendly, and sure enough people were walking off with new glass items! OH! You have to talk to the people. I have improved….I’ll sometimes start a conversation with a nice comment on jewelry they are wearing.
I’m a good salesperson, I remember names, (hope this will work for me!) let me tell you a little story about that. I’ll just keep repeating these things! Thanks again.
When I was focusing on woodturning, I found that the more informed you could make the customer about a specific piece the more likely thay were to buy. Don’t be afraid to discuss you process. A lot of people are facinated with the how as much as the final piece of art.
Thank you for this post. Important stuff. Here’s my story.
A woman had seen my work at a local art fair and bought a piece of it. Then, she later called me to mention that she had visitors from Denmark and wanted to buy something unique for them to take back, and felt that my textile pieces would be really nice. I told her she could come over to my house anytime and view the work. She lived not to far away, basically two city neighborhoods west of my home. Her guests were due to leave the following day, and she was planning a dinner that evening. I really should have offered to bring the work to her, and I know I would’ve made a sale. (The pieces I was selling were all under $100, but nevertheless a sale is a sale.) I sensed the hesitation in her voice and did not act on this intuition. Trust your intuition and do something you wouldn’t normally do to make a sale! This is part of building relationships with your collectors and potential customers.
In response to Catherine Sickafoose, regarding buyers not having enough wall space: Can you suggest that it would be to their benefit to rotate their collection every few months, to keep it fresh and interesting, to themselves and their visitors? My other approach, since I am an architect, is that I can design them an addition to provide new wall space. This would be tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it is an opportunity to let them know how I really make my living. You never know . . .
I hate it when a “friend” buyer, who I KNOW has ample financial resources, tells me she loves one of my pieces but can’t afford it – If I could only come down a little on the price. What this tells me is that it is not about art appreciation, but about the sport of shopping for the best deal. Maybe I should be willing to bend, for a “friend”, but I find his approach so offensive and so obviously manipulative. I try to smile and be polite when I decline, but I am boiling inside. It happens with my favorite works and usually the paint is barely dry. I am not even close to feeling desperate to part with the piece. Mind you, I am new at selling my work and am not even close to 4-figure prices – very reasonable offerings. Last time this happened she bought my painting anyway, at the asking price, but had to play with me first. We were both happy in the end, I believe.
Here’s what I think and try to remember when I am giving business to my friends: Real friends don’t ask friends to give them deals. Real friends are willing to support their friends in their efforts. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it at all. If a friend wants to give me a deal, perhaps I can make it up to them, by them lunch or whatever.
In response to Donna Pierce-Clark’s comment “be positive” and “don’t put your work or yourself down in any way whatsoever.” I would add – people are attracted to positiveness. People are repelled by negativeness. If I can portray positiveness, despite how I actually feel about myself or my imperfect pieces, I believe I am more likely to attract interest and a sale. Better yet if I can actually get myself to FEEL honestly positive, since I know I am a lousy liar. Maybe a commitment to positiveness will even come through in the artwork when I am not present.
Many valuable suggestions here. Most of my sales are through a gallery where the owner is very good at closing the sale. When I am visiting the gallery and am introduced to visitors there I’m never sure what to do–how much to engage with them. Jason, do you have suggestions of how you like your artists to relate to prospective customers?
Wow, these are such heartfelt comments from personal experiences, and I’m really thankful to everyone for sharing both your plus and your minus experiences (which become plus because we are all learning from them!). Jason, thank you for your clear and helpful advice.
When it comes to increasing my confidence with selling my paintings, nothing beats actually selling some. So I’m on the positive side toward offering a good price to someone on the spot if they truly value the work. However, I have to know what the dividing line is between feeling great about a sale and feeling devalued, and simply not go below that number. If I am completely clear on that and don’t take it personally when someone is niggling on price, just as if I were a dealer in something else, that makes it easy for the person to sense my confidence in the value of my work and the price. The feeling I want to exude is, “It’s all in good cheer.”
When I keep that feeling at the forefront, the sale feels better to them if they do buy, or if they don’t buy they take that feeling with them and next time they may buy or bring a friend or connect me with an opportunity. What I’m saying is, the most important sale agreement takes place within myself first, and then the buyer senses this.
The building where my studio/gallery is located has a monthly open house and we get pretty good traffic. When the economy was better and my prices were lower, it was usually a pretty good selling opportunity. Now that I’m doing bigger, more expensive work, and buyers are being more careful with their money, sales are much slower. There is one couple who comes in several times a year and they alway go right to the same painting and say, “oh, I’ve always loved that one.” You’d think they were visiting a museum! I’ve tried several approaches such as, “Would you like to take it home with you? Would you like to take it out on approval by holding it on your credit card? Where can you see it fitting into your home?” So far, no sales. Do you have any ideas how to get this couple to buy? They look as if they can afford it.
Great advice Jason, I have found those are 4 critical steps to selling my art. Your suggestion about getting the perspective buyer talking to help build relationship poses some challenges for me. Often they won’t stop talking…even when other buyers are waiting to interact with me. Most people sense when they need to pause so I can help someone else – but usually there are 1 or 2 who just want to yack. Its not always easy to tell if these types are going to buy or just talk so I find myself having to politely excuse myself and hope that doesn’t offend them. Any advice on how to shift the conversation back to the sale of the art ?
I find all of your posts so helpful Jason, but especially the ones specifically on selling art. Ultimately I’m working toward marketing/consulting for independent artists, so I’m always reading anything I can get my hands on related to that – but I’ve also found your selling advice/methods helpful for my part-time job at a local art supply, just with selling art materials!
I’m also glad that you touch on the “telling a story” aspect with art. I write and have studied animation/film, so naturally this piece has always been important to me. But recently I had a conversation with an artist friend of mine about just this thing, about instilling a unique component into your art that engages the viewer (which I’d thought about before but never much on an artist-by-artist basis). I’m finding it really is crucial to selling, especially in today’s world where your audience feels more of a need to interact with what they love (whether it be art, literature, TV shows, etc.)
Thanks for a great post, as always! Cool stuff to think about.
when I made my first three paintings,the maximum price I was offered made me so mad,I broke and burned them.THEN I started putting my art into steel and wood furniture and architectural millwork interiors at a very young age,I was trained and shown the tecniques by my elders(dad,uncles, grandfathers) to do artistic painting, forge art into metals,carve realistic wood sculptures,and for many years ,I had to always take a loss to sell my art,one day after an extensive college,university education,my son came in and started selling my work for what it was worth,at a very young age my sons started learning everything I could teach them,and I know they will be the ones benefitting from all my hard work and theirs, RECOMMENDATION to all the starving artist out there, never give up,some day your time will come.
Great advice Jason! I’m about to start a major piece, out in the public eye. This is where I get most of my commissions (I paint mostly murals). I’m going to try your techniques here. I was also just at the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art and overheard an artist explaining to a potential client why he never gave “discounts”. “Because patrons who have invested in my art in the past would have their investments (art) cheapened if I gave you this painting for less money than it is worth”. He went on to explain the investment value of art. The person who he was talking to became a buyer…at full, fair price.
I have often struggled with the practical aspects of being the artist as salesman.
For years I divided my time between being artist-educator and studio artist. Because of those two roles, I needed to have shows in sales galleries, non-profit art centers, and in my studio (located in an artist run co-op gallery/studio building). These are three very different types of venues, and thus have very different types of viewing going on.
The non-profit sites don’t expect a sale, and don’t work towards making the sale. In the artist run co-op there are folks to handle the mechanics of bookkeeping and taking the charge/check/cash for the artist. Despite that, no one is there to close except me … the artist. Of course, in the sales gallery, owners and staff often do much of the work … that is how they make a living.
At the opening reception for a solo show of my work, it has been difficult for me to navigate the paths to best engage, assist, and/or close for a sale in these diverse environments.
Any advise on the differing strategies to use?
As an introvert, I did not find it natural to make sales. So I began “studying” art sales techniques. One of my sources was your SmARTist presentation. (Thank you, Jason!) By making small changes, I have had some real success. I think the most important thing is being genuinely friendly with visitors and connecting with them. And not being afraid to ask for the sale. There are obviously a lot more details, but just these 2 things have make a huge difference. Looking forward to having another source of information…
Jason, Thank you for this information. I really am spending more and more time learning about and practicing selling. I have it in my head and when the time come it somehow flies out.
Building relationships seems to be the most important because then I can ask for the sale. I love the way you put it, “That goal is to help people who love your art buy it.” That thought give.s me a different perspective on the sales aspect
Your information and videos have helped me tremendously.
Appreciate the 4 tools to sell more art and all the input. Love Juliana’s comment about not giving discounts in order to be fair to her collectors. Agree with Julie that a positive experience benefits both you & the potential customer.
Funny how some people are not hesitant to ask for a discount on art, but would never request one from their dentist, or hairstylist !
I loved this article. I am 62 years old and do art shows. I do an art show almost every weekend. I do love it still. Over 30 years. I happen to create one of a kind art so story telling is something I do. At this stage of the game it was encouraging to always be able to learn. My consistensy in salesmanship was reinforced by your article and that I should try harder. I am very creative in my work and realize I need to be more creative in my sales. Thank you, oh I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. I could use some new tricks. Thanks again.
Selling is very difficult for me. I never know when to leave a person alone or to speak to them. Your suggestion about introducing myself and stepping back to let them look and discuss is good. I hate when someone in a store or gallery approaches me and stands beside me while I look. It makes me want to get away from him or her and not look at all. Recently two artists who are very well known in this area and do portraits just as I do joined the gallery artists. They charge way more than I do, more than twice, sometimes three times what I do. I think my work is just as good, just not as large. Everyone does not have room for a 4 foot painting in their house. The majority of my work has been sold to people of middle class incomes. These other artists have to sell to the wealthy. I am afraid people will think if it is not expensive it is not good. I guess I will just have to take my chances and see what happens. Thanks for the tip. Terry Sita
*Thank you for giving me a good wake up call. I can produce the art, market the art, but don’t always sell the art. Is there good place or way to practice the selling techniques before I am at the show or the opening.
*With the economy, I think I am more hesitant to ask for sales now. I was selling much more 3 years ago and my art has not declined.
*However, I have to keep remembering that people like to buy and it makes them feel good when they buy. So I guess I have to make them feel good about buying my art.
EVERYTHING you do attracts buyers and collectors and creates the potential for sales. Do a blog and publish regularly so you get followers, keep your website updated, participate in art studio tours, participate in professional groups as fellow artists are the best buyers. There is no magic bullet, but constant promotion of your work to your peers and the whole universe of potential buyers will pay off. It is important to realize that you don’t know exactly who your potential buyers are so you just need to do all the promotion that you can at the time. Give a painting to a worthy cause which you care about and ask the organization to promote you as a donator/artist. By doing this, another organization is working on your behalf for the cause you have empathy for. Make your home a studio gallery and invite people to events, to come by appointment, or advertise regular hours, if allowed and you are so inclined. Participate in art fairs or outdoor painting festivals. There are so many ways that you can find buyers and make sales, it is limited only to your imagination. I have learned this by spending 10 years promoting my significant other: http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com in his path to full-time professional artist, teacher and mentor.
thank-you, jason, for the four tips, which seem doable for any artist. closing the sale still seems a bit awkward; i am often selling out of my studio or over the phone, so i need to come up with a good closing line. i’m looking forward to your upcoming book.
i especially relate to the tip regarding the art having a story. i have found the story aspect is irresistible to bloggers and journalists who will want to write about the work. thus, your public relations efforts become that much easier.
I had a really tough art fair this past weekend. There was one woman, however, who said she loved my work and wanted to buy something. One piece she was interested in was only $25. She left to get her Mom, and came back right way. I talked to them a little, then did the “backing off” thing. I had some more pieces displayed on one outside wall of the booth. They went over to look at them and then “snuck” away. I didn’t even get a chance to ask to close the sale. Another time, a little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, picked up one of my cards like she wanted to buy it. She seemed really timid about looking at the cards, so I offered more of them to her to look at. She got scared, and promptly put down the one she had in her hand saying “I’ll come back for it”. I was shocked. She was so young, and she had already learned “I’ll come back for it.” The only sale I made that weekend was a couple who came up to me as I was waking up from a nap and announced that they wanted to buy something, so apparently sleeping was my most successful tactic!
Jason, I thank you deeply for your advice. I am a photographer with my own art gallery. My problem is that I enjoy my work so much that I have a problem putting a price on it. Gallery visiter are moved with my work, I just have trouble changing hats from an artist to a salesperson. I look forward to your book, I am sure that I will benifit from it.
Thanks again. Manuel Cavada / Creative Images
Even with museum exhibits and collections under my belt, magazine articles and many arwards, I still find the one on one with a potential sale to be difficult and uncomfortable. Your comments and suggestions have helped me to understand that it is a developed skill. Letting that person walk out the door unaddressed and disconnected will certainly not garner a sale now or in the future. So making a human connection and risking the “no” has to improve the odds!! Thanks for the the tips.
Sometimes selling is not about the price, but rather the terms. Negotiating with a potential buyer to allow a down payment and a number of payments overcomes the reluctance to purchase, especially on more expensive purchases. Not everyone wants to put purchases on a credit card. This approach takes some trust and flexibility on the artists part, but negotiating terms, rather than a reduced price, is another way to close the sale.
While I was still in university, I made multiple sales to complete strangers. All but one of those sales were on a down payment-take-it-home-now with regular-payments-until-paid-off basis. None ever defaulted. I was very naive and never asked for anything like a phone number or name. However, all of those buyers really wanted the particular pieces they were buying.
The only time I have been stiffed was by a gallery. I didn’t know about contracts at that time, so the blame is on me.
I agree with all of the conversations going on. I have worked for the past 25 years in media sales, so I can sell products, but I have issues with sometimes trying to sell my own work. I try to cheapen myself by offering a discount when it is not really necessary to do so. I have built many local relationships, but how do you work on relationships when the painting is at an out of area venue? I recently attended one these out of town show receptions, and was there to tell my story- I just found it difficult to get enough information out of a prospect to see if they could go further to buy the piece or work on a close. Any ideas? My blog has been down for several months, as I have been focusing on getting my artistic house in order,so I don’t want to re-activate it so that I am sure where I am going.
Marketing and sales are my weak points, but I am getting better with the help of advice like yours, Jason. I’ve learned that when I am working at the co-op or another gallery where my paintings are on display, I will tell stories and step back. I will also praise other artists’ work and tell some stories on their pieces that I am familiar with.
I need to get better at learning from them what are their interests and get them to do more of the talking!
Thanks for spelling out the process for us, Jason, and for all the comments that flesh it out. Although I like to tell “the story” myself to a buyer, I have admit I have help from our public television station. They did a 6-minute segment on my life and work and have shown it repeatedly. Because my medium of encaustic is a bit mysterious to most of my buyers, seeing me with a torch and watching the wax flow on the video is much better than anything I could say about my process. Having it handy on the iPad2 is a good way to give buyers some space while yet giving them more information.
Then, when they are ready, I use the simple Square Up (www.squareup.com) credit card swiping tool on the iPad2 (can also be used on iPhone and Android) to impress folks So a good video can do some of the selling for you and the trendy credit processing means the receipt goes automatically to their email and yours.
Thank you for your tips.
I always try to give the space to potential buyer, but… rarely tell the story, if he or she does not ask me. Will start doing that.
Most of my pieces have stories & I do intend on posting them adjacent to my work in an upcoming show. But I do have to wonder if a good start to a conversation might better be, after introducing yourself, to inquire as the artist, what the viewer responds to, likes or feels about the piece. That may give you a clue as to how to tell the story.
I mention this because the father a model that I used for a piece told me that he saw a couple almost getting their wallets out to pay for the piece at the gallery, when he proudly told them that it was his daughter. I think that may have ruined it for them, because they didn’t buy it then.
Thank you so much for your four tips on selling art. I really struggle with having a story for every work, but I am realizing that they really do have their stories, I just need to piece the memories of the process together in a coherent form. I rarely find it easy to get near closing a sale, so I really look forward to your new book.
I owned a small gallery for 4 yrs. in Belize. WWHen I shared the stories of where I wasI , what was going on, or the emotional attachment felt when creating a work, always sold the paintings. The customer likes to know some history of the work. Makes it personal. Most people live through our eyes, so give them a peak!
We are special people on this earth… we artist. Not everyone sees what we do, but the wish they did, so let them in with your art. It is so rewarding.
Great post. I sold Picasso’s and Miro’s for six years and in the gallery space it is easier sell. Folks know why they are there and I knew I was there to sell them ART. Know the skills well. My challenge is selling my own work. It is a different dance. It is loaded with emotions as it is my soul you are looking at. A gallery represents me in San Fran but my painting sales are not consistent. I feel the entrepreneurial aspect of being an artist is really tough and most people have not idea that you have to wear ten different hats to become a self sustaining artist. What I am working on right now is the biz plan, always have your cards with you (It seems I always forget mine) and practice your elevator speech about yourself as an artist. And I recently moved to LA and has been impossible to get any gallery to look at my work…. I am learning the key to this game is PERSISTENCE! Resilience, Vision, and Hope. Gets tough when on some days you have to say to yourself food or paint supplies.
Being an artist is romantic but being a salesperson is also important to fill ur pocket! Maybe these points will actually help u sell ur art!
Thank you for the helpful suggestions. I have not made many sales, but aspire to become more prosperous , so any tips you have are much appreciated. Thank you Maja Sommersted http://www.majasommersted.com
I do a lot of art fairs and just watch people. Mostly I stay out of my booth to give peopke a chance to see my work without being pushy. People who watch more closely and longer I go in and introduce myself shaking hands. This is the first step to contact.Then some small talk. When they ask a stort I answer with a question. What do they see or feel in the painting to connect. I lost to many sales when i told my story. It didn’t approach their view so now they tell me and I just agree. They are happy and buy. I lived in the middle East and price discussion is always a matter. My solution is ask much more you want for and negociate till you got what you want. Both parties are happy. But never undercut a gallery when you work with galleries.
Thank you Jason for the emails. As most artists I am a bit introverted and learning to think as a salesman is difficult for me. I have never thought of myself as a salesman. Reading over the comments and suggestions I am seeing a change in my attitude and my cofidence level as well. This is a different perspective for me and has open a world of possibilities. Looking forward to the book!
Thank you, Jason, and all the commenting artists and their supporters for adding to my experience of being an artist. One thing that I find in talking to patrons of the arts is that their lives are hectic. Their homes often “need work”. When I ask art patrons what they are interested in, that leads the conversation away from their need to define themselves in their environment at home or work. If I ask what their walls say about them, it leads the conversation in the direction of a possible sell and, possibly, a real service-oriented relationship. Learning how I may serve my patrons is often the missing element for making sales and finding commissions.
This is very different approach, very helpful, thanks Nell.
I have been successful in sales throughout my adult life (cars, houses, insurance, matchmaking services, etc.) and made a good living. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I have a lot of trouble selling my own artwork. And it is not because I am attached to my work and can’t bear to sell it. I have been an artist many years now, so I am not a novice. I just have a knee jerk reaction when I am asked about my work to redirect their attention, or my studio is a mess (I don’t want anyone to see that.), etc. With a lot of introspection, I think it is I feel that it is “bragging”. Look at me. Look at me. .
I have been painting for many years and for the last 40 have specialized in Watercolors. When I moved to SW FL I joined the SW FL Pastel Society in order to have some inter-action with a group of artists on a monthly or more basis. There was no branch of the FL Watercolor Society that met regularly here. I did not even know it existed until I had lived here for about 5 years. I recently ordered your books because I have not sold a painting for 3 years now. I am unable to do art fairs except for once a year here in the area where they have a small Arts& Crafts show and mostly jewelry is sold, or handmade purses or scarves. Before the Depression hit, I did sell some large paintings as well as a few small ones at this show, but now the same people come through every year, some give me lots of compliments, but only pause long enough to say something like, “You do such beautiful work”. And quickly move on before I have time to respond. I don’t think I will do this show any more as it is a huge effort for no gain and I don’t even make back my little entry fee. I have no helper, no nearby relatives or kids, and my husband can no longer help as he can barely walk and has little use of one arm after 5 operations this year and a stroke last year. I have a storage room full of paintings and I keep producing more. I really don’t know what I will do with all of them. I can’t give them away because that would be unfair to the people who have bought them and many women in the area do know one another. Any ideas for me ? The galleries I have been to all tell me they don’t handle watercolors as people don’t want paintings under glass, but truth is, they can’t make as much profit on them because artists at art fairs do sell them. They do handle some pastels, but only from their artists that do oil paintings, which I don’t want to get into because I have so much invested in watercolors and pastels and the supports they go onto. Do you have any good ideas for me to sell my artworks?
Last summer I had a residency at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in the D.C. area. It’s a well known center and gets lots of visitors. I had a guest sign in book and I had wonderful conversations with many people about my work as they were genuinely interested. Four people ask for prints of my paintings ( the paintings are large and too expensive for many) . I was happy to make a print and did a follow up e mail to each of these people and not one responded. How should I have handled this?
I am confident that the four steps mentioned lead to a sale. I have experienced that more than once!
Recently, I was given contact info from an individual interested in my artwork. I lost it! I have reconnected through her cell, but do not have her email to send images of my work. I have left a message–5 days ago without a response.
I my desire is to deliver the piece to the office where it would be hanging and let her view it when she is there.
Am I pushing a lost opportunity?
If you have her cell phone number it means you can send her a text with the image attached. No need for email.
I do Open Studio. I consistently hear how much people love my Acrylics and Watercolors and why. The most used excuse I hear is “I have no more room on my walls”. I’ve said I understand, as I myself have had to shift things around to hang art I really like. I have also offered to come to their home and help place it. But no sale. I also run into female spouses dousing the man’s excitement and passion for wanting to buy my painting. I hear the poor man saying, “I need to ask my wife.” I want to respond, “WHY???” I get the feeling it’s about the money, but they don’t say that. And I know 2 people will not always be equally passionate about the same painting. I have no idea how to get around this. I have learned to do the introduction, I engage people, back off, walk up to them when I see interest in a painting, make them laugh… I’ve sold pottery and miniature paintings under $60, but even that, not consistently. What’s your advice?
I’ve said that my husband and I split the space in our home for art, that way we can both purchase and view what we love. We all know different things appeal to people for different reasons, and if something really speaks to one of us, but not the other, we still want to be able to honor it thst place inside each of us.
My experience for some time is that there is a decided reluctance to buy works on paper, that is , watercolor. It is my main medium and i have a following in the Pittsburgh region but when i approach gallery owners out of this area and unfamiliar with my work or name I get no positive response or interest to sell my work. I have
produced 4 books of my watercolors, my work is in 4 museum permanent collections and produced 16 one person exhibitions.
I’ve started doing something new–when pricing my work I’m prepared for someone who will want to get it at a lesser price. So I price it a bit higher. It also gives you some leeway if the wife wants it and the husband cries “Budget!” and she can’t have it. So you can come down a little bit and try to make them both happy. Or if they’re about to get it at a higher price than you had imagined, you can seal the deal and say you’ll forgo the sales tax. This gives them a break and if you then send in the proper sales tax amount (as you should) you have still gotten the original amount you wanted.
I learned the bargaining technique by watching American Pickers and Pawn Stars. Those people are pros at working out a price. I watched the dances between seller and purchaser and learned wonderful little things to do conversationally and with the math to make a fair sale. I’ve had someone offer me $100 for a $200 piece and I didn’t get all needy, I just said a little sympathetically that there was no way I could go that low. He wouldn’t come up one dollar so I didn’t sell. I wondered what sort of home it would go to if he had so little of an appreciation of it anyway. I eventually got my $200 for it at another show.
It pays to have a few little reasons up your sleeve as to why you can’t sell at such a lower offered price. If you watch those shows you’ll see what I mean. This helps you build the value of the piece more and more and the person will see that he’s got a good price and if he truly likes the art he will buy it.
I’m still truly not comfortable with selling anything actually, but I really give it all my effort since some of my income does depend on sales of my art. You can “turn off” your negative or insecure thoughts and just go for it, be in the moment, be the salesperson and keep the frame of mind of someone helping a buyer obtain something they really like and appreciate. Don’t think you have to be a vulture. You don’t, and people resent that type of personality. Be a pleasant, competent conversationalist and seller and this will come through and will help you make sales.
So what does it mean when you have a story want to tell, but no one seems to listen to you? I often feel like I’m dancing alone around my own campfire.
I struggle with knowing just the right time to step in and ask for the sale and know I’ve lost sales waiting to long or even asking to soon…… it’s definitely a dance.
My goal is not “to sell” but to problem-solve. I view each client as a person with a problem I am capable of solving, once I determine all the information to do so. My clients all have art problems. I help them find the solution by finding a way to get them the art “they need.”
For those intimidated or turned off by the word “salesperson” try approaching your job from this angle.
Artist and businessman, this is hardly compatible. In addition, many buyers want to buy only paintings of famous artists, as an investment. Although over the years I have sold a few hundred of my paintings, now is the low season. Many artists find it difficult to sell paintings today. I’m talking about Israel, which attracts a lot of professional artists from all of the world.
Becoming a salesperson was a difficult process but I have the advantage of being married to a marketing consultant who often participates in seminars, workshops, online webinars, etc. on sales. I have joined him many times and although I will never be a natural, I have improved tremendously. After each day in a show I bring my experiences home for a sales techniques check and corrections of what I perceive were mistakes (lost sales).
One of the aspects of selling I find very annoying and frustrating is when I let a “be back” go without a good come-back on my part.
When advisable I offer a “puppy sale” – the patron can take the painting home for a couple of days (I have their c/c number, of course) and see it in its future environment, live with it. Whenever that happens the sale is made (although I bite my nails for a few days).
There are many techniques and approaches to sales and we need to be sensitive to the guest’s personality before we use any of them – should that be necessary. The bottom line, though, is that they must really like the work.
I appreciate your email about selling. Although, I have my art in a few stores, health store, jewelry store, clothing store, plus my studio, I let my art try to sell itself, I leave some of my books for sale, and if I write a book and have a book signing I talk about the book or the painting. I don’t want to over do my work, trying not to be over confident, or show any conceit about myself, It is a fine line to not show off. Although, I am on utube and my website shows be talking. I appreciate this opportunity to express myself. Thank you.
Great reading all these comments and thanks for opening this discussion up again. I have worked in galleries and find that you are selling yourself as well to the buyer. When i sell my own art from my studio tours then I am also selling my positivity about the piece. Drawing the buyer into really seeing the piece is telling a positive story. That’s what helps me sell all work.
1) many salespeople do not know how to stop talking! on and on they go, ANY silence makes them come unglued.
Listen to your clients. Often they tell you what they want. All you have to do is hear them, and then do it. [OFTEN.]
2)Ask, Where in your home (or office) are you intending to put this art? This tells you that they not only want the art,
but that they have already thought of where to place it! Hard part’s done, write up the sale.
3) Treat the rich and famous like your neighbors, do not fuss and fawn over them. In fact, try to forget just how rich
they really are, and treat them like your friends, and neighbors.
4)I’m offended by salespeople that say “This is all we have, or all we have is displayed on the wall. Dumb, just so dumb.
The meaning: I don’t care, or I won’t even try to procure what YOU want. It’s too much work. Whether you can put the
proverbial rabbit out of your hat, most often the client wants to see that 1) you care and 2) at least try, underline TRY.
Jason, your whole line of thought and narrative is terrific incentive. It inspired my own blog today on pricing structure, and I’ve referenced your article: http://carolynhancock.com/blog/61875/how-much-does-it-cost
Jason, I really value your advise. I am shy and even though I realize a person loves the painting, even telling me that, I just do not have any sales skill! My husband, on the other hand, thrives on sales and has been in this career for years. When he was at the gallery displaying my art, he pulled a gentleman over to the side and would not stop talking about the work. To me it seemed he was badgering him, but to my surprise the man bought both pieces without blinking an eye, gave me his card, and said he would be in touch again soon.
Just having simple steps to follow is what I need. There have many park sales I have missed because I withdraw to the corner. Terrible, I admit, but being more mature, I feel I am able to overcome. Thank you!
Thanks for reposting this information and even more comments from other artists. This is so important in these times when it seems money is still not readily available for the art purchase that seems to be the last thing in considering the business of decorating a home. Or, so many purchase expensive furniture and put up prints by 200 year old artists. I find I am constantly educating the public who are not of the artistic temperament. They wish they could do what we do, or they say their kid can do better. That aside (hang in there everyone), I do find they want to know something about me and what inspired the piece, and if it reminds them of something personal, we may be on the way. I’ve had two long-time-in-business galleries close in the last month who were showing my art. Galleries come and go in this town. Also, location, location, location; and who is your customer? I keep telling myself to backtrack to re-establishing contacts with people who purchased long ago and I don’t do it. Do it now, send emails of work they may like – that is if my computer decides to cooperate. Did I mention how many hats we all need to wear?
Thank you for these posts…
I know that I need to get past the fear of coming right out to ask for the sale… I have always relied on gallery staff to do that for me. Now that I am selling in addition out of my studio your insights are proving to be invaluable!
I totally agree with your negotiation technique. Over the years, I have found that allowing room to negotiate has opened the door for gallery and artist to increase sales. Unfortunately, many artists I have worked with refuse to allow the gallery to negotiate, while many times doing the negotiating themselves, leaving the gallery at a disadvantage along with lessening the potential for more sales.
Thank you for addressing this again.
As a shy introvert, your steps seemed counterintuitive at first. But at my last show, I actually stepped up and put your advice into practice. It was amazing! When I told the story of the inspiration, meaning, and a bit about the process, many made a purchase. Thank you and keep blogging!
I have to admit that closing the sale is the most difficult part of selling art. I’d prefer the patron get excited and immediately offer to purchase the art! But, alas, I know that doesn’t happen. I had a patron come into my studio and express serious interest in three of my paintings. She said they’d go beautifully over her dining room buffet, but would have to wait three months until she got back from vacation and taking care of an ill parent. I kept Jason’s suggestions in mind and made it my business to go after this sale.She returned the next two First Fridays and continued to express interest–especially since I offered a modest price consideration for purchasing three pieces. I suggested a deposit to hold the work, but her husband said they’d be back. I emailed her at least once during each of those three months, offering to deliver the pieces and even help hang the work. She even sent me her new email address to keep her informed. The month she was to come back, I sent her an email with images of the three works and upped the ante by offering to pay the tax on the pieces. When I didn’t hear from her in two weeks, I resent the images and reminded her of my offers. My email came back as undeliverable because she had cancelled that email address. I presume it gets easier each time we do this. My framer has offered to come help me sell at the grand opening of my new studio & gallery in an art and retail building; perhaps this will help me solidify what I read from Jason and seeing it put to use by someone versed in selling. Thanks for all your guidance, Jason! Michael
Another story: I had a man come into my studio and express intense interest in a 12″x12″ piece. It was an affordable piece for him, and we talked about the piece for about 10 minutes. When I asked if I could wrap it up for him, he said he needed to wait for his wife to get there to see it. When she came, she turned her nose up and said the color didn’t go with the decor (it was a gray-scale piece). He said it was for his office. I expanded that a piece this size could fit very well with any decor. She continued to express no interest. I asked what the colors in her house were, and she told me. I called my photographer the next day and asked him to send me images of the work in the colors she gave me. I sent them off as soon as I received them, and even after three follow-up emails, I haven’t heard from them.
My name is Valerie Merritt and I have been a artist since I was able to pick up a brush, however, I live in a rural area and I find it hard to sell my art. I am not at all shy I have been to several galleries and get the same response they aren’t interested in posting other artist work. So what do I do?
Very good article for selling the art. After reading this article i got some more ideas to expand my business. This ways can get your painting or art sold fast too.
These are so great Jason (as always). I especially like ” they are also interested in your inspiration.” which makes a distinction from “they want to know everything going on in your mind about the piece”. I have found that some artists tell me TOO much about the story behind painting it and that makes it too removed from ME.
I also really like the idea of giving people space. I have had a tendency to hover with an expecting look! Gotta stop that one!
I like the frank discussion about sales. I assume a person is interested if they step into the booth. At shows I see buyers who look hesitant to step into the booth. How do you help them take a step and come into the booth? I try be light and make a silly humorous comment. “These are my children and they are up for adoption. Actually they are only boxes and can be handled so go ahead an open one of them. Some of the boxes have an additional painting inside”
I like the way you recommend an artist introduces his/herself. My major issue is not giving a possible buyer a chance to fall in love with the work and that means I need stop talking and turn away.
Wether or not a person buys I offer to include the person in my newsletter when new artwork is available.
the best art in the world will not sell itself. Either learn to do sales or hire someone who has that skill to represent you. Identify the specific level of the market where your art appeals to the clients. example; one of the best artist/saleswomen i have ever seen worked the calgary stampede and would sell out everything in one day. after that she would sell them wet!. within 10 minutes she would close a client 15 times on works selling for 1000-5000 each. she found her niche!!! Example 2; once had a young single mom come into my sanfrancisco gallery needing a job. she knew nothing about art but she had the ability to communicate with clients in an unbelievable manner. selling pieces in the range of 20-50,000 each as her speciality. she knew how to communicate with that level of client buuyer. below or above those values not so much. she knew the clients and their needs. There is no need to be a starving artist as there is a market for everything. identify that buyer and learn to sell to them.
Thank you for your advice. I find that when I am in the gallery, meeting people is the best way to sell my art. Clients have become collectors after these interactions. Some have purchased more than one piece on that visit. Others have added to their collections after they return home and visited my website for other work. I feel my strength is talking about my process and getting people excited about my art. My goal is to leave them time to linger and spend time with my work. They may not leave with a purchase right then, but many have returned and made a purchase. Many return to see new work when it is released. I am not skilled at being the closer, but I am finding that my gallery team plays that role as a second contact. I have sold their work with this tag team approach.
Thank you for great advice, Jason.
I realize that I tend to try to sell myself and my paintings instead of focusing on learning about the potential buyer. This approach makes total sense, and will be put to good use!
Hi Jason: This blog got me thinking again. I am an older artist(69). In my forties and fifties I sold work, not enormous amounts, but I was also working as a teacher in those days. I am retired now, have been painting full time for several years. But all my sales and marketing skills are so weak and rusty. I have tried some online marketing via Etsy, Facebook, Instagram and my own website. The pandemic, my age and perhaps many years of disappointment from my marketing fumbles have discouraged recent attempts at sales and promotion. I am trying to understand where to best invest my limited energy for such matters. The days I spend in the studio are wonderful. What would be your advice to someone like me to revitalize their career without robbing too much of the precious time they have with the work itself?
Thanks for your question. I think the most important thing for you to do is to focus on making the best work that you can. If you’re putting out high-quality work, that will be the best foundation for marketing and selling your work.
As far as marketing and selling goes, I’m obviously a big advocate of seeking gallery representation. It takes work to build good relationships with galleries, but once you do they can provide long-term exposure and sales. You could also work to establish a social media presence.
I’ll have more to say on all of this in upcoming posts.
Since I am a Plien Aire painter I have an advantage of easily being able to come up with stories about the paintings as mentioned in #2.
What helped me make more sales was getting past the experimental years and the gradual weeding out of products that either didn’t sell well or did but I secretly didn’t think much of them myself or they weren’t cost effective.
The hardest thing I had to overcome with interacting directly with potential customers was talking too much and filling the descriptions of artworks with too many extraneous details or choices.