Having spent twenty years in the gallery business, I’ve seen every type of buyer. I’ve worked with celebrities, business people, the retired, the young, the old and everything between. In past posts, I’ve encouraged you to treat every contact as a potential collector – you never know when someone you least expect will turn into a buyer. If you’ve been selling art for any length of time, you’ve certainly established a base of collectors from many walks of life.
After a while, however, you probably began to notice patterns among your buyers. You may notice that most of your buyers are of a certain age, that many work in a particular field, or come from a certain region. Eventually, you might even start to feel that you can spot a buyer from a distance based on your experience with past buyers.
I would caution you to be careful about this. It’s great to give someone who fits the profile of your buyers care and attention, but if you aren’t careful, you might develop a prejudice against people who don’t fit this profile. This may lead you to miss out on sales to those who are outside that profile because you don’t put your full efforts into engaging them.
With that caution out of the way, I would encourage you to spend some time analyzing your past buyers to see if you can discern common traits among your buyers. Understanding who your buyer is will help you better target your art marketing efforts to reach them. If you know who your buyer is, you will be better able to place your art in galleries or other venues where your buyer can see your work. You will be better able to say the right things about your work in your artist’s statement to appeal to the buyer’s sensibilities. You will be able to price your work in a way that will fit your buyer’s budget.
To the extent that you are able, try to answer the following questions about your buyers:
- Professional background?
- Residence location?
- Are your buyers putting the work in their home or business?
So how do you get this information? You don’t want to come across as an interrogator as you work with your clients, but by engaging them in good conversation and asking a lot of questions you can start to tease out these details. Questions are incredibly beneficial – they not only give you information about your buyer, they help you engage at a deeper level with the buyer.
Prospecting for Information When You Are Not in Direct Contact With the Buyer
What if you are selling your work through galleries and not having direct interaction with buyers? Train your galleries to get this information for you by asking them about the buyers.
“I know you can’t share the clients’ contact information,” you might say, “but tell me a little bit about them, where are they from? Did they mention their professions? Where is my piece going to be displayed?”
If you want to dive a little deeper and you have the client’s home address, you can also use a site like Zillow.com to discover the approximate value of the client’s home and how long they’ve been there. Again, you want to exercise your best judgement here. I’m not suggesting that you try to invade your client’s privacy, but understanding the home value (using public documents) can help you in your future marketing efforts if you decide, for example, to do a direct mailing campaign.
In the end, all of this research will help you better serve your customers, and better place your art in front of those who are most likely interested in it.
I received an email from an artist who recently went through this process of analyzing her clientele. I asked her permission to share her findings here so that you may see what she discovered by spending some time getting to know her clients.
MY COLLECTORS: A PROFILE
Prompted by an article I had read, I looked back at my art sale records to find out what sort of person had been buying my paintings. Did they have anything in common?
I found that my patrons were usually married women or married couples, most with solid upper-middle incomes and traditional homes, in upscale rural or suburban areas. The great majority were local, residing within 50 miles of my home, where I maintain a studio/gallery. I was also selling paintings to a husband or wife who was buying the work for their spouse, often as a surprise because the spouse had had an opportunity to see and admire the work previously in person. The majority of my collectors have purchased more than one artwork from me. Most of my collectors were known to me before they bought a painting.
These buyers had a range of exposure to art, and most were in the early stages of being bitten by the “collector bug,” rather than being seasoned collectors. In a number of cases, I had sold work to people who had never purchased an original artwork before, and their excitement at doing so was extremely rewarding. Nearly all of those first-time buyers returned to purchase additional pieces from me.
These collectors valued what I have to offer, which is reasonably priced paintings, in a range of sizes that are still small enough to fit into the wall spaces offered by most traditional homes, executed in a loose but still representational style that emphasizes surface texture and the individual stroke. My collectors have always commented on and liked my framing, which they say fits seamlessly into their homes and is most often a simple and unadorned gold frame setting off the piece.
Some of my collectors have loved my watercolors and others my oils, and although they tend to go with their preference in repeat purchases, there are instances of crossover. The subject matter they choose is of interest: my plein air landscape work painted while traveling and during plein air competition events is quite often purchased by a local buyer from that location because the scenes will be familiar. A well-executed landscape of a remembered, beloved location will also trigger a purchase from a buyer, as well as a painting of a particular subject such as skipjacks or horse racing for those who follow what I do in those areas. Those who purchase watercolors may be attracted to still lifes or florals, which I often paint in watercolor and much more rarely in oil. Those who like watercolors usually have a strong preference for the medium, and so will also seek out landscape subjects.
Rather than seeing the wide range of collectors I had expected to find, I saw a pattern of patrons who were most often female, married, in their 50’s and 60’s, well established financially, and who leaned to the traditional in their tastes. Although I knew many women buyers to be married, the female purchasers often felt confident in their choices without a consult with their spouse, whereas this was much less often true when men made the purchases—these purchases were more often made as a couple, or as a gift preselected by the wife.
Prepared by Claudia Brookes: claudiabrookes.com
What Do you Think?
Have you analyzed your customers? If so, what did you learn? Share your thoughts and reaction to this article in the comments below.
I have a question regarding your Art Catalog. If you register and submit paintings for a page in an upcoming catalog, and if your artwork is accepted … how many times can you request a page in your catalogs? Can you register more than once within the same year?
Very interesting article. I have never been able to compile a reliable description of “My Collector”, but if I did, I think it would be strikingly similar to Claudia’s. I looked at her work, and although it’s very different from mine, I would probably describe it in a similar way. Perhaps the profile for collectors of larger or more experimental work would differ to some extent, but my guess is there would be more similarities than differences. So here’s the $64,000,000.00 question: where do you find them?
I’m finding myself in the situation where, after selling to a certain clientele for the last 10-20 years, that many of them are now living in assisted facilities or deceased. In one case, a painting of mine was included in an estate stale (at a nice home) and I was contacted by the buyer who picked it up at Good Will. I was glad she could get an original for such a great price. The original was sold for $750. It was a watercolor, not varnished like I do with my watercolors now, so perhaps they thought it was just a print.
Anyway, I’m not insulted. I now am building an entirely new audience through social media, and I’m targeting a younger audience now. Most of the folks who love my art on Instagram enjoy paintings of familiar trails, state or National parks that they visit frequently. They are buying smaller works – mostly my realistic acrylics or oils of the place they love and identify with. Because they are mostly in their late 30’s to mid fifties, they prefer non-traditional framing, even if the painting is realistic. In fact, they don’t seem to care about the frame as much as the image, so sometimes they buy works unframed and choose their own. Some of my watercolors are mounted on a cradled panel and then varnished.
I’m in the process of starting over as far as building a following. In a way, it’s fun because that allows me to experiment with something new and see what connects best on Instagram. I’m not looking to attract seasoned collectors who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a work of art because I don’t want to take the time to compete with painters who are already collected by them – just don’t want to spend the years it would take to get there – and to be honest, my work would need to compete with theirs, and I’m not sure I’m wanting to work that hard – I may never get there.
So, so sum up: I am starting over, I will offer representation paintings of actual natural places. (Because that’s what hikers and travelers like and so do I). They will be smallish… 16×20 and under. So far, I’m finding them by getting non-artists on Instagram to follow my posts and comment.
Thank you for addressing this important topic—and warning not to become too fixed on a particular set of buyers.
Claudia Brookes’s excellent analysis covers all the territory. And it was great to read Lori Woodward’s present activities in leaping over the inevitable Downsize Factor. Lori, I enjoyed reading your blogs on FASO.
I just received a Christmas card from a couple who have collected about 18 paintings over the years, and they wanted me to know how much the paintings mean to them especially in this time. I have always sold for reasonable prices in open studios and now I am ready to plunge into online showing. Small works, too.
My ‘demographic’ was people who were accountants, professors, and people who worked in technical fields.
Thank you so much for this article. I am just getting started in the art world and have been researching what may be the best way of promoting my artwork. Your articles & other artist’s comments have been a huge learning source for me and its so appreciated. I have had only one experience with trying to sell my artwork so far, I dipped my toe in the water with a local Art Studio Tour. It was a expensive endeavor with all the upfront investing, framing, promotional printing etc, but I was relieved to find out that afterward I had sold enough to have a profit of $1,200.00. Not much but I would have been thrilled to have broken even, since I had no idea how my art would be received.
I am so glad I read Claudia’s Collectors Profile. It opened me up to a big realization. Most of the people who bought my artwork at the Studio Tour, were neighbors and female friends around the ages of 50’s & 60’s. I have thought until now that my small success was due to my friends and neighbors simply buying my work to be supportive of my efforts. A major part of that is true, but now I see though Claudia’s Collectors Profile that many of your collectors are people you know. I just didn’t see them as repeat buyers but just one time purchaser to show support. It made me see them with an new eye, as potential collectors. I guess they would not have bought any of my artwork if they truly didn’t admire and and want it in their homes. I am a colored pencil artist and draw historic buildings, landscapes & a variety of subjects that are all New Mexico. So it was good to hear from other artists that local subjects appeal to buyers and hopefully tourists too. So thanks for the insight, perfect timing as I am starting my journey on how to promote and sell my art. My end goal is to get into a gallery, probably a local one since I am in Santa Fe, NM and it has over 250 galleries (most are contemporary not representational) . But for now I am trying to choose what would be my best form of direct communication with potential collectors and how to achieve better exposure to new people. I want if to be the most effective for my invested time. I do have a website through FASO and maintain it regularly myself. But have yet to create any email lists, newsletters or blogs. Cannot decide which would be the best investment of my time. I am very stingy with anything that takes away from my drawing time. The initial setting up my website on FASO was a huge learning curve and time investment, but now that I am used to their software it takes me minutes to update my events & artwork pages. Any suggestions which works best for you other artists?
Why can you not have the contact info for your collectors? (With an understanding that they will buy any pieces in the future via the gallery)?
I have the same question about why galleries don’t let artists know who’s buying their work. I’d send a thank-you note with a bit extra info about the piece or offer to answer any questions about the piece. I’d be happy to agree all future sales went thru the gallery. I’ve only ever gotten buyer info from venues that describe themselves as non-profits helping artists, charge only 20% commission, and where I was in group shows with no expectation that I’d necessarily be exhibited there again. My regular galleries have just said they never give out buyer info . . . though I’ve never thought of asking for non-identifing info like age and gender–thanks Jason, will try that! Only a few of my sales have been non-gallery and I seem to have been 25-32 women on Insta, older women on FB, but other factors seem widely divergent. Great article–thanks!