Collective Wisdom | The Artists who Won’t Go Away While I’m Trying to Sell

On RedDotBlog, we’ve often talked about different scenarios in which you might be trying to sell your work. For many of you the opportunity will come at an open studio event, an art festival or at a gallery opening. I’ve received a number of interesting questions from artists related to the sales process, including this one via email:

This last weekend I had the best day in terms of sales I have ever had at open studio.

This is all great and I want to get your advice on a certain dynamic.

Perhaps you remember the old Saturday Night Live skit called “The Thing that wouldn’t leave” Basically about a friend visiting the house who overstays their welcome.
There are some fellow photographers who visit my open studios to check out my latest work and talk shop. I suppose they are not really customers since they don’t buy work. When I started I didn’t buy work either but now I feel as though it’s good to buy other artists work as it creates good karma. So occasionally my wife and I do buy and collect art. It’s fun!!!

Anyway, these visitors tend to stay longer and I do enjoy talking shop, and am flattered they keep coming back, but I noticed when collectors walk in to the studio they seem to feel they are interrupting. At this point my friends the fellow photographers sort of shut up to watch what happens. Then I feel like I cant connect as well with the customer while my fellow photographer is watching. I feel it is generally not conducive to my making a sale.

On the other hand I find its generally better if someone is in my studio talking and looking vs. me there alone when things are slow. I find if people are walking by and see only me there they tend to think nothing is happening and walk by. When there are a few people shopping it attracts more people. So with this in mind its sort of good to have the thing that wouldn’t leave there so it helps attract more people to the studio.

Carl C

Great question Carl, and I think many artists have run into a similar challenge, whether at an open studio event, at an art festival or during a gallery opening. I run into over-stayers in the gallery almost weekly.

My approach in the gallery is simple. Though I try to extend courtesy and warmth to everyone who visits the gallery, (after all, you never know who is going to turn into a buyer, as you mention), I feel no compunction about interrupting someone mid-sentence to say “Oh, excuse me for a moment, I need to go and say hello to this collector.” I then briskly stride away to greet the customer. Usually, once the over-stayer sees me engaging with the collector, he will continue browsing through the gallery, and, if I become very engaged, may leave before I ever return.

It sounds to me like you don’t necessarily have a problem with the getting away, but rather with the ensuing awkwardness when you have the artist hanging on to every word of the conversation you are trying to have with your customer. This would certainly be a bigger problem in your studio or in a show booth that it is in my gallery, but my suggested approach is the same no matter where you find yourself: ignore everyone except your customer.  I know it can feel awkward to have someone listening and watching what you are doing, but if you act like it isn’t awkward, your customer will very quickly forget about the other artists and you can engage as if you were in an empty studio. This will take some practice on your part, and a conscious effort not to feel self-conscious, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done.

There is often a natural flow in a conversation with a collector. You will greet the customer and introduce yourself, and then invite them to explore your work. Now you can step back and let them look. When you do this (AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!) don’t return to your conversation with the artist. Try and step back to an unoccupied corner of your studio, booth, or gallery. If the artist tries to approach you, wave them off with an “I’ll be with you just as soon as I’m finished,” and then step back over to the customer to tell them about a piece or to ask a question. The artist will get the picture and will either wait or wander off.

I think you are right that it’s good to have some warm bodies in the studio to attract potential buyers in, so I don’t see these artists as a problem, I just feel it’s very important to assert control over the situation in kind but strong way so that your priorities are clear. Hopefully a fellow artist will understand.

You could also try letting these artists know what to expect by explaining when they first come in that you aren’t trying to be rude, but if a customer comes in you are going to focus 100 percent of your attention on the customer.

What Do You Do When You Encounter “the Artist Who Won’t Go Away”?

Have you run into a similar situation with artists who get in the way of sales? What have you done to deal with the situation? What advice would you give to Carl and other artists in a similar scenario? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 Comments

  1. Excellent advice. There’s another situation that may arise when you work with other artists or staff in the gallery or show and it is this: Some people just don’t get it that you’re there to service customers, not chat you up. I’ve even had other artists in a co-op gallery interrupt me while talking to a customer, as if we were just casually talking. Some artists may even try to divert the customer to THEIR work. Some of this is just plain rude, but some of it is innocent. When working with other artists or staff in a gallery setting, it’s best to set written rules about supporting, not interrupting, sales. Rules should keep this kind of behavior among staff to a minimum.

  2. I think this is a good reminder to us, as artists, when we are visiting a friend’s opening. We need to remember to be present and supportive of each other by attending, but be equally understanding when the exhibitor needs to interact with potential customers.
    I witnessed this in action recently when I was visiting with an artist and she would periodically excuse herself to go engage with potential collectors, but I totally understood!
    We should also keep in mind that fellow artists are also art-buyers!

  3. I think I’ve been guilty of this in the past at shows. but not when there are buyers in the booth. I can be excused because I was actually looking to buy, and did eventually buy, although not having a lot of funds, spending more time than I should looking and probably getting in the way. Anyway, I digress. My immediate though when reading this is probably something I should rehearse and have ready for such an occasion, “I love chatting with you and talking shop, lets make a time to get together when I’m not so focused on marketing and distracted by buyers. How about next week? Give me a call”. Then give them a handout with your contact details and walk away. Act busy, either with a customer, sorting through a box, or stepping well out of the booth to check your display and encourage them to step away from blocking your art. If they haven’t got the message, repeat and excuse yourself saying you really must get back to work.
    I have a similar scenario with a friend that gets in her hot tub at night and calls me to chat. Shes a big talker and it could be hours without being able to get a word in edgeways. Often with my art business and all my responsibilities, I don’t have time or peace of mind to work till late and thats exactly when she tends to call. She has been a client and a good support over the tears so I try to give her my attention. After about half an hour of listening to her woes I have started to cut her off, saying that I must get back to work, but she has interrupted the flow and its sometimes difficult to get it back. It just goes to show that even old friends and other artists dont understand the difficulties we face.

  4. Thank you for sharing all your good ideas. Everything everyone says has value. I do many many events every week. Clients, fellow artists, friends & clients all have desires & ideas with value & merit many could be clients or become investors.
    I also will purchase fellow artists wares yet
    Everyone has a different approach & some are positive & some give you a sad song & dance trying to make you feel guilty if you are not buying their items or you are selling yours.
    I try to stay positive… always no matter who comes in th try to say hello & greet them with a smile even if I’m speaking or selling or doing another transaction. If someone wants something they will most likely hang around or circle back around. However if you are busy you can miss that client who is just redeeming on the desire & needs to connect to make the final decision real. As we all know it can take 1 to ten connections before a purchase…
    I am direct I Greet them & immediately communicate something that helps direct them & help us both know if this just a meet & greet or a collector choosing to purchase…
    Some times I say something like :
    “Hi, Welcome, Please Come In. How can I help you are you wanting to take something home or just browsing?”
    They usually tell you something…
    If it’s a friend or fellow artist maybe they want time a hug encouragement or even an art piece maybe smaller maybe bigger?
    I’ve discovered if they say
    anything that describes the weather then they usually are just looking or want to talk. Be ware they want to just visit or they will move on. Real clients are more specific & direct. If they start out negative, change it up immediately… this is your job & you need to stay positive to do it well. As for artist friends I’ve experienced
    it may be true people often like to have people in the booth to come in yet true buyers who are purchasing like one on one or even privacy to some extent… maybe in a different area or if it’s larger piece they may need more privacy so I tell my friends to come back or give them a hug or a card & say excuse myself. Everyone is aware that you are there for business…
    sometimes people or friends come in repeatedly at several events at the 11th hour
    Maybe for a deal or quality time or they just come late or just when you are making a closing a sale or even packing up for the end of event…
    They come near the end & may have lots of questions or want to show you their own art or even want to share a meal or just chat. They may even purchase something small. If you want visit it can lead to something big or another client comes in & does buy… or maybe you are closing & you are tired, so just tell them. Just be honest some people don’t get it.
    I’ve even been so bold as to say to replete visitors who just want to talk about themselves… “So when are you wanting to start your own collection? They might have ten excuses & try to redirect by saying like you must remember us we come every year… but I refocus… I say something like “ I’m sorry I just can’t remember, I usually remember customers… So please tell me have you purchased anything from me ever… even something small like an art Card or reproduction or small painting? They will tell you something like I got a poster at the festival you did or Why no I just stop by to say hi or oh I’m an artist just looking for ideas…
    I then explain I am so happy to visit yet I usually remember clients who support me. Thank you for coming to see me, you must be an artist… then they respond why Sort of yes I do art & Im always looking for new ideas ‘ I like your art.
    This is sometimes hard for me, I say thank you & I encourage them to keep creating & to use their talents & to create things they really love. Create what you love & I will turn out well. The. I say something like:
    “Thank You! I’m so Happy to sell you just let me know when you are ready to start your collection or get you
    something or help you if I can in any way” or
    “Now please Excuse me I have another appointment, or
    commitment or another client or I’m going to another appointment! “ Good luck to you & your career !”
    “Hope to see you again soon or
    Good luck with your personal work.”
    On another note…
    If I want to visit with someone even another
    Artist I go ahead & visit … I’ve discovered clients usually will hang around or tell you if they want to buy from me.
    I just be myself & be honest. Sometimes I want to impart something to others & not just sell art. Sometimes students need a good word or fellow artist at times I give them something small or a hug. Mostly I’m selling art or painting art.
    Thank you

  5. Your advice is spot-on. No one would think of going into someone’s office at a bank or corporation and “just chat” as people waited for appointments, but artists have trouble getting the public to think of them as a business. (Everyone comments how “fun” or “relaxing” painting must be and consider it a hobby, not a vocation.) It’s completely acceptable to be cheerful, polite, and just excuse yourself to address a customer’s needs. Invite your waiting friend to look around at the work or have a seat. It helps to have coffee or snacks to offer. Act as if this is routine (because it is) and if your friend is offended by this , well, they aren’t really in your corner, are they? No other artist I know has ever been offended by this. They understand!

  6. Interesting subject and a bit of a delicate one for sure. I wonder if it would be helpful to have someone on standby to run a bit of interference when necessary. You could have a plan in place where if they see you have disengaged yourself from a fellow artist to talk to a customer they would approach the artist and engage them in conversation and possibly steer them away from you. Not sure if this would work, but worth a try?

  7. I mostly get into these situations at openings. I treat everyone with respect and a smile, but for those who want to monopolize, I gently remind them that “this is a working day for me. It’s my responsibility to greet all my visitors. I’m delighted to see them but I need to keep moving.” And then I excuse myself and go forth to another visitor.

    Many of the phrases that Noel Skiba offered as suggestions resonate with me. Thanks, Noel! And thanks, Jason, for bringing up the subject.

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