Creating Experiences and Telling Stories to Sell More Art

One afternoon, a couple walked into the gallery and headed straight for a wall of the artist Guilloume’s work. I greeted the couple and learned they had been following Guilloume for some time and had been in the gallery earlier in the week to see what we had. They were now considering one of the bronze reliefs for their home in British Columbia.

A grouping of Guilloume’s work at Xanadu Gallery

After some back and forth, they decided on a piece in the front window, and I set about writing up the sale.

By coincidence, Guilloume happened to be en route to the gallery from La Quinta, CA, that very day. He was just passing through and would only be in the gallery for a few minutes, but I mentioned this to the buyers, and told them how much I would like for them to meet him. While I wasn’t sure exactly what time he would be arriving, I told them that I could call them when he showed up. The wife provided me with her cell phone number and they left for lunch.

About an hour later, the artist walked through the front door. We started making arrangements for the artwork he was dropping off and picking up, and I called the clients to let them know he had arrived.

When they showed up a few minutes later, I introduced them to Guilloume, who greeted them warmly. There were friendly handshakes and the couple told Guilloume they were very excited to have bought their first piece.

Guilloume thanked them, and then asked in his Colombian accent, “Can I tell you something very special about that piece?”

The couple eagerly assented and listened carefully as he told them his story about the sculpture. This is a copy of the written version he has created, but it’s the basic outline of what he told them.

“Stealing His Heart” is my sculptural interpretation of a recent photo taken of my wife and me. When I first looked at the photo, I was struck by the fact that I found my wife to be every bit as appealing and mesmerizing as the day I met her—perhaps even more so. I reflected on our initial meeting in our native Colombia and how I was swept up in love as she instantly stole my heart. What is so amazing to me is the fact that I have never gotten my heart back from her—it remains stolen to this day!

I am not referring to that “crazy love” that one experiences in the early stages of courtship. This is a mere illusion of love that gushes forth as we mistakenly assign all of the attributes that we desire in a mate to our new lover—while at the same time, unconsciously overlooking those traits that are less appealing.

Although we certainly experienced “crazy love” at first, as most couples do, our love has endured because that infatuation was soon fortified by more enduring relationship builders like appreciation, understanding, and mutual growth.

Guilloume has a great way of telling the story in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or contrived, and it was clear at the end of the story that the clients were thrilled with their purchase.

Before leaving I had Guilloume autograph and personalize a copy of his coffee table book, which we shipped along with the piece.

After the piece arrived I received the following email from the client:


Jason, you may remember me and my wife. We were in your gallery on March 26 and purchased the above noted sculpture piece by Guilloume.

I just wanted to pass along a short [note] to say the piece arrived today in good condition and is already hung in a special place and we both think it looks great.

We would like to thank you for your assistance and for arranging our meeting with the artist. This meeting will undoubtedly evoke a special memory that we can reflect upon each time we look at the sculpture.

PS: The autographed coffee table book was very nice touch and is much appreciated. Perhaps you could pass along our thanks, as well, to Guilloume the next time you see him.


"Stealing His Heart" Installed in Client's Home
“Stealing His Heart” Installed in Client’s Home

Of course, it doesn’t always work out to provide this kind of experience for a collector, but whenever I have the chance, I will go out of my way to give collectors the opportunity to meet the artist.

This experience also demonstrates the value of telling stories about artwork. Guilloume writes narratives about most of his pieces. Not everyone cares about the stories, but it’s often the case that the story is the extra little push that encourages the collector to buy.Of course, it doesn’t always work out to provide this kind of experience for a collector, but whenever I have the chance, I will go out of my way to give collectors the opportunity to meet the artist.

In my book, How to Sell Art, I encourage artists to tell stories about the inspiration for the piece, the experience creating the particular work, or even a story about where the artist’s interest in the subject matter comes from.


A patron’s initial response to your work is going to be raw and emotional. At a basic level, he will apprehend immediately whether or not he likes the work. If he does like the work, your job is to reinforce the positive connection, and to build the interest into an overwhelming, irresistible desire to buy.

Capturing the customer’s attention and imagination will imbue a sense of ownership in the piece, and nothing will engage the mind so well as a good story. Take him on a brief journey to unfold your interest in the subject matter, to elucidate the creation process, and to share your wonder at the miraculous result. Let your enthusiasm be contagious.

Here is a persuasive first step: If the piece of art is a landscape, talk about the setting in nature where the painting was created. The information satisfying the following questions will provide the fodder for your story:

  •  What drew you to the area?
  •  Had you been there before?
  •  How did you get there?
  •  Was the setting what you expected?
  •  How long did you stay?
  •  What most surprised you about the landscape of the area?
  •  What aspects of the landscape were you most interested in capturing in your painting?
  •  What most excites you about the painting?
  •  What response did you hope to elicit through the painting?

Similarly, if you have created a figurative sculpture, you could address the following interrogatories to create a narrative:

  •  Which gestures were you interested in capturing?
  •  What did you have to do to get the model to convey those gestures?
  •  What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of capturing the gestures?
  •  What most excites you about the piece you have created?
  •  To what should the viewer pay special attention?

What if you are an abstract painter? How much story can you extract from an abstract painting? Answer these questions and see where the story takes you:

  •  How much did you know about the piece before you began?
  •  What emotion was primarily driving the composition?
  •  What struggles did you face as you worked on the piece, and how did you overcome them?
  •  What surprised you about the way the piece came to-gether?
  •  What aspect or detail of the work most excites you?
  •  How does this piece fit into the narrative of the other pieces you are creating? Does it say something new? Does it build on a theme?

You get the idea. Asking yourself these kinds of questions in advance, and sharing the answers in an improvised narrative at the appropriate time, will help the client begin to engage more fully with your work. The personal touch of the creator is arguably the most efficacious tool, after the paint brush, in effectuating a sale.

Some would argue that your story might get in the way of the client formulating his own interpretation regarding the work, and that you might actually hinder his connecting to the piece. Is it possible to share too much information? Can the collector feel bombarded with all the relevant detail? I have never found this to be the case. A customer is going to bring his own story and exposition to the piece, no matter what you do; your chronicle only adds panache to the experience.

Has Telling Stories Helped you Sell Your Art?

Have you tried telling stories about your work? How have stories impacted your ability to sell your art? How do you tell your stories? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. What a great article Jason and a wonderful story about your client and artist meeting.
    I agree that the artist can only benefit by having all those background questions about their artworks answered in advance.
    When it comes to the selling process, it is realy important to read/listen to the client, before disclosing too much information about the artist and their motivations etc for creating the artwork. Sometimes in my experience, doing this has put a client off purchasing an artwork.

  2. I have a story for every piece I have ever painted and although I sell mostly prints at markets and art faires, I find that people enjoy hearing the story behind the art and it often helps them choose or decide, or at least makes them smile.

  3. Yes, plus being at the gallery and being able to connect with the new client I’m sure helped them decide to purchase my painting.

    I had my art work in a co-op gallery and my fellow artists would take turns working. Several of them would not greet customers or strike up conversations. For this and other reasons I removed my paintings.

  4. I have work in a co-OP Gallery and one afternoon I came in for my shift and my coworker said that someone had expressed interest in a piece of mine and was returning. When the woman returned she asked about the background of the piece. Turns out she was an artist as well . We ended up chatting and exchanging information and she bought the piece. I was thrilled to have sold my work to another artist.

  5. Again, a very helpful and great article, thank Jason. I often found, that the title of a piece would start a conversation and would lead to a story…I think a good title Is also very helpful to create interest in a buyer.

  6. I often struggle describing my creative works. But as an art lover, I enjoy knowing the artist’s thoughts and backstories. Sometimes when others discuss my art or ask questions, I think “Yes!” or “Wow, yes, I hadn’t thought of that.”

    Thanks Jason for another great article

  7. I frequently go to Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island to paint – we had a 3-day plein air painting competition there at this time last year, and, knowing that I needed as much time to paint as possible for my oils to dry, I started right away on the first day, even though rain was in the forecast. Now, even though Whidbey is only a couple hours away from Seattle, we only get half the rain. And our August are usually quite dry. I venture out, but soon found it showering, then all-out raining, and then it actually started hailing! In the summer, in the beach. I nearly froze there on the rocks as I attempted to paint with hail drumming off my canvas, my palette swimming in an inch of water, with me blowing the beaded water off the picture. I also discovered how cheap my new easel was, as wood swelled and glued in joints fell apart. Just miserable! I wanted to toss the canvas but was aided by my wife and kids who came with our 10’x10′ canopy. Everything gradually dried out, even though the rain and hail kept up. I ended up, after 4-5 hours, with one of my best landscapes! It soon sold and has been one of my most popular prints. People visiting my gallery love hearing the story, and i believe the telling of it has been instrumental in the sales. Oh, and also as a tribute to the place and story, I entitled it, “Hail, Ebey’s Landing!”

  8. Connecting with the potential buyer is so important, which is probably why more art sells during or from the artist’s reception than in the weeks that follow. What I’ve learned is to keep the story succinct . If there are several stories choose one or two very short ones. My work is full of stories so I have to be careful to respect the fact that just one good memory or fascinating fact is enough. Let the client ask for more if they want it. As shy as I can be, it’s like a need a gag sometimes! Guilloume’s story is so wonderful to hear!

  9. I loved the story the artists shared with his clients at Zanadu with your arranging for them to meet. Such a personal touch that I will remember and as the clients said..everytime they look at the scupture, they will relive the story. Made my day…thank-you.

  10. Most of my paintings have short stories on my website. Some a bit longer. When the painting is posted in my newsletter or on social media, I often get comments on stirred emotions or memories, or appreciation for the insight into my thoughts, feelings or artistic process. It’s always gratifying to hear from viewers and collectors alike. I love the personal connections. I also print a page with the image, title, it’s story and my small photo, which gets attached to the back of the framed piece. The gallery loves that, as do many buyers.

  11. Every art work has a story. In studying art history (or any history for that matter), it’s the stories and our reactions to that story that makes the art work in this case more real and approachable.
    However, the viewer and the collector has a part of that story too. THey have a deep and emotional attachment to the work.
    Both together make the story.
    Just an assertion on my part but one that is being borne out in my own circumstances.

  12. My father(French/Iroquois) and mother (Irish) were both prolific storytellers. I inherited it and do a lot of storytelling in my oil paintings of birds and antique objects. Even the titles hint at a story. I find that I have to be sensitive to the mood or preferences of each person who connects with my work. I’m developing a keen awareness of body language and facial expression. Often, though, I’ve sold to people who bought simply from the story they could clearly “read” simply by viewing it and the emotions it evoked in them. One buyer, a fellow artist, said she bought “Aspiring Chickadee” because it made her want to cry. A couple bought “Coffee Clutch,” a tiny farm-scape, because they said they could almost hear the birds chattering busily to one another like when they had coffee with friends. So while some desire more, for others, the combination of image and title can be story enough. I try to be ready for both reactions.

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