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 allow you to 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 reddotblog.com, 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.

10 Comments

  1. It is always important to have a story with my paintings. I work to express a moment in time whether it is a landscape, cityscape or figures. I like the idea of having the story with the painting. I think people do appreciate that you are not just painting to sell what clients might want, but paint what you have a personal connect to and that it is your hope to express this through your painting.

  2. I’m a wood carver who specializes in Celtic knots. Many of the knots have meanings that the customers love to hear. Often they ask, but many times I’ll offer what the significance of the particular knots are. Other good stories are how I got the idea for a particular design. One of the best is a design that I traced on a napkin from a design on a table in pub in Dublin. It’s very relatable and customers love to hear it.

    I also frequently tell customers about the shield knot which, according to Celtic lore, protects the home from danger and misfortune from the four directions of the compass. I have one in my home and haven’t been struck by lighting yet! Another thing that sometimes makes a difference is to explain why I used a particular wood or how the grain interacts with the design.

    The most powerful thing however, is just the opportunity for the customer to meet and talk with the artist. In our co-op, several artists work in the shop, directly with the customers. They always sell more pieces than the consignment artists who do not meet the customers. That interaction with the artist is valuable to the buyer. A good story makes it even better!

    1. I love Celtic knots, having Manx heritage it feels important to me. I love your story about your wood carvings of knots so much its inspiring me to go back to some painting ideas which incorporate knots. Back when I was first in art school I had to make a tessellating Lino print so I naturally made a knot. I did one quarter of it and printed it in four sheets to make the full one it was great fun and teachers and students really responded to it too. I’ve put knots and roundels, and friezes on ceramic work too but I’ve not ever put together a painting; now I’ve one building in my mind. Thanks Carl!

  3. Jason Horejs’s Art Business Academy has provided me a systematic process for approaching gallery representation. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go the gallery route, since I enjoy selling directly to the collector, but after several months I was convinced of the benefits a relationship with a gallery would afford. After about three months of following Jason’s process, I secured my first gallery representation, and continue to reach out to others on my list. Because of the academy, I have the tools that give off a professional vibe, and give me more confidence as well.
    A bonus of ABA is the collective wisdom and experiences of the other artists who are at various places on the same path. The Friday Zoom calls encourage, educate, and affirm my on my artist’s journey.

  4. Just yesterday I reached out to collectors of my work about a new piece inspired by a childhood memory, with a short telling about the baby squirrel in my pocket being reclaimed by its mommy. They promptly decided to acquire it and were pleased with the tale. But what is more surprising is that it adds to my own experience of the memory and the artwork and its destination. It’s better than just the first shopper to see it anonymously buying it in a strictly commercial and uninformed manner.

    1. Isn’t that the truth?! We artists enjoy the story just as much! And it means something to us that someone wanted to enjoy that experience with us. I’d love to hear the baby squirrel story by the way. I’ll check out your website.

      1. I do my own Facebook business page so I can easily put my story there when I post the painting. But my husband does my website on Dreamweaver on his computer as “second fiddle” to our gallery’s huge website and newsletter, so I haven’t had the opportunity to add the stories there. I’m reminded by Jason’s blog that I should provide the story at the same time as I provide the title and size when he photographs the art. I’m thinking of starting an Etsy Shop for some types of paintings and for giclees, and think the stories would be important there. I enjoy Open Studios when visitors want to hear the story in person.

  5. I enjoy the challenge of crafting story in layers. The first layer is the big story that encompasses my whole body of work. (Birds are as curious about us as we are about them) Then there’s the hint of a story in each individual painting which can be derived just from viewing the piece. Finally, for those who care to read deeper, I almost always craft a written piece that goes into detail about the memories and emotions that inspired the piece. I choose subject matter that many people can connect with easily. So every time someone emails me their own connecting thoughts, another layer is added.

    Every now and then, with permission, I share those final layers with my closest followers…and you’re right. This often creates an irresistible desire to own a piece.

  6. I love the idea of writing about each piece. I haven’t made that a practice but I look forward to revisiting works and what brought me to the experience of creating them. I’m sure it will help in my own self awareness of what and why I am drawn to a certain subject and/or expression. I imagine it could bring clarity in the direction of my ongoing journey. Kind of like a journal through art.

  7. Telling stories is such a powerful sales tool. I’ve had clients interested in a piece and after hearing the inspiration/ story they said “we have to have it! We will always remember the story!”.

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