From a Reader – Creating Art Sales by Promoting your Work to Your Network of Acquaintances

I’ve often written that selling artwork is all about building relationships with potential buyers. There’s another side to this however, in that people with whom you already have a relationship can be a great pool of potential buyers. Friends, family and business colleagues  can all become collectors, as can the people you interact with in a less personal way, such as members of community groups where you volunteer, and everyone else you meet.

Some of you worry that you will overstep some unspoken boundary by promoting your art to acquaintances, friends or family. This could be true if you were pushy or overly-forceful in your promotion or sales efforts. I would suggest, however, that being pushy and forceful  when you interact with strangers who are interested in your work would be just as negative. In other words,  if you treat those you already know with the same respect you treat your other buyers, there’s no reason to believe you will be seen as abusing your existing relationship when you invite those you know to see your work.

I would argue that it makes no sense to discriminate against your acquaintances by depriving them of the opportunity to view, enjoy and collect your work just because they know you.

Another reason many artists don’t invite friends, family and other acquaintances to art events is because they mistakenly think the people in their circle of influence aren’t interested in art or may not be able to afford to buy. The beautiful thing about an invitation is that only those who are interested will accept! You may also be surprise who can afford to buy art (and besides, it doesn’t cost anything for your friends to enjoy your art, even if they can’t afford to buy at the moment!)

People in your life are likely to enjoy your work even more than strangers. Knowing you adds an extra dimension of appreciation for what you are doing. Your friends will love getting to see the creative side of your life.

An Example

I recently received the following email from an artist and RedDotBlog reader in Detroit.

At my last open studio, I invited all my rowing buddies, more or less to introduce them to myself and my art, (I was only a member of that group for 6 months)The open studio involves 33 artists studio in my .building and it is fun and very exciting event.

I was completely taken by surprise that to 5 rowers I sold 3 paintings and 2 prints in a matter of 1 hour. Part of it was of course that I only knew them sweaty and in work out clothes- and therefore never considered them as potential buyers. One of them came back over the Thanksgiving holidays with family members that also resulted in a sale and interest in another piece. Now I have to follow up ! : ))

Birgit H.

Artwork Sold to Birgit’s Rowing Mates

Abend in der Pfalz1 Eden II edit_edited-1 Waiting for Mancini 1


 

The next time your work is being featured in a show, open studio or some other invent, make sure the people you know are the first to receive invitations!

What do you Think?

Have you made sales to people you know? How have you handled inviting friends, family and acquaintances to see and buy your work? What concerns do you have about this process? Leave your experiences, thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Starving to Successful

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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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

35 Comments

  1. Thanks Jason
    I was lucky enough to be in Scottsdale last Thursday night for the evening art night . I was in Xanadu, and very happy to be in the beautiful space with beautiful artwork .
    I am in NYC. and find your blog very helpful .
    I have mostly sold work to friends of friends. Not a problem for me to promote myself with this group. Albeit in a subtle way
    Thanks for your blog
    Beth Barry
    http://www.bethbarry.com

  2. The challenge, I think, is to make sure friends and acquaintances don’t feel under any pressure to support your art career, or sense that it is a condition of friendship. This can be delicate.

  3. One of the great values of a Customer Relationship Manager like ACT is the ability to see who your customers are. I was amazed at how many sculptures Kevin Caron has sold to family, friends and – this was a real surprise – neighbors. They buy his work because they love it, and because we let them know when he has shows. I also make sure they, and other fans, don’t feel guilty when they aren’t able to make it to an event. When someone apologizes for not making a show, I always tell them, “No problem! We don’t want you to associate Kevin with guilt. [There is usually some laughter there.] I know you come when the time is right.” That helps relieve the sort of pressure Helen Rietz mentions above.

  4. I love the article
    How do you collect the emails and how often is recommending to email about your art?
    Definitely want to try this method

    1. I’ve done this several times to build an email base; at my last show I gave away a small 8 x 10 framed painting that I had very little time into. Sometimes I will give away a drawing. The contacts are far worth more than if I had sold them. I garnered over 130 emails. I don’t abuse them and send emails for upcoming shows and when I complete a large piece.

  5. The ONLY sales I have made is to acquaintances! In fact one reason I am taking Jason’s mentorship program is to become more confident exhibiting to strangers. As I have yet to establish a relationship with a gallery, I am contemplating a “wine and cheese” at my home later in the summer. I would consider inviting everyone I can think of (would it be cheeky to send an invitation to local galleries?) to build a reputation as a serious artist. Does this have the potential of being an effective way to promote me and my art? What are the potential risks?

    1. I have the same question! I’m having a show in a few weeks at a museum and I am wondering if I should invite all of the local gallery owners.

  6. Friends and acquaintances have been great supporters and buyers of my art. They appreciate that I share when I have a show. I give them an invite and say”please come and see my latest if you can – really would like your take on it.” When they come I thank them and do Not say things like ” which one would you like to buy” I may ask “do you have a favourite or how does the work speak to you?” I don’t mind them being frank. I like to involve them and never expect a sale and am of course happy if they like something enough to purchase it. I

  7. So many people outside of my closest circle of friends did not know I was an artist or if they did, had never seen my work. Last year I began hosting Art & Hospitality Happy Hours at my studio-turned-gallery for the evening. Friends served as bartender, cashier and food manager while I got to mingle, enjoy my guests, and be the gentle salesperson. Of course, the people I invited were friends and acquaintances, but the surprise was that my friends invited their friends to the party, people I didn’t know, thus widening the circle. I have now had three such events, all of them successful both in attendance and in sales. They have led to individual studio sales as well. It was a grand experiment, but now I’m convinced that the personal touch is something people are looking for. I make no apologies for sharing my art with my friends and my friends’ friends. It’s how I’m making connections and building community around my art.

  8. If I look at my own buying patterns, I mostly buy from people I know because I enjoy having a piece of them in my life and I am proud to support their career. Even if I clearly do not depend on friends, family and acquaintances to lead my art career I do not count them out !

  9. Friends, family, work (colleagues) and service related (gardener, contractor, family physician, attorney) acquaintances continue to amaze me with their interest in my work, attend show openings and actually purchase my work. Last sale was to a friend’s new boyfriend!

    I’m so excited to be painting again after 35 years away from my art (raising a family and developing a very rewarding career – non art related). I’ve recently retired and have been painting almost full time. People seem to be intrigued by artists and love to hear about our work and why we do what we do. When asked what I do with my time now that I’m retired, I say, “I paint! Want to see what I’m doing?” People like to tell others that they know an artist or have a friend who is an artist. They love to come to an opening or go see an exhibit when they know one of the artists. Just this week a dear friend invited me out to see the exhibit my work is in and then go for lunch. She likes to ask questions about the work displayed and considers it an “honor” to learn from an artist.

    Yes, family, friends, acquaintances are valuable resources for selling art. When we express excitement and joy with what we do, there is no telling what the ripple effects will be!

  10. One of my first paintings was sold to a someone I went to High School with who was on the reunion committee for our 40th reunion. One never knows who might have an interest. I like the idea of hosting an art evening and using my big yard to hang paintings on the fence. As the weather gets warmer (and on a dry, calm day) I will give it a try this summer.

  11. Many of the buyers of my paintings and drawings over the years have been from other artists and artist friends. I have found that artist friends tend to support each other and bounce back and forth to each other’s shows. It is beneficial as well to all parties, not just the support but viewing others’ good works. We learn from each other.

  12. I think many of my friends and certainly family would be hurt if not invited to my art events. I have never seen any indication that they feel pressure to buy anything they don’t want or cannot afford. Some of them buy and some don’t. I appreciate their interest and I listened to one make a sale for me once as she proudly told the the buyer what she knew about the painting and me.
    I agree that everyone is a potential customer and “fans” can’t hurt even if they aren’t buying.

  13. I am just now working on my website, and getting back into painting after a number of years in another career, so I appreciate your post and all the comments. I look forward to seeing how this goes; I have been asked to send a copy of my art via email to a friend, but I’d like to get more works done and have them on my website before I shock them with my artistic self.

  14. I thought I recognized the style of the artwork and sure enough, it was from Birgit. I am lucky enough to have one of her encaustic pieces. I bought it after meeting her at an artist retreat and watching her creative process. I love her work but likely would not have purchased had we not met.

  15. My relatives and friends are some of my best customers! I do give them a “Friends and Family Discount” because I love them, but that has little or no influence when they buy my work.

  16. I am a part-part time new artist and most of my art sales and comissions have been friends and family. So far,it has been a great way to merge into the art world. I feel a little less stressed about the transactions and I am more likely to ask them questions and ‘practice’ my sales.
    I love your emails Jason. Excellent educational readings! Thank you!

  17. Some of my friends and family are the ones who express their appreciation for my work. Whenever I exhibit my work in a show, I post a picture of one of my paintings I am exhibiting and invite them to the show.

  18. I think I need new friends! Up until the end of last year I had only sold my artwork (with the exception of greeting cards) to people I don’t know. In November I finally sold a small work to a friend. I think it’s because they, like a lot of people in my area, like realistic paintings of things they recognise and ‘understand ‘. My work is abstract mixed-media and very definitely does not fit that description.

  19. Your friends can often be your greatest advocates. I’ve had many friends promote my work and for that I am grateful. Some of them are great customers too!

  20. I’m inspired by all the ideas here. I live and work in a tiny place, but it’s in San Diego where the sun shines most of the time. I’m now thinking of having an outdoor reception for neighbors, friends and family during the summer – and I have an artist friend who would love to show her own work (glass) with my paintings. I’ll add some music and make it a party. I like taking charge of my own destiny this way, and if I don’t make sales at the party, the residuals will happen! Thanks everyone for the encouragement to try this.

  21. I see a great many, smaller and much larger paintings, which the artists glibly describe as ‘abstract’. If you ask them what it is they have reduced to abstract – you get blank stares.
    The truth is that hardly any ‘abstract’ work is a reduction from something more ‘traditional’ – what it should be, but merely made as a wall filler, or art-by-the-yard. “Wall Wankers”, as I call them.
    Virtually all of these “W W” are bought to accompany the existing room decor and for nothing else. The ‘artists’ of these can sometimes sell a great deal. NOT because they are Fine Art, but because their work appeals to the ignorant masses. Conversely, guess who’s mortgage gets paid off quickest?

    1. Hi Arthur, Any and all forms of creativity is appreciated and judged by the specific viewer only. Let the ignorant masses enjoy their “art by the yard”. That being said, the title “fine Art” has morphed over the years. Can you imagine if canvases the likes of Pollock, Kandinsky or Rothko hung on the walls of a gallery 150 years ago.

  22. It seems to me that if artists don’t start by promoting their work and shows to family, friends, and neighbors–i.e., the people they know–their sales will be off to a very slow start. The people you know are the obvious place to begin your promotional efforts. I spent many years in subscription sales direct mail marketing prior to my second career as a fine artist, and one of the basic tenets is that the best response is going to come from (unfortunately) the smallest group–the inner circle of those who already know the company because they have bought other products or who have expressed interest about the product or offering. Ever widening circles (with correspondingly lower response rates) flow out from that inner circle.

    Artists already have an “in” with people who know them, and therefore may have an interest, or at least a curiosity, about what they are producing in the way of art. Another axiom of direct mail is that your best buyer is your past buyer, and I think artists sometimes forget this truth. In the beginning, you will make sales predominately to those who know you personally. As you progress in your career, the proportion will change and you will get more sales (although perhaps still not the majority) from people who are not known to you. But if you have opportunities for face-to face sales at open studios or other art events or meet-and-greets at your gallery, your universe of potential buyers who know you (and therefore, that inner circle) will expand and sales will follow.

    Some of the posts here have mentioned keeping email/address lists of contacts, and this is as important as it gets. I have about 800 names on my email newsletter contact list, and I consider those names the most valuable asset of my art business because it enables me to keep in touch with a huge percentage of those who have purchased or expressed interest in my art. There are many names on this list to which I cannot put a face, but they are still “my inner circle.”

  23. Friends and family are all I have had until recently. They have been the purchasers. My (only child) daughter and her husband asked me a few years ago now if they could borrow a watercolor of mine for their living room. So I said yes. I suggested that the loan could be permanent as long as I could at any point take back. So they said yes.
    Recently my rarely shown “Wings of the Morning” was in a show and was coming home. My daughter helped pick it up. Slyly on the way home she asked where I was going to put it when I got home. Storage I said. You could store it at my house she said. And that’s where I photographed it for my portfolio. She has a lot of friends over and what I have to do is suggest that she tell people about it and me. She does.
    My point is this- Family and close friends may be a good display resource too. So many museums have pieces on permanent loan. Why not? And permanent can easily be conditional.

  24. I have sold art to a number of both my relatives and my wife’s relatives. My wife feels uncomfortable my selling to her relatives. All the relatives are thrilled with the pieces that they’ve bought, but I’m uncomfortable with making my wife uneasy. Have others encountered this situation and any tips on how to handle it? Thanks in advance.

  25. Where my sales have come from over the last 25 plus years:

    Family and friends – 78% (just sold another one to family this week).
    Commissions/Public Art – 10% (although it accounts for the highest $’s in sales)
    Gallery sales – 7%

    I’ve also donated and gifted about 5% of my work.

    For the record, I still feel awkward promoting myself to family and friends.

  26. Of course invite friends, family, business associates. They are invited to bring guests, and that helps add to your list. I truly believe those interested in your story, and you as a person buy your art, without any push, if they have an interest they come to openings.
    I work full time and produce many pieces of art a year and generally have 2 showings a year, in my studio or galleries, community venues, etc. I also teach which opens up more folks who become enthused about painting and want to see my work. So it is networking, but honesty, touching peoples lives and connecting, be it your art or anything in life that really makes the difference. I get so excited when others are excited about learning how to paint or create, and you then have friends for life who follow your art and story. Happy creating.

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