Should Artists Present Artwork in Bins at Art Shows, or is it a Distraction?

In the comments on a recent post about giving buyers too many choices, artist Eric Saint Georges asked

In a show: What about the bins? Would you also limit the number of pieces in the bins? On one hand too many pieces can be overwhelming, one the other hand people looking in the bins are likely more interested…

I replied,

I have mixed feelings about bins. I know that for a lot of artists, the bins become the bread and butter at many shows. My concern is that adding a bunch of art into the mix at a show with a bin, can interfere with sales of other work on two levels. First, the work in the bins is likely to be at a much lower price point, and second, you are making it harder for clients to make a purchasing decision for the reasons mentioned in this post.

For artists doing a lot of shows, I would highly recommend experimenting with the bin. Put the bin out at half of your next 10 shows, and leave it in the studio for the other half. See how the presence or lack of the bin affects your profitability for the shows. There can be some variation just by the nature of the different shows, but you should have some pretty good data at the end of 10 shows.

I predict that most artists will see an increase in the sales of major works if the bin isn’t in the booth as a distraction.

Do you Sell Art Out of Bins at Shows?

If not, why not? If so, what have you found to be the effect of having a bin? Are bin sales an important part of your typical show revenue? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

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31 Comments

  1. I’m thinking – and I speak as a consumer – that the bins reach a completely separate demographic. There are times I”ve bought from the bin because I wasn’t financially or otherwise prepared to make the big purchase I’d prefer. The smaller purchase doesn’t preclude me from still wanting the larger, and in fact helps keep my wish in the front of my mind. Depending on the venue, the bins also provide “stickiness”, keeping the potential buyer lingering a bit longer. If your venue is one which may attract people who look down on bins, maybe reformat (set up a mini-space) or don’t bring them.

  2. My experience has been that most people know where they want to be price-wise and will go directly to the bins, barely glancing at the work on the walls, if that is where they are at. On the other hand, people who are interested in the work on the walls are rarely interested in the bins, even if directed to them. They may choose not to buy an original, but a print or a sketch will not tempt with a lower price point. Unfortunately I am often at a loss for what more I can do to help people take the leap of faith and just buy what they want. But the bins appeal to a completely different audience, and help me to pay my booth fee. I only leave them at home when they are not allowed at a show.

  3. I have had a rack out at my open studios but not gallery shows. I don’t do festivals and the like because it didn’t seem like the right venue for my art when I did try it. Only once have I sold work from the rack, though there Appears to be a lot of interest. The work on the walls takes center stage whether I have a print rack with unmounted work set out or just a portfolio on a table. I was already toying with the idea of leaving it in a drawer next time before the email. I think I will.

  4. Having been on the ‘Loving Art, but too poor to buy it’ side of the fence . . . I’ll vote for bins. There’s a whole caboodle of people out there who would just LOVE to own a piece of ‘real, original art,’ even if it isn’t one of the artist’s best efforts. It’s wonderful to the new collector. And it’s a step into the water that, as time and his fortune grow, will become an ‘art addict.’ A long-distance-thinking artist should embrace these people. They will be friends for life.

    It allows the artist to clean out his nice, but not show winning art that might sell well out of a bin, but framing would make cost-prohibitive. I’ve seen more people digging in bins than looking on the wall – those finished pieces just scream, “You can’t afford it!” to a young family.

  5. I recently used a bin at a show that primarily sells paintings.I showed two large oil paintings in the show but my bin contained a selection of my Silk Aquatint intaglio prints. They were presented backed with foam core and wrapped. I was not shy about pricing them at my normal rate so this was not a “bargain bin” of my paintings that I did not really want and was willing to sell at lower prices. I was simply taking the opportunity to show a number of my prints in one place.
    I did not sell any of them but I also did not expect to. It was an experiment on my part and a chance to take an opportunity to show more of my work!
    It is the first time I have tried something like this and I would try it again in this particular situation. I did have a lot of lookers and a lot of questions at the show opening. And…that is good!

  6. I obviously don’t have your perspective since selling art is your expertise… but as an interior designer, one of the activities I enjoy most is going to the antique fairs in search of that hidden gem… ! … and it isn’t typically the pieces that are in plain view…

    From your point, it could possibly detract from bigger sales… which isn’t good business… but I do believe that a large number of people do like the challenge of discovery…

    … so, my comment is probably not very helpful…

  7. I am still experimenting with having a bin at shows/festivals – ORIGINALS ONLY. Last year I pretty much sold out and felt my price points for the originals were too low ‘so have raised them for this year. Many people flipped through my bin hoping to find reproductions at paper/rag reproduction prices. (My originals were $50, 75, 95, a couple at $150) Many were looking for small seascapes. My bin pieces were varied, mostly figurative and still life.

    My bin pieces this year are small versions of my large (anywhere from 30″ x 40″ to 4′ x 6’) seascapes with all of my wall art being 4 figures. My bin art this year will be $150 and $250 — 9″ x 12″ and 12″ x 16″ seascape studies and demo oil paintings, plein air and studio pieces. Last year I sold or was commissioned to do large seascapes on;y so I don’t have smaller seascapes – I sold only one last year to an existing portrait patron.

    I like having a bin because it stops people and when people stop to look, others follow. This gives me a better chance to engage in conversations and to see if these individuals have specific needs. Sometimes interested buyers will put three or four paintings together to hang as a group – always fun to help them do this and I usually have more paintings that I have held back that they can choose from as well. I think this generates excitement and my art suddenly becomes desirable to passers-by who are overwhelmed by having so many artists and artisans to see at a festival.

    I do shows/festivals in Florida, January through March so the jury is out as to whether my new pricing works.But after reading your last post about overwhelming people with too much, I think that I will try keeping a minimal amount of paintings in my bin, 10 – 12. I did one show in November that was not in my demographic but close to home. I put a lot of bin paintings in my bin because of my local demographic and I noticed that very few people looked through all of them – they flipped through 4 or 5 then moved on. Very very few people are keen on details at these shows I think. I think I get one person a day at a show who stops to read my bio.

    This was such a good question – I look forward to hearing how others fare.

  8. Whether I have bins or not doesn’t affect how many of my larger (pricier) sell.

    The bins are specifically for a lower price point and demographic. There’s an important aspect of not having so much in the bin that a consumer won’t make a decision about items in the bin.

    As someone else said, the people who buy the larger work rarely pay attention to my bins.

    Having bins has increased my sales overall.

  9. As a photographer who no-longer does art fairs, I think the buyers were different when I did the fairs. There were patrons looking for pieces that were ready-to-hang and others that responded to the work and wanted something to take home and frame.

    Every artist needs to learn who their buyers are and how to connect with them and their needs/wants.

    I would prefer to sell only wall art pieces but the economic reality is that I earn a lot more money on my matted pieces from the print bins.

  10. My neighbour at a booth next to me at an art show had a bin. In his booth were framed reproduction prints. In the bin were unframed smaller sized prints. People bought the unframed pieces at a lower price point. Wait till they check into the price for framing them!
    I watched and it appeared that many artists that had bins had few clients look up at the walls. I don’t sell reproductions as a rule and do not have a bin. It fills the booth and leaves little room for potential clients to come in and look at the walls..

  11. I found that many visitors to my studio never even looked through the bin. So I put it away. When I decided to try it again, I posted a sign above it, “please feel free to look through this selection of paintings”, and it now gets more attention. I have more lookers, but still no sales from the bin. All are originals, and prices are the same as similar-sized pieces on the wall.

  12. I find that there are some art fairs where, for no particular reason except who shows up at the show, where only prints sell. Other shows only framed work sells. (My work is watercolor so to show it it has to be framed.) Sometimes, unframed, (but not inferior) work sells. People who are drawn to the framed work are thinking (often) its a finished package and they don’t have to use their imagination to see how it will look.

    So it just depends, and since an art fair is usually a couple of days, paying for my expenses with lower priced work is better than no sales.

    People who buy from bins are thinking they would like to take their time in the financial commitment and frame it later. Some just like that there are different images from what I am showing on the walls. Some want their own choice of frame, or have a friend who will frame it for them. Some think they can find an inexpensive frame to keep the overall cost down. I also offer to frame as an up-sell.

    I agree that there are different buyers at different price points. I haven’t noticed that having bins reduces sales. If it was a gallery, it would be a different scenario I think.

    My bins are usually in categories. (which is what the TedTalk person talked about)

    That all being said, I have begun to reduce the amount of bin work to reduce the choosing process. I agree that too many bins cause confusion.

  13. I used to do bins at some shows (open studios and some outdoor fests) but stopped doing them as I thought they were distracting to selling the higher price point items. People liked to flip through them quickly and walk on. I had small $30 prints in them.

    The past couple of years I did away with the bin. I just did a huge indoor art and craft show this past November and I hung large and small originals on my panels (with miniature paintings starting at $150 or $200). I think I may have been the only 2D artist there without prints and who was concentrating on selling originals. I had decided that the venue had a large enough crowd that I could either sell a ton of smaller priced items or concentrate on making a few ‘good’ sales of my original artworks. It was my best selling show of the year and I made a good profit. I still sell prints, but I sell them online through my website and I direct people there if that is what they want. I may very well change up how I do things in the future if it doesn’t work for me any longer, but for right now, my plan for shows is no bins.

  14. I do well with my bin at shows. Last show I sold 12 pieces from my bin ($300). 40 cards from by tables ($200) and one original from my wall ($200). This made pretty much an equal breakdown dollar wise from each section. Being in a smaller market with less high dollar purchases makes it a necessity for me.

  15. I don’t have bins as such, but have a scrolled metal rack on a table where people can sift through matted prints. I’ve had one particularly successful series of drawings for the last few years. I’ve retired the series but may offer the leftovers next year. I mix original drawings and colored pencil with them. I consider matted prints and original drawings “souvenirs” and generally have an intense dislike producing this stuff.

    My reasoning for bringing them to the few shows I do is to offer every person who pauses something they can afford. My framed originals go for $XXXX to $XXX, a couple giclees for a lower $XXX, or the matted prints and drawings for $XX. I want them to go home with something so people can enjoy my work. It is a reasonable compromise.

    Patrons and collectors don’t bother looking at the drawings. They go straight to my originals. However, if it isn’t in the budget it isn’t in the budget. There are places I exhibit I wouldn’t consider a bin, ever.

  16. As an art buyer in the past (no more room!) I have looked at and bought from both on the wall and in bins. The bins in particular I found good for when traveling and didn’t want to buy a framed piece that would add weight etc to shipping home, or added bulk when driving. Also, I have a scheme of frames for my home that isn’t often what is with the art (unless it is integral to the art.)
    (At this point it is mostly my own art or a few things I’ve traded for with other artists.)

  17. At the venues I have done, framed work is on the panels and matted artwork is in the bins. Both are originals. I have sold work from both. In my experience customers who come who are traveling or tourists want small unframed originals to safely pack in suitcases.

  18. I haven’t done a show for several years now, but plan to go back to a popular and formally successful show for me in the spring. I have always used a print rack (bin) at my shows. Since I have been a wildlife artist for the last 40 years, some of my best prints have been seascapes with sea birds in them, or song birds and animals in their native habitat, or scenery in general, from the mountains to the beach, both places I have lived and am very familiar with. My original work is in the 4 figure range, my unframed prints range from $100+ to 400 depending on paper or canvas giclees. Prints have often been a show-saver for me, since not nearly as many people can afford a 4-figure original., and it’s a numbers game, not only in the number of attendees, but in the number of what you have to offer. I believe that what’s more important than how many pieces you have is the consistency of those pieces. People can see that your body of work is consistent, and that some pieces aren’t merely flukes. I work in soft pastels, so my originals are usually large and have to be framed. Having prints offers a lot more flexibility.

  19. As a printmaker who does not make inkjet reproductions of my work, I use print racks ( amore positive name than bin!) for unframed work. People who are sending work as a present, are deluding themselves about the cost of framing or don’t like my frames buy unframed work . There prefer to have it to hang straight away. The two complement each other as my racks contain work of the same standard and calibre as the work on the walls – they are merely unframed .

  20. I don’t think it matters for most artists unless you are a hi-priced darling of the art world. I never see it down for $$ artists. I thin it cheapens their work.

    But for the average Joe or Jane, the art-fair artist, it is nice to offer reduced art for those low on a budget.

  21. I have been thinking about including matted unframed paintings (watercolour and ink) at my shows and sales only because (1) people may prefer a different colour of frame than the ones I use (2) they can’t afford the more expensive framed art (3) would save me the effort and cost of framing of art that doesn’t sell (4) would give exposure to those paintings that are piling up in a cupboard at home.
    I do have a small table-top bin of original, numbered, and signed art cards which people buy who want an original piece of art but can’t afford the larger pieces or to give as gifts. Our economy here has greatly reduced sales and even attendance at sales/markets. Often, it’s the sale of these cards that pay for my booth.
    It is a dilemma. My work is consistent, my prices are reasonable, and I hear very positive feedback. I’ve been showing this new work for about a year and have sold many pieces but I need/want to sell much more. Is it a time thing? I’m fighting against the pull that will turn me into a pretzel trying to meet everyone’s likes/needs but sometimes…..
    I look forward to reading input from others.

  22. My experience is the same as many others above. People stop to look in the bins, so people lingering in the booth is an attractor; different demographic for bins than wall hung; my bin work is all small originals and are not cheap. I have had shows where all I had was framed work and nothing sold, but I can be profitable from just a few bin sales that add up.
    I will be taking some things out of the bins and off the walls to make smaller selections for my next show to see if that helps or hurts.
    It will be painful to reduce quantity, but I think you are right.

  23. I attend shows to learn, admire, follow the progress, changes, themes of my favored artists or artists that are new to me but particularly catch my eye. I don’t go with the expectation of buying anything, but am a senior citizen, and not in much of an acquiring mode, either in mind or budget. But I love to look, and when there are bins, I always look, and if I like the artist’s work, I look all the way to the end of the bin, and then often go through a second time if I am tempted to purchase a print.
    I have always thought most bin contents were smaller versions of originals that were no longer available except as smaller prints. It intrigues me that so many respondents are mentioning originals in bins.
    Sometimes what I see in bins are smaller prints of the originals on the walls, at a seriously more manageable price point. I can pretty easily be persuaded to part with $30 for something I will probably never hang, but enjoy looking at every so often, adding it to a small pile of prints I’ve acquired that I want to keep from artists I admire. Or I might part with $80-100 for a gift to a family member, but always end up regretting that I didn’t upgrade to a framed version if the option existed.
    Sometimes my purchase is because I want to keep the artist’s information on hand, and if so, I often enter that person into my contacts so that I can quickly access their websites, and show off their works to friends or acquaintances when conversation makes it appropriate. I have done this an assortment of times.
    I don’t recall ever seeing originals in bins, but I didn’t expect to, so perhaps I failed to recognize them as originals in that setting.
    I know I’m contributing a bit late, so perhaps few will see this, but I didn’t see anyone representing my outlook and motivations.
    And for reference, if you see potential customers coming year after year without purchasing, think of me. It took me about 5 years to get my husband to agree to a purchase from my favorite painter, but the day did come!

  24. Photography may be different, but most of the galleries I am in have both my wall art and pieces in the bins.

    I also have a selection of smaller canvases in addition to larger ones that are hanging. Since I am in tourist areas many people gravitate to the smaller pieces. Others do purchase the larger ones off the walls or order one to be shipped home.

    I think it only enhances my sales.

    On the other hand, my gallery near Nashville TN does not carry any prints. And they have been selling very large canvas pieces in addition to the smaller canvases. This gallery has a mix of clientele – tourists as well as those that own large homes with many being in the music business.

  25. I think that it depends on the show. I take my”bin” to shows. The bin contrary to what others express here often is the starter point for a sale. People stop to look and it is a perfect place to start a conversation.
    I sell mostly reproductions from my bin, but recently I have put in a mix of matted ink sketches, which are selling well.
    My one word of advice is overload! Do not put duplicates of the same reproduction in the bin. It is an absolute turn off to buyers and it cheapens your work.

  26. I think it definitely depends on the venue and the medium you work in. At an open studio or festival, I sell unframed acrylic paintings on gallery canvases from the wall in a variety of sizes and I sell original watercolors matted with acid free foam core backings from a flip tray. At my open studio, I have learned to keep the flip tray in a different area than my hanging art, in my case it is in the last viewed room of the house. Yes, it is important not to overload it and not to have too many similar paintings.
    In the last outdoor festival I attended, I sold 400 worth of flip tray items and one 650 canvas. I do believe the buyers were motivated to either the hanging paintings or the flip tray, not both. However, when I went on a trip recently, I purchased 2 photos from a photographer in a market place and 3 prints from an artist in a weekend show. Yes, they fit in my suitcase.
    The more gallery representation I have, the less festivals I have been doing. It is also getting tougher for me physically to set up the tents, walls etc. I would not consider selling flip tray items in a gallery setting, nor would I expect most galleries to have them. Lately though, I have seen some galleries offering a more diverse variety of items including flip trays, jewelry and even designer art clothing. Do you think some galleries are doing this as a necessary means of survival and does that make a gallery a less attractive venue to artists?

  27. When I first read this article a few days ago, my first reaction was that things in bins carry the notion that they are cheaper, a bargain, on sale, etc. and that this would not be the ideal way to promote high end one of a kind artwork. However after reading the responses, and thinking about it for awhile, I thought of another approach to this type of marketing that would not have the same mediocre meaning. That is simply marking the work in bins as “yet to be framed work.” Hopefully this is helpful to some of you.
    http://www.davidmckayartist.com

  28. I have had more purchases from the bins than what I display because often people will not spend on the higher costs. I put mine in bins via price so people can choose what they want to spend and look in that box, or move up to a ‘better box’.

  29. My first art festival this past year (a well known and high end juried event) I only brought originals and struggled to cover my expenses (which was a steep $1000); many people asked if I had any prints (even though I brought a lot of lower priced miniature paintings) and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have sold more at the show. I brought my print reproductions with me to the rest of my shows and it was what helped cover my booth fee at some events. My mid to large originals seem to sell better at galleries (where shoppers are expecting to spend more), whereas minis and print reproductions sell better at festivals (where people are expecting to spend less).

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