Recently I received a great question from an artist regarding the challenge of giving a new acquaintance an opportunity to buy her art without coming off as pushy or creating an awkward situation. Below is her question and my response. I would love to hear what you would do in the situation or, even better, what you have done in the past. Please leave your comments below in the comments section.
I was wondering if I could ask you a question that I could not find an answer to from your newest book on selling art.
My question is – as the artist, when I invite someone to my studio, as I always do, if we are just getting to know each other and I have just brought them to my studio to see and experience the work in person and they have not expressly stated that they are looking to buy art but when they are in my studio and moved by all my art, if they express a genuine interest in a particular painting or in a few paintings, how do I switch over and ask them for a sale?
They didn’t come to my studio originally to buy art. They came because we are new “friends” or they have never seen my work in person before or they have always meant to get to one of my Open Studios but never actually made it… So my question is how do I literally switch gears without seeming like a sales person rather than the “friend” I am also cultivating? I feel rude and presumptuous if I all of a sudden start talking about the value of a painting and if they would like me to help them acquire it. I just don’t know how to get there. The missing step going from a friend visit to a sales experience.
I would appreciate whatever you can tell me that would help make these situations more productive, literally for me. Since I am not a gallery, people are not coming to look with the idea that buying is a possibility.
I hope I have not overstepped my bounds here. Your information has been invaluable to me.
This is a great question, and you’re right, it is a little different than the situation I face on a daily basis in the gallery. That said, I have had friends come into the gallery and end up making a purchase, and that situation is very similar to what you are describing.
When working with someone who wasn’t necessarily primed to buy, you can carefully probe their interest level by using a little candor and attempting a “soft” close. Something like “I know you didn’t come here intending to acquire a work of art tonight, but it seems like you’ve really fallen in love with this piece – it would be the easiest thing in the world to make it yours.”
By acknowledging the fact that they didn’t come here to be sold to you are removing the awkward nature of the closing attempt. Listen to their response and then apply the principles of my book to resolve any concerns that might be in the way of a purchase.
If anything, you have a greater obligation to try to help your friends get what they want, you just want to be careful not to be too pushy.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have additional ideas? Please share them below.
That has never worked for me- I have a lot of trouble turning interest into a sale. I actually have tried those techniques at my gallery and it never works. People seem to get scared (at least around here) and though they enjoy my story about how a particular painting was painted, that’s usually the end of it.
If they seem interested, just say , as it applies, “everything is for sale” or “theses will be in my next show”. You need not corner them. They will respond at their own comfort level
My husband and I have a studio and gallery in our home. When we invite friends to view artwork for sale, we try to have a piece or two in progress, this way we can engage them in the creative process. People really dig this. Very often they will purchase the piece they feel they’ve almost had an insight into creating. After this initial introduction, they are now primed to invest in future paintings. We find most clients are good for 3 – 4 purchases before going on to other artists.
Hope this helps 🙂
I have faced the same issue; here’s how I handle it. Once a friend/acquaintance/visitor appears to focus on one painting in my studio, I ask him or her what it is about that painting that draws them. This usually leads to an opening for me to confirm their taste, then to offer the painting for him/her to take home and enjoy for a day or two. No obligation. I do not mention the word “purchase”. Then I say: “should the painting feel right in your home, you may of course just give me a call and let me know you have decided to keep it.”
Hi Barrett, I think this is great – however you have not made mention to the person about any price. To save them embarrassment, I think you should mention the price when you make an offer for them to take it home to try.
It is a great idea, but you are correct the price needs to me mentioned. If the paintings in the studio are hung on the walls, perhaps the title along with the price could be beside the paintings.
Usually I give them a card with pertinent info and encourage them to give me their information: email etc for future shows. Then I follow up with invitations and phone calls.
Sometimes I encourage with a 10% off if they buy now but that usually doesn’t work because they have to think about it.
The last sale I made involved alot of talking about how the painting was made and the juried show it was in or had been in. I handed out the info about myself and the painting and agreed to ship if he decided he wanted the painting.
A few days later he called and said he wanted the painting and sent a check. Then I mailed the painting and he mailed the shipping cost. Very pleasant sale.
This does not happen all that often.
If someone comes to my studio to visit and shows interest in a particular piece, I usually will mention what’s involved in producing it. If they are interested in buying it then I tell them I will work up an estimate based on production, shipping, and installation to their site. Almost all my sculptures are “models” of the final piece, run up to get an idea of how it works as a sculpture, also built of lighter materials for transport to temporary shows. So what I sell is a replica of the original and cost is figured for permanent material, like bronze, stone, fiberglass (for floating pieces) or steel.
Hello Jason, I have just read both of your books and found them very insightful. I also ordered Arttracker and I am just loading my inventory. I am really not well organized in that department, and so far it looks like it will be great for keeping me on track and up to date. As regards approaching people who are casual friends etc when they come to see your home studio. I think maybe you could say something like “just to let you know I do sell my work and if you are interested here is a list of my prices” and at that point hand them some information with prices, website info etc. From personal experience I always prefer to see the price instead of having to ask. That way the visitor knows that you are serious about selling and from your point of view you don’t have to tiptoe around the subject. Maybe have sizes and prices on a notice on the wall. The visitor may see something they like and be nervous to inquire, after all a piece maybe $50 or $500 or $5000, it usually comes down to what they can afford. and they don’t want to be embarrased to ask. In a gallery setting it is obvious that the work is for sale and the tags will give the information. I am sure the studio visitor will respect you even more when they know you are serious about your business.
“From personal experience I always prefer to see the price instead of having to ask. ” I think this is the very best approach. If every piece has a price tag next to it, your work as a salesperson is done. They know it is for sale and they know if they can afford it. All YOU have to do is talk about how much you love making the work and why.
I totally agree!
I think this is how I would do it. Takes the pressure off all parties involved.
ps. I also think it is a good idea to cover this information before they show and interest in a certain piece.
I would be totally scared off if an artist responded as Jason suggested — “it looks like you’ve fallen in love with the piece and it would be so easy to make it yours” — yikes, HELP! I’d be out of there so fast!
I like Lynda’s response, or I might say, “they’re all available for purchase.” Sometimes if you say they will be in your next show, people might think you want them for the show and they’re not for sale.
Carole Fay Esk’ridge,
There is a myth that Artists should be starving Artists. I have been indoctrinated with this philosophy and feel awkward trying to sell my work on my own. This could be an impossible situation except for the advice of Authors like you.
I believe the institution of Art Galleries must have been invented to bring Art Collectors and Artists together with a Gallery to make the sale. That is why excellent Galleries like Xanadu Gallery truly earn their 50% of the sale price. Making the art is just producing the product. Marketing is the other half of a successful Artist’s career.
I’ve never said a word to about sales to people who visited my studio, although I have sold my work that way. The art all had price tags, so I never worried about it, just assumed if they were interested, they’d buy it, and that worked.
I’m the same way Theresa, I assume that anyone visiting a professional artist’s studio already knows going in that selling art is how that person makes a living. If someone seems to like one of your pieces but isn’t asking for the price or expressing a willingness to buy it, it means they just like it, but not enough to commit to it.
When I recently brought a friend to my studio, I let her wander around and look at her leisure at my paintings. I turned on some music and let her feel relaxed and at home in my space. I had no idea she was even interested in buying any of my paintings, but after awhile she came up with two paintings she liked! She went home with them that day a very happy lady. And so was I!
I have had the same experience. I did have one person who liked my work, come back later and purchase it as a gift for her husband. Another time, a friend loved a certain painting, so I cornered her husband at a party later and suggested he buy that as a gift, which he later did. but this is rare. I’ve even had an open studio event which went all day, was lots of work, lots of people came, no one bought anything. It is like you are having an exhibit in a museum. Look, enjoy, compliment, but don’t touch or take anything home, even though I’ve said, “everything is for sale”.
I had the same experience. I have sold work, though, and also had commissions come from viewers at my studio. I have often said “everything is for sale,” with no results, even at a studio open house.
How about this? “I’m glad you appreciate my work. if you happen to know anyone who might be interested in buying one, please feel free to invite them to visit as your guest. I would appreciate the referral.”. This reminds them they’re for sale without being a direct “threat”.
Excellent way to go David. That is what I do also. I work with an artist and I just ask them to tell their friends about the studio. It works and they may say, “I want to order one!” “Oh, really? Great thanks.”
I like this idea. I am have a neighbor over with his wife. He had seen something he liked a year or so ago and will be showing it to his wife. I think I will put out the labels. I forget the prices sometimes as each of my stone sculptures are so different. Thanks for these ideas.
Yes, I think having some conversation about your practice of selling, even just mentioning, “These works will be in a show next month, and I really have my fingers crossed for some sales,” can let friends know you LIKE and welcome sales. I think too many artists are afraid to simply state this. All of the friends I have sold work to have approached me because I had a studio sale or because they saw the work’s price on my website. They knew that selling is one of my goals, and I think they liked not only acquiring some art that they loved, but knowing that they were helping me be successful.
Are the prices right on the paintings or is there a price list offered or is there a big sale so they might think there is negotiation going on as well? I usually include in my responses, “Will this fit in your home?” Sometimes the response is that it is much too large but they love it. That leaves the opening about showing other sizes. This also leaves the opportunity to have them respond that they aren’t buying right now or that they have always wanted a piece of my work. Wow! What an opening that is!!
Yes, it feels very awkward. My situation was that my grown daughter brought her close friend over to my house for the first time. I knew her casually and knew that she was financially “okay.” She said she loved my work and started asking the prices. Since the pieces she liked were new and part of a series that I was in the process of building, I fumbled and didn’t have a price on the tip of my tongue. She left and now I would like to have a serious conversation but feel like I blew it and missed the opportunity to make a sale. I guess the lesson is “be prepared.” My only solace is that maybe she was just curious about what I was earning and didn’t have any intention of purchasing a painting.
Give her a call or email and say that now you have them available for sale and if she or someone she knows or she is interested here are the prices. I am an art director and have sold pieces for the artist that way. It has worked more times than I can count. Just make it short and sweet.
If they’re really good friends and seem very interested in one of my pieces, I think I would approach them by saying, “I know you didn’t come here tonight with a purchase in mind, but if you’re really interested in this particular piece, we’re happy to work with you on it. If we can wrap it up for you tonight, I’d be delighted to throw in the frame free of charge just for you!” Or, if they’re still dragging their feet, I might suggest something down with terms of monthly installments, but just to real good friends that you know you can trust.
Never pressure someone into buying a painting. If they are interested in a piece they will ask you what the price is. If friends feel like they will be pressured to buy when they come to your studio, they will avoid visiting.
True. Good advice.
When a potential client comments favorably on one of my sculptures or paintings, after saying “thank you”, I point to my own collection of other artists. I describe how having “this work by Artist John Doe” rewards me every day, because when I look at the work, it gives me peace of mind, and it is just plain beautiful. And I feel successful. I remind them that they can fill up their home and yard with cheap works of art, or they can define themselves by tastefully selecting quality works over a period of time. And end up with a collection of fine works over their lifetime. If all goes well, I address making a payment plan, as art can be expensive….and finally, remind them of an art collector that bought my first work for $3 when I was in the third grade. If I don’t make the sale, I’ve primed them for a new way of thinking, and hopefully they will buy some work, later…even if it’s not mine.
Never “work” a friend. If there is genuine interest they will pull the trigger. A trickier situation can be when a buyer/collector becomes a friend. In these situations I back off a bit, so as to allow a friendship to blossom. What you might gain by treating a friend as a friend first is true friendship – and, ironically, they can become one of your best salespeople, in that of spreading the news as to who you are and what great things you do.
Harley, that is the best approach. Everyone can tell when they are being “worked”; it is offputting and puts the kibosh on a new friendship.
Because your comment is so sensible, I went to your website. Your work is gorgeous, and your studio is enviable!
I have usually let the work sell itself – with a small push from myself. I have always engaged the potential purchaser in conversation about the work, the studio (it is quite visible from the gallery area), my life – anything to keep them interested. If and when interest flags, I let it go – they are not interested anyway. If they are interested, they usually surprise me by saying: “I’ll take this.” Sometimes if they are vacillating between two pieces, I will offer a ten percent discount for both – usually works. This summer I have had sold three thousand dollar pieces by letting the work sell itself. I don’t like high pressure sales and I believe it alienates the customer – it sure does me! And at art fairs the same applies. The work has to sell itself – but I am chatty, cheerful and attentive to everyone, even the “be-backs”. Most people there are there for “entertainment” – and again, if they like the work, they will buy. Mostly small things sell at fairs – and it is fairly unpredictable who will buy what!
I believe that if you express your love and passion for something, people see that and they will start looking at your art as something they want to be connected too! One reason I draw is the love of it and the other is the inspiring that we can pass on to the person who purchase the work. I would start my saying I would be honored to have you as a friend own a one of a kind piece of my artwork. Touching other peoples lives is what we do. Open your heart and the rest will follow! BELIEVE!
Brilliant Theresa & Amanda Jones. Having a price list posted in your studio in a prominent place, or price tags on the artwork sends a subtle message to friends or new friends that the work is for sale, and doesn’t embarrass them if your price point is more than they can afford. How about after asking them if here is one in particular they like and send them a note card of the image and an invite to your next show?
I never invite a friend over to simply view the studio. If I’m inviting a “friend” over, it’s for a very casual social setting. If you go through the studio, it is because they will ask. At that point, it has become “their” idea…and they feel no pressure. An actual friend knows that your work is for sale and will ask about a piece if they are interested. If a person is a very new friend, there is always the ability to have your prices on your peices or maybe even a whimsical style sign saying “all the art is for sale…much as I love them, I can’t keep them all”. You can also suggest that they spread the word about your art if they know anyone who may enjoy your style.
Viewing someone’s studio doesn’t mean you’re actually going to love the work. As an artist, I’ve been to others studios as well, and sometimes I find that I love nothing there, but I’m of course going to be polite and pay a compliment or two. I’d feel totally put on the spot if that caused the artist to try to sell me the work.
Soo…in short, I’d have it obvious that things are for sale, but I’m not going to try to “make a sale”. That’s how I’d treat a customer….not a friend.
I haven’t had an “open studio” event yet, but when friends come to my home, I show them my latest works. If they seem interested and linger over a piece I go into an explanation of how it was made, if it’s part of a series, etc. I don’t usually “close” there, but I always give them my card with the website address (and my phone number; tough they know that) and tell them, “if you want to keep peeking at it, go to the website. If you like it, pick up the phone and give me a call and I’ll put a “sold” sign on it.” I’ve made several sales that way.
I am very new on the art scene. I have listened to what gallery owners have had to say: What Museum curators had to say: What other artists have had to say: And what art instructors have to say. All in all it’s been wonderful information. Sometimes information overload. The best teacher I think, is to go to every art sale and tour possible. Talk to the artists. Engage them and see what happens. It help you to realize how, and how not, to talk about your own artwork. I’ve only been painting with pastels for just about a year now. I’ve entered many contests and shows in the past year. Each one entered makes the next entry eaisier. I have been recently in an Art Sale and Tour that was outstanding. Not for sales but the experience was such that I could have not have learned more about what is needed to make the sale, create a potential patron list. How to talk to potential patrons. And above all, how much work is involved in preparation. There is so much more to the art we do than creating it. Enter! Do it, do it, do it! No matter the outcome. Nothing is wasted. The experience is gold. Thanks to Xanadu for all of your help. I appreciate it. I don’t think I’d have had to courage to push forward without it.
Many good suggestions here. Thanks everyone!
I think of Art Studio Tours and visits to my gallery as advertising rather than sales opportunities. Though it’s obvious that the paintings are for sale, I don’t talk about that until someone asks. The prices are mounted beside the paintings. I’ve learned to set out less to see than more.
I do offer to let the more interested ones to browse my art storage after I’ve told them how to handle the pieces, and then I check on them from time to time. Sometimes it takes them a few visits before they come back for a sale; but the seed was sown at the first meeting – relaxed and friendly like a open house party. Mostly they are quite amazed at my accumulation of work and they bring people back with them to see it.
I invite them to come back at any time “I’d be happy to make you a cup of tea or coffee and let you browse to your content. Just call before you want to come.”
I get sales from people who came a year before and remember something that stuck in their mind that they had to have.
For anyone who has made a big purchase, I have a stock of small framed sketches 8×10 inches or smaller, and I will give them the choice of one as a bonus.
That being said, I too would like to be much better at turning a conversation of interest into a sale.
I’m always amazed at people who talk up their work by discussing the number of layers of paint they have use or the number of hours or months it took to execute the painting. For me, that’s not the point of the painting. However, people are interested in the process, so it doesn’t hurt to describe how one works. The more patrons know about the work, the more engaged they become.
This is my first visit to the blog. It’s a good forum. Thank you.
I moved from a midwest town (population over 200K) to a rural Arizona town (10K) Although known to be “animated by the arts,” marketing visual arts has been very different in Arizona, and of course, the art buying world has changed in the past few years– as have all purchase decisions. As a fiber sculpture artist, it is tough enough to assure folks that the work is art (rather than craft). I have participated in a local arts organization Open Studios where folks come from out of town and will occasionally buy a major piece. And held my own Holiday Open Studios where less expensive items seem to be favored. I found that naming an event Open Studios and Sale tells folks right off that this is an educational experience as well as a chance to purchase if interested. I do make an effort to have anyone interested sign my Guest Book with e-mail so that I can notify them of future exhibitions and sales.
My good friend is a food salesman and he simply closed the deal for me while an interested buyer stood by my work. He introduced himself, talked about me
and the abstract colors, etc, finally he simply said, “you should own it” She bought
the work at an outside fundraising show. I love to talk about the work but it is hard
to just him em with the price, for a salesmen that is easy. Bottomline I’m learning is
you gotta at least show and tell,.
That is the best! Having someone talk about your art.
I recently put a very obvious price list sign on my studio wall which helps people know almost everything is for sale. Paintings (of four different price points) have different color dots by them to match pricing on sign. Before that, people weren’t sure. I also encourage people I know to take a painting home for a few days to see if it feels right, no pressure. I learned this from a gallery in Malibu who did it all the time with her clients. I will also ‘hold’ paintings for clients, placing a red dot on painting in front of them, to give them time to think.
Marketing our work – why should it be so “scarey”.
If you walk into a shoe store, you know the shoes are for sale. Some stores have prices on the shoes and some don’t, but all are for sale; so why is it any different in our studios. People do know and expect this when they visit your place of work. I think it is our atitude about sales, and not the prospects. Reading all these comments indicates how afraid we are to suggest our work is for sale. It’s commerce folks – pure and simple – and it’s honest and clean to ask to be paid for your efforts, just like the shoemaker, doctor, lawyer, butcher or you name it.
Depending on the situation, I find that humor can often help in reminding prospects that the work is for sale, that it is a one of a kind piece, and if it moves them they will be stired by it often in their home for years to come.
Prospects – they are all prospects – some more qualified than others; and there is where the marketing work comes in.
I like the no-pressure but laughing acknowledgment at a certain point that just in case they’re interested, everything is for sale. I might ask “you did bring your checkbook, right?” And even when I give an artist talk, I’ll mention that so much of this work is still for sale. Even if you just get only laughs, I have postcards available with my website info and an image, and they will know I’m approachable.
It has happened, though, that a stranger may have seen my work through one of my galleries and calls to ask if a studio visit is possible. When I’m not set up to show a lot of work to someone whose interests are unclear, and I wind up spending inordinate amounts of time digging things out and (especially) unwrapping and re-wrapping, I’ve thought maybe I’d want to start asking for a “visit fee” — let’s say $50 or $100 — which is deductible from any sale coming out of the visit. That way they would know my time is valuable, but also that the works shown are clearly for sale.
I am an artist.
I personally would never push, even a little bit, with a “friend” to buy a painting. It could make the friendship very awkward.
Just someone walking into your gallery is a different story.
Reading the comments of fellow artist, I thought I might add a wise word from an old friend of mine. His advise was “paint for yourself” and I never forgot it. If others show interest in my work, all the better but I never hang on with hopes of a good sale. The photo studio I use to reproduce giclees did send an interested party to me as they were in wanting a commissioned piece. Having gone down this road before I requested an interview at my studio first and we would talk. They arrived on time and never looked at a single piece on my walls…..to me a dead give-a-way. I looked at the photo of a religious painting (very famous) and said ‘you can purchase a print or copy on line very cheaply’. “we want an actual painting…..48×60 inches” I could not talk them out of it as I knew this was way over their heads. I asked to visit their home to see just where this painting was to be shown. The home was fine and in good taste but their collection so far was poor. In brief I quoted $25000. and explained the long hours of work. They were in shock and asked just why was it so costly. I replied as I looked out the window, ‘how much did you pay for that car in your driveway or the new kitchen counter tops, or anything else in your home? I work just as hard at my profession as anyone else’. Each painting takes me 3 months of work and the response has been uplifting but I don’t place hope in it. Enjoy your gift to create.
The question AND all these suggestions are very helpful. THANKS to everyone!
When I have a showing in my Studio, I invite my friends and clients. My friends are interested in what’s new, and I would not pressure any of them, but if I see they are interested in a particular painting, I offer to let them take it home for a week or so to see if they really love it! I really don’t want them to buy anything they would regret later. I personally wouldn’t buy anything from a friend that I wasn’t in love with or couldn’t live without! If they love it – they will buy it!
If the work(s) are not under contract to a galley, then you might use the tack of saying, “when pieces are available through your studio they are usually reduced in price, and should they want to be included in your next showing or mailing, take their information”. Either way you have made them aware of possible price variations, and future exhibition opportunities.
I tend to take a direct approach while also using a bit of humor….if they look or say something indicating they are interested, I say, “would you like to buy it?”or, “you know, I won’t stop you I you want to buy it!”. It’s all in the tone of voice…ask the question, because if you don’t it won’t happen! But use a light tone when asking so it might seem as if you are kidding. This lets them get out of it gracefully if they aren’t interested. You would be surprised how many times they will say YES if you just ask!
Julie, I use the same humorous approach! If I see a friend loves one of my pieces, I jokingly say “Friends get discounts!” in an encouraging tone. And leave it at that. The door is open, and they can walk through it or joke back and move on.
I have a certain technique that works every time. Arrange to have my daughter there.
She explains how great my painting are, and how talented I am and how much sense it makes to make a purchase – something they will never regret. It works because she means it and she is a hell- of-a-salesperson!
As the responses show; each situation is different. Foremost when representing our work, we artist have to somehow to align with our work .
Luckily most art works match with the artist way of being. This makes it for the art viewer / visitor easier to understand the works. But also to understand the way the artist approaches business. Some artist may be bold and shout never ever to sell any works ever ever again and yet a minute later mention the price and ask directly if they are interested. While another artist may better try stay in all the etiquette lines pouring tea and serving biscuits while work is gently presented.
And do we really always need to pursue a sale? No of course not, but if the person is interested , mentioning exhibitions in galleries is a sign of being open to commerce. In this context the word gallery is a short for ‘this artist is professional active and sort of knows how commerce goes’. That puts the ball on the field. Who is going to give the next kick depends on your style of work and lets not forget the visitor him /her self.
I have sold over a 1000 original paintings.
The paintings in my home always have a price in the bottom left hand corner.
That way people know they are for sale and ask if they wish to purchase one.
No awkward moments needed. I’ve even sold to a travelling salesman who came to the door to sell me something.
If I know the person who is touring my studio and they express an interest in a painting or paintings, I let them hang the paintings in their home, without obligation, and return them if they do not “work”. To assure them that I am not being pushy, I explain that I understand how art must fit in a particular setting, and be loved by the collector. Sometimes the collector returns the paintings, but I have sold three paintings by letting patrons take them home. If they refuse my offer I know they are just looking. Just looking is good. They may be back to buy or look again. I think making an offer to try the painting in their home puts them at ease and does not sound like a sales pitch. Assuring them that they have no obligation to buy is good as well. The painting will sell itself.
great information here, love it! in the few sales i made so far it has been best to show my artwork and then to keep quiet. this has worked for online sales and sales made in person. important is to keep in touch with collectors in a non-pushy way.
The initial questions about how to negotiate possible sales with a friend or potential friend is in my experience quite different than talking to someone who has come to an exhibition or even an open studio. The potential friend is seeing your art as part of the process of getting to know you — the fact that you are an artist is a bonus. I make a habit of pointing out my work when I have visitors to my home/studio. I don’t mention price and don’t suggest they consider a purchase unless they bring up the subject. My latest sale was to someone I know who had visited my home a number of times, often inquiring about the price of certain paintings. She eventually purchased one at my last show. I never pushed her to make a purchase, but looking back it seems she had already decided she was going to and was just waiting for the the right painting.
I agree 100%. The original question was about someone visiting your studio as a new friend who is interested in seeing your work as part of getting to know you. It’s a good opportunity to do just that, to show them and to talk about your work and answer any questions about you, your work or your process. If they seem interested in a particular piece it makes good conversation to talk about it. I think if they are interested in purchasing they will ask. Otherwise they may feel pressured. I personally would not offer them the possibility of taking my work home with them as that puts a lot of responsibility on them to worry about damaging it. We’re talking about someone you’re just getting to know, what happens if the work gets damaged or they don’t return it? That can ruin a new friendship and turn out very badly. If it’s a potential customer who comes to your studio, show or gallery then it is assumed they understand the work is for sale.
I liked your response Mr Jason, but was a little discourage on some of the comments you got from certain artist that to me seem like skepticism was the norm, and positive thinking was old fashion. Where did this come from? I think that there are more
people in this big bad world that have never met a real life artist, then those that have.
I’ve sold some of my works just by saying that I’m an artist, and some how this sparks
an interest. They want to know more. Sure they want to know about art, but they also want to know the real person behind the artist. The path to a sale is not just showing or talking about how it was painted, But where did the idea come from? And also ask this question of them. Have you ever had an idea or thought of painting you would like to have done. Not so much about the art in your home or gallery that’s for sale, but maybe an idea of a new painting they’ve wanted done, a so-called wish list. Something your customer has thought off, but were afraid to ask. I’ve found that they start talking and opening-up, you can’t get them to stop. By this, you also get to know more about your customer by talking less about yourself, and your already halfway there to a sale. Why do you think car sales- men sell so many cars?
“Just a thought.”
This was a great question to investigate! Humor seems to be one of the best assets in working with this situation. Also, if prices are apparent, then no one has to embarrassed about asking. I disagree with Elf Evans… one should not undersell your gallery! It creates a bad relationship with your gallery! Offering a person an opportunity to live with the art for a few days or so seems like a really good way of letting someone figure out if they really want it.
I’m thinking along the lines of logistics… I never use my checkbook – don’t even bring it with me. Debit card for everything… so now that it is possible to take cards with an app on your phone… it might be good to make that info known to customers. The thought of going off to find an ATM and coming back could lose the sale. Make it convenient for them to buy.
I’ve enjoyed all of the comments here and agree that undercutting your gallery is a big no – no, but if you have been working a while you will offer your newest works to your gallery and there will be older works that may have missed their prime season. Or are simply not a subject matter you galleries are looking for. I think then a lesser sale price is OK. Or mark it in your studio as works not available from galleries but as part of your studio open house show and sale.
As I plan my first open studio event for this coming spring I wonder if there is a better time of year to have and open studio event. I know the holidays are popular but they are a very overly busy time for most people to get to or plan for. I’m wondering a others have suggestions for timing?
Depending where you live, Gloria, a spring open studio event may be excellent timing. I live in Canada and I have my annual open studio weekend the last weekend in April (when there isn’t a pandemic that is!). People are keen to get out after winter weather has kept them indoors, but it is still early enough that their schedules aren’t filled with gardening, golf, summer travel, visiting their seasonal cottages, etc. Go for it!
Well, I am the one who asked the questions and I am thrilled with all these responses to it. Many seem right on target , while others are not quite addressing my question. I have a working studio that is completely separate from my home in a building that is all artists. When someone is visiting, separate from a scheduled visit to see art for purchase or an Open Studio event, it is as I said in my original question just another part of the “getting-to-know-me” process.
I sell my paintings on my own from my studio all the time. This is actually the main way I earn my income. I do believe every single relationship is a possible sales opportunity. I am not pushy. I have many great friends and I have a healthy list of collectors. But since selling my paintings is so important to me and I am the main person who promotes and exposes my work (even by also finding the galleries that will show and sell it) I have to look at every experience as at least a laying of the ground work for a possible sale. The majority of my collectors are friends and the strangers who have bought have become friends. It is all part of it.
The comments here have been just great. In reading through all of them, there is enough valuable information that I can glean what I believe will work for me to continue having the luxury of working at what I love, painting as well as actually making a viable living from it. And, all while I have the wonderful good fortune to have a career where I get to meet and know so many wonderful people and they me!
This was a wonderful read. All the different approaches to selling in ones own home / studio. Friendship is the key element in my opinion … the question was about a new friend. I always show people my studio and my downstairs den is my gallery. They love looking at all the work, talking about what I do and how I work, and will usually tell me which pieces they like the most. I agree with a couple of the comments that “humor” is sometimes the best way to approach a new friend, even an older friend that is seeing new work. I usually have a price list, and a few of the works have prices next to them. I will tell them when they say they like that one or this one, “You know, you can take that one home with you today if you want it.” That opens the door to any discussion about price, payment, purchase, etc. If they act like they aren’t really in a purchasing mood, then I don’t push. Later, before they leave, I will usually tell them, “If you decide you want to purchase any of those pieces you liked, just let me know and we’ll work it out. And, you know you can take it home on approval at any time. But, do remember it might be going to a show or a gallery, so if you really like it, don’t let it get away.” I like a soft sell when it comes to my friends. And, another thought regarding one comment above, I tell anyone who is in my studio that my prices are the same as the gallery and I do not undercut my galleries.
I always just look at them and say: l’m not too good at this sales stuff, but would u like to but would u like to buy it?
Jason’s suggestion still sounds a bit “pushy” to me. I live and work in the same space and the walls are my private gallery. I offer people a tour of my space because it’s a bit unusual as a living space and they always want to see it. During the walk-through, they are always looking at the art and I explain to them that I bought my double loft specifically to use as my gallery and studio and I invited people in for events or visits in order to sell my work. That tells them that I am willing to sell to them at any time, not just during and event. If they want to pursue, they will. If not, they are not on the spot but know they are welcome to come back at any time. My sales have increased dramatically since moving into my workspace.
Jason, your “soft close” would horrify me and have me run out of there. As a customer, I know when I want to buy something and I will let the artist know when I want to buy it — if I don’t indicate that I want to buy something I am not ready to buy it. I agree with the people who suggest posting prices on the paintings in the corner — you can always offer someone a discount if you want to (because they are your first sale, latest sale, because you admire their taste, because they are buying more than one work). The reader who puts prices on paintings in his home is brilliant — I’m going to hang a few things at my next party and see how that goes.
I use this soft selling technique that i read about in a book and now have used it hundreds of times. It works very well because it moves the conversation forward and brings out their true objection. I look at them and say in a humble voice: “Sorry, I’m not too good at this sales stuff, but would you like to buy anything?”
Having “a new friend” to the studio is a perfect opportunity to talk about the spirit behind the work as Floyd has mentioned above. If they like a particular work I talk to them about why I painted it and what’s special about it to me. After all, they are in an artist’s studio and that’s probably why they’re there – trying to understand the creative process and learn more about the intent behind my work. Each piece then builds in value in his/her eyes, makes them feel good because they’re learning something new and leads naturally on to talking about a purchase. Prices on display helps and I love Maurade and her husband’s approach of having work in progress. I have also found people absolutely fascinated by getting a glimpse into the process.
Most all of the walls in my home are covered ‘salon style’ with my artwork. Each piece is tagged with the name the media and the price. It is a visual statement that all is for sale … I never have to say a word. So, friend or stranger alike, everyone is free to take their browsing to the next level of inquiring about a purchase. This works very well for my personality. I love to talk about my art and my process, but will not do so unless and until I am asked.
I do not undersell my galleries. They spend a great deal of time, money and effort promoting me and my work, lending value and prestige as well as building my reputation as an artist. It is not just about an individual sale, it is about the whole structure created by the relationship; that structure creates sales – whether in my home or in the gallery.
As you taught us Jason, in your book “Starving to Successful” and Webinars, I made a Portfolio according to your instructions plus, I added a little poetry regarding each piece. I made one to present to Galleries with 20 images or so, and an other one that I present to collectors and friends with more images. When they come to my studio, I like for them to read the writing inspiration for each piece so they can feel more connected to my work and the price is next to it.
I love being a new member of this community. Thank you, Xanadu Gallery!
A few months ago, I was the featured artist at a studio during a gallery hop. The son of the hostess (a friend) kept coming back to admire a pair of textile vessels, and finally commented that his mom should buy them for him. It turns out his birthday was a few days off, but the hostess said she was not able to pay immediately. We set up a loose payment schedule, of which one third has been paid and I’m still waiting for the remainder. In other words, I’m not sure if I want to repeat this experience again…
Hi Roseann, I can understand why this experience made you gun-shy, since you let the art go up front. If a client wants to spread out payments, I offer a free monthly layaway plan, but the artwork doesn’t go to the client until it is fully paid for. Most people want to pay by e-transfer rather than credit card these days, so monthly payments are super easy to accommodate. I ask for monthly payments of at least $100, but the layaway has to be completed in under a year. At any point in time, I usually have 2 or 3 layaways going on. Cheers.
I have sold works to friends before but they usually ask me straight out about a certain piece. When I have social gatherings at my home/studio everyone wants to see the latest. I don’t work my friends for a purchase but they know this is what I do for a living. I often randomly place work around my home so I can look at the pieces I currently like most. One friend gravitated toward a piece in my dinning room and was so taken by it she asked the price immediately. I did give her a special price but I certainly didn’t give it away. This friend had suffered a fire in her home. The painting she bought was a large waterfall painting. She was unsure of spending so much money without her husband seeing the piece. I gave her the option to take it home, live with it for 30 days and send me a check if she wanted to keep it. Otherwise I would be happy to pick it up. She sent a thank you card with a lovely note and a check.
My story is the same to everyone who buys my work. Please don’t regret the purchase of my work. If you don’t think you’ll love it a year from now or 10 years from now don’t buy it. I do sometimes offer to buy the work back–minus a monthly rental fee. As yet there has not been a need for a buy back. I have found that buying and selling art is emotional work between the artist and client.
This is such a good question. I’m sensitive to being too pushy. Years of outdoor shows taught me that a tall chair to place me at eye level was better than getting up from my chair; much less threatening. I’ve never sold a piece of work out of my home studio but I think I would approach it by asking them what they liked about the piece. Whether it is the style of art or the colors. If they respond affirmatively, I’d ask them whether they could envision a piece something like this in their home. This conversation could open up an area of topic about their taste and style or it might lead them to start imagining it in their home and if not it now, in time it might lead to a sale.
Great suggestions. I’ve found myself in the same situation and have not always used the right approach. Thanks!
The way I interpret this kind of situation is to put myself in the shoes of my new acquaintance or “friend”. They may be asking themselves two questions: “Yikes! I hope he doesn’t broach the subject of purchasing his/her paintings.” Mostly because they aren’t ready to purchase, thus making a casual show and tell into an awkward sales pitch. The line offered as a suggestion in the original response, “…it would be the easiest thing in the world to make it yours.” If that doesn’t sound like a slick sales line, nothing does. I think a more natural response between the two would be, “If you’re interested in buying a piece, normally I sell my work through a gallery for at least 40% more than through private sale like this one. And since you’re friend, I can offer it for $XXX. But, if you aren’t ready today that’s okay too.” Then switch the subject to put your friend at ease! I find that friends and acquaintances are often more interested in prices out of idle curiosity. And when I start quoting prices, they know quickly if they can afford to buy or not. But if they offer even a slight interest to purchase, then it’s best, I think, to enter the stream of money slowly and gingerly, like saddle breaking a wild horse.
I just tell people everything you see is for sale. If you see something that you like, just let me know, and then just forget about it and have your visit together. If they ever decide to purchase art, they’ll remember the good time you had together, and the work they saw at the studio.
I am an artist and my studio is in my basement. I have not had an open studio/sale but my husband and I may be purchasing a new home soon, so the thought of a sale is sounding like a great idea. Most of my walls in my home have artwork by other artists that I have either purchased or bartered for. My artwork hangs at a local gallery and when I participate in fine art fairs I take it on the road, (usually not to far from home!) Being a salesperson does not come easily but I am working on my self confidence and believe that my pastel paintings are as good or better than most of the work I see in galleries, etc. I have your book Starving to Successful and have made small steps. Most of my friends are artists too! Enjoy learning and hearing how other artists are getting their work out there. Thanks.
All great ideas to selling and moving original works of art, and all have worked for me. Thank you.
What kind of prices are we discussing here? Are we in the range of $1000, $2000, $5000? Most of my friends don’t have a lot of money, so suggesting a $2000 sale would be awkward. I actually prefer talking about the art with a friend and then suggesting either an open studio date or a gallery. I haven’t had good luck over the years with friends who want to buy on time. When they can’t find the money, I either take back the art and damage the friendship, or sacrifice the payment.
My studio is in my home and our entryway is a gallery of my paintings and ceramic pieces. We have a large annual open studio yearly and smaller groups and individuals throughout the year. Everything is priced during the open studio and I am thinking of maintaining prices on the art in the entry year round. I love showing my work and talking about it with people. Every guest is different. I learn the most about my guests and interesting perspectives of my work when I offer people the opportunity to talk about paintings they are attracted to. People have to bond with a piece of art before they decide to make it part of there home.
People have to bond with a piece of art before they decide to make it part of there home. Every guest is different. I learn the most about my guests and interesting perspectives of my work when I offer people the opportunity to talk about paintings they are attracted to. We have a large annual open studio yearly and smaller groups and individuals throughout the year. Everything is priced during the open studio.
This is perfect timing for me – I’m having a couple of women, whom I’ve never met, come to my studio tomorrow morning to take a private art lesson from me. I know they could also be potential clients and so I have arranged my artwork that is available for purchase in an area of my studio. I know they will be interested in seeing my work since they are new students for me. I plan on casually mentioning that they are all available for purchase, also. I will also have my computer on with my website up so they can see additional work of mine that is not sitting out in my studio. I will not spend a lot of time gushing over my artwork but will let them come to a decision about whether or not they are interested in purchasing. I think that really is all you need to do. Inform without being pushy. Then the ball is in their court.
I have been painting, teaching, mentoring, lecturing studying for 35 years and now I am in a retirement area. I have a large beautiful new studio where I plan to teach and sell. People are financially comfortable here but they have been there, done that in collecting. I am high profile and have a broad and good reputation as an artist in the community and have my share of exposure in the media. I myself lost my husband recently and now I know the thinking process of this age group.
How do you appeal to retirees and people who are winding down but who absolutely love my paintings and can afford them. How can I encourage them to adopt a painting exchange for $………..
I have a friend that travels to communities with high-end fine art “fairs” and encounters many retirees who are no longer collecting art for themselves. He talks with them about their lifelong love of art and encourages them to share that love with their children and grandchildren. For many of them, this is the first time they have considered that they can have an art legacy and they frequently respond with purchases for a younger generation.
From a representational artist’s perspective, I’ve found the first thing is to assess the client by asking them what it is that draws them to a particular piece. It may evoke a nostalgic memory of an event or place in their life which gives you an opportunity to expand on the conversation. Allow the client ample time to talk about themself and be genuine in your interest. Many times, the client will talk themselves into a sale simply by talking about their experiences and knowing you are genuinely interested in their story. As the story winds down, you may even want to add something like “…wow, it’s almost as if I painted this just for you” or something along that line, to reinforce the emotional connection between the client and painting. Art is about emotions and our goal is to help the client feel a deeper connection to a piece they already show interest in. This is true regardless of it being a friend, repeat client or someone walking in to your studio for the first time.
Excellent advice, Rick. The key point is to have a genuine interest in the client’s story and be confident that your art can enrich the qualify of their life forever, so why would you not assist them in acquiring that special piece with which they connect? I love your suggestion about “…wow, it’s almost as if I painted this just for you”. I wrote that one down!
I read your answer and all the comments so far. When an artist has a relationship with a gallery, undercutting their prices for the art is unethical, although categorizing it in some way, such as small pieces versus larger work and different media for different galleries might be a way to approach this problem. I have sold art to friends by inviting them to my various art shows, but I never asked for the sale, because their friendship was something precious I didn’t want to lose. A new friend may not be one who is interested in, has space for, or the budget for more than a look at your art, as in an art museum or gallery. Implying that this is a new friend means you truly don’t know.
So in other words, I do believe artists should price their work as it is finished, as Jason, you recommend, price it by size or complexity if it has one or more figures in it, and in such a way that they do not lose money on each sale. Art Tracker and your book From “Starving” to Successful, have good ideas in them as do many comments. Having someone else recommend you, or work for you, as gallery owners do, is how they earn their commission. When I am making my living selling my art after I do all that, I’ll get back to you!
Thank you Jason,
I really appreciate your insights into this important issue. Funny how much anxiety arises until one is totally comfortable with the concept. I think so much depends on your mindset, before a word is spoken.
And, thank you everyone who has responded – I have really enjoyed reading your experiences and clicking through to see your websites and blogs.
This can be a really tough scenario and avoid the selling part of my practice as I hate it as I would be a soft touch. I am a represented artist with 3 galleries. On my website front page, it clearly states “all sales through my galleries only” so I don’t get the general public asking me to see work in my studio, but rather where they can view a particular work and I then direct to that particular gallery. My friends know generally the pricing on my work and most cannot afford it. However if a painting has done its rounds at the galleries and comes back to me, I either store it in my shelving system or I hang it on my own walls. If they happen to like a particular piece I tell them that if they really liked it I could do a very special price for them rather than see it sit in storage and miss out on a life on someone’s walls. If they show interest in a new piece, I simply say it is on it’s way to a particular gallery or am holding it over for competition. I make it a policy not to sell new works out of my studio outside of the gallery situation as I respect the work that they do. I don’t see a conflict on selling older pieces returned to me to friends at special prices, but not new work because I have to make a living and don’t discount new work.
Asking questions of anyone looking at my art is the key to finding out whether they are in buying mode. But frankly if they are in your studio they are in buying mode, they made an effort to be there.
Never ask yes or no questions. Start with “Are you looking for piece for a smaller space or a little larger?” “Are there certain colors you’re looking for?” Ask questions, repeat what they said in your own words, let them tell you what they like.
Always good to insert a reason to “buy it now” including “I’ll be sending this one to the gallery when it’s done (or when it’s framed)” they don’t last long at this time of year, it’s a great gallery, have you been there?” or “This one is going to the XYZ art show in a week or 2, it’s a great exhibition have you ever been to it?”
My studio is in an old car factory that has many art studios. I share it with my photographer husband. Until Covid, we have had about 4 big events per year and we have many, many people come through our studios on those weekends. The rest of the year is up to us to keep the momentum going and keep our work in front of people.
I am always happy to have people I know and don’t know come downtown for a studio visit – which I treat as a social visit which happens to be in my studio – unless someone has expressed a desire to visit to see my work. Everyone knows this is my place of work and that my work is being a fine art painter. The prices are on the walls next to the paintings.
I am always ready to discuss any painting or why I do what I do. And it is a conversation. There is back and forth – “What do you like about this piece? What caught your eye? Are you a color person? etc. I am gathering their information in my head. And I will record my thoughts about our visit on a card when they leave.
Everyone who visits is asked to sign my guest book and be on our email list. I tell them that we don’t share our list, that these emails they will receive from time to time are about things pertaining to my or my husband’s work – shows, awards, new work, etc. Most people sign up and we have very few unsubscribes.
If someone expresses a compliment or shows any interest in a particular piece, I (rather lightheartedly) say, “May I wrap that up for you!” (an old Jason line, I think). Everyone has a chance to get out of that situation with no embarrassment. While I do believe that if someone leaves without buying a piece they show interest in, your job becomes much harder, I also know I am just getting started on making that sale.
Within 24 hours, I have written them an email, sent them a photo of the particular piece(s) of art and asked them how I might help them acquire the work. I actually follow Jason’s practices for selling art and it fits my personality. About 10 days later, I write again. And then again. You never know why they didn’t buy in the first place. I assume they want the work, but that there are holdups. My husband and I bought a piece from a gallery a few years ago that we had looked at about 4 years before.
Everybody does it differently. Sometimes, we throw in a charity event and sell small works for a pretty low price. It gets us into a different market, gives back to the community and offers our work to buyers who would like to own our work, but really need a different price point.
You must operate at your comfort level, but you must remind yourself that you are a business and your product is art. To the person who brought up this important question, I say, first of all, be the friend and remember that that relationship is most important. A friend would like to own your work, too, and may buy something down the road. Always keep the door open.
Price tags and share the story!
I have a studio/gallery space next to my home. It’s very comfortable; furniture is placed for relaxed viewing and walking around to look at the paintings. All works have a title/price tag on them, so there is no question they are for sale. If a person seems interested in one in particular, I talk about the inspiration or story behind the work. People always want to know the story.
I realized, in reading through the various comments that I’m attached to my works.
While I don’t talk to the paintings in the sense of friends, I need them to find a good home. “I tell them”, actually “I tell me” that I won’t be around forever and we need to find them another perhaps better soulmate.
The second part are the people friends part. It dawned me that four of my stalwart friends are collectors. They all bought work that was in shows but the purchases except for one were consumated at social gatherings away from the artwork.
In every case, it was the same line. “I can’t stop thinking about that pierce of yours. I have (want) to have it. Is it still available? Two instances were over a social meal at a restaurant as I remember. One if those was really weird. I had shown a series of 12 images. They knew they couldn’t take all 12 but which on them would they “need”. They settled on three In think.
What I want to suggest is a kind of unspoken sub-text that I’ve picked up from Jason. Be expectant. Again and again if you listen closely and re read bits, you get that sense. He’s in business to put the best possible art into the best possible hands each and every day.
From this In get, “if you have your friends over and you get into the studio with your work, and there’s prices attached in some way, “what is your expectancy?”
Live and paint expectantly. It’s my modus but not my motto.nHave at it.
My studio is in my basement — cement block walls, washer and dryer along one wall, lots of paint tubes scattered about and no real place to hang my paintings (cement block walls). If someone wants to see my studio, it’s kind of an embarrassment. I don’t have a separate room just for showing my art work. Should I just let them into my studio and not worry about the mess?
Hi Patricia, you could put a plain section of plasterboard in front of one of your cement block walls (attached somehow), and use that as your display area. Or use a stand up partition board if you have room.
I did have a very weird coincidence on my recent flight out of Chicago – when I got to my seat, the same young man I was seated by from Dallas to Chicago on Feb. 10th, was next to me again! What are the odds?? Especially since I changed my flight – twice!
We both recognized one another and chatted for quite some time. When he learned I was an artist, he asked for my card, and there was a notification in my email this morning – he bought a small painting!
He had said he wanted to see if I had a travel related piece to mark the the occasion!
His trip has been personal, Chinese New Year, Year of the Ox which was his birth year. He didn’t say a word to me on the first flight – I think he thought this was a sign he needed to speak to me 🤣 Nice young man, definitely an introvert.
So, you never know!
That is a great story. I have one too: I ended up marrying the guy who sat first behind me, and then in front of me, on the connection of a flight I took 34 years ago. He had been at a meeting with the person sitting next to me on the first leg, and somehow I inserted myself into their conversation, we proceeded to talk (with guy who had behind me), when we grabbed a bite in between flight connections. He never hit on me, but I gave him my card since it turned out we lived near each other. I thought we’d play tennis – he turned out to be my future boyfriend/husband. (Married a year to the day later.) So no painting sale, but it did turn out pretty good!!!
Now that’s being a good salesperson and getting your “client.”
I can’t have studio events, because my “studio” is in an unfinished basement amongst all the other accoutrements of a basement usually reserved for storage stuff: excesses of everything. There is no wall space to hang anything anyway. I have a vaulted ceiling in my living room upstairs, so all my favorite works are hung in that room, but I have many others languishing in boxes in the the aforesaid basement… Therefore, no one comes to my home for a studio viewing because I’ve never attempted to that. But friends DO come over and sit in my living room, be they old friends, or new acquaintances. And they all have wound up commenting on the art early in their visit, so they all know the work is mine and is for sale. One lady fell in love with a particular painting, and was in the process of buying a new house. She could not afford the original, but luckily, I had just had limited edition prints made. Her husband sent me a private message inquiring of the price, and the cost to frame it. I sent the information back to him. He sent me a check immediately. The next week, we hosted a Christmas party where we exchanged gifts with a $10 price cap. It was one of those parties where you select your wrapped gift from under the tree and can either keep it, or take someone else’s’ gift you like better. In this case, I had made ceramic coaster tiles of the image of the print that lady loved, and my husband and I had each used one as our $10 gifts in the exchange. When the lady’s husband saw that someone got that coaster tile, he got it from her to give to his wife. (The bereft original recipient got something else she like as well.) The husband ceremoniously presented the tile to his wife at the party, sort of as a joke, since she thought that was her Christmas gift from him. Alas, because my framer contracted covid, she was unable to frame the print before Christmas. But, he wrapped the tile up and put it under their tree and on Christmas Day, when she opened it, she was miffed at having already been given it earlier. At that point he told her the real thing was coming just in time to grace the space over their fireplace mantle in their new home. She was over the moon! Not only that, when the other friends saw the tile, they wanted to see the rest (I had made about 13 or so different designs of coasters from my works) and I ended up selling a bunch of them as well because they make small, inexpensive, but wonderful gifts. So, as the saying goes, you never know… But I wish I had a studio where I could have events such as mentioned here!
In this situation, I have given a small print (4×5, nothing fancy) of the piece as a friendly gift — usually later on, when we visit them. “Last time you visited, I noticed you liked this piece…”. It is always appreciated. Many have eventually come back to purchase the full-size piece, or recommend my work to someone else.
I think the phrase “the ‘friend’ I’m also cultivating” makes an enormous difference. If this friendship is important to you, I wouldn’t try to switch and ask for a purchase. I’m afraid, I wouldn’t use Jason’s phrase this time (though his advice has helped me tremendously throughout the past 10 years!).
My studio is in my home and I often had guests for dinner who at some point asked to see the studio. I showed them my work and talked to them honestly about my drive and my process. I asked them to share any emotions triggered by the work and often had very meaningful and enriching discussions. They loved to engage. However, I never took it anywhere near selling. I rather cultivated their admiration about my work and myself as an artist, while allowing them to feel they were given some special privilege by being in the studio. Then, I invited them to my next shows.
Most of the people who have been to my studio bought works at my shows. And they told others. But they felt like my work was their discovery and they were proud to walk into a gallery and buy a piece out of an official, public price-list (which also helped my relationship with galleries). I know we don’t always have an upcoming show up our sleeves, but my experience is that friends are more likely to buy or even commission a piece (I’ve had several of those, too) when you don’t try to sell to them directly, but let them feel the thrill of “knowing the artist”.
Funny, literally the day this post arrived I had this experience. My next door neighbor was out on his porch and said hello and introduced me to his cousin who was visiting. I chatted for a bit and mentioned what I do and I suggested he come inside and see my studio. It turned out we liked the same music and I showed him my stained glass jukebox, and then my coffee table book. He asked me how much they were and I was soon $45 richer.
A week later I get a call from a coffee shop where I sell my small prints from “Mason, one of my regulars just bought five of them, can you bring some replacements?” I went down there later that day and replaced them and was using the wi-fi and the man who bought them was still there and sat with me and said how much he liked bicycle riding through the scenes in the paintings I did and asked if I could hand sign them. I told him about my coffee table book, got a copy from my trunk, and let him look at it while I was signing them. Sold another book.
Several of the comments here mention putting price tags next to artworks in one’s home studio. What would that look like? Do you have images you would be willing to share? I’m really just starting to build a following. Most of what I’ve sold was through personal conversations with people I already know well. So I’m a little conflicted about putting prices out. How can I do that in a way that does not detract from the art viewing experience? Until I drum up the courage to seek gallery representation, I want to strengthen my own sales skills. That’s an uphill climb for me, I’ll admit. Even when (not if) my work goes to a gallery, I know I’ll want to be comfortable talking price with people who attend openings. And I think the place to start is right here in my own studio. Thoughts?
Hi Jan, I print custom 2.5″ x 4.5″ tags on my computer for the paintings on display in my studio/gallery which is in the lower level of my home. I print the tags 6 at a time on heavy parchment paper using Microsoft Word, then cut them up, and use masking tape curls on the back to stick them to the wall beside each painting. The colour of the parchment is close to the wall paint colour, so the tags are subtle.
On each tag, I include the title, a short description about my inspiration for the piece, medium, price, and my web site. Visitors love the little stories that often spark conversations with me. Also, during a busy open studio event, I can only speak to one person or group at a time, so the tags speak for me and help all visitors connect with my art.
Here is an example of what a tag contains, for a painting of shells, driftwood, and pebbles on a sandy beach:
“There is something about sandy beaches
that draws us to search for treasures
deposited onto the shore by wave action.
The bits and pieces we find tell the story of
life in the ocean.”
Watercolour on panel, 16 x 20″ $1280.
Good luck with your open house!
Hi Jason, this was an excellent question and I enjoyed reading all the responses and suggestions too. I made note of my favourite opening lines and strategies, and will review the list to refresh my memory before my next visitor appointment or open studio event. Warm regards, Karen
A bit different experience, but I sold a painting to a friend “by accident”. I was at lunch with friend “A” whom I know better and she has purchased several paintings from me, and friend “B” whom is mutual casual friend of both friend “A” and me. A grabbed the check for all of us as friend A does it all the time and I wanted to beat her to it. But I said “I am going to use my business credit card, so now we have to talk business for a few minutes to make it legit.” I was sort of joking though. However friend A exclaims that I should show friend B my newest series, on my phone. Because it was a new series I am excited about I showed B the photos, she exclaimed over one piece in particular. She said “I’m serious. I want this one!” Because I live in the same small town as the gallery that represents me, I told her that the gallery would facilitate the sale (so I didn’t have to explain further how I would charge the same price as the gallery charges if I sold to her directly, and if I had, I would share the 50% commission with the gallery anyway.) I followed up with an email with a better photo of the piece, informed her of the cost, and then dropped the piece off at the gallery for her to view at her leisure. She was thrilled to be the first to buy one of that series. The lesson for me was – don’t be afraid to speak up, even in jest. But be prepared! (And of course, paying for lunch was definitely a legitimate business expense in this instance.)
You response is great! Matter-of-fact I cut and copied to my word Doc and will memorize it for the next open studio tour
I’ve been in this situation at open studio visits and when asked to bring my latest paintings to a collectors house. I have found that the people who acquire my work have a genuine interest in me and my work and want to stay in touch. They may not be ready to purchase that one piece upon our first meeting. Often they have watched my process over a period of time. I suggest that you continue to invite your friend to your studio and involve this friend. The purchase will eventually take place. This can take 2 days up to 3 years. Every collectors time line is different. Just increase your studio visits and widen your circle of friends that share your interest in art. Perhaps this friend is interested in taking an art class. Something you both can share. Enjoy the common interest that you share with your art.
I never leave my house without business cards. If the new person I met has never seen my work and asks what I do I tell them, and wait and see if they ask more questions. If they do I say “I do offer the widest selection of Oregon paintings you will probably find, in case you need any art or need Oregon themed greeting cards. Here’s my card”. My answer is similar if I feel they are interested in stained glass.
If it’s someone I have invited to one of my house parties and they start asking questions I treat it the same, sometimes offer to barter.
In almost every encounter I can think of, the person was at least smart enough to understand that art costs money and do it as a business.
When someone new comes into my studio to see my work as a guest it’s usually out of curiosity and perhaps to get to know me a little bit. To me that situation is different than people stopping by my art booth or visiting a gallery or show I may be in. They may just be looking at my art and that is all. People expect to be approached as a potential customer in a show, booth or gallery.
If I’m the one suggesting that the work is for sale when they happen to be visiting my studio just to see what I create, in most cases I feel I would be making them feel pressured and uncomfortable. I think if they find themselves admiring a piece and consider purchasing it they will ask me then if it’s for sale. I would however welcome the opportunity to tell them about my work, my upcoming shows and in particular any piece they are interested in knowing about the story behind it or my process etc without suggesting it’s for sale.
I am a little surprised that none of the writers above that I read ( sorry, not all), distinguished between selling and marketing. A visit is definitely a marketing opportunity. The visitor gets to know you as a person, your motivation as an artist, your materials and techniques, your training and accomplishments, as well as your current inventory and prices. If they don’t leave with a piece of art, certainly give them your card or brochure which has your website, social media info and any online selling platforms. In the last year or so almost half my sales were commissions, so it’s ok if someone does not buy what is available.
Jason, your wording is great.
Otherwise I would just be honest and ask. Then move on graciously if they are not interested.
Paying attention to the attention your visitor will allow you to open a path to a sale or possible future sales. By recognizing their attraction to your work gives you an opportunity to share your process and the things that drove an individual piece they sparked to. Focus on the single piece at hand. Don’t add confusion to their choice by offering alternatives and comparisons to other works. Then recruit them as your sales staff by getting them to tell themselves why they must possess the piece. Even if they don’t close the sale they will often come back. Be sure to recognize their smart choice and expertise in selecting it. This is easy to do. Just suggest that they probably have friends who are also art lovers and you would be happy to host a small group for a studio tour. This, by the way, sets up unspoken competition among group members while also cementing the cultural art appreciation bond they have. Nothing like a little silent bidding war to get things going! If this results in sales be sure to have a small gift of your work (Great Square Inches of Art) to send post event. If you’ve been invited to your new salesperson’s home you may have an idea where the gift piece should be placed. Imagine how thoughtful that will be seen.
And don’t offer a discount. Again, don’t offer a discount because it is a direct sale. Discount cheapen the work and the experience, even for the buyer though they may not know it at first. Worse, you can’t go back. Your brand position is set at Discount Art Forever. Don’t offer discounts.
There is an intimacy to art purchases that is the big benefit to the artist. They buyers love the relationship with the creator. Give them that. Give them more than just the thing for the wall. Pay attention. Creating this stuff is about feelings. Sell them their feelings. Become friends forever.