Why we Don’t Hand out Photos or Brochures in the Gallery

When I first started in the gallery business over twenty years ago, it was common practice to hand someone printed materials when they expressed interest in an artist’s work. When I was working with a client and she said she liked a particular piece, I would first try to close a sale, but if I wasn’t successful, I would hand her a printed copy of the artist’s biography and a photograph of the piece that had caught her attention.

I suspect that this remains a common practice with many artists and galleries today, but I feel that handing out printed materials is an ineffective selling technique, and today I would like to share an approach that I’ve found far more effective.

Let’s begin by exploring the problems with handing out printed material. First, and most importantly, handing out printed material and letting the client walk away deprives you of the opportunity to follow-up. In the vast majority of cases, as soon as a potential client walks away, you will never hear from her again.

Another problem with printed materials is the production and organization. From a gallery perspective, we would need to keep a stock of brochures and bios for dozens of artists, along with boxes and boxes of photos. Back in the 90’s, when I began in the business, we had to organize and store both prints and negatives for each of the several hundred pieces of art in the gallery. Digital photography made this a little bit easier, but it is still an organizational challenge.

The solution? Email!

Now, instead of handing someone a folder full of bios and photos of artwork, we let an interested client know that we would be happy to email her the information. Emailing the information is better for everyone involved. The client doesn’t have to carry a folder of paper out of the gallery, and we now have an avenue for follow up.

You might wonder if some people are reluctant to provide their email address. Actually, very few visitors to the gallery decline an email follow up. People have become accustomed to interacting through email, and most look at it as a convenience rather than an invasion of privacy.

IMG_20150112_111450[1]After a client agrees that she would like to receive an email, we provide her with a contact card to fill out. This card asks for not only her email, but also her other contact information, including her mailing address and phone number. The beauty of handing someone a form asking for all of her contact information is that she will usually simply fill the form without even thinking about it. Even though we don’t need the additional contact information for our email follow up, it’s very valuable for us to be able to add that information to our database for further follow-up.

When the client hands the card back, we ask if she would like to be added to our mailing list. We keep the invite very simple: “Would you like to join our mailing list to receive updates about new artwork?” You don’t need to sell this too hard – you only want people to join your mailing list if they really want to. Never add someone to your mailing list without their explicit permission.

We try to send the follow up email with an image of the artwork immediately after the client leaves the gallery, while the interaction is still on their mind, and on ours. Most of our clients have smartphones, so many of them can view the email immediately.

Your follow-up email should be simple and too the point. Thank the client for visiting your studio, show, or gallery, and provide the information about the artwork in which they expressed interest, along with the image. I prefer to have the image show up inline in the email, rather than as an attachment.  Close by letting the client know you would be happy to be of service. In other words, don’t be too pushy.

If you don’t hear back from the client within 2-3 days, send another quick email with an image of the artwork. You might also provide additional information about the artwork if available. Your inspiration for the work, a copy of your biography, or some other detail you feel might be relevant to the client.

Follow-UpEmailKeep following up until you hear back from the client. Start out with follow up every 2-3 days, and then begin stretching out the intervals between follow up as time goes on. I will talk more about the follow up process in future posts, but it’s important to note here that some sales require 8-10 follow up emails before getting a response. Don’t allow your sales to fail because you aren’t being persistent enough. If you keep your emails short and courteous, you can be persistent without being pesky.

And there you have our replacement for brochures and photos. Email follow up has been far more effective than handing someone a brochure could ever be We have the added satisfaction of knowing that we are, by some small degree, reducing waste and helping the environment.

To be clear, brochures and catalogs do still have a valid place in your marketing efforts. Brochures and other printed material can be a great way to send images to clients to update them about new available work. We do a lot of marketing through printed catalogs and brochures – but the key is that we use brochures for our marketing efforts, not for our sales efforts.

Finally, the last caveat. If we have sincerely tried to get follow up information from a client, but for some reason they refuse to give it, we may hand them a brochure as they are leaving the gallery if we felt that they were truly interested in a particular artwork or artist. This, or handing someone a card should be an absolute last resort after all efforts to sell and get contact information have been exhausted. These last-ditch efforts are only rarely effective, but if we’ve tried everything else (sincerely tried) it’s better for the client to walk away with images and contact information than nothing.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

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


  1. I like your idea of address cards. I was using a signup sheet for emails. My signup sheet says “please print clearly” on the top, but people still print illegibly sometimes. I’m wondering if there is some sort of digital way to do this, like bring in a tablet and have people type in their contact info.

    1. The problem with a sheet, like a guest book, is that some of your visitors will be uncomfortable putting their info in a record that is accessible to anyone at the current event, or other events. With the contact card they have the sense that it’s not going to be laying out for everyone to see.

    2. A tablet is certainly an idea – there are a lot of apps that will allow you to collect contact info. The problem with a tablet is keeping it from wandering off when you aren’t paying attention, so you would need to have some way to secure it.

  2. Hi, Jason! Do you have any ideas about extrapolating this strategy to outdoor art shows? I have a lot of people who come in and want to take something–for free. The way I’ve been dealing with this is putting out postcards that are 20 and even 25 years old! with updated labels slapped on the back. I’m always amazed at how eager people are to take even that! I used to give out new glossy expensive business cards, but I stopped doing that(maybe the first time I read this article??)–unless I’ve had a conversation with someone where it seems warranted. (I have them hidden behind other stuff on my table.) But (re?) reading this, I’m wondering if there mightn’t be even a better strategy…and anyway, one day these cards from 2000 will run out, lol!

    1. It certainly sounds like a good way to make use of old materials, but I would still be concerned that I’m missing out on an opportunity to follow-up. I understand that there are a lot of lookers at art shows, just as there are in galleries, but I would rather assume that someone might buy and follow up, than assume they won’t and be wrong.

    2. I wonder why you are holding onto your business cards. Especially since they are from 2000! The price has come down dramatically for beautiful glossy business cards.You could put a picture of your current artwork or the piece that most represents your work on the back. It gives a potential buyer a way to get in touch with you without feeling like they are giving you their personal information. I do think the contact cards make sense as well. I think giving away your old postcards for free is a nice gesture–and I think people are always excited to get something for free.

      By the way, postcard prices are much more reasonable for batches of 500 to 1,000–

      1. Thanks. Actually, the business cards are recent, and at least at some point, seemed pricey to me…and people would really grab them. The postcards are just something I happen to have and have little use for any more. I know that postcards are relatively cheap to print–and even more so the more you buy–that’s how I wound up still having them 20 years later. I’ve been mulling this all over, and what I’m taking from what Jason has said is that making it too easy for people to take these cards is not helping me. Yes, they are excited to get something free–that’s exactly the problem. After that, they no longer feel the need to interact further. But this does nothing to further my business.

        1. If people are taking your cards – they want you! And your work! And that is good! Maybe they are just not finding something at your shows in their price bracket – that they can partake of? I have had great success at my shows by creating an area of wall about 2 meters wide were I display a group of 30 or so tiny inexpensive pieces, from as low as $20 in a whole range of prices like 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60…

          People who maybe never bought an artwork will really enjoy poring over this wall ‘choosing what to buy’, they stand together chatting and discussing in detail, and it creates brand new art collectors as the low price gets them over their resistance.

          The pieces are tiny – 4” x 4” up to about 7” x 5” – all in gold black white or funky fun different frames I find and collect in thrift stores or framer sales – and all are real carefully made originals – ink drawings, pastels, tiny oil on canvas or canvas board – and signed with contact details and info label on the back.

          Friends who love and want to support you will buy them and treasure them. They will love to display them in their homes and talk about your work to their friends. These people will then come to your next show, and buy a bigger work now they have more confidence – and they will tell others about how they bought their first artwork last time.

          So – make a ‘tiny treasures’ wall – and you’ll create new art collectors – have lots of buzz around these small sales at your shows – and generate more income from the people that love you!

          Important – I always have around 4 friends ‘on sales’ at my shows – finishing the transaction and taking the money – who I have trained beforehand – because otherwise a lot of sales are missed as the transaction needs to be made at the moment of interest – and you can only talk to 1 person at a time. I usually have 2 people on my ‘treasure wall’ as it busy.

          On a sort of related note, I also like to have one giant painting, like whale, and a bunch of smaller but significant paintings around it – like a shoal of fish. It helps the exhibition ‘make sense’ – the tiny treasure ‘comment’ paintings, the ‘whopper whale’ big statement, and the surrounding supporting ‘fish shoal’. So then you cater to everybody.

          And there is a progression through your work – and importantly – a big range of prices at which people can enter.

          I have not found that providing smaller pieces deters larger sales. I make those as well. By grouping the treasures together, crowding them in one clear group, you create a clear ‘offer wall’, a fun wall, to your newbie art buyers and you will create new buyers for your work – and for art. I hope you have as much fun with this as I have, as you see the shining eyes of your new buyers taking their little package home – it really is fun and great!❤️

          1. I have an artist friend who is very successful at art festivals selling both large and smaller original framed acrylic paintings. But she also makes quite a bit of money by painting quick originals with acrylic on heavy watercolor paper cut to standard frame sizes (5×7, 8×10) and hung for sale with clips on a clothesline. No frame needed. As Jelia said, it gives folks a chance to enter the art collector market with a small purchase – and many come back next year to select a larger piece.

    3. Carol, if you are familiar with “QR” codes, consider putting one on new business cards. An image of a representational piece of your with a QR code on the back covers 2 points: your work as a reminder and teaser; and the QR code immediately will take the potential buyer to your website! The QR code is photographed with a smartphone and opens the web browser and takes you to the connected site.

      I have artist friends who create business cards (they’re so cheap now) with a new QR code for each body of work (ie, your “geometric” series, or “people who look like their lovers pets” series, etc). It’s a bit more time consuming and requires some web savvy, but it markets your current work directly using resources at everyones fingertips. It also personalizes your belief in your own work by creating instant access and reduction of time value in the potential buyers day. That QR code takes the buyer straight to the arts display page and not to your sites home page. This way the buyer is immersed in the work directly and without effort. If they truly dig your work then they dig and explore deeper–another hook set! You might try try this and see how it works for you! Good luck.

  3. Hi Jason. Are you ever concerned about providing them a digital copy of s specific image that customer was interested in? Now they can make a print of that image and avoid having to pay the price of an original. I know you’ve touched on this in your discussion on watermarking digital images. It just seems like it would encourage the idea of just making a print themselves when you provide them with a digital copy of the specific image they desire. What are your thoughts/experiences on that? Thanks for the blogs. Keep em coming.

  4. I agree with your insights, for several reasons.

    JUST handing out printed materials allows them to leave without actually connecting. Sure, they have cool stuff to look at. But you’ve given them a “gift” that can feel like that transaction/connection in your space is completed.

    I’ve found over the years that most customers have to see my work several times before they buy, especially for larger, more expensive pieces. The best way to do that is open studio events. And the best way to get them there is email sign-ups for my open studio events. (Of course, I also direct them to the galleries that carry my work!)

    If I were a gallery representing multiple artists, I’d do the same as you recommended, because you have to know WHOSE WORK they were drawn to.

    But the email request is low-resistance and allows me to stay in touch with them. THEN I give out a MOO business card or a postcard. They tend to keep those and post them somewhere (fridge, workspace, bulletin board, bookmark, etc.) And I can still keep them connected to what I’m up to.

  5. Great article! I have seen kids going from place to place or booth to booth. “collecting” cards. Sometimes it’s a game of whoever gets the most, wins! After 40 years of shows, I’v started to keep my unique cards (all of mine have a different ART-bot on them) hidden and only give one out when an adult is seriously interested in my work- they get the one or two or ? image(s) they are interested in—and I ask them if they could please fill out a “response/comment card” while I get the particular biz card for them. It usually is no big deal, is quick, and I don’t go broke anymore trying to keep up with biz card collectors. I’ve spent many many $$ on brochures for galleries only to find the gallery never puts them out or has trashed them! No more!

  6. Great article I agree that at art shows it might be good to have a card that they can fill out. I was using a book but some people didn’t want to fill it out.


  7. I had my IPad at the ready and asked if they were interested in more information. I didn’t have much luck with that. But very guilty of giving out information without having a way to follow through. Great, great Advice. Next Question. I’m recovering from heart issues. My only gallery closed and feeling lost and alone. Cannot do what I once did. I what to blog and write informational newsletters about art. What are my best avenues?

  8. Good advice, Jason. I will try out your sign up card at my next show and discontinue just have a sign up sheet. Your observation that customers don’t want our other customers seeing their information is right on!
    Many thanks for sharing your experience and ideas!

  9. Saw this post at an earlier date & decided to try out the client information card at a studio tour I was participating in this past March. I got more positive responses than just asking the guest to put their name/e-mail in a guest book. The opportunity for the guest to leave a comment made it easier to follow up & yes, I did get a commission! I also used the comment section for myself to make notes, also useful for follow-up. I definitely plan on using the client information card for future shows. Thank you Jason!

  10. As an artist with 45 years of doing business with galleries….the other side of that coin is an artist approaching a gallery director with their own brochures and catalogs. Gallery operators ask the artist if they can ‘Keep your brochure ‘ , giving you the impression that they may contact you later or show it to prospective buyers. Artists have good and bad years and have huge expenses, just as the galleries do. Do us a favor and just say something constructive…..like : ” nice materials ” but we don’t feel you are a good fit.

  11. Demonstrations have been a great place to have a clipboard ready with pen and paper. While I set up I pass around an interesting book or image starting at one end and the clipboard of emails at another. I mention again at the end of my demo if people would like to know about my next demo or show to please include their email on the clipboard. On the paper I write Email for Jane’s Newsletter/Events (PLEASE PRINT CLEARLY: Name, Email. On the bottom, I write the date and place I received the emails and put them in my computer contacts that evening or the next day.

  12. Would it be terribly wrong to suggest a customer interested in a work of art use their own smart phone to take a picture of it? Then you could still have them fill out a contact/ comment card, but they would have the image themselves,

  13. I agree mailing is the best way to provide more information on our work to the client. But Nowadays people unsubscribe mailing in this situation what we do?

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