Selling Art
Art Sales

How to Sell Art [Without Being Annoying]

Most artists will tell you that the hardest part of their job is trying to sell their artwork to the masses. Sure, they love the creativity and the freedom being an artist provides, but how can they make a living unless they sell their work?

While most artists choose to work with galleries which generally handle sales and marketing initiatives, many don’t have such relationships, or simply don’t want to work with a gallery. Instead, many artists sell their work through other channels, such as art fairs, online, or in co-op galleries. But since “selling” is generally not among most artists’ skill sets, many get left in the dust, leaving them to wonder whether they’ll ever be able to make a living selling their art.

Having face-to-face interaction with potential buyers is an excellent way to get people interested in your art. Often, collectors want to feel like they’ve made a personal connection with the artist whose work hangs in their home. By establishing these relationships, you’ll have a much greater chance of landing a frequent buyer, who, in turn, will recommend your work to his friends and fellow collectors.

The same rings true even if you let a gallery do all the sales work for you. Often times, gallerists will invite artists to attend their big shows or art fairs in an effort to connect the artist with their buyers community.

However, for those artists who struggle to feel comfortable making sales and dealing with buyers, there is some hope. By mastering some of these tips, you may be able to develop a sales platform that allows you to save the costs of gallery representation while ensuring your continued profitability as an artist and maker. Read on to learn more.

Be Yourself

Collectors are more inclined to purchase your artwork when they feel like they have a real sense of who you are. Most collectors like the idea of having a personal relationship with the artists they collect. That is, they want to feel like their part of an “in crowd” of artists and art collectors, so letting your personality shine through is a great way to capture new buyers.

Tell them your story: where you come from, what your parents did, where you studied, why art was a passion. Tell them about your process: how you settled on a medium, how your work has evolved, where you find inspiration, how you create. Knowing these things about an artist will often lead buyers to purchase work from you again and again since they feel like they know you well and can trust you. And even if you’re not a well-recognized artist today, a friendship with a collector can often translate into a word-of-mouth kind of following. They’ll tell their friends about you, invite you to social events, and help spread the word about who you are and what you do.

Master the Art of Social Media Marketing

Although it seems like Instagram was essentially created so people could waste time looking at pretty pictures all day, there are few people who can use that to their advantage as artists. As creators and makers of beautiful images, artists can use their keen visual eyes to create arresting images for the Instagram lens. While you may not think it’s good practice to post images of your actual artwork (and Art Law Journal might agree), it is a great idea to give potential buyers a window into your process and daily life – a way for collectors to learn more about you as a person. Pictures of yourself making art, exploring your surroundings or snapping your inspiration are a great way to start.

Once you’ve established a content direction, the real work begins. The key to gaining followers on social media is engagement: you’ll want to spend some time every day visiting like-minded pages, liking and commenting and following your favorites. You’ll want to use hashtags to increase visibility of your photos, and be sure to engage and follow up with any users that make comments or ask questions about who you are. Social media can be a complex beast, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll seem much easier.

It’s important to take note that often times, large social media followings translate into more sales. A collector searching for the next big thing will be much more inclined to think you’re it if you have thousands of followers checking in on what you’re up to. Likewise, artists with large social media followings are often approached with new opportunities that can lead to more sales generation.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

When you’re just getting started selling your work, it’s can be difficult to know your worth. Setting a price and sticking to it can be challenging, but so can actually believing that someone is willing to buy your art.

To sell your artwork, you need to strike a healthy balance – be confident without overselling; be firm without being too pushy. Often times, artists think that it’s better not to pressure a potential buyer, letting them make that decision for themselves. And that’s true, to an extent. On the other hand, giving buyers an easy way out is a sure way to lose a sale. Most people are skittish when they’re about to make a large purchase, and very rarely do people make art decisions without at least a modicum of doubt. By appearing doubtful yourself, you’ll only enhance the buyer’s second guessing, potentially scaring them away entirely. Confidence is, therefore, crucial.

So how do you remain confident in the face of a potential sale? First things first: Don’t give the buyer a way out. Once you let him know the price of the piece, allow him to ponder. No doubt they may have questions or try to haggle it down, and whether you want to play that game is entirely up to you. But don’t follow that up with a statement that would give the buyer an easy way out, such as “Would you like a brochure of my work?” or “Why don’t you go home and think about it?” Giving a potential buyer another option when they’re on the verge of making a commitment is definitely not the way to go.

In fact, there are a variety of phrases that will surely kill your sale: offering to show them another piece, a copy of your biography, a photo of the work itself. It’s not that these are inappropriate things to offer – it’s just not something you want to offer at the moment someone might pull out their credit card.

Know Your Platforms

There are plenty of place artists can sell their work: local markets, art fairs, co-op galleries, websites like Etsy and Arsty. The key to having health sales revenue, no matter where you’re trying to sell, is making sure you’re doing so among like artists. For example, if you’re relatively unknown, you probably won’t want to attend a higher level art fair, and pit yourself against galleries that sell recognizable artists. Likewise, a photographer who has been able to land gallery representation shouldn’t be selling their photographs on Etsy.

It’s important to remember that, as an artist, you are a brand. As with any brand, you don’t want to dilute it, you don’t want to oversell it, and you want to help it grow. Keeping a consistent message throughout your marketing and sales initiatives will ultimately be one of the best ways to grow your art business.

About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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