How to Sell Your Art and Other Helpful Tips

Yesterday’s post on pricing student or “emerging” art work tackled the difficulty of pricing your works to move. But maybe even more difficult is gaining the exposure and putting your works in the right venue to be seen and sell. When I was talking to Paula Shubatis about the value of large scale oil paintings, I was also considering the proper space for the pieces to be hung.

She had a really great idea to have a non-profit sponsor so that she could apply for a permit to exhibit in an alley downtown. I immediately posed the question, “How will that make you money?” Yes, it would gain her intrigue and possibly some press, but I was concerned with how she was going to be rewarded for her efforts. Too many times we think about the work but we don’t know how to translate to tangible values. Most of society is already programmed to consume art in small manageable pieces so while seeing a painting in an alley might be exciting, it might not speak to a buyer or get a buyer to come out to the alley to begin with.

Paula answered that it probably wouldn’t be a money-making ploy but the alley would complement her painting. Although it would be for a short time, I had to agree. So we started brainstorming on how she could further the visibility of her paintings and who her potential clients were. This is what I suggested researching.

Corporate collections

Although many have been dissolved over the years, corporate art collections were and still are a barometer of a corporations success. The historical, educational and sophistication level of a curator’s choices can communicate a vast number of nuances to a client. Some focus on specific topics relevant to the company but most are diverse and worth millions of dollars. I suggested to Paula to research any collections that were still active in the southeast Michigan area and send a professional letter and images to those that collect contemporary.

Art Fairs

From creating enough inventory to sell to the logistics of travel to getting into the fair itself, the career of a professional artist is a tough one when you’re traveling cross country to sell your wares. But I know some very successful artists that make a living of this and they love what they do. Research each market, figure your costs (including booth fees, lodging, food, airfare/gas, insurance, shipping if needed) and try out a local one to see if you like the art fair circuit culture.

Representation

The art dealing culture has changed drastically over the last decade. Gone are the days of sending slides and lugging heavy portfolios to the gallery. While it may still stand as the pinnacle of an artist’s I’ve made it moment, getting representation is getting harder and harder each day as galleries downsize and restructure what it is to be in a gallery’s stable of artists. Now there are an infinite number of online galleries and stores to sell your work. Besides the ever popular Etsy, there’s also Big Cartel, a foolproof store that handles your art sales and monetary transactions safely.

If you are interested in going the traditional route of being represented by a dealer, read the instructions carefully and make sure you include everything they ask for and nothing they do not. Use the best materials you can afford and have friends or colleagues proof all text. Also, do not send unsolicited packages. I used to be an American art dealer (known impressionism, modern and contemporary works) and would receive numerous packets from artists. Had they taken the time to research the website, they would have seen that I generally worked with museums and collectors to sell paintings by deceased and market-established artists. Vet your galleries carefully and save yourself the postage!

If nothing else, having a website is a must. Take clear, well-lit photos of your art work and make sure your site is easily navigable and concise. Include an artists statement and any information that will intrigue your clients. Branding yourself properly is probably the most important tool of all.

Public and Temporary spaces

Like Paula’s idea to show in the alley, outdoor spaces garner attention from people that might not normally see art. It’s exciting, fresh and enlivens a space if it’s installed properly. Remember to consider the logistics of transporting the piece, whether you need electricity, if it’s safe from the elements, if you’ll need a lock or security overnight and whether you need to insure it for potential loss or damage. All these things considered, public art is also a great excuse to garner publicity…

Publicity

Getting in front of a buyer is difficult without a dealer or gallery. That said, there are many perks to representing yourself, namely not having to pay a share to the middle man. But that means you have to know how to talk about your work and how to publicize it. I always tell students and artists to learn to write a press release. It’s one page, has all the relevant information a magazine, newspaper or TV would need to cover your story. But make sure it’s newsworthy before you send it. It’s also important to make rounds at the art fairs, openings and museum circuit. Learn not only to talk about your work but art and design history in general.

There are tons of details that go into the success of an artist and these are just a few starter tips. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing the right person, being at the right place at the right time…but I like to believe that forethought, planning and talent matter too. Good luck!

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One thought on “How to Sell Your Art and Other Helpful Tips

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful post. Many good ideas!

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