Tips for Sales Success

You’re at your first art fair. Your artwork is hung with care and here comes your first customer. Do you run? Pretend to be busy with something? Not if you want to be able to sell your artwork. It’s not that difficult to talk about your paintings and keep people interested in them if you prepare yourself. “People come into your booth because they’re already interested in your work,” says Patrick Seslar of Sebring, Florida. “If you start with that basic assumption, you already have something positive going, and you build on that.”

“When you’re doing something you’re passionate about, it spills over into your conversation and people pick up on that,” says Barbara Newton of Renton, Washington. “You can’t help talking about it if you have an audience.”

Whether you’re just starting out or have a few fairs and shows to your credit, here are some tried-and-true tips that will help you sell your artwork.

Be prepared. Work up some standard phrases to typical questions like: “What is your work about?” “How long does it take to do it?” It makes you sound knowledgeable about your work. —Vera Curnow, Rising Sun, Indiana

Tell a story. Most paintings will have a story. You can talk about the medium you used, where it was painted, the inspiration for a painting, a particular area of the painting that was exciting—something you hadn’t done before. For example, I had a painting I did on location when it was sprinkling. The raindrops created some spots that looked interesting to me. I told that story. Now, each time the owners of that painting talk about it, they’ll be able to point to that area and show people that it was painted on location. —Stephen Quiller, Creede, Colorado

Gain exposure. At the beginning, the name of the game is resume building. Get your name out there at every opportunity, because this will help validate your work. If you can say things like, “This one won an award at the state fair” or “This one was shown at our public library exhibition” you’re also validating the price and it builds up your confidence. —Vera Curnow

Stay positive. It’s important to not talk down about your work. Each of us as painters never comes up with a painting as strong as what we first visualized. But most people look at it with fresh eyes and bring another whole experience to it. —Stephen Quiller

Don’t date yourself. I no longer date my work on the front of the piece because I think it gives a psychological disadvantage to the piece if it doesn’t sell right away. You don’t want your customers to think, “That was done three years ago—can’t she sell this piece?” It’s not that it’s a bad piece, it just hasn’t found its market. So I only put dates on the back of my art. —Barbara Newton

Make contact. Don’t let customers leave your booth or gallery without at least approaching them. I have a good friend who paints in his studio as people peruse his gallery. There was one woman who was looking for a while and was about to leave when he asked, “Did you see something you were interested in?” It turns out there was, but the concept of buying art was new to her. She ended up buying a piece. Remember, we have avid collectors, but there are people who are buying for the first time. —Stephen Quiller

Be confident. When people finally ask you, “How much is it?” know your price and say it unapologetically: “This piece is $350.” Say something personal about the piece that gives it depth and value, like “I’m particularly fond of this piece because it’s taken me so long to do it and it’s very meaningful to me.” It’s not just a two-dimensional work anymore. When people ask me at my gallery, “How come it’s so expensive?” I always say, “That’s not expensive, that’s what it’s worth.” “Expensive” implies you’re charging more than it’s worth. —Vera Curnow

Be consistent with prices. I’ve seen situations in which an artist likes one piece more than another piece and then prices them accordingly. So there will be two pieces that are the same size, but one is priced at $500 and the other at $100. Value is perceived by that label. I think that people look to the artist as being the expert. If you admire the artist’s work and the artist loves one piece, then that’s the piece you’d want to buy because the artist puts more value in it. That’s why I price my work by the square inch. —Barbara Newton

Know that people buy art for different reasons. If you sold paintings to only people who buy it for the “right” reasons—they love the piece and it will add to their lives—you wouldn’t sell many works. Most people buy because it’s the right color for their house, the frame matches the decor or someone they know has a painting by that artist. If you can sell your work, it’ll help you keep painting. Don’t get snobbish about the sale. —Stephen Quiller

Consider commissions. If you really, really want to sell a piece to a particular person, offering to paint it in a different color, different format, different size could be one way of doing it. But be careful when you do this. Ask for a deposit that will commit the customer to this project as much as you’re going to be committed. —Barbara Newton

Be flexible. If your customer seems to be on the brink of buying, offer him the option of taking it home on approval. (That is, the customer buys the piece, but has the option of returning it in a particular amount of time.) My artwork never comes back because once the art is hanging in the spot, people decide they like it. Offering installment plans might also help the sale. —Patrick Seslar

Essentially a self-taught artist, Bruce Peil studied with Kevin Macpherson, Jim Wilcox, Rudy Colao, John Encinias and Scott Christensen. His paintings have garnered many awards in numerous local and national shows and can be found in corporate and private collections across the country. The LaRue, Texas, artist teaches workshops at the Fredericksburg Artists’ School in Fredericksburg, Texas, and other locations. He’s a signature member of Oil Painters of America, the Au Premier Coup Society and Associated Creative Artists, and is the co-founder of the Outdoor Painters Society. Peil is represented by Ann Hughes Fine Art (Dallas, Texas), Mountain Trails Galleries (Jackson, Wyoming; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Park City, Utah), Sanders Gallery (Tucson, Arizona), Kootenai Gallery (Bigfork, Montana) and Fountainside Gallery (Wilmington, North Carolina).

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