When I first committed to my art career, there was a lot of mystery and confusion about how to make sales as an artist. I waited for a gallery to do it for me and truly thought I didn’t have the permission to do it on my own. In fact, I didn’t even think it was possible to sell paintings directly. I was miserable, waiting for some magical opportunity or an art dealer to come knocking on my door.
As you can imagine, no one ever came and I had to figure it out on my own. Through a series of life lessons, investing in additional education and personal development, I discovered that I do not have to wait for anyone to make me qualified to promote my own art. Regardless of whether I have a gallery or not, people may be interested in collecting my work.
As scary as it was putting myself out there, I learned a few simple things about what it takes to make direct sales to collectors online and through exhibitions. Even though I work with a gallery now, I still use these tools to support myself and advance my art career.
When I was just starting out, I truly believed that having an art gallery would eliminate my struggles and somehow would outsource all the sales and marketing for me. I imagined that having a gallery would allow me to paint in a far away cabin in the woods and never have to worry about any other part of my art career. This is far from the truth, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. Over the years of doing it solo, I took back a lot of power and independence when it comes to selling my art, and this has relieved a lot of the pressure of finding a gallery to represent my work. Even if things don’t work out with a gallery, I know I have what it takes to do it on my own.
Working with a gallery has been wonderful so far, but I think part of why this is the case is having the understanding and respect for what they do and how they can potentially elevate my image. I also love to approach galleries as a partnership instead of expecting them to “do something for me” and continue to market and push my work to help sales. This creates a healthy relationship and multiplies the efforts, so both parties win! So don’t be like the past me and think of it as “giving up” if it is your ultimate dream to be represented by a great gallery. You can still work toward that goal and market your work until that happens. Chances are, you are much more likely to get noticed if you are putting yourself out there and sending a message to the world that you are ready to be seen and your art is for sale.
Here are five tips that transformed my mindset around selling and promoting my art. Stop waiting for permission and come up with a plan to inspire new collectors and make some sales:
1. People want to buy art. Help them!
A simple trick that changed everything for me is actually announcing that work is for sale. This is silly, and I write and talk about this all the time, but often when it comes to online marketing you need to nudge your potential collector in the right direction.
Create an album on Facebook that says “available work” and send a newsletter announcing any new collections, limited edition prints or work you recently got back from a show! Be excited and give your audience a way to contact you. Be sure to only post work for sale that you are TRULY proud of. If something in your gut tells you that are not quite there yet, and need to polish up your skills, don’t rush in. Take the time you need to develop a strong body of work and then start selling with confidence.
A caption such as “work available for sale, dm or email for details” or something along those lines makes a huge difference! This is obvious, but if you are represented by a gallery and only sell work through them, direct your buyer towards the gallery and you both win! Remember that people want to buy art and you are not being annoying by giving them that joy. People shop for expensive shoes, purses, and cars. Art brings a lot more meaningful pleasure to a collector than a lot of any other items might. Don’t deprive a potential collector!
2. You are the CEO of your art career. Invest in your business!
Creating a small budget to pay for affordable advertisements on Facebook and Instagram ($10-$50) per post is a fabulous way to push out your work to new collectors that are not in your immediate network. Invest a few dollars each month to grow your audience through ads, reputable Instagram shoutouts, and other creative ways of advertising to get great results. Do a little research on ads and how to find your target audience by doing a quick Google search. Instagram has an “automatic” audience feature to explore as well.
Other ways to invest into your are career include taking additional workshops (both art and business or anything else you want to gain skills in), applying to juried exhibitions and publications, reading educational literature, and of course, using any free resources online. You have to be willing to trust in your dream and invest in your future. This also sends a message to the world that you are serious about your art career. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but don’t skimp on developing your future!
3. Have a commerce platform ready before you announce your sale.
Whether it’s selling on Etsy, getting paid via PayPal directly, having an e-commerce platform such as Shopify or a page on Squarespace, make sure you set up your shop and test it out for seamless customer experience. If you are shipping originals, your shop structure will be very simple. Just make sure you calculate your shipping cost both domestic and international. Invest into a simple scale (you can get one for under $30 on Amazon), order shipping supplies in bulk to save money and pass on the shipping cost to your buyer, especially if it’s a larger work. I offer free shipping on small works and works on paper. If you are stuck on how to pack artwork, check out this article on Saatchi that I frequently use as a guide for my own shipments. Pricing your art can be challenging, but you just have to get started and stay consistent. Look around at local galleries that show artists at your career level and get an idea for what your type of work is sold for. Just pick a number for each size of work based on the material you create and stick to that price consistently for at least a year.
4. Be great to work with.
Whether you are represented by a gallery or not, be a great person to work with. Offer payment plans to potential clients who may not be able to pay full price right away, be courteous, and respond to messages or questions. I think being a great partner to your gallery can multiply your success, but even if you are on your own, your collector will remember you and will be more likely to add more pieces to their collection in the future. I consider this a win-win, because if they loved buying from you - they will recommend you to a friend and do the marketing for you.
I remember even during my first few art sales, I got a compliment from an older gentleman collector who happened to be a lawyer. He told me how impressed he was with my professionalism, quick replies, and having a seamless sales process. Mind you, this was in 2012 where I was using a simple e-mail invoice and he was sending me a paper check. Do the best you can with what you have and it will pay off!
5. Fix your mindset around marketing and selling.
A lot of us learned to associate selling with sleazy and pushy businessmen portrayed as villains in Hollywood films. This can obviously be the case, but when it comes to your approach to selling and promoting yourself, you can truly make it your own. People will only respond to you if you are true to your work and yourself and develop a way of sharing what you create that works for you and FEELS GOOD. Don’t try to use marketing techniques that feel weird or inauthentic. Share your story and be excited about a work of art that makes you proud. Buying and collecting art is an intimate and personal process. Be confident, follow up, but don’t be offended or take things personally if they don’t go the way you hoped. Like any relationship, you are looking for a good fit, and you want both you and the buyer to be happy with the outcome.
As you continue to grow and develop your craft, your audience and circle of collectors will grow. Sometimes it takes years to get there, and that is ok. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have someone truly LOVE the piece they get from me than be pressured into purchase something they aren’t 100% excited about.
Marketing and sales are amazing as long as you learn ways to make them fun and deeply fulfilling experiences for yourself.
Remember that your priority will always be in the studio. Making art comes first, but it’s a really amazing time to use marketing to take your power back and enjoy the freedom of being an artist without having to ask anyone’s permission or approval.
P.S. if you are just starting out and need some basic art career tips like applying to galleries and marketing on Instagram Alicia Puig and I recently wrote a book called The Smartist Guide which can help!