Enterprising Ways for Artists
to Increase Art Sales
Any artist will tell you one of the most difficult challenges they face is making a living by selling their art. The conventional way to achieve financial independence is through long term gallery representations, but many artists don't have that luxury and of those who do, few have it on a consistent basis or even when they do, manage to generate enough sales to make decent livings. Artists are resourceful and innovative people though, and have come up with a variety of alternative methods to bulk up their bottom lines.
One of the main ways to make more sales is to increase your name recognition. Better known artists sell plenty of art because they consistently keep their names out in front of the public and make their art visible and accessible to potential buyers whenever and wherever possible. They know the more people who see their art, the better their chances of making sales. They also know that people don't buy art they can't see, they don't buy art if they don't know it exists, and they certainly can't buy it if they don't know the artist exists.
First and foremost, thank God for the Internet. Keeping your name in front of the public via social media, your website and other online platforms is essential. But there are a number of good old fashioned real-life options for getting your art in front of the public that work just as well as they ever did. So let's set the Internet aside for a moment and look more traditional ways of presenting and selling your art.
Your art is your business card, your billboard, your best form of advertising. Your primary responsibility is to get it out of your studio where it's not doing anyone any good and display it wherever possible, particularly in places frequented by people who like art and have the means to buy it. Restaurants, hotels, retail shops, boutiques, coffee shops, corporate offices, interior decorators, high-end furniture showrooms, and lobbies of office buildings are all good possibilities. Always keep an eye out for any alternative-venue opportunities to show your art, particularly those that have reputations for showing art on a regular basis. No matter where you show, always make sure to put your contact information in an obvious place or better yet, alongside each piece of your art.
Hold a fundraiser for yourself. Perhaps you need new equipment or supplies or are financing an advanced course of study. Fundraiser websites are always an option, but you can also do this entirely on your own and save the commissions, plus doing it yourself is also more personal. In your announcements, state your specific goal, offer donation options, and tell donors what they'll receive in return. Donations can be worth face value plus a certain percentage toward purchase of your art, for instance. Perhaps every hundred dollar donation can be exchanged for $150 worth of art, either now or at any point in the future. Or donations might be exchangeable at the same rate for other services you're capable of providing like framing or art instruction. Maybe donors can get first choice of your latest work. In addition to everything else, you can raffle off one or two of your artworks at the fundraiser itself with each $10 donation equaling one chance to win.
Those of you who enjoy travel, know how to teach and are good with people can organize and conduct art trips. Enterprising artists use this method to finance everything from ocean cruises to African safaris and some even end up with extra cash for living expenses when all's said and done. A lucky few turn this income generator into a livelihood. Artist trips work because people who love art also welcome opportunities to see, learn, and experience life through artists' eyes in faraway places.
Itineraries can include holding art classes in beautiful or exotic locations. If you know the great art and the great museums, include guided tours. If you are familiar with unique destinations from an art standpoint, note that you'll be sharing that knowledge with everyone along the way. Other possibilities include organizing visits to small or obscure museums, exploring local or regional art scenes, and maybe even visiting interesting artists or personalities who your fellow travelers could never meet otherwise. The price of a trip might even include a piece of your art specially created to commemorate the event.
If you're doing a tour for the first time, start small, don't wander too far from home, and decide whether you're comfortable leading others. Doing a test run with good friends or your best collectors is a great way to start. Whatever you do, know your territory, be organized and be able to provide interesting experiences and observations along the way.
Another good way to introduce new collectors to your art and keep current with old ones is to hold invitation-only salons, shows or soirees at homes or offices of your best clients. Collectors often enjoy hosting events like this for a variety of reasons including philanthropy, support of the arts, ego gratification, and wanting to be around artists. They also love having their environments transformed by art, occasionally even to the point where they allow artists to transform rooms into exhibition spaces. Presenting each host with a complimentary work of art in exchange for the time and space is always a good idea.
Have your host or hosts invite friends and associates from their email and mailing lists. Add select guests from your own circle of friends and collectors as well. Don't invite too many personal friends and other non-buyers, though. You don't want to change the tone of event from a salon into a party.
During any salon, always make yourself accessible to everyone, meet new people and make sure to answer everyone's questions. You might even seat yourself in a quiet room for a portion of the evening so that interested parties can have more personal one-on-one conversations. Show primarily new work as opposed to older pieces that have already been seen. You want your best collectors to be impressed to the point where they'll encourage new people to buy. Keep refreshments or entertainment basic so that the focus stays on your art.
Salons and private shows might not be advisable if you're just starting out or are not that well-known. Your nucleus of supporters should be substantial and dedicated enough to attract a good crowd and to inform and engage the newcomers.
A surprising number of artists either augment or make the majority of their livings by playing to niche markets. They advertise on trade websites or publications or exhibit at trade shows or events that are not necessarily related to art. For example, an artist who specializes in painting railroad subjects might advertise on websites and in publications for train enthusiasts, or exhibit at train collector or memorabilia shows.
Artists successfully market specialty work to sports collectors, science fiction buffs, pet owners, animal breeders, restaurant owners, hunters, fishermen, lawyers, doctors and car collectors, just to name a few. You can find trade shows, websites and publications for practically any hobby, pastime or pursuit under the sun, so if your art appeals to a certain segment of the population, seek them out in groups. For example, artists whose art is more traditional or representational sometimes complain that no one buys this type of art anymore, that everyone wants modern. But plenty of people do buy it and plenty of business are happy to show it. Instead of looking for galleries, focus more on designers, decorators, architects, antique dealers or retailers of home furnishings that cater more to traditional tastes.
The two great advantages to targeting specialized non-art markets through social media, advertising, trade shows or retail venues are that you have little competition from other artists, and you'll be showing exclusively to people who already understand and appreciate the type of art you create. Chances are good that you can make significant sales if you identify, select and present your art to niche markets wisely.
If you're swimming in excess art, have a studio sale. Cut prices in half and invite collectors, friends, fans and tell them they're welcome to bring anyone they think may be interested. Make that discount deep; make those selling prices hard to resist. Remember-- the purpose of this sale is to SELL. Hold back any pieces you'd rather not discount, but at the same time provide a reasonably good quality selection. Leading candidates for the price ax should be pieces you've been unable to sell for a while, ones you have multiples or near look-alikes of, and those that no longer fit into how you see yourself progressing as an artist. Don't slash prices too many times with sales like this though because you'll saturate your market and encourage your best customers to wait for sales rather than pay full price. Instead, advertise it as a rare or one-time opportunity for your collectors to save some serious cash.
Lastly, always keep the barter option open. Whenever you can trade art for something you would otherwise pay for, do it. Be less inclined to barter if someone wants to trade you something you don't really need in the first place, but then again, consider the opportunity before nixing it because making the trade means one more piece of your art will hang in one more collection where new people will likely be seeing it.
Food, shelter and clothing are always high on the survival list so consider barter with businesses like coffee shops, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels, your landlord, and retail or vintage clothing stores. Staying healthy, solvent, and out of trouble are always nice too, so don't forget doctors, dentists, accountants and attorneys-- all people who've been known to barter their services for art. If you're relatively well-known or your art has a broad range of appeal, consider signing on with a barter club or organization. Some are so large you can trade art for just about anything.
(sculpture by Walter Robinson)
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