Selling Smart: Marketing for Success!
I started marketing my art full time
1998. Before that
I worked as a graphic designer for about thirty years. When I completed
art school I settled for a career in graphics because I didn't
believe I could make a living doing what I really loved. During that
time I created ad campaigns for everything from cars to dog treats with
a hefty stint as in-house artist for a chain of restaurants where I was
responsible for a complete range of marketing materials from menus to
billboards. The experience gained has been worth its weight in gold to
me as an artist. While I don't claim to be a marketing expert, I love
sharing what I've learned and, hopefully, help artists do what it took
me so long to figure out.
The Right Product
is like any other product. It needs to be defined into a 'story'
that you know how to tell in all your marketing materials. I knew I
wanted to make art that brought joy to people. But in the beginning I
couldn't seem to find a way to get my work into galleries. I really
began to work in glass because there were so many painters.
the core theme and mood of your work? What are you
hoping to communicate? The product/brand you have now will not
necessarily be the one you will have in the future. It's an on-going,
evolving process. As you change and grow as a person and artist, so
will your art. If you're like me, you have to make a living now. So
let's figure out how to sell what you have.
The Right Venue
In the last twelve years I've shown my work in a lot of different
venues—some more successful that others. Basically I did
lots of art
fairs and shows and in 2000 opened the Blue Pomegranate Gallery along
with a close friend and metal artist, which we ran together for ten
years. I stepped out of it about a year ago to devote more time to my
art but it's still my 'home' gallery and I'm still pretty involved.
From there I moved into wholesale sales with my production lines and
continue to market my fine art line to higher end galleries. Along the
way I've tried licensing, art reps and a few other things that didn't
work so well.
Street Fairs and Public
For me, this was a great way to start. Beginning expenses are usually
small and it's a great 'test market' for your work.
Choosing the right
is a big difference between an Art Show and an Art Sale, even if they
aren't billed this way. Here are a few questions to consider when
choosing a show:
Target Market? Shows that are
focused rather than
family focused sell more art! If there are a lot of other events tied
to the show and people are looking for entertainment for their kids,
they aren't necessarily going to buy art.
Advertising? This is where a lot
entry fee goes so
make sure they will do their job.
Reputation & Credibility?
for Juried Shows
featuring 'Made In USA Work'. Submit good photos of a good variety of
your best work. Often you need a booth photo or layout. See if you can
borrow a tent and do a mock up. If possible, talk to artists who have
done the show before. Is it an established show or just beginning? New
shows need to be more heavily advertised and should cost less.
Location, location, location?
the show and where
will you be placed? Some shows mix everyone up in a first come, first
served manner and some lump all the glass artists together. I always
preferred to be next to a different medium if possible. My business
partner and I used to get two spaces together. She had contemporary
metal art and I had colorful glass and together we made a bigger
splash! If you can attend the show the year before, look at traffic
patterns, restrooms, shade and anything else that will make your
The Top 10 "Must Haves" for any Art Fair:
1. Credit cards are a
must! And it's
so easy now with an iPad or smart
phone. I use Square Up but also have heard good things about Pro Pay
2. Be Prepared:
Have plenty of
change and sales receipt books, and don't forget another book for
commissions. Of course, bags. Again there are online companies that
offer affordable products. Don't use old bags and newspaper unless
you're really trying to make a green statement or something. Forget the
starving artist mentality—you need to look successful to
3. Business cards
Business cards can be ordered cheaply online these days. Vista
Prints & Overnite Prints are two I've used. A short note
here: When designing your card, make it easy to read. Do NOT use script
lettering and definitely NOT all caps! Add a small, good photo of a
piece of your art that represents who you are. Black type on a white or
off-white card in a size that can be read by your target market!
Include web address, email and phone. Order plenty and give them away
- A Bio is simply a 'story card' that
a bit more about
your work. Add photos of a couple of major pieces but no prices. If you
are already in other galleries, you can add those that are prestigious
or nearby. If you've won awards or participated in shows that are well
known, that's good to include as well. Usually you can find a local
digital printing company for these and have them printed in 1/4 or 1/2
size to make it easy to put in a purse or shopping bag.
4. Mailing lists:
Get people to
sign up by reassuring them that you won't sell the list or deluge them
with marketing. If you plan to do other shows at all, your mailing list
is pure gold!
5. Old marketing adage:
sizzle, not the steak!" There's a bit of mystique about being an artist
and that's part of the 'sizzle'. When they buy a piece your art glass,
they are buying, in part, a peek inside the artist's life. Talk about
how you make your work, how you began in glass. Have an opening sales
pitch: "Welcome, are you familiar with my work?" is a good opening
Some shows provide
relief 'booth sitters' but a sitter is usually just that. Having
someone else to help sell and to tag team with difficult customers is
really important. And it's easier to sell someone else's work than your
own anyway. Offer delivery after the show if possible. Make it easy to
Booth & Displays: Find
out what the requirements are for the specific show. You don't have to
spend a fortune, but it needs to be very sturdy and weighted down in
case of wind. We used cinderblocks fitted with wood so we could screw
the tent legs down and raise the tent roof—a good thing. You can
build, buy and sometimes rent all sorts of display tables but most
shows provide simple conference-style tables. You will need skirting to
hide storage tubs etc.— simple white table cloths will
do. Keep it
simple and clean. Make your art the focus! Use 2x4's to raise tables up
so that the art is closer to eye level. Glass blocks make inexpensive
risers for individual pieces. Group according to color and size.
& easy to read titles and prices is the rule here. If you
expect rain at all, use waterproof tags & markers! A master
price list is a necessity in case you're not there or a price falls off.
Prices MUST be
RETAIL! Do NOT undercut your store sales, current or future! Ideally,
have a wide variety of price points: Under $50, under $100 and so on.
If you are just starting out and are not independently wealthy, you'll
probably have some low-ticket pieces for under $30.
- Promote, but don't discount! In
words, you can have a
'bogo' promotion or a special price for a group of items but don't let
people talk you down like it's a flea market. Explain how the cost of
glass is linked to precious metals etc. so they understand your
- Add at least 20% for commission
Make that the 'norm'.
You can always waive it if it's something you really want to do and
think it's a deal breaker. (I'll write about commissions in more depth
in future columns.)
- Friends and Family Discounts: This
tricky and I'd
suggest you don't make a practice of it. I still do it sometimes (no
more than 10%) but it's the exception rather than the rule, which makes
it more special.
10. Your Game Face:
success and greet customers with warmth and positive enthusiasm. You
will need chairs for an occasional sit down but please don't sit the
whole time! Your body language will speak much louder than your sales
pitch. If nobody's in your booth, it's a good time to re-merchandise.
Time to move things around and make new displays. Don't let yourself
get down or look bored. Art shows are short and you've worked hard to
prepare—make it all work for you.
Art Show After Care:
recommend you keep a journal or some kind of notes about each show.
Record the weather, your placement, any problems or new ideas. Send out
small cards to a few choice customers that say: "Congratulations on
your art purchase! I'm so happy to know my work went to a good
home..." etc. It may sound gushy but people love that kind of personal
attention and they won't forget you or your work, which is what it's
No matter what you do, have fun! Enjoy
process. You will
make mistakes, but then you'll have new stories to tell and better ways
to tell them!