How to Sell Art at Open Studios
I've been to numerous artist open studio events and art walks over the years and would like to share my thoughts with all artists who participate in such undertakings. Typical settings are certain areas of cities or towns with high densities of artist studios, galleries and exhibition spaces, and related venues presenting anywhere from several dozen to many hundreds of artists who simultaneously open their studios or get together in groups to exhibit and present their artwork. These events often take place on evenings or weekends, with the general public being invited to stroll from studio to studio and space to space, meet artists, see plenty of art, and hopefully buy.
At open studios, all kinds of paintings, sculptures, prints, watercolors, drawings, mixed media, digital reproductions, photographs and more are on display in all kinds of sizes and price ranges, priced from perhaps five or ten dollars per piece well on up into the thousands... and even more. Each artist usually offers anywhere from several dozen to several hundred works of art, so if you do the math, at least hundreds, and more often thousands-- and sometimes even tens of thousands-- of works of art are available for viewing and purchase. And that's an awful lot of art for anyone to digest in a single day, afternoon or evening, most of whom set aside only a few hours to see what they can see.
During the course of their visits, attendees are often confronted with studio after studio, exhibition space after exhibition space, artist after artist, artwork after artwork, and so forth and so on, ad infinitum. Many of these people know maybe an artist or two or maybe several more than that; many know hardly anyone or anything, especially first timers, and often have no idea what to expect. At best, they might be handed maps or directories, but these handouts typically mean little or nothing to newcomers who tend to make their decisions at random-- like starting with whatever's closest to where they park their cars.
The general progression of events for visitors is that at the start of an art walk, everything is fresh, exciting and engaging-- new studios, new spaces or buildings, new artists, new art. They spend time in individual studios, observe working environments, speak with artists, peruse all manner of art, and generally do what they have to do to acclimate themselves to the circumstances. At some point, they begin to feel comfortable and get the general idea of what's going on. They now spend less time in each studio, perhaps skipping those studios that are basically repeats of ones they've already seen or that offer no immediate attraction. As the day or evening wears on, art-overload begins to set in, and eventually controls viewer's actions to such an extent that they now stop only at those studios that, for whatever reason, stand out from all others. The rest, they ignore.
Not surprisingly, a good percentage of visitors gravitate toward studios where art's for sale at affordable prices. Why? Because a major reason people go to open studios in the first place is that they believe they can buy art cheaper than they can at galleries-- and they're usually right, or at least they should be.
Which brings us to helpful hint number one: Artists who realize that open studio goers tend to have modest budgets and tend to be value buyers stand better chances of making sales than artists who price comparably to gallery retail. Know going in that there's absolutely nothing wrong with giving buyers bargains, and with moving your art out of the studio and into the public realm where even more people will see it-- and making money at the same time. Remember-- your art is your business card, and the main way new buyers discover and learn about you is by first coming into contact with your art in someone's home, office, business, or gallery.
Many artists don't seem to realize that at open studios they're in direct competition with each other. Each and every artist may believe that his or her art and studio are unique, stand apart from the rest, and that no further efforts to attract attention are necessary, but nothing can be further from the truth. The truth is that card carrying members of the general public are not good at making fine line distinctions between one artist and the next. With the immense amount of art that inundates them at these events, one studio begins to look pretty much like the next after a while, so you can't simply sit there and expect sales to come to you based simply on any real or perceived uniqueness of your work, regardless of how you price or present it. You have to reach out and get them.
Attracting buyers and selling art are arts in and of themselves, and two goals that must be accomplished in order for open studios to be worthwhile and profitable for you. So with that in mind, here are some recommended do's and don'ts for your forthcoming open studios adventures...
* Catch the attention of passersby with your most striking or imposing works of art-- whether or not you think you can sell them. The point is to coax visitors out of the halls or off the streets and into your studio. Think of your studio like a store in a mall, and do what you can do from "show window" or signage or display standpoints to make your space appear as unique, appealing and enticing as possible to anyone passing by.
* Make your guests feel comfortable. Say hello, offer to answer questions, be hospitable, be accessible. If you have problems relating to people, talking about your art or dealing with money issues, have a friend or acquaintance on hand to assist you. Keep your greetings brief, then let people browse at their leisure. Most importantly, make clear that you or an associate is present and available to assist at all times.
* Have at least several works of art clearly displayed in a part of your studio that approximates a gallery setting. These pieces should be professionally lit, separated from one another, and not wallowing in clutter. Many people have trouble appreciating or understanding how art might look in their homes or offices when too many nearby objects are distracting them (including other similar works of art), and they end up getting confused or overstimulated by the sheer volume and complexity of visuals. Take a lesson from the art galleries on this one. At the very least, have a place where anyone interested in any single work of art can display, view and think about that art with little or no interference from the immediate surroundings.
* Offer art in all price ranges. A small initial sale may lead to a larger one later. As previously noted, most people go to open studios to buy modestly priced art or even to find bargains. People who spend thousands of dollars and up tend to know what they want, know where to get it, and buy from either established galleries, dealers or artists who they already know. Hardly anyone is inclined to impulse buy in those price ranges from artists they've never met or whose work they're experiencing for the very first time. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step-- corny but true-- so do what you can to make that first step an easy one to take.
* Have business cards with ample contact information, a short statement about your art, a resume, information about your website (including your computer turned on and displaying that website), or other promotional materials available for the taking. Do whatever you can to keep your name in the minds of your visitors-- especially those who may be on the fence about whether or not to buy your art and who might need more time to think about it. Also have a place where people can sign up to be on your email or mailing list.
* Consider all reasonable offers. Suggest payment plans if interested parties seem hesitant to buy. Good procedure with people you don't know is to either sign an agreement on how the art is to be paid for, or better yet, to hold the art until paid for in full, and then to personally deliver it. Remember-- your number one mission is to make as many sales as possible, so do whatever you can to make that happen.
* Don't make yourself so inaccessible that no one can comfortably approach you. For example, don't get lost in conversations with friends, bury yourself in making art, give pathetic one- or two-word answers to people's questions, ignore or refuse to acknowledge the presence of visitors, or show any kind of attitude when talking about your art. Between you and me, I'm endlessly amazed at how many artists are either difficult to talk to, or even more astoundingly, nowhere to be seen.
* Don't hide your most affordably priced art and only show the expensive stuff. That instantly eliminates a huge percentage of potential buyers.
* Don't jack up your prices for the occasion. If anything, lower them. Putting certain pieces on sale or reducing all regular prices by a set percentage for a limited time are great ways to attract buyers. This is your big chance for significant public exposure, and to meet and sell to people who love art-- not only your regular customers, but here's the biggie-- hopefully to first-time buyers who'll turn out to be regular customers. First time buyers are the best!
* Don't display your lower priced art in such a way that it looks like crap you'd just as soon throw in the trash. If this is how you present it (or how you present any aspect your creative output), that is exactly what viewers will think of it-- and you. Make it perfectly clear that you respect every single work of art you produce, no matter how much or how little it costs.
* Don't show every art piece of art you've ever created. That's a great way to overload viewers, confuse them, and cheapen the overall impact of your art. You want to look like an art gallery, not a flea market or secondhand store. Offer a carefully selected representative sampling of your work-- organized by series or by other easily understandable criteria-- and show more only when asked.
Now get out there and sell...
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