Tips for Artists: How to Sell Art

Directly to Collectors and Other Buyers

Throughout their careers, all artists have all kinds of opportunities to sell their art in person directly to collectors and other interested buyers-- either privately from their studios or publicly at open studios, art walks, art fairs, charity events and so on. The Internet looms large, of course, but face-to-face encounters remain incredibly important. The following tips and pointers, in no particular order, are designed to help any artist maximize the potential for positive outcomes in one-on-one interactions with anyone who's thinking about buying their art, or in other words, to sell more art. These hold true for online communications as well because positive encounters online often lead to face-to-face meetings, but we're mainly focusing on real life here because regardless of the Internet, real life continues to happen.

* Make sure everyone who visits your studio, booth, table or space feels welcome and comfortable around your art. Be available to answer their questions and allow them to look around and get a feel for how you work and what life as an artist is like. Have your bio, resume, statement or other relevant printed or online materials available on hand for anyone to read or take with them. If your website or online presence can add to the conversation, have that easily accessible as well.

* When people ask you about your art, keep explanations clear, direct and easy-to-understand at the start. Let them lead the conversation. Unless someone asks, avoid going into great detail about your work, giving long explanations, lecturing, correcting misconceptions, or confusing them with art words. If the event is public and you do get involved in a longer conversation, keep an eye on whoever else is in the background to make sure anyone who looks like they want a little attention gets it.

* Set aside a portion of your studio or space specifically to show finished work-- clean and clear of clutter. The more closely you can approximate an actual gallery setting, the better. People have a much easier time appreciating and understanding the impact of particular artworks, especially ones they like, when they can focus on them with little or no outside interference. At the very least, have a place where a potential buyer can "be alone" with the art they're interested in. For example, hanging a painting someone likes on a newly painted wall, nicely lit and isolated from your other art is a far more compelling presentation than hanging it on a crowded wall or propping it up on an easel or table surrounded by tons of other work.

* Keep the selection simple; don't haul out everything you've ever created. The something-for-everyone strategy only confuses people, makes your studio look more like a jumble sale than a gallery and usually ends up being more like nothing-for-anyone. Focus on a particular body of work (or maybe two or three) and sequester the rest.

* If someone insists on seeing the full range of your work, perhaps invite them back later if you're in the middle of open studios, or if you're alone with them or traffic is slow, bring out a small handful of select pieces and see how they respond. Avoid letting buyers range freely; all they'll do is get confused and probably make a mess.

* Let people form their own opinions, no matter what you personally think of the art they're looking at or how they're looking at it. Only get into explaining or interpreting particular works of art when asked, and whatever you do, don't argue, correct or talk down to anyone. If someone experiences your art it in ways other than how you intend for it to be experienced, fine. Not everyone's perspective is the same; not everyone's impressions, interpretations or reactions are identical. Let them see what they want to see and be happy they take the time to share their experiences at all.

* When people interested in your art talk about the works they like or prefer the most and would like to see more, offer to show additional examples of those particular works no matter how much you might want to show them something else. If you try to push them in directions they don't really want to go, you decrease your chances of making sales and increase the chances of distracting or confusing them. Remember that every person's tastes are unique. Let them control the showing and gravitate to their favorites.

* Some buyers mention names of other artists they have in their collections. No matter what you may think of these artists or their work, respond positively and avoid making comparisons or value judgments between your work and theirs. Going negative at any point or about any other artist's art always decreases your chances of making sales.

* Be sensitive to buyers with modest budgets, especially those who clearly like your art. Make every effort to accomodate every single person who likes your art enough to start asking prices. In other words, have art available in a variety of price ranges for a variety of budgets. Your goal is to get your art out into the public, and as much of it as possible. Always remember-- your art is your billboard, your business card; the more of it you have out there, the more people will see it, the greater the chances that those who see it and like it will contact you or look you up online, and the greater your chances of selling more art to more people later.

* Allow hesitant but promising buyers to take artworks home on approval for a week or maybe two and return them for any reason if they decide not to add them to their collections (assuming they pay in full or at least leave reasonable deposits ahead of time). You might even offer to personally deliver and hang it in their homes or offices. Deciding what art to buy is not easy for many people, especially those who are new to collecting, and they appreciate having extra time to live with your art, experience it, and decide in private whether it's really right for them.

* Offer to show selections of your work in potential buyers' homes or offices. The easier you make it for people to see your art, the greater your chances of making sales. People feel more indebted to you when you extend these sorts of courtesies.

* Offer to deliver art at no charge when buyers can't transport it themselves (assuming reasonable distances from your studio).

* Set all selling prices ahead of time and make sure they're clearly visible either on the art itself or on price lists. Never waffle around about how much you want for your art or try to make up prices on the fly. Any hesitancy or uncertainty in quoting prices gives buyers the idea that you price according to your whims or that different people get quoted different prices for reasons known only to you. Can you imagine going into a store and seeing no prices on anything they have for sale? You wouldn't feel very comfortable about wanting to buy something, not knowing how much it costs and having to ask the price, would you?

* Make sure your prices are consistent and that you're able to clearly explain how you price your art to anyone who asks. Common artist mistakes include pricing similar artworks at very different levels based primarily on intangible criteria or personal preferences such as how much they like them, or pricing large works disproportionately to small ones.

* Clearly mark all pieces that are not for sale "NFS". Better yet, hide them (and hide any sold works as well). Buyers tend to get disappointed when pieces of art they like the turn out to be either sold or otherwise unavailable for purchase.

* Price comparably or somewhat less than what other artists with your level of experience, resume and qualifications charge for their art, assuming their art is similar in certain ways to yours. Like it or not, you're in competition with other artists, especially at open studios, art fairs, art walks or similar events where numerous artists show in close proximity to each other. Put another way, buyers have options and often consider the works of multiple artists before they go ahead and buy, and in those instances where a buyer likes two or more works equally well, they'll likely choose the one that's most affordable.

* Base your selling prices on criteria related only to the art, and not on matters that have nothing to do with the art. If your studio rent is due, for example, don't set that as the minimum amount of money someone has to pay for whatever they're interested in buying. Prices must remain constant, consistent and entirely related to your art in order to instill confidence in buyers about you and your work.

* Don't confuse selling prices with self-esteem, like thinking the more money you sell for, the better you are as an artist. You'll run into problems if you get too involved or emotional when the time comes to hammer out money issues. No matter how much you end up selling something for, it's still exactly the same piece of art and you're still exactly the same artist.

* Especially at open studios or other limited-time events, either keep your prices the same as what you typically sell your art for or even lower them somewhat. Whatever you do, don't raise them in anticipation of increased foot traffic, status of the event or perceived wealth of attendees. Many people shop for art directly from artists in order to save a little money. Raising prices is only a good idea when you have a really good reason (related to your personal career accomplishments) that any prospective buyer will understand. The object is to sell art and leave buyers happy enough to maybe come back for more at later dates. The last thing you want to do is make people wince about paying your asking prices.

* Be flexible. If a buyer clearly appreciates a piece of your art, wants to negotiate on the price and does so in a respectful, inoffensive and appropriate manner, seriously consider lowering it perhaps ten to twenty percent. You're under no obligation, however, to work with anyone who is rude, insulting, bargains for the sport of it, or wants to buy your work for next to nothing.

* Avoid overemphasizing the personal attachment or significance of any work of art that someone wants to buy. Don't act like they're ripping your heart out or absconding with your first-born. They're not buying your mind, your soul or your essence. They're only buying your art. You can always make more.

* Go easy at all times on anyone who shows interest in your art. Pressuring people hardly ever gets you anywhere. Let them decide at their own pace. People sometimes need and appreciate having a little time or a little space in order to make up their minds, so give it to them.

* Make it as easy for people to pay you as possible. Art is often an impulse buy and we all know that impulses tend not to last. So sieze the moment by accepting as many forms of payment as possible, especially credit cards. Services like PayPal and Square can turn out to be Godsends for your business.

* Getting paid in full up front is always best but not everyone can afford to do that. If buyers ask, allow them to pay over time or propose cash/trade arrangements (assuming you have a use for whatever they have to barter).

* Be clear and firm in situations involving any type of payment plan. If this is something you're not sure about, decide what your payment plan will be in advance so that you can explain exactly what it is to anyone who asks. Part of that plan, for example, might be to keep the art until it's paid for. Whether you keep the art until it's fully paid for or allow someone to take their art in advance, make sure you have a signed agreement in place stipulating the full selling price, and when and in what amounts payments are to be made.

* Be prepared (and even offer) to provide buyers with written statements, documentation or explanations that give them additional insight into who you are and what the art they're buying is all about. People really appreciate these sorts of amenities, and in fact, they can even tip sales in your favor. Galleries can only give receipts and secondary documentation; you can make it personal.


While we're on the topic of one-on-one interactions, what I do is advise artists on all art and career matters. If you like my articles, I'm even better in person or over the phone providing you with an experienced professional perspective and recommendations on how to move forward with your work. You're always welcome to email me at or give me a call at 415.931.7875 and set something up.


(art by Chris Duncan)

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