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The Art of Selling is an Art in itself

by Association Member Paul Churchman

I guess it goes without saying that selling is not something that comes natural to most of us. We love to create and have a passion for our art but conveying that to a potential customer can often lead to confusion or worse rejection.

There are many ways to sell your artwork, traditionally galleries, exhibitions and publication where the normal routes to your audience, today however there are so many more ways to get that all important commission or sale. Don’t get me wrong; the traditional still has its place but always remember your market audience, if you are targeting a specific audience or market make sure your work is in view of that audience. Yes, it sounds simple but how many of us actually bother to recognise our market? Yes, we have a web-site and hits are always there, so I must be doing well, right? Wrong! Audience is one thing buyers are something else and turning a viewer into a buyer is one of the most important aspects to commercial success.


Galleries provide a great lure for any artist not only fulfilling a desire for their work to be show in public, but also for it to sell. Organising an exhibition via a gallery is sure fire confirmation that they have arrived as a commercial artist, but remember it's a stage to sell not to pat yourself on the back.

There is a noted change within the art market. In some sections of society, erotic art as a viable means of expression of both individuality and non-conformity, is becoming a commodity that it well worth owning.

Of course, like any relationship you have to actually put in the time and effort to realise the reward. This means getting to know what style or theme of work the gallery shows, what type of work sells and to which type of buyer, also, knowing when to use a gallery is key.

Take into account how much commission the gallery takes from sales. These vary and have no set structure but don’t be afraid to negotiate. Remind them that you are eager to build a relationship which will not only promote your work but also the image of the gallery. Remember they are a business too. If your work is accepted by a gallery, it's worth finding out on what terms they’re going to be selling your work. Do they, for example, demand exclusivity to your work whilst you are exhibiting? What promotional or advertising work do they carry and do they know their market? What is their reputation?

As well as the gallery’s reputation it’s also worth thinking about location. A good location can tempt in buyers off the street, although this doesn't always translate into a high percentage of sales and would be no use if you are only inviting a selected audience to view your work. One of the best tricks when exhibiting is to keep in mind: simple sells, don’t flood the gallery with vast pieces of your work, let them have space to be seen, limit yourself to the number of pieces you are going to show, and don’t forget, any advertising material is an opportunity to show additional pieces which can be seen on your web-site or through a personal viewing. This helps to generate interest long after the exhibition has finished. Use a simple catalogue to show all your work but use the gallery to show your best work as a taster for the audience to connect with your style.

Always ask advice from the gallery director. Remember, they have a vested interest in your exhibition being a success as well.

Self Publishing

Having a collection of images published in book form is an aspiration for most visual artists, but no longer do you need to wait or chase those illusive large specialist publishing houses. A professional looking coffee table style book can now be put together online using a series of templates and easy to follow step by step guides for low cost high return reward. If a collected volume of your work is suitable for a wider audience, deals are always open for debate with a number of online publishers and outlets to distribute and sell your work but be mindful of fees and commission rates. Regionality also plays its part. The USA, for example, has differing legal issues to commissions and rates than the UK, also what is expected and provided by the publisher or outlet needs to be set clear right from the start. Make sure that the advertising rights to your work are yours alone; you don’t want any nasty surprises awaiting you on the horizon. There’s no doubt that a professional looking book of your work can be a powerful promotional tool but combined with a direction and a clear understanding of where the book will be showcased, seen and promoted goes a long way to its success. Never discount any idea; always look for the innovative, for example, a single book in each boutique hotel can generate a surprising amount of interest.

The media

Thinking outside the normal areas of marketing can often pay a handsome dividend, for example, contacting other elements of the media, film, TV, broadcast companies can help sell your work. Where do all those props come from you see in the movies? All broadcast companies have interior stylists, designers and buyers who are always on the look out for unique pieces of art, a script or location who can often then call on a designer to locate unusual props to fill the background of a scene.

In some of the major cities there are companies dedicated to location scouting, set design and prop buying. Remember: a list of TV/Film credits on your advertising material will really get attention. Additionally having an artwork recognised from a film, TV programme or commercial gives your work an instant desire factor in the minds of your customers. So can you really afford not to think outside the box?


The world wide web

Whilst we could wax lyrically about the benefits of the world wide web and the wonders its done for so many businesses to generate sales its worth remembering that when all said and done the internet is just another tool in your arsenal of weapons when it comes to seeking out the buyer, the key rules of selling still apply, cost, benefit, market, quality, sales.

The internet has a potential global audience awaiting your work at the click of a mouse but recent research highlighted that web users only spend a very short amount of time viewing sites, its easy to get potential buyers to come to your site, search engines and meta tagging all help with that, but the art is to keep buyers interested to return to your site time and time again.

The world wide web has arguably done more for visual artists than any other medium since the invention of television, bring art to the masses. Primarily a visual medium, it suggests itself as an ideal portfolio for artists or all levels, themes and styles, better still it allows artists to access a global customer base, if so inclined, at the click of a mouse.

Whether your looking to sell prints, single pieces or your services online, or simply want to attract clients to finding out more, getting the look of your website right can make the difference between landing a commission or not. As a marketing tool in itself, it is crucially important to make sure the look and feel of the site, a shop window if you like, is up to scratch and looks as professional as the market your selling into demands. After all its often the first point of contact a potential customer has as an introduction to you and your work, so careful consideration is a must.

Remember we live in a society which makes instant buying decisions, lifestyles often dictate that a buyer makes that important purchasing decision often in the blink of an eye, you only have one opportunity to capture their imagination and desire to buy your art, in a recent US study of new businesses who sort to use the web as a commercial platform, found that most failed as they did not get the information across to the customer instantly, the report found that 80% of prospective audience hits only lasted 3-5 seconds before they clicked off.

So for obvious reasons your site needs to not only look suitably stylish, but be easy to navigate, so a customer finds the information they want easily so you hold their attention and they don’t get frustrated. Sketch out a “ road map “, if only to help you decide how each component will come together but remember if in doubt less is more.

We have all experienced it, there is nothing more off putting for a busy customer than elaborate introductions and graphics or artwork that takes an age to load, when all they really want to do is quickly see what your capable of. so for this reason it is vital to strike a balance between file size ( picture quality ) and the time it takes an image to load keeping the whole site following in a smooth transition.

Aside from not having the time to devote to a website, another common barrier to prevent fledgling commercial artists from setting up an online presence is lack of funds. Yet setting up your own website needn’t be costly, nowadays more user-friendly web production features included alongside editing or enhancement software means that an online presence is only a few clicks away.

Dedicated web production packages, for example Adobe Go-Live have also promoted a do it yourself attitude by removing the need to learn specialist complex software coding. So to sum up for any commercial artist the internet is not just a place to communicate its an outline gallery in which to exhibit and have a shop front that’s not only open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but also allows your market to go beyond regional borders, don’t be afraid to export, don’t be afraid of new technology which brings your customer even further into view, for example video on demand, a simple 3 or 5 minute video presentation posted on one of the vast array of free video broadcast sites such as You-tube can really empower your market, it’s a great way to showcase your work and present yourself to potential buyers, they learn about your work, they connect with your passion and they buy from essence you have a ready to go video info-commercial which is free to all to see.

If you care about getting your work seen by the widest possible audiences, the internet really is an invaluable resource.

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