THE CHALLENGE. One of the most frustrating things about trying to make it as a new artist is figuring out how to sell your work, and sell enough of it. One of my dreams is to be a self-sustaining artist who can live off of art sales alone. This is not unrealistic, but of course it can be done. I still don’t know if it’s a luck-of-the-draw thing, but one thing’s for sure: if you don’t make art, you can’t sell it.
START WITH ONE GALLERY. I don’t think I’ll ever be a full-time artist. I like working outside too much, doing trades and manly stuff, but on the side I like to paint. I studied fine arts at university and that allowed me opportunities to put my work up for sale in several student shows. I had some success, selling a few paintings to people with cool jobs such as a well-known local news anchor, an architect and a judge, both from Vancouver. Getting your work up at a reputable gallery is huge, and you want to keep up that momentum. I did not keep it up, so it’s been a while.
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COFFEE SHOPS. Another avenue that has proved mostly a failure but not entirely is reserving wall space at local coffee shops. Santa Fe (fig.1) is a an example of a painting that sold out of a sandwich shop in Kelowna, BC to a couple visiting from Ontario. That is all I know about the buyers, but the price was $250, so I did okay on considering I was still in university.
PRICING. Don’t sell yourself short, price it fairly, but don’t be greedy either. One of my biggest blunders in pricing my work was at my graduate show in university. There was loads of interest in my work, but I priced them twice as much as anyone else in my painting class, and nothing sold. I was sure that if the prices were lower I would have sold at least one to a friend but she couldn’t afford it either. Nothing looks better than a little red dot on the price tag of your work!
TALK ABOUT THE WORK. Some coffee shops that are more serious will ask for a photo and a bio, so be prepared to open up about yourself and your work. Talk about who you are briefly, and then explain why your art is meaningful to you, what you were going through at the time of doing it. Even if it seems obvious to you, tell people what the painting is of.
FOCUS ON YOUR AUDIENCE. Another thing that seems to help sell your work is to paint things that locals can appreciate. For example, I did a painting of a road through farm fields, and can you guess who bought it? a farmer! People like paintings that have sentimental feeling, or is a reminder of home, or some experience they had travelling. It helps if they look nice, too, but if there is no connection they will likely keep their money. That is where the story can help, too. People might not realize just how deep the connection is to your work until they know the story behind it.