How to Sell Art
Galleries are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about trying to sell your art, but have you ever considered a studio sale? With Small Business Saturday coming, now might be a good time to try holding one yourself. How do you attract customers? How do you price the art? How do you avoid stepping on the toes of the gallery that represents your work? John A. Parks addresses all these questions and more in his article “Mount a Successful Studio Sale.” You can read an excerpt from the article below, and, as always, you’ll find the complete article in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market and on Artist’s Market Online.
Keep creating and good luck!
Mount a Successful Studio Sale: Increase Your Earnings and Expand Your Following by John A Parks
Even if you are represented by a well-known gallery and have a national reputation, these economic times can be difficult for an artist. One solution to slow business is to mount a sale directly from your studio. Not only does this present an opportunity to shift some inventory, but it also allows for the sale of works that might never make it to a gallery. Most artists have flat files full of drawings and sketches, an amalgam of unfinished paintings and studies, and pictures that have been put aside for a variety of reasons. A studio sale is a chance to bring all of these things into the light of day and perhaps turn them into needed cash. We talked to several artists who have pursued this idea with success, and they offered some advice below.
Selecting works. If you have gallery representation, you might not consider it ethical or sensible to sell premier works at a deep discount from your studio. This can have the effect of undercutting your pricing for collectors and alienating your art dealer. The best plan is to sell off sketches, drawings, and works that otherwise would never have made it to the gallery.
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Present the work as well as possible. It is important to create as professional an environment as possible so that buyers sense that they are getting a high quality product at a deep discount. Generally it is much easier to sell a framed picture than an unframed one—but you don’t have to spend a fortune on frames.
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Price aggressively. Because you won’t be paying the now-customary 50 percent commission to a gallery, you can offer your artworks at a much more attractive price. Since the work may not be as substantial as your gallery paintings, it is probably best to consider prices that are considerably less than 50 percent of your usual prices. Most of the artists we talked to offered paintings at under $500 and drawings for as little as $20.
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Make a catalogue and price list. This is extremely important. It can be a simple sheet or a foldout but it should contain full information on each piece and a price. Print plenty of them.
Have a designated salesperson. It’s best if you, the artist, don’t handle sales. You should be talking about the work and mingling with buyers.
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Advertise well in advance. Most artists we talked to used e-mail to notify as many people as possible of the forthcoming sale. They focused on family and friends and people in geographic proximity to the studio.
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Make it a real party. All of the artists worked hard to create a memorable and entertaining event. “Since you’ve got the art on the walls, setting up a central table with food and drinks works well,” said one artist. “And it’s good to have a few places where people can sit and think about the work.” It is important to have some help with the entertaining so that the artist and the salesperson can concentrate on their respective tasks.
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Keep good records of your expenses. Buying frames, lighting, food, drink, mailing, printing, and packing materials are all tax-deductible business expenses. Profits from your sale are taxable and you might want to consult your accountant about your liability for local sales tax.
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All of the artists spoke of the pleasure of knowing that their work was now being enjoyed and treasured by people who would never have owned it otherwise. New connections were forged, and old relationships were cemented and enhanced. “I think we hold on to too many pieces for too long,” said one artist. “And really a lot of this stuff would just sit in the flat-files and painting racks for years. Now it’s come to life in another person’s home, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
John A. Parks is an English painter who trained at the Royal College of Art. Based in New York for the last thirty years, he has exhibited widely in both the U.S. and England. His most recent exhibition at 532 Gallery in New York was hailed by New York Times critic Roberta Smith as “…a treat to discover.” Parks is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he teaches drawing and painting. His work is represented in many collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design. www.johnaparks.com