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Art Sales: Let’s Start At The Beginning 

Art Sales: Let’s Start At The Beginning 

When a piece of your art sells, it lights you up. When I hear about it, it lights me up too. 

Nothing is more validating, more affirming than someone wanting to pay you for the piece you’ve poured your heart and soul into. 

It’s a high like no other. 

And in that split second transfer of money for art, all the hours with their endless details—some high, some low—melt away. 

But along the way, you had to take three foundational steps toward that art sale. 

Each one seeming so obvious, and in some cases inevitable, that taking time to pay conscious attention might feel frivolous, or unnecessary. 

I’d like to stress-test that by peeking under the ArtLife hood. 

3 basic building blocks to selling your art

No.1 —  Your art is created.  

You’re putting in the time and effort to reach a certain level of skillfulness. You’re establishing your artistic fingerprint, your unique artist angle. You’re reaching deep into your creative spirit and manifesting a creative truth for the world to experience. 

No.2 —  Your art is visible. You’re in a gallery. Or hosting an in-studio reception. Or at an art fair. Or maintaining your website, not as a glorified portfolio, but as an experience for people who will become lovers of your work.  

No.3 —  You, the artist, are excited to engage. You’re answering a question from a potential collector standing next to one of your pieces in a gallery. You’re responding to an email from a potential buyer who just saw a piece on your website. You’re answering an email from someone who met someone who told that someone about your work. You’re replying to comments on Instagram that invite the sale. 

Nail all three steps, in sequence, and the golden ring on the Art Sale Merry-go-Round is yours. 

Obvious, you’re thinking.  

I agree. 

Only, let’s see what happens when we reverse it, shall we?  

Because, after decades of experience with artists at all career levels (and in all genres), I have watched as one (or more) of these obvious basic steps become… A stumble. A missed opportunity. A missed art sale.  

what happens when we reverse the basic building blocks of art sales

No.1 – Your art is sort of made. It is generic or superficial. It needs more technical expertise. Your art needs an honest critique from a trusted art-community source. It fails the authentic artistic fingerprint test. (You know…unique to only you…) Your art needs more of you more of the time. 

No.2 – Your art is invisible: Your website contact form doesn’t work (and you don’t know this because you don’t email yourself—on a regular basis—from that same form!). You lost a gallery and haven’t worked yourself up to move on. Your website is a ho-hum, portfolio-only menagerie of your work. You truly think words don’t matter, so no artist statement and a boring bio. 

No.3 – You, the artist, fail to engage: Because the art is invisible, how can a collector stand next to you asking questions at an opening? There is no potential collector emailing you, either from your website or from someone who never saw your work, so couldn’t recommend it to someone else. Or you have the work up on a website, but no email list and no newsletter. You do Instagram, but forget to respond to comments. 

With any one of these basic building blocks, if the artist falters, the art sales falter. 

Let’s Dive Deeper Into Each Basic, Art-Sale Building Block  

art sale building block no.1 your art is created

At first glance, Your art is created might seem too obvious to bother with until you encounter three sticky wickets : getting enough studio time, being clear about what you are making, and consistently developing your artist fingerprint. 

Some might frame each of these as a problem, which, for me, is problematic. Problems have a habit of indicating that you’re at fault in some way.  

If you frame these as artistic intentions, then accountability becomes connected to the impartial marker of “Is it working?” “What would work better? Faster? More easily?” 

  1. Intention: Get enough studio time to make the work you need for art sales. 

When I gave out my Vision Questionnaire of 28 questions to the smARTist Telesummit participants, so they could identify where they were in their art career, a consistent response to one of the questions was: I need more time in the studio. 

It seems everything eats into studio time: family commitments, health issues, survival issues, even the irrepressible kitchen sink makes demands. 

What’s hard is to take responsibility for what part of this is unconscious self-sabotage. We might wish to lay reasonable, rational, and often guilt-laden demands at the feet of fate, or duty, or obligation, or anything but at the feet of our own choices. 

It’s not to say that family commitments, health issues, survival issues, etc. aren’t real. They are, and often alarmingly so. 

But first and foremost, we are responsible for how we show up. And if we are not taking stock of what we need, along with everyone else’s needs, that is on us. 

Give yourself the gift you give others: the time you deserve.  

It’s truly that simple. 

  1. Intention: Be clear about what you are making so you have art to sell.

Because creativity is not genre specific, most creative people have more creative inspirations than they know what to do with.  

for some of us the sheer luminosity of an idea becomes a firefly of creative possibilities that we'll follow deep into the forest

This is both a gift and a curse. If we harness this instinct, it turns into the gift of creating with intention. But if we spend too much time chasing down one inspiration after another, it muddies our creative waters. 

This doesn’t mean sticking to one thing—an impossibility for a good many of us. 

It means focusing on what makes your art…well…your art. Which brings us smack into the third intention for making art: developing a consistent artist fingerprint. 

  1. Intention: Consistent art sales depend on a consistent Artist Fingerprint.TM  

Does your work have an identifiable, artist fingerprintTM, visual cues that signal to any viewer that this work of art is yours and only yours?  

Are you aware of these visual cues?  

Are they intentional and conscious, or merely part of your creative flow outside of verbal language? 

You know a Judy Chicago, a Georges Seurat, or a Louise Joséphine Bourgeois because they each have an artist fingerprint that immediately identifies their work and often spans decades, styles, concepts, and mediums. 

Even if you’ve not thought of this before, can you look at several pieces of your work and describe what aspects are reliable from piece to piece?  

It might be a technique, a way of using color, light, perspective; subject matter married to a unique technique; a crossover of artistic genres (think writing and painting).  

Besides these visual cues of your art making,  there’s a more enigmatic characteristic of your artist fingerprintTM:  it’s the light passing through your spirit/soul into your earthly mind/body that guides you when you manifest creativity for the world to experience. 

Once you put in the time and effort to hone your skill and technique, it’s time to reach deep into your creative spirit and pull out your artistic truth.  

your artist fingerprint is the indelible foundation of your artist identity

And your artistic identity is the true force behind your art sales. 

So, what have we covered so far?  

Let’s do a quick recap for Art Sale Building Block No.1. 

When you  

  1. get enough studio time 
  2. and are clear about what you are making with your indelible, artist fingerprint 
  3. then, Your Art Is Created, becomes the obvious first Art Sale Building Block. 

      Art Sale Building Block No.2

      Here again, Your art is visible might seem so self-evident  as to border on absurdity. 

      Then again… 

      What if your website contact form isn’t working? Or you’ve lost the one gallery (or two) that you had?  

      Or you keep waiting for the perfect piece to materialize under your fingers before daring to go public? Or you’ve hit a creative roadblock? Or self-doubts have asserted themselves? Or family demands force studio time off the map? 

      Or… it’s no art sale because you refuse to show your work—for one reason or another. 

      Once upon a time, an artist contacted me for private coaching.  

      I had one spot left in my practice and I was excited to fill it—with the caveat that we first determine if coaching together would be a good fit. The last thing I ever want is to work with an artist who won’t, for one reason or another, be able to benefit from a coaching relationship. 

      This time, my standard preview session proved invaluable in a way I could have never imagined. 

      Ms. Private Extraordinaire (you guessed it… not her real name) had been painting for three decades. She had thousands of pieces in several storage units. But, she had never, ever, shown a single piece. 

      Let me repeat: Never.  Shown.  A.  Single.  Piece. 

      Or, put another way: Never.  Sold.  A.  Single.  Piece. 

      Thank goodness this was a phone conversation, and not Aoom, as I’m not known for my poker face. My voice, on the other hand, I could manage. 

      What’s holding you back from showing your work? My voice even, curious. 

       Nothing, she said. My work is private. Just for me. I don’t want to show it. 

      And do you have any intention of making artwork for others to experience?  

      No, she said, I definitely don’t want to show it. 

      Given that, I continued, what would you like from me? 

      I don’t know, she said, I was hoping you could tell me. 

      Is there any chance I can help you find a way to release a select group of your paintings from their storage units for an exhibition?  

      Or, that you would work on a select group for such an exhibition? 

      Meanwhile, the graphic text bubble over my head: 

      Any chance I can get you to release the fear cocoon  

      holding you and your creativity 

      prisoner under lock and key? 

      I could never do that, she replied, answering my spoken and unspoken question.  

      Her voice was steady. It didn’t quaver. She didn’t hesitate in her response. She held the silence that followed. 

      (I listen very, very carefully to silences. They always have so much to say…) 

      We exchanged a few pleasantries before … 

      I don’t see a way forward, I said, because the work I do is about artists changing the world by putting their work in the world. 

      She understood.  

      Our parting was amicable. 

      When the work is invisible, there are no art sales.  

      The trick here is understanding what “invisible” actually means. 

      In the case of Ms. Private Extraordinaire, invisible was literal. I’m pretty darn sure if you’re reading this, that’s not you. 

      Most likely, you’re working just as hard to have your work visibile as you are making the work. 

      Or, your work is visible, but perhaps inaccessible: An outdated website. A contact form that’s not working. A gallery with odd opening hours that keep changing. Or, heaven forbid, a gallery that doesn’t respond to queries from collectors and buyers. 

      I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gone to an artist’s website and sent them an email from their site…and…silence. Or the last work they uploaded is 2018. There’s no artist statement (you know, that personal connection that furthers the bond between artist and collector).  

      So, maybe you’re not guilty of any of these “let’s-make-visibility-as-hard-as-possible” no-art-sale crimes. 

      are there unintentional ways the visibility you desire, and need, for an art sale are being hampered

      In next week’s blog post, I’ll tease apart how the gap between your internal experience and your external behavior can, inadvertently, derail the visibility you need for art-sales. 

      It’s a process I call Map The Gap. 

      I’d love to “see” you here. But that’s only possible if you drop a comment or two below in the comment fields. 

      Tell me, do you have specific issues with making your artwork visible? 

      Ariane Goodwin's signature file

       

        Selling Your Art: An Invitation, Not a Transaction

        Selling Your Art: An Invitation, Not a Transaction

        r yoA Couple of Sad, True Stories 

        Selling Your Art, STORY ONE:  

        I’m on Instagram thinking about how you are selling your art, and looking at the truly astounding roll of artwork. If a piece catches my eye, I scroll through the comments, curious as about what other artists think. 

        Most comments are discouraging: “Bravo,” “Beautiful,” “Love it,” and a tribe of emojis. 

        Once in while another artist will make  an astute comment related to the art process, or a technique that captured a certain element. But this is rare. Always interesting, but rare. 

        Sometimes the artist, who took all the trouble to post (and posting is always a bit of trouble), will respond to the comments. And in this age of “good marketing,” no matter how banal a comment might be, a reply is di rigor. 

        Other times, I’ll see no replies from the artist, which is just odd. 

        One day, I see a post by a fan who went from Instagram to the artist’s website to buy a piece, that was sold, then returned to Instagram to ask if they could to buy something similar. Or if the artist would let them know when they do a similar piece. 

        Does this artist jump for joy? Look at their bank balance? Start fantasizing about new supplies? 

        Nope. 

        Yes, there were 222 comments on this piece the artist posted. And the artist replied to bland comments on either side of this direct request, yet failed to respond.

        Do you want to sell your art? I wanted to ask… and then shake him! 

        Sad but true. Sad. Sad. Sad. 

        selling your art story two

        Let’s call this artist, Annie, shall we? We’re in a private coaching session and she’s just told me about one of her core collectors mentioning that she’d like to buy more art for her vacation home. 

        “When did this happen?” I ask. 

        Oh, about six months ago,” she responds. 

        “And did you follow up on her comment?” 

        “Why, no,” Annie tells me. 

        “Because…?” I ask. 

        “Good heavens,” my client says…“I didn’t want her to think I’m bothering her!” 

        It’s a good thing we’re not on Zoom or my rolling eyes might have been misunderstood.   

        I wasn’t my rolling eyes at my client, you know, but at how often I get this specific response. At least 90% of the time I ask an artist why they haven’t followed up on a lead for a sale, it’s some variety of: I don’t want to presume/assume/bother them/have them think I’m pushy/bug them, etc. 

        I understand both the hesitation and the inherent instinct to be a considerate, polite person. 

        But, seriously, do you want to sell your art?

        In truth, this is a landmine of a mindset.  It’s a conditioned habit born out of a misplaced sense of politeness. 

        And it’s a mindset that will sabotage selling your art every darn time… which is why I roll my eyes. 

        When a mindset gets between you and selling your art, you have to yank out the old mindset before you can plant one that bears the juicy fruit of a dollar sign.  

        3 strategic steps for selling your art

        Our, collective, cultural go-to for selling always implies psychological coercion and manipulation to benefit the seller – the buyer be damned. 

        For decades, carefully calculated advertising research has backed this up where billions are spent on focus groups to get inside our heads and push us to buy, buy, buy. 

        In our psychological, arm-twisting commerce, we have ignored two key human conditions: genuine desire and real need. 

        At its core in any culture over time, commerce is the simple exchange of one benefit for another. I do need a new sofa. I do want what’s around me to be enriching. 

        In this culture, at this historical time, my exchange and your exchange for having these needs met is money.   

        Clean. Direct. Simple. 

        Selling Your Art First Step:   

        A Mindset That Supports You 

        Clean.  

        We all have our money stories. They are a combination of how we were raised, and how we’ve conditioned ourselves to experience making, saving, and spending money.  

        On top of that, we have industry after industry founded upon the premise, and research, that buying is a mindset to be manipulated and controlled.  

        As a result, we have muddied the waters around the bedrock principle of authentic value for selling your art.  

        Yes, value is subjective and, yes, you have responsibility for determining value for yourself. 

        You also have responsibility to become aware of what value means for the people who love your work (buyers and galleries included). 

        Direct. 

        If your artistic vision is paramount, and you know what your art has to offer our collective human experience, then how on Earth can someone be on the receiving end of your creative vision if you are not on the offering end? 

        You have to offer to sell your art before anything else. And, there’s a trick here.

        Simple. 

        Simply put: how can someone buy your work if you are not offering to sell it? 

        The trick is switching your mindset away from selling your art and toward an invitation to buy your art. 

         

        Selling your art is not a transaction

        Selling Your Art Second Step:   

        Enchant, Rinse, and Repeat  

        As intimidating as selling your art may seem, remember that each buyer, each collector, and each gallery dealer is, like you, first and foremost a person. 

        And like you, they respond best when they feel acknowledged and seen. 

        The most graceful way to a buyer’s heart, after they have purchased a piece of your work, is a simple, hand written, Thank You note. 

        The same is true for a gallery you are pursuing. Even if you haven’t broached the subject of representation, sending a hand written, Thank You note immediately after any interaction (talking informally while visiting a gallery, attending an event/opening, etc.) is a thoughtful and kind way to keep you and your art in front of interested parties. 

        Now especially, in our digital wasteland, old-fashioned, hand written notes stand out. They carry a forgotten ambiance, a resonance with old-fashioned courtesy and care.  

        Of course, you have a ready supply of envelops and note cards—with an image of your work on the front (titled + email & phone no.), blank space for writing inside, then a thumbnail of a different piece on the back along with all of your contact information. 

        However, once is not enough when you’re selling your art.  

        The research behind repetition is at the heart of all advertising and has never wavered for multiple decades.  

        You’d be mindful to take advantage of this simple technique for selling your art: after your first note, touch base a second time within six to eight weeks. This is long enough for someone to feel appreciated all over again, but short enough so they haven’t forgotten you.  

        The first note is physical, mailed to a physical address or post box. Your second note needs to be an email so you can invite the person to click on one of the following links that… 

        1. Takes them to your most recent work.   
        1. Takes them to a page where they can sign up for your list.  
        1. Takes them to your most current exhibition.  

        Be sure to personalize the email by noting some aspect of your new work (or a website page you are directing them to) that is aligned with what you know about them. 

        • For your buyer: Perhaps they have an alternative space in their home, where they would have put the original piece they purchased. Except, for reasons they shared with you, that first piece wasn’t exactly right for that spot. But now, you have a piece of work that is right. 
        • For the gallery dealer: Perhaps draw a parallel between your work and the work of an artist they already represent—the boldness of color, the nuance of perspective, etc. 

        This helps them associate you with an artist they already know. For this, it’s imperative that you are accurate, thoughtful, and engaging when you draw a parallel between your work and one of their artists. One way is to invite them to reflect back to you if they also see the same connection you do. 

        Of course, you have a website. Of course you have a third party that keeps your email contacts organized and spam free. And of course you update the work on your website every single month – taking off old work that no longer represents the best of what you are doing now.  

        Selling your art is the art of repetition 

        because it’s not just children who need to hear or see a consistent pattern multiple times. 

        It’s all of us.  

        Selling Your Art Third Step:  

        Be Connected to Commitment and Committed to Connection  

        Here’s a story from a US gallery dealer in the southwest: 

        A Canadian artist stopped to visit, portfolio in hand, and asked for representation on the spot. The dealer, however, had a full stable, so he declined, but did indicate he liked her work. 

        Once the artist returned home, she sent him an email with a link to one of her newest pieces. 

        He clicked on the link, again liked the work, and emailed back a polite note. 

        The next week, the artist sent a new link to new work (being prolific helps!). Again he clicked on the link, looked at the work, but did not email her back. 

        The next week, here came another email from the artist. This time the dealer did not click on the link and did not respond to her email. 

        She emailed him a new piece of work every week for an entire year. And for an entire year all the dealer did was delete her emails. 

        Then, something happened. The dealer lost one of his artists. He had an opening… and who did he think of first (repetition!). And who did he invite for representation (repetition!)? 

        Yup, that artist who didn’t for one minute worry about annoying the dealer. 

        Note: her emails were short, consistent, and always friendly. And, I’m sure, if he’d asked her to stop sending emails, she would have. 

        Plus, besides keeping her work in front of the dealer, she was also showcasing that you could keep up with gallery demand should her work prove to be a best seller. Nothing frustrate a gallery dealer more than representing an artist who can’t keep up with demand. 

        The point is not to duplicate this artist’s story (though, in some cases, it might be a perfect strategy), the point is to understand that… 

        value is a two-way street

        After that, develop follow-up strategies aligned with your belief. 

        Which inspires others to experience the value of your work. 

        And, maybe, just maybe… send that email with new work once every three weeks. 

        ————————————————————————————————– 

        Unswerving belief in your work is the mindset for selling your art.  

        The practical key for selling your art is consistent repetition. 

        ———————————————————————————————— 

        As for bothering someone… here’s the rest of Artist Annie’s story: 

        After Annie confessed that she didn’t want to bother her former collector, I suggested that she write a simple email, reference their conversation, and say that she had some new work, which might be perfect for her former collector’s vacation home, and would she like to look at it? 

        Turned out the collector was thrilled to hear from Annie (please, note the word “thrilled” because I do not use it lightly!). 

        The collector asked to see the new work and immediately purchased two more pieces for her vacation home. 

        Moral? 

        Do not over estimated nor under estimate, the art of bothering someone. 

        ============================================= 

        So, when has “bothering” someone landed you exactly what you wanted? 

        ============================================= 

         

        Ariane Goodwin's signature file

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