Selling tips for artists and photographers

     Many talented people are thinking of pursuing a professional career as a fine artist or photographer artist, but aren’t sure how to begin putting their work before the public and selling it. 

     The first thought of many artists is to sell their work through a commercial fine art gallery.  This really isn’t the best thing for someone just starting out, unless the work is unusually good.  Galleries and dealers are in it for the money.  If the work is good, they will want to purchase paintings or photos outright and then re-sell them, or sell the work on consignment (where the gallery and the artist each get a percentage of sales).  For a well-established artist a commercial gallery is the simplest, most efficient way to sell work.  However, a beginner will probably have trouble even getting a foot in the door.

     For photographers who are interested in taking portraits and who have already had some success with this field, opening one’s own photo studio is an option.  This should only be done after extensive research into the costs versus the profits likely to be made. 

     Many artists sell their work at regional art shows and festivals, both indoors and out At these events artists reserve a booth space, set up display stands and sell their work for one or two days.  For the artist who is willing to invest in reservation fees, tenting and display equipment, this can be a great way to sell.  It also gives you the opportunity to meet the public, hear their comments, and learn what people like about your artwork or photography.

      Other area art shows presented by organizations also offer year-round opportunities for members to sell small pieces.  Purchasing membership in various local arts organizations like these can give artists many new opportunities to get their work in front of the public.  The organizations hosting these judged or juried exhibits traditionally take a percentage of sales as a commission, and there also may be an entry fee.  Exhibiting artists should take this into consideration when pricing their work.

     Exhibits at county fairs are a wonderful way for aspiring artists to get their work in front of the public.  Artists who volunteer to “host” the display for a few hours often get to hear comments from the public — a great way to learn what people like or dislike about your pictures.

     Another common way for artists to sell their services is through commissions from businesses or the public.  The problem — or advantage, depending on how you feel about it — is that the person or company commissioning the work will expect you to do it to their specifications, at least to some degree.  They will tell you what they want in the way of subject matter and the look of the piece.  The good side of commissions is that you know the work will be paid for.  (A word to the wise; get the price and specifications agreed on in writing BEFORE you begin work.)  Because commissions are tailor-made for the buyer, you may even charge a higher price for it.

     Whatever selling method you find is best for you, there are things to keep in mind.  First, you must learn to keep the artist who paints the pictures or takes the photos separate from the artist who sells the work. 

     Second, don’t fall into the trap of looking at what sells and then continually painting similar work.  If you do this, you will never grow as an artist.  Thomas Kincade is an example of an excellent artist who has become stuck in “formula painting.”  No one can deny that his work is beautiful.  However, he is still selling the same subjects, in the same style that first brought him fame.  It’s possible that he may be doing new and innovative work on his own time, now that his fortune is made, but his million-dollar empire is still running on the old stuff.

     Artists should be creative people who set the trends, not hacks or copyists who simply do what sells.  Trust your judgment.  Remember that doing it your way is the right way.  Once the picture is painted or the photo is developed, selling it should be an entirely separate occupation.

Kay Sluterbeck/AAPJ

Published by on January 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Paint Box Section, Tips&Techniques PB dept. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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