Tips & Techniques on How to Sell Art.

Anyone, yes, anyone, can learn how to sell art successfully.

Knowing the best ways how to sell art in public is worth learning.

I have a post on how to sell art fearlessly that provides a different perspective. This post is geared toward specific examples of how to sell art in person.

As more shows, galleries, and studios open fully in post-pandemic times; it is time to brush up on your in-person sales skills.

Three Steps on How to Sell Art in Public

If you find asking for the sale uncomfortable,  there is help. Use this simplified three-step process:

  1. Start with general closed-end questions that get a “yes” answer.
  2. Continue to gather information.
  3. Ask for the sale.

Successfully selling art starts with proper questions.

Ask questions that nearly always get a yes for an answer. This practice opens a dialog that eases you and the buyer. Trust is built, and openness is encouraged when your buyers answer your initial questions with a yes.

Here are “yes” answer questions:

Welcome to the gallery/booth/show. Can I:

  • Offer you a bottle of water?
  • Tell you what is unique about my art?
  • Provide a brochure on our artists or gallery?
  • Tell you about our current promotion?
  • Show you the special features of the gallery?
  • How our art/gallery/exhibit is arranged?
  • Will you let me know if you see something you like or have questions?
  • We like to let our customers browse freely and enjoy the art. Will you please tell me if you have any questions?
  • Isn’t this beautiful/brutal weather we are having?

Progress from “yes” answer questions to open-ended questions.

Once you have some rapport, you can work up to more interest and bring your prospect along by using information-gathering open-ended questions. This type of question does not ask for a decision but helps you gauge interest while engaging your potential buyer. You are seeking an opinion and information rather than forcing a decision. Here are some examples:

  • What types of art do you collect?
  • What kind of art do you have in your home?
  • Where are you from?
  • Are you visiting or local to the area?
  • I have had requests for this piece in an unframed gallery wrap. What do you think?
  • I am assembling a few of the best pieces available for a show /exhibition /competition. I find outside opinions extremely valuable. Which pieces seem the strongest to you?

Classic closing questions are classic because they work.

The choice close of offering two possibilities may be the easiest to implement. Your imagination and situation only limit the variations:

  • Would you like to pay in cash or with a credit card?
  • Do you want this with the black frame or the gold frame?
  • Would you like to take the piece, or shall I ship it to you?
  • Is this for your home or office?

A reminder here is you do not want to pester or bombard your prospects with questions. There is a learned art to engaging, falling back, and re-engaging. The more relaxed you are, the better your response will be. Recognize you are there to lead the sale.

Practice your questions, so you say them in a natural and friendly manner. If you feel your nerves in these situations; practice taking a short imperceptible breath just before making your offer. It will help you to be centered, relaxed, and focused. If you realize the worst that can happen is you don’t get the sale and that your life will be the same either way, it will significantly lower your anxiety and calm your nerves.

When you appear and sound calm, you give confidence. The little take-a-short-breath breathing exercise above can help you conquer your fear, which will give your buyer an aura of assurance about you. Both Marilyn Monroe and Hall of Fame sportscaster Howard Cosell used this technique to overcome stuttering.

A short breath before speaking works wonders whether stammering is an issue or not. It is as much a positive psychological technique as anything.

Only a lucky few naturally know how to sell art. Everyone else had to learn. You can also.

To sell art naturally and easily is a savant-type skill like drawing, singing, or playing a musical instrument. Not all have the same native talent, yet nearly all can improve by studying, practicing, and trying harder.

Knowing your buyer will help you learn how to sell more art.

Some things are easier to sell than others. Selling things, such as firewood to Eskimos, is easy. While the least skilled would do a creditable job with it, change to ice and watch them struggle. Although selling art is not the equivalent of ice to Eskimos, its discretionary spending category makes it challenging.

There are only three types of prospects.

  1. The first is the committed buyer who is predisposed to buy your art. Your only job here is to make sure you get the order and offer big (ask for the add-on sale).
  2. The second has some interest but needs to be sold. Your job here is to determine which images your potential buyer is interested in the most. Use FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits) to present the work and ask for the sale. Or at the least, get them on your snail and email list. Remember the first time fine art buyers may take up to two years before converting. Staying in touch how you stay in the game.
  3. The last is the positively not interested buyer. He or she may have no money or does not spend money on art at all, or has no interest in your style of art. You want to be able to identify them quickly and get them off your list and out of your mind.

The first type often reveals their interest immediately. While you always should strive to offer a big and present what may seem an almost ridiculous deal (how about the whole wall/display/series) to everyone, it is easiest to miss this option with your low-hanging fruit category. That is in the excitement of getting an easy sale; you can rush to complete the transaction without exploring other options. Try something like this, “You have made a fantastic choice. I know you are going to love owning this piece. I had great fun making it. Let me show you a couple of other pieces that are perfect companions for it.”

The second category is your ticket to success. Increase your sales here and watch your career soar. These are folks who like your art but are non-committal. If you can match personality types, you can tailor an offer. There are four primary personality types:

  • Driver – Type A competitive person. Stick with the short version and to the details. Show them the best piece in the gallery, not necessarily the biggest, most expensive, but the one you think is your masterpiece. Mention celebrity or well-known collectors.
  • Amiable – Wants to feel safe. Give them warmth and fuzzies. Offer details how long you have been in business, how many happy repeat-buying collectors you have, or that your art sales have never been more robust, and you have seen a steady increase year-after-year in the number of collectors coming back to buy more.
  • Analytical – Needs details on everything. You have been a professional artist for 10 years. Your art prices have increased year-after-year. Your art prices are based on a per square inch basis. That a certain piece is value-priced because it is the last in a series, and subsequent similar series will have a higher price. Your prices are reasonably priced. Explain your credit and payment options, hanging service options, refund policies. Make sure they have a brochure about you.
  • Expressive – Wants validation for their actions. Paint a mental picture of how happy they will be when they see the work in their home. Encourage them how they will enjoy sharing the work with their family and friends. Offer to take a picture of them with you in front of the artwork they want.

The third category includes those who are not pre-disposed to buy your art. Identifying who they are will allow you to avoid spending time, money, energy, and effort to convert them. While some will tell you they are not true prospects directly or indirectly, you will have to develop some radar to help you identify them with others. The greater the percentage of this category you can weed out, the more resources you spend on the middle category.

Use FAB in Your Conversation

Using FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits, goes something like this, “(F)This fine art print is made on a state-of-the-art 6-color high-quality fine art digital printer by a master printer. (A)It is printed using the finest archival inks/dyes and canvas/paper available for generational longevity. Although you see it in this size, we can customize it to make it smaller or larger to suit your needs. (B)You can easily make this piece the focal point of any room you hang it in. I’m sure you and your family will enjoy it for decades to come.”

These are not quick-fix tips. But, they can work wonders when you use them properly.

Being a realist, I know reading these instructions is not going to change your selling skills overnight. However, I believe if you accept the premises on which they are made, their effectiveness will seep into your selling skills. If you actively practice them, you can expect to see better results for your efforts.

Don’t fall prey to making your art career a prisoner to irrational feelings or emotions about selling.

Buyers will be buyers. You can no more mesmerize them into buying than you can bore them into it either. Your job is to make art people want to own, then to build a case why they should buy, and finally to always, always ask for a buying decision. The more astute you become at each task, the greater your reward for your effort.

You can learn to identify your prospects and do your best to steer them to a favorable buying decision. You can use everything discussed here and still be ethical and honorable. Besides, whatever means tilted a sale your way, you should rest easy knowing you have a fair return policy for those sales where the buyer has remorse or other reasons for reversing a decision.

Your buyers are adults with full capabilities of processing your offers and deciding to take them or not. If you wait until someone asks you to buy, you reduce your odds of making sales and being as successful as possible. Every day, people trade success for staying in their comfort zone. Don’t make the mistake of making your career a prisoner to any negative misplaced feelings about using sophisticated sales techniques to help.

You will sell more art just by offering more and more often. As the famous Nike slogan goes, “Just Do It!”


art business, Art Buyers, art marketing, Fine Art Buyer, sell art, Successful Selling

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  • Jillian C says:

    Great post! Gave me some ideas I haven’t thought of before.

  • This is really great post! No pressure on either side. In our gallery, we have workshops. This is nice because it allows us to get to know our students and gives them time to browse. After the workshop, I ask them if there anything that we can reserve for them. This is their time to lead me to want they may want, if that is the case. When they do, we talk about the painting. People love back stories. When ready, I ask how do they wish it to be delivered. Then how they would like to complete the transaction. Basically, I let them lead me through the sales process and accommodate them along the way. This process is working for us.

    • Glad the post was helpful. Sounds like you already understand the process. Be friendly and show genuine interest. Don’t be needy or pushy. Never forget to ask for the order and offer big. You should never make offers based on what is in your wallet.

  • Sakhele Ndabeni says:

    Great tips….ive been trying to sell a traditional art piece for 5 years now..its a 1.2mx1.2m oil on me on this

    • I wish you luck. If your efforts to sell your work are as abbreviated as your comment here, that is part of the problem. Get specific. Find out who might buy your artwork and then approach them.

  • Barney,

    Thanks for the “no-close close strategy and the idea that it may take some people 2 years to make a purchase. We have found these sales techniques to be very effective and well worth our investment in the Art Marketing program. We still have much to learn and look forward to our weekly newsletters from you. Many thanks!

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