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How to Sell Art at Shows – Part Two


The best preparation for tomorrow is to do your best today.

— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

It’s a fact of life that there always is more to the story. As proof, we continue with the series – How to Sell Art at Shows – Part Two. Before you read this information, it is a good suggestion to read or go back and re-read How to Sell Art at Shows – Part One, which details the points bulleted below. They help you avoid missing sales because you are not taking all the steps you can to sell art at shows where you exhibit.

Practical Advice for How to Sell Art At Shows.

Part One of How to Sell Art at Shows covered these topics:

  • Booth Appearance.
  • Inventory Management.
  • Cohesiveness and Clarity.
  • Booth White Space.
  • Your Appearance.
  • Your Attitude.

Don’t Give Yourself a Pay Cut for Your Show Income.

Here’s the thing. You can spend a lot of time, money, and energy getting into a show, then set it up, only to unnecessarily lose sales. So, when you don’t have a game plan for what to do once the show begins – and in pre-sale and setup – you give yourself a pay cut. Follow these recommendations to provide yourself with a pay raise instead.

The goal is not to get into the show, get there and get set up. Of course, those are necessary, but it’s crucial to remember why you are exhibiting at the art fair to:  

During show hours, nothing else matters; you are only there for a few short hours; make them count by keeping your focus and activities to the above points.

Advice for How to Sell More Art at Shows.

You work too hard to be inflicting self-damage to your income. If you have participated even in just one show, you know how much it takes to get everything done and get set up in time for the show. So despite the effort to get there and get set up, please leave yourself with enough energy, spirit, and smarts to make the show successful for you.

Planning for How to Sell More Art at Shows.

If you show up, set up, and then sit there with no plan to present your art and know what you will say and what questions you will ask your booth visitors, you are wasting precious opportunities. That’s why the suggestion to practice is so valuable.

When you are at a show, come prepared to answer questions about your art. You must be comfortable talking about your art. You can use your creativity to come up with answers to the questions that prospective buyers ask. For instance, tell how you got started in art, what inspires you, and how you get your ideas.

You can also tell them about the materials you use, your favorite art supplies, and any other things you think would interest them. Mention your favorite artists and why they influence your work.

Practice Your Booth Setup and Answers At Once.

By being organized and prepared, your travel and setup become less stressful. Practice putting up your booth beforehand. That includes hanging art and lighting when possible. You want to be familiar with the process. There are always issues with setting up a booth, especially the first few times, so get the kinks out by practicing.

Take extras of anything small, breakable, or impossible to replace at the show. Make sure you and everyone helping know how to read prices and take orders, including operating your credit card reader.

Anticipate Frequent Questions and Have Informative and Helpful Answers Ready.

Come up with a list of 5 – 10 questions that you get asked regularly. Then come up with your best answer, For example:

Q. How long did it take you to make this piece?  

A.  It took a lifetime to acquire the talent and countless hours to develop the concept and gather and purchase all the necessary art elements. Then it’s up to the artwork to tell me when I’m done. Some pieces flow together in a day, while others require weeks or longer to fruition.

Work on your answers with your helpers while setting up. It will help you use them, so they flow freely without trying to remember on the spot what to say.

Buying Art Decisons Are Driven by Emotions.

A show experience pushes the emotional buttons of buyers. You often have an ideal situation with partners and spouses together to make a buying decision. They’ve come to an art show, which means they likely are better than average potential buyers – and their frame of mind is relaxed.   

It’s helpful to understand that logic will justify the purchase; we can afford and have a place to display the artwork. But the decision to buy is emotional, as in “I love it!” or “I must have this piece to live with and show in my home.” While the artwork is the focal point, buyers are stimulated by external influences, including the ambiance of the show, your booth, and your demeanor and enthusiasm for your work.  

Share What You’ve Got. It Comes Back.

You have this talent and you are in public selling it at shows. Share your joy in creating it and your love of the subject matter or however you genuinely feel about the work. Be yourself. Engage booth visitors however and whatever way is natural to you.

It’s okay to improve yourself by picking up on how others you admire use their style. If it feels right, try it; that’s how you grow. Sharing is one way of creating unique experiences that put you miles ahead of your also-ran show competitors. Moreover, if you weave the sentiment from sharing experiences into your marketing outside of shows, it will add incredible power because people react to authenticity.

Are You Giving An Experience?

When show-goers attend a fine art show, they often seek an experience. In some cases, the commotion and non-art-related things at an art show can make it harder to compete with them. For instance, the atmosphere at the First Friday Artwalk events in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, makes it feel like you are at a raucous block party. People are there to see and be seen, and you must compete with that kind of environment sometimes.

Other shows put the art first. They offer more decorum and respect for you as an artist and art exhibitor. Therefore, you need to be prepared to give those whose attention you draw an experience whatever the case.

It doesn’t have to be over the top. Your art can be an experience if you display it well and make your booth visitors comfortable and welcome. If you can add a bit of excitement somehow, you are closer to winning the battle.

What Makes a Show Experience?

It could be a dramatic display of your masterpiece. Perhaps an overall booth design that is unique and inviting. Your imagination is all that limits what you can do to create an experience unforgettable for show attendees.

Start paying attention to other exhibitors. What’s going on in the ones that always seem crowded? How can you adapt what you see there to make your booth experience more happening?

Don’t be afraid to creatively borrow ideas from retail stores, websites, or other vendors. Instead, use, modify, and incorporate anything that arrests your attention wherever you find the inspiration. You don’t have to settle for being just another artist in a booth with art on display. Kick butt! You got this!

Let the Experience Carryover.

In the Art Marketing Toolkit Project presentations, I talk extensively about personal branding and self-promotion. Check it out; it would be excellent to have you in the community.

I’ve written about how a great backstory sells art and artists. All these things, show experience, personal branding, self-promotion, and backstories are part of a tapestry woven from similar threads.

I realize ideas like this are more challenging to do than saying and are, to some extent, over the top. However, do not let that deter you from working to put them into action. When it comes to the buying decision, how you present your art is as important as the art itself.

Promotional Materials. Nah.

My good friend, Jason Horejs, is the owner of Xanadu Gallery. He will tell you he does not offer promotional material of any sort to gallery visitors. He believes expensive four-color brochures or even postcards are a waste of time and money.

This idea may sound contradictory to doing everything you can to make a sale on the surface, but it’s not. The return on the investment is awful because people rarely take the promo home, much less keep it to buy art later. It doesn’t happen. A better solution is Instead of offering promo materials, offer to email the prospect with detailed information about the artwork they like.

The benefit is the prospect does not have to haul materials around the show with them. (How often at shows have you seen abandoned flyers, sell sheets, and brochures laying around or discarded? What a waste!)

Most importantly, the obtaining email address method gives Jason, and you, the opportunity and permission to send more marketing information regarding the prospect’s interest in your art.

Sign Up Sheets Are Cumbersome and Old School.

An easy way to collect addresses for the show is to set up an iPad and let prospects subscribe on the spot. Make it a point to collect as many email addresses as aggressively as possible. Amazon has a wide selection of tabletop and floor stands to hold tablets and secure them. You can entice the deal for them in any number of ways. I suggest keeping your offer art-related to cut down on those only interested in winning free stuff.

Use the Masterpiece Offer to Sell More Art at Shows.

Every artist should have at least one “Masterpiece.” A work that is often larger and, in general, just noticeably more magnificent than other works on display. If you don’t have one, get busy and make one. The only thing holding you back is you.

Your masterpiece helps you justify the prices of the other artworks you are showing. You always start by introducing your masterpiece to new visitors to your booth. Price it accordingly and proportionally greater than other works on display. This structure psychologically makes all your art more affordable. It automatically raises the top end of your price range.

How to Price Your Art to Make More Money

Read this How to Price Your Art to Make More Money post to learn how Australian artist Olivia Alexander used the “Masterpiece” suggestion and raised her prices, which led to her biggest single sale ever.

I suggest you work up an introductory speech for your “Masterpiece” pitch. Mine might go something like this,

“Let me show you my masterpiece. I am genuinely proud of it because of how it represents my work. The subject, color palette, and everything about it influenced me considerably. I brought it to sell because I want to share my art with the world, but this is one artwork I will part with reluctantly.”

Silence Is Golden!

Then be quiet, let your prospective buyer soak in what you just said, view the work, and wait for them to reply or ask questions. Resist the urge to talk until your prospect speaks first. What they say will help you understand how to proceed with the sale immeasurably.

OFFER BIG

I have also written about this concept many times. You can neither assume the buyer knows what they want nor can you guess what they are willing to spend with you. It’s impossible. The only thing you can know for sure is that if you make assumptions, you will lose. So, it is a zero-sum game.

When you have a buyer interested in your masterpiece, and some will if you show it to them, don’t stop there. However, before accepting payment or during your presentation, learn to work in a BIG OFFER.

“You have made an excellent choice with this piece; it’s one of my favorites. Let me suggest a couple of companion pieces. These two smaller paintings complement the one you have selected. Together, they will make an impressive and dramatic presentation in the right setting. You can use them to command attention and make them the centerpiece of nearly any design setting.”

Those are my words. Your job is to work on making a similar statement that comes from your genuine, authentic self.

My Guarantee on the Outcome of My Advice.

I guarantee these two things to you if you take my suggestion to offer big. The first is some buyers, to your eternal delight, will take your offer without quibbling or giving it much thought. The second is you won’t lose any sales from making a legitimate upsell offer. The worst that will happen is the buyer will decline to take your Big Offer. That’s all.


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