Learn how to become more successful when selling art.

If you are like many other artists, success at selling art is a challenge. There is no shame if this describes you. It just means you are typical and have room to improve. Here are seven ways you may be sabotaging your art sales along with suggestions to change them.

    1. Failure to ask for the order – this problem relates to one of several things, which together sometimes compound the problem. You don’t ask because you are afraid. You prejudge your buyer’s interest or ability to buy. You haven’t spent enough time relating to your potential buyer to establish a rapport where asking for the order comes naturally. You talk too much, listen too little, and the buyer disengages before you get your chance to ask them to buy.
    2. Projecting a lack of self-confidence – understandably, this is difficult to do sometimes when you are feeling low, are truly unsure about your art’s real value, or have issues in general with your self-confidence.  
    3. Not asking for the big order – you start off showing your lowest priced work hoping it will sell easier, which makes asking for the big offer improbable. Or, you never get creative and ask for a multi-piece order. You never talk about your masterpiece that is your most expensive work.
    4. Never practicing or knowing what to say – you stumble through a presentation because you somehow mistakenly assume you will always be gifted at the moment with the best, most magical way to talk about yourself, your art, to ask closing questions, or to respond to objections.
    5. Taking rejection personally – you let someone turning down your attempt to close become a reason to ruin your day. You sulk because a prospective buyer criticized your work.  
    6. Not asking open-ended questions – you never get to know your buyer and what their intentions are because you did not converse with them in a way where you could elucidate useful information to help you suggest buying your art to them.
    7. Caving in on negotiations – you turn into a puddle when someone asks you for a discount, seems aggressive or brusque with you. You don’t counter their offer on the high end of what you are willing to accept.

When it comes to successfully selling art, there is always room for improvement.

Start using these suggestions for refining your art sales skills.

>> You can’t get it if you don’t ask for it. If you only sell when someone asks you to buy, you will fail. You can overcome fear with a dash of courage, continuing sales success and learn useful sales techniques. You can neither judge a book by its cover nor a buyer by his or her appearance. Treat everyone the same until they prove to you they are not a prospect.

Most people like to talk about themselves, especially with someone who is genuinely interested in them. They will gladly answer general questions such as, “Are you enjoying the weather?” ” Are you local or visiting?” “What brings you in today?“  “What kind of art do you collect?” Within their answers, you will find clues to ask more detailed questions. These small steps help you get to know your buyer a little while giving you the chance to show your sincere interest in them.

>> You already know it if you lack self-confidence. The good news here is this is not a permanent problem.  By trying, you can improve your confidence, dramatically. Admitting to yourself you need help is a significant first step. Start by making sure your grooming is impeccable. If you look your best, it is easier to portray you feel your best. Become aware of your posture and your eye contact.

Stand tall, shoulders back, head’s up and smile. Learn to smile as if you mean it. Open your eyes wide when smile and look the other person in the eye. Giving a firm handshake with your smiling eyes is how to make a great first impression. Self-confidence is a powerfully attractive quality. The more you exude a quiet confidence, the easier it becomes for a buyer to decide between buying your art. We may root for the underdogs, but we buy from the winners. Self-confidence sets you apart and helps buyers be comfortable in buying from you.

>> Always begin by showing your most expensive piece. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care! - Zig ZiglarLet your buyer know this is the one you will have the hardest time letting go. Starting high is how to make all your other prices seem more affordable. Learn to suggest companion pieces, commissions, compatible fine art prints, or whatever works for you to offer more than one piece of art. No sale should be made without some kind of add-on offer suggested.

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



You can never know what a buyer’s intentions are, or what they have in their wallet. For sure, never sell with what is your wallet. Some buyers will eagerly jump on add-on offers, but don’t know such offers exist unless you guide them to a helpful suggestion. Those who don’t want anything extra will not have a problem resisting your proposal, nor will the offer diminish your original sale. Nothing ventured; nothing gained. Always OFFER BIG!

>> You have practiced countless hours to perfect your craft, good for you. You need to practice your selling skills. Enlist a family member or friend to role play and listen you talk about yourself and your work. Practice making offers in the mirror.

There is always one best way to say something. When you groove what you will say, you lose nervousness about it because it will flow naturally from you. Know your opening lines and questions. Know how you will respond to discount offers. Understand how you will construct a multi-piece offer. Practice acting for referrals. You will be surprised how many people will be willing to help you if you ask them.

The reality in selling art is there are only a few situations and questions you need to handle. Most are merely variations of basics. As you practice your reaction time and ability to adapt will improve. You want to be smooth, not slick, engaging not smarmy, enthusiastic not withdrawn. Work on your techniques and phrasing until it becomes natural to you. This action will calm your nerves and help you get deeper into understanding your buyers.

>> Selling art is a numbers game, just as are all other forms of making sales. Hearing a no advances you closer to a sale. Don’t throw selling artout everyone who turns you down. Many have legitimate reasons for not buying now. They need to go back in your sales funnel. The definite nos are good to get out of the way.

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



Don’t let personalities enter into the equation. You control how you react to everyone you meet. You cannot account for someone’s lack of knowledge, indifference or boorish behavior. Sure, some comments and lost sales may sting for a moment, but if you let any form of rejection fester, you are compounding a problem that should never exist. You can’t win them all. Learn to chalk up rejection as just one more no until you get your next yes.

>> As with the suggestion to practice what you will say above, start writing down potential open-ended questions and open-ended follow up questions. Refine your questions until you have a group of them that are your best art tools; the reliable go-to ones you use with ease. As these questions become ingrained with your repeated use and refinement, they will become your best aids in selling art. By writing them down and reviewing them regularly, you will avoid getting in a rut and failing to turn your conversations into useful fact-finding missions. Reviewing keeps you from forgetting what you already know.

>> You negotiate daily with your spouse, your employer, your children and others. “Can I stay out until eleven tonight?” “Why can’t we go camping this weekend?” “Can you work some overtime next week?”  Or, you might negotiate the price of art materials, the cost or position or both for booth space in a show. You may have a landlord who wants to raise your rent or move your location. You may have a buyer who wants a lower price for your art. You may counter with free shipping or hanging instead. Successful negotiation is a learned art.

The point is to learn to stand up for yourself with quiet confidence and be ready to counter with your offer. Affirm and respect the other person’s suggestion. Don’t be offended whatever it is. Learn to acknowledge what they offer and then come back with your counter. Don’t ask for your lowest price to start, you can only go down from there, and that puts you in a losing position. Take the time to read any of the many excellent books you can find on the art of negotiation. Improve your business negotiation skills by 5-10 percent, and you will add tens of thousands of dollars to your lifetime earnings. All just for asking and negotiating in good faith.

Practice the suggestions here and put them to use, you will be well on your way to selling more art and making more money from the sales you complete.


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sell art, Selling Skills, Successful Selling

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  • Good perspective as always Barney. Thanks for encouraging, educating and inspiring me and lots of other artists.

  • Excellent post, Barney! Your “Seven Costly Mistakes” are quite possibly universal laws for sales success in any field, but critical for Artists selling on their own. “Not asking for the Big Order” really stuck out for me. Artists should talk about their masterpieces, and I like the idea of driving for the sale of multiple works. I also like your advice regarding practicing, and leveraging life experience when it comes to negotiation.

    Thanks for the great content. I appreciate it!

  • Thanks this was a great article- reminding me that art is still a sales job & a numbers game!

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