Recently I asked for readers to send in their questions about art business. And one of my favorite artists, Frank Gonzalez, asked ‘How do you sell paintings?’
I thought to myself ‘he must be kidding…I mean by all accounts he is doing well and has more experience than I do at selling work.’ And I kind of wrote it off as a joke. But as the days went by Frank’s question stuck with me. It burrowed it’s way deep into my head…how do you sell paintings? I don’t really believe in luck…and this IS my full time job. So let’s take a look at how I sell paintings.
In your quest for the red dot you will have to overcome a few obstacles. The first of which is something that happens in your studio. You are going to have to determine if the work is done or not. Of course you can paint the sides of your panel, varnish the work, and even put hangers on it. But what I am getting at has a lot more to do with ‘are you done?’ Are you happy with it? One thing you definitely don’t wanna do is put out something that you feel doesn’t best represent you. Sometimes fast approaching deadlines can make you cut corners or turn in work that you don’t believe in. I have also made work for shows and commissions that weren’t in my normal realm of what I do….and have made weak work because of it. Other times I have made some of my best work with these limitations. So stand back….take a break (I take naps) and come back and look at your work. Are you 100% on board with it? Can you fix it so that you would be happier with it? Make good art that you believe in…and finish it.
Another step in your bid to sell work is one that I personally find is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. You have to have a story. We are not simply image makers. If we could got paid just to paint pretty pictures that would be great…and some people actually do…they are illustrators. But as artists we are expressing our own ideas, feelings and stories through art. The things we create are self driven. Even when we enter work into shows with themes we are responding to the theme the curators set forth. And often times at art shows and such I am asked ‘Why do you paint these birds?’ Or ‘what is your connection to these animals?’ I find that it really helps to have good and interesting answers. For instance…’I paint birds because my grandmother was a big bird person. And she was the kindest person that I ever knew. So for me, birds represent kindness and love…And that is what I am focusing on with this piece.’
Saying what drives me to make this art and connecting my story to the painting is something that can deepen people’s interest in the work. They are still free to assign their own story to the work, which I enjoy hearing as well. Sharing my story sounds a whole heck of a lot better than saying ‘uhm, I don’t know why I made it…it just popped out.’
Sometimes I don’t sell my work. Not even a little bit. Nowadays a lot of the selling of my art happens in a gallery setting. Yes I go to the openings and meet folks and tell my story. Yes I email folks and invite them to go see the work on display. Yes when I talk about my work I speak positively about it (see my earlier blog piece about talking about your work). But a good majority of the work is done by the gallery owner. They reach out to the collectors that they believe would like my work. They talk about me and my work. They make the sale. And the galleries that work hard to sell my work definitely earn their commission. So work with galleries that will work hard to sell your work.
In an open studio situation or if you stage a show yourself, YOU are going to have to do that work. If that is the case a few things can help. Look approachable and inviting. The last thing you wanna do is just hang out in a corner with your friends all night drinking and telling in-jokes. I have been to a lot of open studios and the ones that don’t do well are easily the ones where I felt like I wasn’t invited. For me, sobriety is a big one. I am a sober person. You don’t have to be sober. But getting hammered and partying isn’t ok either. A drink or two to loosen you up may be fine. But stay in control. You need to be able to relate to people. Remember that for you, this is a work event.
Clean your space…set up lights, and be ready to make the sale. No one wants to see you scramble through drawers to find your Square Reader or price labels to put on your work. Treat your space like your gallery. After all, you are the one earning that commission…so get your shit together.
I am sure there are lots of other answers to Frank’s question. I am also certain that it varies greatly from artist to artist. But this is some of the ways that I have found to help me be successful in the art game. I hope that helps you on your quest for the red dots. Go forth and kick ass.
Now for some announcements. Thank you.
This upcoming weekend (Dec. 1-2) I have two shows to tell you about. The first is at my studio at Arc Gallery (1246) Folsom St. in San Francisco. Dec. 1st. From 12-3. So much art. Please stop bye.
The second show is Sunday Dec. 2nd at this he Richmond Art Center in the East Bay. See you there.