I’ve often written that selling artwork is all about building relationships with potential buyers. There’s another side to this however, in that people with whom you already have a relationship can be a great pool of potential buyers. Friends, family and business colleagues can all become collectors, as can the people you interact with in a less personal way, such as members of community groups where you volunteer, and everyone else you meet.
Some of you worry that you will overstep some unspoken boundary by promoting your art to acquaintances, friends or family. This could be true if you were pushy or overly-forceful in your promotion or sales efforts. I would suggest, however, that being pushy and forceful when you interact with strangers who are interested in your work would be just as negative. In other words, if you treat those you already know with the same respect you treat your other buyers, there’s no reason to believe you will be seen as abusing your existing relationship when you invite those you know to see your work.
I would argue that it makes no sense to discriminate against your acquaintances by depriving them of the opportunity to view, enjoy and collect your work just because they know you.
Another reason many artists don’t invite friends, family and other acquaintances to art events is because they mistakenly think the people in their circle of influence aren’t interested in art or may not be able to afford to buy. The beautiful thing about an invitation is that only those who are interested will accept! You may also be surprise who can afford to buy art (and besides, it doesn’t cost anything for your friends to enjoy your art, even if they can’t afford to buy at the moment!)
People in your life are likely to enjoy your work even more than strangers. Knowing you adds an extra dimension of appreciation for what you are doing. Your friends will love getting to see the creative side of your life.
I recently received the following email from an artist and RedDotBlog reader in Detroit.
At my last open studio, I invited all my rowing buddies, more or less to introduce them to myself and my art, (I was only a member of that group for 6 months)The open studio involves 33 artists studio in my .building and it is fun and very exciting event.
I was completely taken by surprise that to 5 rowers I sold 3 paintings and 2 prints in a matter of 1 hour. Part of it was of course that I only knew them sweaty and in work out clothes- and therefore never considered them as potential buyers. One of them came back over the Thanksgiving holidays with family members that also resulted in a sale and interest in another piece. Now I have to follow up ! : ))
Artwork Sold to Birgit’s Rowing Mates
The next time your work is being featured in a show, open studio or some other invent, make sure the people you know are the first to receive invitations!
What do you Think?
Have you made sales to people you know? How have you handled inviting friends, family and acquaintances to see and buy your work? What concerns do you have about this process? Leave your experiences, thoughts and questions in the comments below.
I recently read an article about Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines and serial entrepreneur, where he talked about the reluctance many people feel when trying to decide whether to leave steady employment to begin a new business venture. Comments on the article included many references to the added challenge of having friends and family members who discouraged taking the risk of starting a new business.
When my wife Carrie and I decided to start Xanadu Gallery in 2001, we were very fortunate to have moral and financial support from family members. Their encouragement had a huge impact on our ability to get the gallery off the ground. Even more important, their ongoing support through the difficult early years and the recession that began in 2007 were crucial in helping us keep the business going.
Branson’s article got me thinking about the challenge it is for an artist to take the plunge and pursue art full time, and it made me wonder how big a factor family members and friends were in the decision making process. I’ve certainly heard stories of young artists being discouraged from pursuing art as a profession.
Which leads me to a quick poll. Did the people closest to you, your family and friends, encourage or discourage your pursuit of art as a profession? Vote in the poll below, and then share your experiences or thoughts on the influence friends or family have had on your pursuit of your art – please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
If you’ve been following me for long, you know that I am a huge advocate of the artists’ biography. I feel a well-written, nicely laid-out biography is a powerful tool that will help you build relationships with collectors and to give you credibility. A biography allows a potential customer to become acquainted with your background and get to know you, even if the buyer can’t meet you in person.
Often, when I’m discussing biographies, I hear some variation of the question:
“Should I include negative or depressing details of my life in my biography?”
This is a thorny issue, and I would like to spend a few minutes today discussing it and, hopefully, provide some guidance that will help you decide how to handle unpleasant details in your biography.
First, let’s stipulate that many artists have lead extremely challenging lives. Many of you have overcome incredibly adverse circumstances or terrifying events to become the artists that you are today. Like it or not, those challenges have likely had a huge impact on your life and have helped shape who you are and your outlook on life. To a certain extent, your followers can’t truly understand you without understanding those events. However, sharing your difficult background should be done with care – you wouldn’t want to shock or depress a customer to the point that they no longer feel like buying your work.
The main purpose of your biography is to help people make a connection to you, to help them understand where your art comes from, and to help them move toward a purchase. With that in mind, if you are going to include references to difficult life experiences, you should strive to do so in a way that emphasizes not the problem, but rather the amazing way you overcame it and went on to become the amazing artist you are today.
Don’t go into too much detail. Talking about the specifics of your challenge might be too much for a reader to handle.
Avoid shocking language. Words like “abuse”, “assault”, “murder” etc. are all very heavy, challenging words. While it may be good to provide some insight into your life, shocking words have the power to completely transform a person’s perspective and thought process about you and your work.
Keep the general narrative positive. While talking about your past can be powerful, focusing on the process you used to overcome your challenges will inspire. Share how the pain of your life has made your work better.
All of your life experiences belong to you, and no one can force you to share what you don’t wish to. If a life experience is just too raw, distressful or embarrassing, or if you just aren’t ready to face the pain, you should feel no obligation to do share. I know of many artists who have chosen to gloss over or forget about incredibly difficult experiences. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your life with the world – don’t. Focus instead on other aspects of your life that are positive.
Read the biography we helped Carolee Clark create to get ideas of the types of details and formatting we suggest for your artist’s biography. Note that Carolee’s bio does not reference negative life experiences – this is just a sample to show you how useful a biography might be for you.
What do you Think?
Have you shared your difficult life experiences in your biography? Why or why not? How has your biography helped you build better relationships with clients and make more sales?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
I recently received the following question from an artist:
I was hanging artwork the other day at a doctor’s office. The doctor’s wife loved the pieces I had chosen and inquired about buying several of them.
I told her they were all for sale and as we continued to talk, she asked me about doing a piece for their vacation home. She then went on to describe what she wanted: aspen trees in fall with a moose walking through the scene. This is NOTHING like the type of artwork I do.
I have been asked on other occasions to do something that is not at all my style or type of artwork. How should I respond?
I do have something in mind for her that is my style, but it won’t be what she requested.
I find that in this scenario it’s usually best to simply lay it all out and to be upfront with the potential client. Let her know what you are and are not comfortable with. I know how tempting it is to agree when you have a client who seems to be ready to spend money, even if the requested piece is far removed from your typical style.
Non-artists are often in such wonder of your talent and skill that they mistakenly think this means you can do anything. Here is an opportunity for you to gently educate the client. I suggest saying something like “that sounds like it would be a beautiful scene. That’s really outside my style and approach to art. From how you are describing the space, I can imagine a piece in my style that I think would be incredible in that space. Can I work up some sketches for you?”
I like this approach because you’re not giving the client time to realize that she might have made a faux pas by suggesting you could create the piece she is imagining. By immediately offering to create a sketch, you are providing an easy way out.
Some clients get an idea in their head and won’t let go. For those clients it’s important that they find the artist who can successfully realize that vision. If you have contacts with other artists in your community that might be a good fit, you can build good will by recommending them to her.
For more flexible clients, showing them your vision can cause them to realize that there are other options. If they feel a strong connection to you, proposing a piece in your own style can open up their imagination.
It’s very rare that I would ever encourage an artist to create something that just doesn’t fit their style and direction – the learning curve to do something radically different is just too great, and the potential time waste and frustration involved are rarely worth it.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever been commissioned to create something that was way outside your typical style? How did the project turn out? What did you learn? Have you ever successfully redirected a client toward work that was more appropriate to your style? How did you do it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
In speaking with a number of artists who have built financially successful careers, I have observed that many of them have stabilized and strengthened their art business by creating a line of work that sells quickly and consistently. This line of work may or may not be in the artist’s main artistic focus, but, for whatever reason, this work seems to resonate with a wide range of buyers.
Sometimes this bread and butter work is smaller in size and sells at a lower price point. Sometimes there is something particularly bold or unusual about the work that captures the attention and imagination of potential buyers. I know several artists whose bread and butter artwork was born in experimentation; artwork that was created out of curiosity ends up becoming a big part of the artists’ regular income. Often the bread and butter work sells as quickly as the artist can produce it.
The popularity of “daily painter” sites points to the growing prevalence and appeal of this type of work.
Wall climbers by Ancizar Marin | We sell many of these wall climbers every month, often in sets of 3-5 or more.
While these creations may or may not be of the same caliber as an artist’s regular work, there is real business value in having a line of work that generates more predictable cash flow. While it is always nice to have large sales of significant artwork, having smaller, frequent sales can help smooth over slower sales periods.
Finding Bread and Butter
So how do you discover your bread and butter? In looking at artists who are generating bread and butter sales, I’ve noticed that they do the following:
Experiment. Many artists discovered their bread and butter by creating something new – by doing something outside of their normal comfort zone.
Create something bold. Artwork that displays a bold use of color or strong textures – something that catches the eye, often sells quickly.
Create something quickly. Often, work that is created quickly will capture some frenetic energy that speaks to
Work in series. Many artists generate terrific sales by having a large series (sometimes hundreds of pieces) of similarly designed pieces.
The Risks of Bread and Butter Sales
I already know that some of my readers will bristle a bit at the idea of creating work purely from a commercial motivation. There are very real, and very valid arguments against creating this kind of easily saleable, broadly appealing
Darien Series by Linza | These bold 12″ x 12″ inch pieces really catch the eye. Clients often buy multiples for niches or halways.
artwork. Some artists see this kind of work as breaking with their artistic integrity. Others worry they will devalue their main body of work or dilute their artistic brand. I’m concerned that sometimes the quick sale can sate a buyer’s urge to purchase and prevent them from buying a more significant work.
While these are all valid concerns, for artists who depend on art sales, these kind of sales can be the difference between making a living as an artist or not. Many artists have to support themselves with outside employment, and I would argue that given the choice between waiting tables or creating more commercial artwork, creating the quickly saleable artwork will do more to advance the artist’s career.
What is your Bread and Butter?
Have you created artwork that generates consistent and reliable sales? What’s different about that artwork from your normal work? How did you discover your bread and butter? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
I recently received the following question from an artist:
What is a reasonable split on commissioned work? I’m all for the gallery receiving 50% on work in their regular inventory, as it takes up wall space and has likely been shown to several potential buyers and marketed by the gallery as well. However, I wonder if 50% to the gallery is justified on a commission, especially in the case where the artist has been put in direct contact with the buyer and essentially does all the leg work (apart from the initial introduction).
Considering that a commission project does not take up gallery “real estate” and also the artist has the burden in materials cost and production time (not to mention risk in some cases), the artist will actually make less money on the project than the gallery if the split is a 50/50. As a former gallery employee I have seen commission splits as 50/50, 60/40 and even 70/30. My personal opinion is that a 70/30 may be a bit lopsided in favor of the artist (unless you’re a high end portrait artist and the split to the gallery is more of a referral fee so to speak), but 50/50 doesn’t seem quite right to me either, again, especially if the artist is doing all the legwork. Your insight would be appreciated!
Name Withheld by Request
Great question. We do ask 50% for commissioned work, but I feel we can justify it because we stay very involved in the process. Rather than just handing off the client to the artist we act as facilitators, scheduling phone calls and meetings, passing along photos and taking care of all of the financial dealings. My artists tell me they appreciate this because it takes away a lot of the pressure and makes the process easier for them. If there are any problems the client is passing them along to us instead of the artist and we can moderate the resolution.
Granted, a lot of galleries do less on commissions and still expect the 50%. In those cases it comes down to what you can come to terms on. If a gallery is a good sales producer for you and you value the relationship, it may still be worth the 50% to help sustain the ongoing representation.
What Do You Think?
Do your galleries ask 50% on commissioned work generated through the gallery? Do you feel they deserve the full fee on commissioned work? Share your thoughts, comments and experiences in the comments below.
Managing cash flow successfully is one of the greatest challenges for any small business. It is a particularly difficult issue for artists and galleries where sales often spike and dip. Artwork doesn’t tend to sell in regular patterns, and because of the high value of many pieces of artwork, when sales do occur they often cause a real spike in an artist’s or gallery’s income.
This irregular cash flow can cause logistical (and emotional!) problems for those of us in the art business. I would like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about managing cash flow in the hopes that my experience might help make you a better manager of your cash flow.
1. You Need Cash Flow Before You Can Manage It
First, I think it is important to note that for many artists, and also for many galleries, one of the most crucial issues to solve first is to create cash flow by generating sales. None of what I’m going to share today is going to be particularly useful to you if your total annual sales don’t generate enough profit to cover your costs. No amount of clever management is going to solve your problems if there simply isn’t enough cash to meet your expenses. If your sales aren’t where they need to be, job #1 is to generate more sales. I’ve written extensively about how to generate more sales (see the archives of this blog or my books), but the main keys are to produce inventory and get out there and show your work as much as humanly possible (in galleries, shows, etc.). In other words, hustle!
Even if you aren’t generating the sales you would like at this point, it would be wise for you to begin thinking about how you will manage your money when sales do increase. Put your cash flow plan into practice now so that you are prepared and have good habits established for the day when you are selling more work.
As you develop a stream of sales it is critical that you implement a spending plan. You need to understand exactly what your monthly expenses are and when all of your bills are due. It’s a good idea to have an exact number in mind when you think about your total expenses. Saying, “I need to generate $2,500 per month in order to cover all of my expense” will then give you something very concrete to work toward.
Try to set up routines that allow you to have consistent time to stay on top of your books and pay your bills.
3. Prioritize your expenses
While it’s important to stay on top of all of your expenses, it’s also important to recognize which of your expenses have the highest priority. This is particularly true during slow periods when there may not be enough cash to go around. At times like these it’s important to be able to look at your expenses and say, “I first need to buy supplies so that I may keep producing – I may be evicted from my studio, but I could paint in the basement if that happens. A studio doesn’t do me any good if I don’t have canvas and paint.”
Only you can figure out what your highest priorities are, but it’s important to prioritize your expenses before you run into a cash crunch, otherwise you will be tempted to pay your urgent bills before your important ones (and there’s a big difference between urgent and important).
4. Learn to Negotiate your Bills
Which leads to the next principle – learn that your suppliers and vendors may be willing to work with you when your sales slow down. Obviously, it’s best to stay on top of your bills and never get behind. When that’s not possible, however, you may need to talk to your vendors and suppliers and ask if they can give you some leeway in paying your bills. Sometimes a vendor with whom you have had a good relationship will extend you informal credit by allowing you to partially pay and partially defer your payment. During the financial crisis in 2007-’08 we were fortunate to have vendors that were willing to work with us and allow us some breathing space when paying our bills. Remember, you’re no good to your vendors if you are out of business.
It’s also important to remember, however, that negotiating your bills should not be a regular tactic. Cause too many delays, and you go from being a valued customer to being a deadbeat.
Just as slow-downs can be a problem, a sudden windfall of sales can be a problem as well. When sales do come, they often come in clusters (not necessarily from the same sources, but just by coincidence at the same time). Suddenly your bank account is awash in cash – a feast after a time of famine. If this comes after a slow period, you may feel tempted to quickly pay off your lingering bills and buy that new doodad you have been waiting on for so long. Before you know it, your bank account is right back where it started and you are scrambling again. Instead, I would encourage you to spend your money slowly and methodically. If you are saving up for a major expense, don’t suddenly dump all your money into a purchase. Instead, continue contributing to your savings at a regular pace. Having cash on hand gives you stability.
As an example, let’s say you would like to buy a new delivery van for hauling your art to shows, galleries and for client deliveries. You’ve shopped around and know you can find a used van that will suit your needs for about $7,000. When you suddenly make a $10,000 sale you are going to be sorely tempted to go out and buy the van. Instead, I would encourage you to save slowly and steadily. Try saving a regular monthly amount toward the purchase – say $700 a month. Now, when you make a big sale you have cash in your bank account to fund the monthly saving toward the van, but you also keep more cash on hand to stay on top of your expenses and deal with slow-downs in sales.
This approach to spending has been one of the most important things I have learned after having been in business for myself for 13 years.
This approach has an added benefit. There are many times when I decide I need some shiny new dumaflache desperately. I start saving toward the purchase and then, a few months in, decide that I actually don’t need whatever it was I thought was so critical when I saw it.
Even if I do end up deciding to make a purchase when I’ve saved enough, there is something very gratifying about having saved up for it instead of having rashly splurged on it.
6. Save Automatically
If you are saving for a purchase, I encourage you to move the money for the purchase out of your general checking account and into a separate savings account where you will be less tempted to raid the funds during a slow period. I have also found that it is hard to save if I have to rely on myself to regularly move money into the savings account. Several years ago I discovered Capital One 360 – an online bank geared toward saving that allows you to easily, and automatically (if you wish), transfer money from your checking to savings account. You can set up weekly or monthly transfers that take the work out of saving. I like to break my saving deposits into weekly amounts so that they seem smaller.
Another advantage of this online bank is the fact that they allow you very easily to set up multiple savings accounts that you can transfer money into automatically. Whenever I have a new item I want to save toward I just start a new account and name it the same as the goal I’m saving toward.
This automatic saving is incredibly powerful. I promise you will save more money by doing small regular investments than you will by saying “I’m going to save as much as I can, whenever I can.”
The flip side of saving is credit and debt. Just as saving can be an incredibly powerful tool to help you build your business, debt can have the same power to hinder your business. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when building a business that credit can be a powerful tool. Credit can be leveraged to help you buy expensive tools or set up your studio. Credit can help you ramp up your marketing or take on large projects you wouldn’t otherwise be able to undertake. I couldn’t have started my gallery without credit. While I’m not one of those who feel that credit and debt are completely evil and are to be avoided at all costs, I do recognize the crippling effect debt can have on a business.
While credit can allow you to do things you would be otherwise unable to accomplish, debt creates drag on your monthly cash flow and can eventually drag your business under if you are not careful. Even if it doesn’t it has other negative effects.
For a time I had a commercial line of credit with my bank. When I got the line of credit, the bank sold it to me as a great way to stabilize cash flow. When sales were slow, they said, I could draw on the line of credit to make up the shortfall. Though it seemed like a great idea at the time, I quickly discovered something interesting. Suddenly, it seemed like I was constantly having slow times that required me to draw on the line of credit, and when sales picked up, they never picked up quite enough for me to pay down as much as I had used from the line. Before long I had built up quite a debt and maxed out the line. Now, not only could I not use the line during slow times, I had a monthly payment that added to my monthly overhead. I looked at the situation and realized my folly. I decided I was going to pay down the line and never use it again. I redoubled my efforts, tightened the belt and started paying off the line of credit. It took several years to completely pay it off, but once I did there was a sense weight having been lifted off the business.
If sales slow down in the gallery now, I just work harder and increase them. I’ve realized that there’s just no way out of the work – I can either work harder now and get ahead, or, with debt, I can wait to work harder until the debt mounts and then have to work even harder because of the interest that is accumulating.
My bank is always trying to get me to take another line of credit and it’s very satisfying to tell them, “no thanks, I don’t need it.”
Credit cards offer an even more dangerous path to debt because they are so easy to use.
Again, I absolutely understand that there are times when credit is useful and can help businesses grow, but I try to find other ways to finance our growth.
8. Keep your Production Steady and your Sales Pipeline Full
Another important factor to keep in mind is the very human tendency to relax when things are going well. When you have good sales the sense of urgency you felt when you were starving for sales diminishes. As the sales roll in, you start focussing on dealing with the logistics and paperwork that surrounds them. If you aren’t careful, you can very easily neglect your production and sales pipelines, setting yourself up for a future drop in sales. Try to equalize your production and sales efforts just as you’ve equalized your spending.
9. Give to Charity
Finally, I encourage you to find a charity and devote a fixed percentage of your sales to the charity. Giving back to the community will make you feel more connected, keep you from becoming too self-centered and has, I’ve found, a positive impact on your cash flow.
I was recently in the act of writing out a check for a non-profit that I donate to regularly when the phone rang. Out of nowhere, seemingly, we made one of the largest art sales we’ve had in the gallery this year. Coincidence? Perhaps. I’m one of the least superstitious people I know, but I’ll take all the karma, or blessings or coincidence I can get!
How Have You Managed your Cash Flow?
What have you learned in managing your art business cash flow? Do you disagree with anything I’ve said in this post? What are your biggest cash flow challenges? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.
As an artist in the digital age, chances are you have to write emails on a regular basis.
You might have to use email to approach galleries, maintain current gallery relationships, touch base with collectors, or connect with other artists. Because you write so many emails, it can be easy to type out something quickly and send it off without taking the time to make sure you are communicating well and presenting yourself professionally.
It might not seem important, but if you are running your own art business, communicating professionally is key for having positive relationships. If you’ve ever had to work with someone who wasn’t good at communicating, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. Unprofessional emails can make you appear flaky, apathetic, or even rude, and that is not the reputation you want to have in the eyes of people with whom you are working or to whom you are trying to sell art.
The key to writing professional emails is to take your time to make sure you say exactly what you want to say as clearly as possible, but there are some other specific steps you can follow to craft better emails.
Come up with a good subject line.
The subject line you use should be unique and get the attention of the person you are emailing, but also make sure it is professional, polite, and appropriate for the situation. You don’t need to write a sensational headline to get someone to open your email, and it’s important to be honest about your purpose in writing it.
Use a friendly but professional greeting.
Typically, with the kinds of emails you’ll be sending, you’ll be able to use a friendly greeting like “hello,” “hi,” “good morning,” etc. However, make sure to think about your audience when you are writing a greeting, and if your audience requires a more formal greeting like “dear,” adjust accordingly.
Keep it short and to the point.
If you want your email to be read in full and not skimmed over, keep it as short as possible. Focus on only one or two topics in the email, and eliminate any unnecessary details. I would recommend keeping most emails less than 5 paragraphs long with 1-3 sentences per paragraph.
The more concise, the better. If you can get your point across quickly, it will be much easier for the person on the receiving end to read the email and respond.
Watch your tone.
Because body language and inflection aren’t present in emails, it can be easy for your tone to be misinterpreted as demanding or rude. To avoid uncomfortable misunderstandings, be careful with your word choice and sentence structure. Avoid terse sentences. Don’t write questions that sound like they are coming from an interrogation room. Use “please,” “thank you,” and other polite phrases graciously.
And certainly don’t write things that are actually meant to be rude or passive aggressive. Most problems can be solved through polite questions and discussions.
Use an appropriate sign off.
Leave the reader with a good impression of you by closing your email professionally. In some cases, it might make sense to close with a “thank you,” but when it doesn’t, use a sign off like “warmest regards” that is friendly but not too personal.
Don’t use emoticons.
Punctuating your message with smiley faces might be okay for emails to close friends and family, but emoticons don’t belong in professional emails. Leave them out of emails to gallery owners, clients, art instructors and students, and any other professional connections.
Double check spelling and grammar.
As in any written communication, spelling and grammar mistakes in an email can make it much more difficult for the receiver to take you seriously, no matter how good the content of the message is. Take a moment to read over your email again for grammar mistakes and typos, and for more important emails, have someone proofread for you before sending them off if possible.
Make sure any promised attachments have actually been attached.
We’ve all made the mistake of sending hitting “send” on an email only to realize that we forgot to attach a document or image we needed to include. While we all relate and will forgive this error, it’s much more professional and less frustrating if it doesn’t happen. Take a moment when you finish the email to make sure you’ve attached everything you meant to.
What do you think?
How important is email in your art business? Have you ever had a misunderstanding because of poor communication?
On RedDotBlog, we’ve often talked about different scenarios in which you might be trying to sell your work. For many of you the opportunity will come at an open studio event, an art festival or at a gallery opening. I’ve received a number of interesting questions from artists related to the sales process, including this one via email:
This last weekend I had the best day in terms of sales I have ever had at open studio.
This is all great and I want to get your advice on a certain dynamic.
Perhaps you remember the old Saturday Night Live skit called “The Thing that wouldn’t leave” Basically about a friend visiting the house who overstays their welcome.
There are some fellow photographers who visit my open studios to check out my latest work and talk shop. I suppose they are not really customers since they don’t buy work. When I started I didn’t buy work either but now I feel as though it’s good to buy other artists work as it creates good karma. So occasionally my wife and I do buy and collect art. It’s fun!!!
Anyway, these visitors tend to stay longer and I do enjoy talking shop, and am flattered they keep coming back, but I noticed when collectors walk in to the studio they seem to feel they are interrupting. At this point my friends the fellow photographers sort of shut up to watch what happens. Then I feel like I cant connect as well with the customer while my fellow photographer is watching. I feel it is generally not conducive to my making a sale.
On the other hand I find its generally better if someone is in my studio talking and looking vs. me there alone when things are slow. I find if people are walking by and see only me there they tend to think nothing is happening and walk by. When there are a few people shopping it attracts more people. So with this in mind its sort of good to have the thing that wouldn’t leave there so it helps attract more people to the studio.
Great question Carl, and I think many artists have run into a similar challenge, whether at an open studio event, at an art festival or during a gallery opening. I run into over-stayers in the gallery almost weekly.
My approach in the gallery is simple. Though I try to extend courtesy and warmth to everyone who visits the gallery, (after all, you never know who is going to turn into a buyer, as you mention), I feel no compunction about interrupting someone mid-sentence to say “Oh, excuse me for a moment, I need to go and say hello to this collector.” I then briskly stride away to greet the customer. Usually, once the over-stayer sees me engaging with the collector, he will continue browsing through the gallery, and, if I become very engaged, may leave before I ever return.
It sounds to me like you don’t necessarily have a problem with the getting away, but rather with the ensuing awkwardness when you have the artist hanging on to every word of the conversation you are trying to have with your customer. This would certainly be a bigger problem in your studio or in a show booth that it is in my gallery, but my suggested approach is the same no matter where you find yourself: ignore everyone except your customer. I know it can feel awkward to have someone listening and watching what you are doing, but if you act like it isn’t awkward, your customer will very quickly forget about the other artists and you can engage as if you were in an empty studio. This will take some practice on your part, and a conscious effort not to feel self-conscious, but I can tell you from experience that it can be done.
There is often a natural flow in a conversation with a collector. You will greet the customer and introduce yourself, and then invite them to explore your work. Now you can step back and let them look. When you do this (AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!) don’t return to your conversation with the artist. Try and step back to an unoccupied corner of your studio, booth, or gallery. If the artist tries to approach you, wave them off with an “I’ll be with you just as soon as I’m finished,” and then step back over to the customer to tell them about a piece or to ask a question. The artist will get the picture and will either wait or wander off.
I think you are right that it’s good to have some warm bodies in the studio to attract potential buyers in, so I don’t see these artists as a problem, I just feel it’s very important to assert control over the situation in kind but strong way so that your priorities are clear. Hopefully a fellow artist will understand.
You could also try letting these artists know what to expect by explaining when they first come in that you aren’t trying to be rude, but if a customer comes in you are going to focus 100 percent of your attention on the customer.
What Do You Do When You Encounter “the Artist Who Won’t Go Away”?
Have you run into a similar situation with artists who get in the way of sales? What have you done to deal with the situation? What advice would you give to Carl and other artists in a similar scenario? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Sharon Wadsworth-Smith lives on her three acre property just north of Toronto, Ontario, where she creates captivating paintings, rich with color and loose brushwork. I’m excited to share what I learned about Sharon and her unique style with you.
Trust Me | acrylic on canvas 24×12 $525
Jason: Can you tell me a bit about your style and subject matter?
Sharon Wadsworth-Smith: I have been described as high energy and a colourist, though my work is definitely representational. Movement plays an important role in my process and gives me the opportunity to play with blurred images and fuzzy lines. I paint landscapes with the occasional figurative work. Using large brushes and palette knives helps me stay loose and work in an intuitive manner.
J: How did you develop your style?
SWS: When I first started working in watercolour, I would strive for realistic representations. Eventually I listened to one of my teachers who said that watercolour is the only medium that tells you what it is going to paint. I now employ this in my acrylic work, using loose brush strokes and unexpected colours. I enjoy happy accidents and am always looking for the colours that lie beneath.
J: What drew you to your subject matter?
SWS: I am so fortunate to be able to walk out my door and feel enveloped by the wonderful sights and sounds of nature. I spend a lot of time riding my bike through local trails and walking my dogs or watching the neighbour’s horses. Some of the subjects I feel drawn to are trees and abstracted figures within landscapes, so you will occasionally find people or other life forms wandering through my work.
J: What is your medium?
SWS: I currently work in acrylic on canvas, though I try other mediums on a regular basis. A great deal of my early work was watercolour. I loved it, but it was not always easy to frame and seemed to be losing popularity. It also became tougher to buy materials in my area. I found that the larger gallery style canvases intrigued me, so in about 2000, I switched to acrylic. It was actually quite a challenge to relearn in an unfamiliar medium.
Matched | acrylic on canvas 12×12 $350
J: What do you feel is unique about your work?
SWS: I work with high contrast, glowing colours that are not necessarily correct, and I think you can feel the action in my work. I take chances with loose brush strokes and palette knife work. I employ kind of a “go bold or stay home” approach. I have been able to explore representational work without being too predictable. Although it’s good to be able to paint what you see, it’s much more exciting to paint what you feel.
J: How did you get your start in art?
SWS: I always drew as a child, and I think my only goal was to become and artist or a veterinarian. My first real shown piece of art was an ink drawing in the Saskatchewan Power Art Gallery when I was about twelve. I tried to focus on art classes in high school but left Saskatchewan in my teens and relocated to Vancouver. It was there that I attended Art College.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
SWS: Everyone in my family was creative, though their paths went into other areas of art. My sister became an interior designer, and my brother went into computer and print technology. Both my parents could draw quite well, but that was not considered a career path so my father was a roofer and my mother a homemaker.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
SWS: Absolutely. Although I was raised in a home with a modest income, my parents and siblings were always supportive of my goals. I remember when I was in my early teens, my father came home with a full size set of Grumbacher Chalk pastels. He said he found them on the roof of a building he was working on and that perhaps an artist left them there. That was my first introduction to drawing in colour, and I still have those pastels today.
Cell Pony | acrylic on birch 12×24 $525
J: How much art related education do you have?
SWS: In my college years, I spent a year and a half in General Arts and two years in Graphic design. Although much of my passion was visual and illustrative art, a great many people suggested that a better avenue to ensure an income would be to study graphic design. While in Vancouver, I received my Associate in Arts Diploma as a graphic artist at Kwantlen College.
I have attended many other classes and workshops over the years, ranging from book Illustration to instructing art for teaching of adults and children. I believe that to keep growing, you should stay open to new ideas and techniques and keep learning.
In 2013, a well-known landscape and figurative artist named Ivanno Stocco was teaching an intensive week-long course in adding figures to landscape. I had admired his work, and I was ready for new techniques. It was exciting for me to move further away from representational work and play with collage and I really enjoyed the use of the large, square palette knives.
In 2014, I pursued my postgraduate certificate at Haliburton School of the Arts in an intensive 16 week program, Studio Process Advancement. I lived in Haliburton during this time and returned home gratefully on occasional long weekends. It was an awesome course that completely changed how I approach my art.
In the summer of 2017, I was able to take a one week immersive class with figurative artist Brian Smith. I had spent a lot of my early art years working on commission portraits, but Brian’s unique style included figurative abstract. I enjoy the freedom to paint people and figures without having to work on a specific subject for a commission.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
SWS: In the late 1980’s, I started to do the occasional commission portrait. I think my prices were ridiculously low back then, but I really enjoyed working with a goal in mind. I seemed to be working on a lot of dog portraits and the occasional human. I also joined a local art group and started to put my work in shows. I can’t actually remember what my first sale was but I think it may have been a matted watercolour for about 20.00.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
SWS: Absolutely—as they say, I’m living the life!
Dusting | acrylic on canvas 24×12 $525
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
SWS: I do some print advertising for shows but find a lot more of my work is getting exposure through Facebook and LinkedIn. I have several videos posted on YouTube and Vimeo. I am represented by several great galleries and retail spaces, and some online galleries plus group and solo art shows, tours, and local businesses where I keep work. I engage in cross promotion; when I am involved in events I will have information about upcoming shows available. I manage my own website and produce a blog and regular newsletter. I have a personal gallery in my home which I list on Google maps and use for studio tours and yearly shows. I still teach and do get students who purchase my work and come to shows.
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art and in your art business?
SWS: I have been fortunate to be able to grow as an artist and still be recognised for my style. The work I created 20 years ago, though different than what I do now, is still valid with my current work, despite being in a different medium. I also have learned so much over the past years and increased the amount of paintings that I produce each year. As an artist I believe that you have to “make art, not excuses”. I am so fortunate to paint what I want and have the opportunity to share it with an ever-growing audience.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
SWS: Trying to stay focused on creating and selling my own work. I have been involved in the past with so many different art groups and events that I tend to think I can do it all and sometimes have had a hard time saying no. There are also so many choices of subject and mediums that an artist can get overwhelmed. I think of art as an elaborate buffet where we have to be careful what we put on our plate.
J: What other jobs have you held?
SWS: Dishwasher, Payroll Clerk, Art Instructor, Receptionist, Farm laborer (I picked berries), retail sales clerk, waitress/cook at a pizza parlour. My favorite other job was the Graphic Artist position I held at a Psychiatric hospital where the work was never the same twice and I learned a lot about photography, art, and people.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
SWS: 30 hours in studio and another 20 hours on computer marketing and technology. I occasionally go out to a life drawing class if available and will look for week-long courses as I believe to grow you should always keep learning. Weekends are spent in galleries or at shows when they happen.
Take Me | acrylic on canvas 8×16 $300
J: Do you have a daily routine?
SWS: You bet. I wake up at 4am to send my husband off to work in the city. Then at 5:30 I check my email and social media messages. Some mornings (I try for 3 per week), I will go to the gym for an hour to work out. By 7am I am in research mode, deciding what reference to work on or shows/grants to apply for. By 8:30 I am off the computer till 4pm. I walk and feed the dogs and myself. I am in the studio from 10am to 4pm I make sure to break for lunch or finish early if I have errands. I work Mon – Friday in studio and spend the weekends with my husband and at any shows or galleries in am involved in. My studio is a technology free zone with no computer and no phone, though lately I have brought the SONOS speaker in for music.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
SWS: 7-10 paintings and a few more assorted drawings. I have been trying to include drawing every day again after listening to one of your mentorship broadcasts where a gentleman named Barry said he had been drawing every day. Seems like a great idea to me, and I’ve been having fun with it.
J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?
SWS: One of my favorites is Renoir, and I enjoy Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. The colours are so bright and romantic, and I could look at it for hours and still find something new. My favorite part of that painting is the couple dancing on the left. I have large reproduction of that hanging in my home. I have to say I am also hooked on Monet’s work, but there are similarities in their style and use of colour.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
SWS: I enjoy American Tribal Style Belly Dance and have been taking classes for several years. It is a lot of fun and a great workout. I also enjoy making the costuming. Though I do not perform, we occasionally get together as a group at events.
I spent a lot of years camping and did some canoeing, biking, and hiking with my husband, Dean, and our dogs, Luna and Bootsy. My husband retires at the end of this month so we are looking forward to a lot more adventures and discovering new trails.
I really enjoy gardening and landscaping. I think my larger dog, Luna, has helped a lot with the digging. My husband and I have planted a wide variety of trees on the rest of our property. We can’t seem to get enough of them.
J: Thank you, Sharon. To see more of Sharon’s work, visit www.wadsworthsmithart.com. I also invite you to enjoy this timelapse video of the creation of one of Sharon’s paintings.
Acrylic Painting demo Sharon Wadsworth-Smith time lapse floral Frenzy - YouTube
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